No Ugly Cignets Here

A Wild Swan and Other Tales
by
Michael Cunningham

Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

I’ve long been a fan of Cunningham and will happily read anything he writes – fairy tales included; these ones were a pleasure.

When I say writing, I mean literally the way individual sentences are crafted.

Ex.  It’s his lucky night. … Finally, cherries have appeared in all three of his slot machine windows. 

In classic show don’t tell style he didn’t just tell us “it was his lucky night,” or even that “he’d hit the jackpot”, instead, Cunningham gives us the momentary thrill of hitting it ourselves. “Finally, cherries have appeared in all three of his slot machine windows.”

He seems to be on a bit of a fairy tale kick at the moment. The title of his last book, The Snow Queen, was based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. (See my review of it here.)

And like the Polari first book prize winner of 2014 Fairy Tales for Lost Children Cunningham’s fairy tales are not meant for children  – at least not young children. They’re written for an adult audience. It’s kind of the reverse of going to a Pixar movie which is, ostensibly, aimed at children but with lots of hidden adult humour thrown in. These fairy tales are clearly aimed at adults but maintain the structure and fantasy elements typically at children.

He consistently takes the reader behind the scenes into the internal lives, hopes and desires of the main characters which I found gave added poignancy to the traditional morals these tales were originally designed to showcase.

Several of your favourites are here; Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk. Cunningham has renamed them; Her Hair, Beasts, Jacked. There were a few others that I’d forgotten and enjoyed being reintroduced to and one or two that I’d never heard of, which did not inhibit my pleasure in reading them.

Overall, an enjoyable and recommended collection by one of our foremost writers.

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