The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales

The story behind The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales is a sad one. The first Virago Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Angela Carter, was received with such acclaim that a second volume was commissioned. Tragically, Angela Carter died before this book was finished, though her notes on many of the stories are published here, and she chose each tale for the compilation.

This is an eclectic collection of folk tales, some evidently quite ancient, some so recent they are hardly more than single page jokes. There are stories from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas featured here and almost the only thing they have in common is that they all centre women. There are cunning witches, resourceful maidens, downtrodden and vengeful wives.

I'm not sure if I enjoy fairy tales and myths as much as I think I should. Perhaps it's the distillation of story down to almost pure plot -- characters are barely sketched, and if they have any distinguishing personality traits, they are boiled down to a single adjective: 'clever,' 'kind' or 'jealous.' I'm not sorry to have read this collection but I don't think I'll be hunting down volume 1.


  1. Yes! I'm with you, Kate. As a small child I loved my various collections of fairy tales (Andersens, Grimms, Perraults, the VIolet Fairy Book, Tales from Many Lands, Tales from Japan, etc etc etc) and went back to them again and again and AGAIN. But now, they mainly make me cross. Everything seems so random, unfair and weighted heavily against women and girls! On the other hand, Angela Carter's re-imaginings of fairy tales are dark, scary, kinky and amazing.

  2. I think that's what I thought I was going to get with this book, but it wasn't. I'll have to track down the first volume for the reimaginings.