Fairy Tale Friday: Tender Morsels
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.