For the last several years, our house has been invaded by Disney princesses, whether I wanted it to happen or not. Sometimes, all the beautiful people, the happy endings, and the unending patience of the Disney characters get too much. The Bloody Chamber provided such a welcome—albeit sometimes macabre—change from Disney’s version of fairy tales. I had such fun reading this book, although I am not convinced that I understood everything this book has to offer.
There is no question that Angela Carter was a wonderful wordsmith. Her writing is always lyrical, even when what she writes is anything but that. None of the ten stories included in this volume is the type of fairy tale you can read once and then put aside. In every single one, Carter has been able to give the traditional victim a voice; instead of following along, the woman is able to choose her own destiny.
I liked “The Bloody Chamber” because the innocent bride is rescued by her mom, not a handsome prince who just happened to ride by. I liked “The Tiger’s Bride” because in this retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, instead of the beast becoming human, the beauty chooses to become more like the beast. In “The Werewolf” and “In the Company of Wolves,” Little Red Riding Hood has all the power and is not afraid to wield a knife. In “The Lady of the House of Love,” Sleeping Beauty is still rescued by a man, but the twist is that she can finally die. I’ll have to reread this one to fully understand it, I think.
I also enjoyed reading “The Erl-King.” I know the erl king from Goethe’s poem/song “Der Erlenkönig” (1782), which we happily sang in grammar school. (I don’t think any of us kids wondered much about the lyrics, but now I get a kick out of the fact that we were taught a song about a boy dying in his father’s arms after the erl king took a fancy to him.) In German, the name of the erl king is associated with the alder-tree (die Erle) and thus considered a spirit haunting the forest. I think this association is helpful in understanding Carter’s story, in which a girl is seduced by the erl king but kills him when she finds out that he means to harm her. I thought that the very dense prose in this story worked very well for this tale.
Finally, “Wolf-Alice” questions what it means to be human, and the twists and turns made it challenging to keep track of who was human, who was beast, and which might be better. The heroine is both girl and wolf, both human and inhuman at the same time. Having been raised by wolves, she is completely unaware of herself and of how she should act. Throughout the story, Wolf-Alice becomes more human, yet at the end, her inhuman side enables her to show kindness to the Duke, which in itself is a human trait.