New books reinvent “Peter Pan”, Greek myth and fairy tales

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Literary tales can be either light-hearted fanfiction or classics in their own right, ranging from Jean Rhys’ brilliant “Wide Sargasso Sea,” inspired by “Jane Eyre,” to Seth Grahame-Smith’s pulpy “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” .

Readers may also find different tones in this spring’s crop of stories. The three novels here include a powerful insight into ancient Greece in “Elektra,” by Jennifer Saint; a dark inversion of JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in Liz Michalski’s “Darling Girl”; and a wild feminist take on fairy tales in “How to Be Eaten,” by Maria Adelmann.

“Elektra” starts a little slow. After all, Saint (also the author of “Ariadne” in 2021) must present three intense women with complicated stories: Clytemnestra, wife of the warrior Agamemnon; their daughter, Elektra, who seeks to escape the curse on her family’s home; and Cassandra, a Trojan princess whose prophecies are largely ignored. Explaining the different relationships, battlefields and ancient traditions takes time but is helpful. If you were ever confused after learning about these characters and their stories in school, you won’t be once “Elektra” picks up speed and dives into the action.

The original wicked woman is a goddess of our time

Aeschylus’ “Oresteia,” the trilogy of Greek tragedies that features the three women (although they also appear in other ancient stories), has as many murders as a season of “The Sopranos.” Saint’s view of his sources is serious and direct. She does not minimize the violence and aggression between the opposing Mycenae and Trojan societies, but she does make room to highlight how historical systems affect women in different positions and how their sometimes dark deeds underscore their need for change. Although Clytemnestra’s sister, the famous Helen of Troy, makes a few appearances, the real action in “Elektra” belongs to the schemers and dreamers.

There’s also a lot of intrigue and dreams in Michalski’s “Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan.” Protagonist Holly Darling is Wendy’s granddaughter, the girl whose life changed when she met Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Holly, whose mother founded a luxury skincare line, is about to make that brand’s coveted ‘Pixie Dust’ a global bestseller when she learns of an emergency involving her daughter, Eden. This crisis will upset the conclusion of his contract and put the life of his handsome and talented son, Jack, in danger.

It’s hard to decide how much to reveal about this book, because one of its strengths is how well the author twists Barrie’s ideas. Peter, Tinkerbell, and the Captain are all there, but they’re not exactly the characters you remember, and the setting is much darker. In this world, people rob the sick to maintain their youth, fairies walk around like unwashed goths, and dreams can quickly turn into nightmares. But Michalski’s writing shifts the light like a specter between moments of pain and action, keeping readers gasping in an enchanted race to find out who will receive the real gift: ordinary mortal existence.

Adelmann isn’t the first modern author to tackle old-school fairy tales, but she’s sung on ‘Bluebeard,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin. in “How to Be Eaten” must be among the most inventive. Vanity: Bernice, Ruby, Ashlee, Gretel, and Raina were invited to group sessions by their therapist, Will. Fortified with coffee and store-bought cookies , they each tell their story, but not without numerous intra-group comments.

Bernice details her affair and escape with Bluebeard, here a tech billionaire whose pride in his distinctive furnishings hides grotesque habits. Ruby won’t take off her nasty matted fur coat no matter the weather, while Ashlee’s reality TV engagement features a Prince Charming whose post-wedding habits border on the negligent. Gretel insists she and her brother found a candy house in the woods, but it’s possible they were just taken in by an abusive neighborhood woman. And Raina? Well, Raina’s help from someone she calls “Little Man” results in her life’s work, but the script doesn’t turn out the way she planned.

Michael Dirda reviews five fairy tale books

Each tale has a weirdness heightened by twists and modern details, including the couture cake Bluebeard delivered to Bernice’s house, Gretel’s eating disorder, and Ashlee’s constant drunkenness while on the show. TV show “The One”. Adelmann wants us to reconsider the stories we think we know inside and out and see the iniquity and terror we have ingested in fairy tales. Perhaps her most diabolical trick is the one she shows the reader long before the characters learn it – an important reminder to take nothing at face value.

In ‘Disfigured’, a writer explores the harmful ways in which fairy tales shape our view of the world – and ourselves

Saint, Michalski and Adelmann share a certain feminist perspective in these three literary stories. And while their views vary, they all focus more on how women learn to live their lives rather than the wrongs they have endured. This is not to say that the authors avoid characters who do evil, but rather that in these books, built on other books, new possibilities for old stories create unique paths for historical figures.

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