the observer Sun 14 December 2008
When Angela Carter died in 1992, Margaret Atwood aptly described her as a 'fairy godmother'. Through her writing, Carter had become a feminist icon. Yet, as Jack Zipes highlights in his illuminating introduction to this collection, it was actually a man, the French civil servant Charles Perrault, who played a crucial, and often overlooked, role in Carter's development.
In 1977, almost three centuries after Perrault published his versions of Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, Carter translated 10 of his tales. That same year she began work on what many consider her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber, feminist reworkings of these classic fairy tales.
Carter was impressed by the concise style and humanity of Perrault's parables. But, determined to invert the tales' hierarchies, and champion the underdogs and female characters, she made subtle modifications, frequently distorting Perrault's intended morals.
Despite their economy of language, Carter's translations are contemporary: Red Riding Hood's wolves 'pursue young girls in the street'; Cinderella's vain sisters buy only 'the best cosmetics'; and Sleeping Beauty's prince sniffs at her 'out of fashion' attire. Carter conjures up the concerns of today's Grazia-reading, appearance-obsessed women one moment and depicts a magical realm of talking cats and seven-league boots the next.
During these times of economic uncertainty, Carter's timeless stories of reversed fortunes and high-flying underdogs are an enchanting diversion, and this republished collection dazzles with wit and warmth.