Kate Bernheimer's new anthology, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, is a remarkable showcase of the very old and the very new, and how the very new awakens very old memories.
The Penguin anthology of original fairy tales brings together a talented roster of authors, from Aimee Bender and Joyce Carol Oates to Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham and Chris Adrian.
One of the stories that showcases this ability for the new to awaken the old is Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's The Erlking. A young child, at a folky faire held by a private school, sees an enticing, scary and entirely fascinating stranger. Her mother doesn't see this man. This mysterious figure both repels and attracts the child, who is on the cusp of discovery.
Bynum's descriptions of what both the mother and child are thinking and feeling are the very stuff of fairy tale anticipation balanced against the mundane activities of modern domesticity. And that quiet, central character? He brings to mind not only the characters created by Angela Carter and Schubert that Bynum references, but also brought back the feelings from reading the classic Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and a certain character in my beloved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
And that is a great measure of the value of fairy tales. They may be a story you've never heard before, but there is something about them that you recognize deep within yourself. They connect you to things you've always known but may have never recognized before.
Congratulations to Ms. Bernheimer for bringing this anthology into being and for her work in having the value of fairy tales recognized, which she writes about in the anthology's introduction.