The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold
By Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia BlockAs the title might suggest, Francesca Lia Block’s The Rose and the Beast takes some of the most popular of Grimm’s fairy tales and plops them down in modern-day Los Angeles. The tales are reworked to fit a modern day world, but the lessons, both new and old, behind each tale have not been lost in the least.

Now, much like the original Grimm fairy tales, these tales have not been sugar-coated in the least. While the author refrained from outright telling the readers what some of the heroines were going through, the vivid pictures Francesca Lia Block paints with her words leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind as to what they are witnessing. Sexual abuse, rape, molestation, murder – these are just a few of the things that plague the protagonists of these fairy tales.

Unsurprisingly, the more popular and well known fairy tales, such as “Snow White”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Thumbling”, and “Cinderella”, make their way into this collection. However, a couple of the lesser known tales can be found as well. I must confess to being rather disappointed with just how many of the more popular and well-known fairy tales made it into this book. While they were well written and enjoyable, they’re tales I’ve seen rewritten and redone numerous times. Just about every author who sets out to rewrite a few fairy tales picks one or two of the popular tales and rewrites them. Seeing not one but six of them in a collection of just nine tales was very disheartening to say the least.

Lia Block’s version of Bluebeard, entitled “Bones” in her book, is one of the few lesser-known fairy tales included in the collection, and also one of my favorites from said collection. A young girl stuck in a dead end job waiting, dreaming, and hungering for something better to come along, receives an invitation to a producer’s party one night. She’s alone in the world and unsure of her place in things – a perfect victim because she won’t be missed. The producer, Derek Blue, takes an interest in her and invites her to stay after the party. Like the original tale, the heroine is presented with a key, however there is no need for her to wander into the forbidden room as the villain is more than happy to tell her about all of the other girls who have suffered the same fate that awaits her.

Now, what I liked most about this tale was the heroines’ ability to fight back and escape all on her. Rather than fall down in a heap of despair and terror, the story’s heroine acknowledges that there will be no brothers running to her rescue and instead fights off her would be murderer with a pocket knife and runs for her life. Unlike trite horror movies, this girl has some common sense, so instead of running up the stairs or into the woods she makes a beeline for her car and escapes. Instead of the stereotypical bimbo we’re treated with a young girl who makes mistakes but has the wits about her to get out fast – I loved this.

The author’s renditions of Thumbling/Thumbelina (“Tiny”) was amusing and interesting to see adapted to a modern day environment, but was an overall unoriginal take on the classic tale. Likewise I found the renditions of Beauty and the Beast (“Beauty”) and Snow White (“Snow”) to also fall short of the mark. I was impressed with the author’s version of Little Red Riding Hood (“Wolf”) however and how she cleverly weaved a tale of child abuse and domestic violence into the classic storyline and adapted it for modern times. The abused runaway daughter as little red riding hood, and the abusive father as the big bad wolf was absolutely perfect.

I would also like to point out that the author seems to have an addiction to hyphens and run on sentences. If you’re the type of reader who cannot stand to see a work published, or deliberately written, with several grammatical mistakes then this novel is going to grate on your last nerve. Frankly, I didn’t find that the run ons, and over hyphenated sentences added anything to the story. One might even say they detracted a bit. And when it comes to grammar and punctuation, I am certainly far from perfect, yet even I was tempted to bust out with the red felt-tip pen.

In short, while the author provides an interesting and unique spin on many of these fairy tales, the appearance of widely known, and thus widely-retold, stories will be a let down for anyone looking for a truly unique retelling of fairy tales. The fact that the bulk of these fairy tales are made up of commonly retold fairy tales also takes away from the enjoyment factor.

Joana’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 out of 5 stars)