Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979)

I was surprised by the first few stories here, and not in a way I expected to be surprised: no, I was surprised by how...conventional they seemed. Very straightforward takes on faerie tales, reworked, true, but not notably deconstructing or subversive. The title story (by far the longest one here) comes first, and it's a very faithful retelling of "Bluebeard." Is it set in the twentieth century? Yes. Does it have a straightforward (though admittedly kinda badass) feminist twist in the end? It does. Still. Nothing that amazing. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but...I dunno, if she were a musician, this is the kind of thing about which you'd accuse her of having watered down her sound a bit in a bid for mass-market appeal. Not that I'm accusing Carter of that, probably. But it is surprising. "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" is a Beauty and the Beast story with a happily-ever-after ending. "Puss-in-Boots" is a bawdy, Boccacchio-esque take on the story that likewise ends surprisingly sweetly, that. Huh, I thought. Not that any of this is in any way bad, but it's not exactly amazing either.

The stories do get more Carter-y, however, starting with "The Erl-King," which is full of atavistic weirdness. And then there's "The Snow Child;" it's barely more than a page long, but it's really one of the most bizarre things you'll ever read. I think there's all kinds of symbolism I'm missing, but it's still quite a thing.

Then, of course, there are stories about wolves--is anything freighted with more semiotic significance than those guys? I think Carter would've appreciated Munly's brilliant album Petr and the Wulf. "The Werewolf" and "The Company of Wolves" are both Little Red Riding Hood adaptations, to one extent or another, and they're both quite good. The latter was later made into a movie, which seems difficult--there's not really a lot of plot to hang a script on--but which I really want to see anyway. Carter herself wrote the screenplay, after all.

Right, so that's about it. There are a few other stories, but there you have it in the main. The evidence would suggest that now I've read all of Carter's short fiction, and let it be noted (FOR WHAT BENEFIT?) that I include in that statement the three previously uncollected stories in Burning Your Boats, as well as the still-uncollected story "The Bridegroom" (a grim feminist fable that could easily have been a Bloody Chamber outtake).

"Quick! The world needs a best-of collection of Carter's short stories, and you're the only one who can compile it! Also, for unclear reasons, it's required to include exactly twelve stories!"

"The Executioner's Daughter"
"The Loves of Lady Purple"
"Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest"
"The Company of Wolves"
"Black Venus"
"Overture and Incidental Music for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'"
"Peter and the Wolf"
"John Ford's ''Tis Pity She's a Whore"
"Gun for the Devil"
"The Quilt Maker"

Yes, the fact that I've included but one story from the volume currently under consideration is probably reflective of my somewhat ambivalent attitude towards it. Short story collections are rarely totally consistent (with a few exceptions by Borges), and none of Carter's are, though they all contain magic. If I say that of them all, this one almost certainly contains the least, that's meant to be a less damning criticism than it might sound. Still well worth eating up.


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