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Kissing The Witch: Old Tales In New Skins (1999)

Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (1999)

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3.87 of 5 Votes: 3
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0064407721 (ISBN13: 9780064407724)

About book Kissing The Witch: Old Tales In New Skins (1999)

"Climbing to the witch's cave one day, / I called out, / Who were you / before you came to live here?/ And she said, / Will I tell you my own story? / It is a tale of a kiss."Do you ever find a book and just know it's going to be everything you love in the world? Only you can't read it right away because it's not the right time, or you're not in the right mood, and you want everything to be perfect. What if you're wrong about it and it doesn't live up to your expectations? How will you find another story to fill the void? So it sits on your shelf or at the back of your mind, consciously overlooked, patiently waiting for you to get your shit together and give it a read."In the orchard, I asked, / Who were you / before you married my father? / And she said, / Will I tell you my own story? / It is a tale of a handkerchief."Kissing the Witch was like that for me. I love kisses! I love witches! I love stories about ladies, and lady relationships, and lady rivalries tempered with empathy and an understanding of both sides! I love retellings of fairy tales, especially when they come in collections of short stories! Plus I already knew that I liked Emma Donoghue's writing quite a lot, so with all of that going for it, naturally this book called out to me. And so I bought it. And so I hesitated."I stumbled along the bridge, caught her / sleeve and asked, / Who were you / before you became Little Sister? / And she said, Tell you story? / Tale of cottage."Luckily for me, Kissing the Witch was all I wanted it to be and more! In this collection, thirteen reworked fairy tales are linked by a common thread of each woman being asked by another who they were before. Before they became witches, stepmothers, spinsters, beasts or crones, they were princesses — maids — sisters — daughters — simply girls with their own familiar stories. The thread winds back through generations of storytelling, ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch herself. Each heroine makes her own decisions. Each woman takes her classic story into her own hands, and takes responsibility for the things she's done. Most importantly, each one listens to the other and to herself: an orphaned princess hears out her stepmother; an imprisoned queen asks after the past life of a rescued bird; a Cinderella runs from the ball not because it's midnight, but because her fairy saviour is far more beautiful and interesting than her besotted prince. Gathering my thoughts, I wonder, who was I before I opened this book? And I say, Will I tell you my own story? It is the tale of a market saturated with re-imagined fairy tales billing themselves as original and groundbreaking, when in fact some of the best such stories are already out there. Gail Carson Levine was my favourite as a kid. The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold fundamentally affected me when I read it in my teens. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is one of my all-time favourites, period. And now I can firmly place Kissing the Witch on the same pedestal in my heart. It was wonderful and thoughtful and brilliant and poetic and wise, and I just want to read it again and again.

Frustratingly simplistic. These are easy reversals of fairy tales, and stand or fall based entirely on the reader's agreement with the reversal, rather than as stories on their own. I like the idea of lesbian friendly fairy tales - I, for one, am someone who always wanted to kiss the witch, as the title proclaims - but there must be a way of telling those stories without leeching all the power of the original. Threat is powerful - the danger and ugliness of fairy tales are why they have stayed with us so long. If all the witches and the stepmothers are good, if all Rapunzel wants is to stay in her tower and love her foster-mother, what is the story about? These versions too often felt that they were going for the easy way, switching the fairy tales simply to make all the female characters amicable to one another. I would like romantic love between women which is a little more hard-won, not the twist ending that these stories made it. And if Snow White is going to stay with the stepmother who did threaten to kill her, I'd like a little more of the emotional complexity behind that decision.I'm so hard on these stories partly because they came so near to being something that I would love. And I very much wanted to love them, but in the end they were just too straightforward, their prose affected rather than organic, each ending on the same emotional note. And there are better fairy tale rewrites out there - try the terribly under-appreciated Donna Jo Napoli, who is all about emotional complexity.

