Let’s face it: fairy tales are the original horror stories. For those of us who grew up with the Brothers Grimm as our bedtime stories, it’s a wonder we got any sleep at all. In many ways, these tales serve as the blueprint for what we’ve come to expect in the horror genre: a determined heroine, a foreboding setting, and plenty of terror lurking around every corner. So for your horror-loving pleasure, here are six books of reimagined fairy tales that will unnerve, disturb, and delight you. Just be sure to keep the nightlight on.
All the Murmuring Bones, A.G. Slatter
A.G. Slatter has built her illustrious career on reimagining fairy tales, and her latest novel, All the Murmuring Bones, from Titan Books, is no exception. With witches, magic, and mermaids, this book knows its way around the traditional myths and legends while also not being afraid to break new ground. The story follows Miren, whose family has made an unspeakable bargain with the sea, a bargain for which Miren is expected to pay the price. A breathtaking achievement, this is another strong entry in the Slatter canon and exactly the kind of creepy fairy tale that draws you into its darkness and never lets you go.
Gingerbread, Helen Oyeyemi
For more than a decade, Helen Oyeyemi has been consistently crafting some of the most intriguing works in literary fiction. You can’t go wrong picking up any of her books, including Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird, but there’s something about her 2019 novel Gingerbread that holds a special appeal for admirers of fairy tales. Based loosely on the Hansel and Gretel story as well as the recurring gingerbread motif in children’s tales, this one isn’t horror per se, but the darkly fantastical elements will captivate you from the very first page. Check your expectations at the door, and prepare to be dazzled by the dreamlike beauty of Oyeyemi’s unique brand of storytelling.
A Collection of Dreamscapes, Christina Sng
This year’s winner for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection at the Bram Stoker Awards, A Collection of Dreamscapes is Christina Sng’s follow-up to her award-winning A Collection of Nightmares, and it’s every bit as gorgeous as its predecessor. This time around, Sng focuses specifically on the realm of fairy tales—and how truly haunting these familiar stories are. From wolves and giants to mermaids and girls in towers, this collection has got it all, wrapped up in a perfect horror bow. Just one more example of how horror poetry is back and better than ever.
Wendy, Darling, A.C. Wise
You’ve never seen Neverland quite like this. In her brilliant debut, A.C. Wise takes the well-worn story of Peter Pan and transforms it in dark and unexpected ways. The disturbing elements of the original tale—the toxic masculinity of Peter and the Lost Boys, the dismissive treatment of Tinkerbell—have always been hiding in plain sight, and this novel proves just how much retellings are fertile ground for exploring fresh perspectives in speculative fiction. This one’s sure to be a year-end favorite for 2021, so put it on your TBR pile now and see why fans of fairy tales are raving.
Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories, Angela Carter
When it comes to fairy tales, Angela Carter was the ultimate gamechanger. It’s easy to reach for The Bloody Chamber, but if you’ve already worn through your copy of her formative collection, then consider picking up this breathtaking tome, which includes all forty-two short stories published during Carter’s lifetime. It’s staggering to think how so much of her legacy is linked to fewer than four dozen tales—and also heartbreaking to realize how much more work she could have written had she not passed away too soon at the age of fifty-one. All the more reason to cherish these strange and wondrous tales, many of which derive their chills from fairy tales, folklore, and myth. A diabolical delight from start to finish.
The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror, edited by David T. Neal & Christine M. Scott
Fairy tales and folklore have always been inextricably linked, and this anthology of folk horror shows just how true that is. With stories from authors like Steve Toase, Stephanie Ellis, and Eric J. Guignard, every tale in the table of contents is a disturbing foray into the mythic darkness that haunts us all. Nosetouch Press is producing some of the most cutting edge anthologies in the small press scene, so pick up a copy of this well-loved anthology along with its sequel, and be sure to keep your eye on what editor Christine M. Scott has got planned next. Her books are sure to horrify you in all the best ways.
Looking for more haunted folklore? Check out Scary Tales: Seven Dark Fairy Tale Retellings.