Fairy Tale Friday: Tender Morsels

February 26, 2010 at 12:10 am 6 comments

Plant the clear stone by the northern end of your doorstep, then the red by the southern. Then sleep, child. Rest your sore heart and your insulted frame, and begin again tomorrow.

A few weeks ago, I discovered “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” a fairy tale about two little girls, a dwarf, and a bear (and a lot of German beer, behind the scenes). This tale was new to me, but apparently it is well-known enough for Margo Lanagan to have turned it into the award-winning novel Tender Morsels, a hard-hitting and rather dark retelling.

One thing I love that Lanagan has done is to give the story some background and context. The oddly-isolated mother and daughters from the original tale become a sexually abused single mother and her two daughters who have been granted a personal haven by a mysterious heavenly figure. The strange dwarf whom the little girls keep rescuing is, in fact, a little person from the ‘real world’ who invades their fantasy world in search of treasure. And the bear? The bear is actually two different bears; one a kind and decent young man, the other a rather lecherous young man, both of whom stumble into the fantasy world by accident while dressed in bear suits (long story).

However, there are several ways in which this novel could have been better. First, Lanagan writes in a pseudo-dialect, using “babbies” for “babies” and “littlee man” for the dwarf, for example. Dialect really adds to a novel when written correctly, but when it’s just slightly off, it becomes a hindrance to the reader. Lanagan has not found the correct note, dialect-wise, in this novel.

Second, I’m not sure what Lanagan’s theme was. It seems as though she experimented with the question of whether it’s better to live in a perfect dream world or an imperfect real world, but I’m not sure she ever resolved it. For the one daughter, real life is the clear choice, but for the other daughter and the mother, the answer is more ambiguous. And I’m thrown by even the nature of Lanagan’s ‘real world,’ which seems to involve almost as much magic and fantastical elements as Liga’s dream world.

Despite these small flaws, this book was definitely worth borrowing for any fan of fairy tales!

Edit: This post originally incorrectly identified Tender Morsels as Lanagan’s first novel. In fact, it is her latest of 14 novels for young adults. She has also published three collections of short stories.


Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Fairy Tale Friday, Fantasy. Tags: , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Britney  |  February 26, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Thanks for reviewing this one! I’ve heard about Tender Morsels but I didn’t know it was a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red.

    Have you read Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede? It was my introduction to the fairy tale – I have to admit that before I read it, I thought it was about the Snow White who had the seven dwarfs.

    • 2. KT  |  February 26, 2010 at 8:20 am

      I haven’t read the Patricia Wrede, but I will have to find it!

  • 3. Emily  |  March 3, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I think it would be interesting to read Snow White and Rose Red through a feminist lens, especially when paired with an earlier version of the story. In the earlier version (written by a woman, Caroline Stahl), the girls never take care of the bear (who is just that, a bear, not a cleft-chinned prince in disguise) at all, but meet him for the first time when he kills the dwarf; after which, the girls make away with the bear’s treasure, living independently wealthy ever after.
    It is not ’til the retooled Brothers Grimm’s version that the role of the girls is changed, not only in the ending’s twist (“Oh wait! He’s an unwed prince! And he conveniently has an available brother!”) that effectively renders the girls charges of husband and state, but, in their earlier caring after the bear – a hulking male presence that crash-lands into an isolated cottage of three women and demands to be cared after in front of the fireplace.

    PS- I am excited by the backstory Lanagan sets up. It reminds me of “Wicked” and other Gregory Maguire’s. Have you read him?

    • 4. KT  |  March 3, 2010 at 8:12 am

      I would say that Lanagan is much more feminist than the Grimms — sexual abuse aside, the girls don’t really take care of the (first) bear so much as they just enjoy his company. The genders are on more equal footing in this version, and there is the definite statement that not all bears are princes, so to speak.

      That said, thanks for the Caroline Stahl tip! I had no idea there was an earlier version of this story. I have read Gregory Maguire, but a long time ago. Maybe it’s time to revisit him!

  • 5. Eva  |  March 3, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I loved this one! (Although I must admit, I’d have loved it more without the dialogue.) I definitely agree that Lanagan leave many issues open and ambiguous, but I think that’s a large part of why I loved it. She doesn’t force her opinions on the reader (or the characters), and she doesn’t pretend that there are easy answers. :)

    • 6. KT  |  March 3, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      Ah, there’s a better way of looking at Lanagan’s ambiguity! When you read it that way, it was probably intentional. You’re right, Lanagan is all about avoiding easy solutions or answers for her characters’ problems. In fact, the “easy” solution for the mother’s emotional trauma (the fantasy world) is rejected at the end of the book. I guess I’ve been reading too much 19th century literature lately, where everything gets tied up in a neat little bow at the end!


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