It’s a misconception that nursery rhymes and fairy tales are for the innocent. Nursery rhymes contain a good deal of violence and mayhem; the rhymes seem to have come from a variety of sources, including traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of medieval plays, drinking songs, historical events, and, possibly, ancient pagan rituals.
There have been numerous short story anthologies and novels based on fairy tales (which also can be very violent). This book, Two and Twenty Dark Tales, edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink, presents short stories that are twists on familiar and some unfamiliar Mother Goose rhymes. The book is intended for young adults. I was taught, and in turn, taught that young adult fiction had, if not happy endings, at least hopeful endings. These stories don’t fit that criteria. These are horror stories with uncomfortable situations and disquieting endings.
In “Clockwork,” one of the more familiar rhymes, “Hickory, dickory, dock, The mouse ran up the clock,” includes the murders of the royal family, witchcraft, and betrayal. In the end, the princess turns herself back into a mouse and scampers off.
In “The Wish,” using “Star Light, Star bright,” the girl gets the wishes she wishes tonight: Death. “Tick Tock” is the old-fashioned babysitter’s nightmare; let’s just say that she doesn’t get paid.
All of these stories are well-written and disturbing. Some people may feel that they are too scary for young readers; however, as Francisco X. Stork writes in the preface, the book “is an attempt to respond to the more complex mind of the young adult person. Life gets messy in adolescence, and the simple answers of childhood are no longer sufficient.” Bruno Bettelheim held that fairy tales with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in figurative and mythical terms. If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
I found this book meets its goal and its purpose and would recommend it to the horror story fan, young adult or old adult.