Fairy Tales for Adult Readers

As my novel Kingdom Come is categorized as an adult fairy tale, I naturally read adult fantasies. There are the traditional swords and sorcery stories, offbeat fantasies, and then the ones like my novel, transporting fantasies. I’ve come across two adult fairy tales recently that I’ve enjoyed.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly tells the tale of a young boy who transports into a fairy tale world of Red Riding Hood’s ravenous and savage wolves and Snow White’s union-like dwarves. I won’t give away the plot other than to say it works a lot like a transporting fantasy with the main character going to another world and encountering heroes and villains there. I was impressed with the no-holds-barred approach to the inhabitants and situations Connolly describes. He achieves a magic trick of both grounding his world in reality, and at the same time, creating this fantastic world with unbelievable creatures. The book is episodic with some of his scenes remaining in my mind long after I finished it. There are a lot of horrifying images here. And yes, there are nods to famous fairy tale characters as well. I read it after I had written Kingdom Come, partially fearful our stories would be similar, but happy to discover they are quite different.

Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson is reflective of the fairy tales of yore but populates its world with standard fairy tale archetypes. This is a story of a soldier who finds out witches and fairies are real and attempts to live with each for a period of time. The main character doesn’t transport to another world. Instead the magical world exists within ours, protected from discovery by powerful magic. The plot here is less episodic but more meandering and goes into more detail about the nature and rules of fairies. Matheson engages in more world building than Connolly, but less narrative.

Kingdom Come, The Book of Lost Things, and Other Kingdoms all present a fairy-tale like world but one in which people suffer and die. There are familiar archetypes in all three and all three have conflicted main characters with evil antagonists.  If the characters aren’t black and white, they are definitely black and gray, meaning the main villains in all three are loathsome people.  All contain creatures grounded in legends – always fun to read when one of those pop up.  And all tackle the subject of loss and how we process it as human beings.

But this is not a book review, or it’s a poor one if it is. I wanted to use these books to reflect on where Kingdom Come stands in adult fantasy and fairy tale literature. I’m not comparing one to the others to say which one is better or worse as that will remain a matter of taste. A fiction novel, no matter how grounded in reality it is, is a story that reflects our world back to the reader. Fantasy presents unreal archetypes to get you to understand other types of people. Dwarfs are the rowdy bunch of people you know, the stereotypical man’s man or tomboy. An elf may be more honorable, reserved, and mysterious. It’s not hard to imagine people I know as fantasy races. Kingdom Come is a reflection of our world as much as the other two, but slightly more political. It asks questions about destiny, the nature of our leaders, how we treat the poor, how the world can hurt us, and how we heal from it.

If you like fantasy with a fairy tale touch, I’d recommend the following:

Into the Woods (Play first, then movie) – Stephen Sondheim

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (book first, then movie) – C.S. Lewis (and all of Narnia)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles) – Marissa Meyer

The Chronicles of Prydain – Lloyd Alexander (less fairy tale here, but still great)