Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On "The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories" by Angela Carter ****

I came to this collection through a book of criticism on werewolves. The critical analyses of these stories seemed to make these tales stand above most other such fantastic pieces in that vein. And now having read the collection, I can certainly say that Carter is a writer whose style makes her one of a kind. I'm most amazed, in this book, by how she so adeptly adapts fairy tales to her own purposes. The tales don't necessarily become modern in place, but they become certainly something different, something literary, than what they are in the homespun versions one gets used to reading.

A large theme tying these stories together is sex and relationships. Psychologists, of course, have long seen connections to sex and death in fairy tales, reading into them vast archetypes that all humans apparently live as. Carter takes that psychological spin, the generality, and respins it into something singular for each of the characters involved--but with the sex more clearly, more overtly part of the tale.

The best story in this collection--by far and away head and shoulders above the others--is the title story. In it, a very young woman goes to live with her new noble husband. Lucky her, marrying a rich man, marrying up--until she discovers he isn't quite what he seems. After the night in which her virginity is taken, the husband gives her keys to every room in the house, but he tells her that one key is not to be used. One can only guess what happens next, when he goes out of town. The woman discovers the grizzly reason her husband has been married so many times. Can she now save herself?

Other tales are more along the lines of reworkings of classic fairy tale plots and characters. In "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," a young woman fails to return to visit her beast as promised, who subsequently comes close to dying of a broken heart. In "The Tiger's Bride," a man loses his daughter to a beast in a game of cards; the beast asks only one thing of her once she is in his custody: to strip naked for him. "The Lady of the House of Love" is a tale of a female vampire who catches a young man in her web (or does he catch her?). "The Werewolf" involves a girl who finds out that her grandmother is just such a thing. "The Company of Wolves" involves a whole family of them, and one woman finally settling on a wolf of her own, as she strips herself into his lair. And "Wolf-Alice" involves a girl raised by wolves who goes to live with a werewolf for lack of a more appropriate place of residence.

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