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At first, I felt like this book was appealing but super derivative. Inspired by some of the same feminist motives as Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Donoghue puts a new twist on familiar fairy tales. While her lyrical narration and playful recharacterization were immediately appealing, I found the sameness of the revisions somewhat pat. Yes, it always turns out that the evil witch is just a reviled woman; patriarchal culture too often condemns women for being alone, unattractive, powerful, wise. Yes, it always turns out that two women from the fairy tales fall in love with each other or choose to live together instead of choosing the heteronormative "happily ever after option"; the heterosexual triangle insisting that property (in the form of female bodies) must be passed from king-father to prince-son can be powerfully subverted by lesbian desire and homosocial domesticity. But I was finding those two revisions predictable, as much as I liked them in principle.Then, somehow, the book caught me. Now maybe it was because I started recognizing more obscure fairy tales from my recent reading of Philip Pullman's translation of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, like "Donkey Skin," which is so disturbing in the original and even more so when psychologized from a novelistic retelling. Maybe it was because the intricate links between the tales finally caught me. (She always has a character from the fairy tale before narrate the new story as though it's an explanation of their past, thus making a fascinating daisy chain of loss, self-discovery, and empowerment.) Maybe it was because Donoghue has a gift for the sensory and illuminating metaphor (which she does). Maybe it was because one of these late retellings really spoke to me: "Sleeping Beauty" recast to me about the importance of pain and work and the dangers of being protected in a tower. Also, it seems as the collection went on that Donoghue allowed more of wonderful sense of her humor to sneak in; see the final story narrated by the "witch" from the Little Mermaid fairy tale.It wasn't that the stories became less didactic as they went on (such is often the nature of fables and fairy tales); it's just that they gripped me more. I ended up really enjoying the collection. Donoghue avoids magic and the supernatural in favor of focusing on myth and legend as a way of obscuring what is poorly understood or dimly desired. Thus, the "little mermaid" becomes a fisherman's daughter, separated from her "prince" by social class rather than a fish tail, and she loses her "voice" because she gives it up to follow him, not because of a hex. While I also devour tales of the supernatural, I also did like the way that Donoghue insisted on this literalism in the midst of her lyrical invocations of tales that we know from a mythic register rather than a material one.

"Climbing to the witch’s cave one day, I called out,Who were youbefore you came to live here?And she said, Will I tell you my own story?It is a tale of a kiss."I had heard of Emma Donoghue mostly because people kept talking about her novel Room. This, however, was the first encounter I have had with her writing. Kissing the Witch is a clever little book that takes well known fairy tales and tells them from the perspective of different women involved in the stories. Each story is then linked through the characters who each tell their own story.It's a lovely structure and the book made for captivating reading. After all, Donoghue is a great story-teller. However, if we criticise that fairy tales are in need of modernisation because of the dated stereotypes and gender inequality, then Donoghue's approach is equally flawed. It's an entertaining read but hardly any of the male characters are portrayed as decent human beings. It just doesn't do to try and fight fire with fire - or in this case sexism with sexism. 2.5* really but not rounding up.

So I picked up this YA retelling of fairytales at the book swap, and it's been definitely interesting. First off, I liked the feminist undertones--these stories seem to challenge the traditional passive roles of women and perpetual quest to find a husband by presenting women as allied in a sisterhood against a world dominated by men. I liked the language- Donoghue manages to keep her prose emotional, mystical, and gripping, full of ornate figurative language as befitting a traditional fairytale. I liked how each story tied into the next, as one woman said to another, "hey, why are you the character that you are?" I just think that's a great model, as opposed to normal fairy tale characters who are completely one-dimensional. I loved the emotional depth and camaraderie in the women portrayed. However, some of the twists Donoghue put into the story put me off a little, particularly when the relationships between the women cross into romantic. Also, some closure to tie the two ends of the bead together would have been nice.Overall, it was a unique take, well written, a lot of mature themes, a quick read, stuff to think about. 
—Eva Shang

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