It’s National Tell a Fairytale Day, PhD student, Meriem, recommends fairytales you might not have discovered

News Page 26th February 2019

Set somewhere between ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after, a fairy tale is a short story that typically features fantasy characters and magic. We all love the way these stories tell a tale of good vrs evil. So, even if you don’t have children, you should not miss the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with fairy tales, take some time to get lost in a little make believe.

To celebrate National Tell a Fairytale Day, PhD student Meriem Rayen Lamara, recommends some fairy tales you might not have come across, but are well worth a read…

I grew up reading and listening to fairy tales from different cultures; from Cinderella and Snow White, to the Algerian magical tales of Lounja. And while I have enjoyed the multitude of Western fairy tale books that my parents used to buy for my sisters and I, it was the tales inspired by Islamic folklore and North African mythology that my grandparents told me that captivated me the most. Their tales were the stories of my ancestors, of people who were like me. Being exposed to diverse narratives offered a whole new world of possibilities, of dreams, and of enchantment. So, today, in honour of the National Tell A Fairy Tale Day, I am sharing my top three non-Western Young Adult fairy tale books.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

“In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family.”

The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of the story of Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights – one of my favourite literary heroines! In this retelling Ahdieh weaves Middle-Eastern folklore and Arabic literary tradition to create a rich world filled with political intrigue, magical curses, and adventure.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

“Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.”

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a collection of diverse and enchanting short stories inspired by East and South Asian fairytales, folklore and mythology. Penned by fifteen acclaimed authors representing their own culture, the stories offer a unique exploration of ‘#ownvoices’, non-Western tales rarely represented in YA Literature. The stories also cover a wide variety of genres, as diverse as the cultures represented in the collection, ranging from fantasy and science-fiction to horror. This has been one of the best anthologies I read last year and I highly recommend it.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

“In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering.”

This list would not be complete without S. A. Chakraborty! The City of Brass is a story that resonates with me. Reading it brought back so many memories of my grandfather’s stories about the fire spirits who lived just beneath our city or my grandmother’s stories of ‘the good people’ who lived in our world way before our creation. The City of Brass is a story that I can relate to and that is where the beauty of this tale lies. Chakraborty’s vivid imagery and writing opens a gate to Islamic mythology and Middle Eastern folklore and invites an exciting exploration into the sinister and mystical world of the Jinn, who feature in the culture and belief of various civilisations.

The Jinn are among the most fascinating supernatural beings, and yet, it is nearly impossible to find stories about them in Young Adult or Adult Fantasy or Horror Fiction, with the exception of a few examples that utilise the Jinn but have them relegated to the sidelines in stories, or they become the wish granting spirits one summons by rubbing a magical lamp, as in perhaps the most famous example of Jinns in Western popular culture: ‘Genie’ in Disney’s “Aladdin” (1992), the animated adaption of “The Story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” from One Thousand and One Nights. Chakraborty in The City of Brass triumphs in truly capturing the complex nature of the Jinn with all their beauty and perils.

Meriem Rayen Lamara is a final year international PhD candidate at The University of Northampton. She is currently writing her thesis on the supernatural Gothic in contemporary Young Adult literature. Her adjacent research interests lie in children’s literature, dark fantasy, supernatural folklore and fairy tales, Middle Eastern and North African Mythology.

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