Sara's Reviews > Swan Sister: Fairy Tales Retold

Swan Sister by Ellen Datlow
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Oct 12, 09

Read in October, 2009

** spoiler alert **

Summary and Analysis: This book is a collection of "fairy tales retold" written by many different authors and contains two versions of Little Red Riding Hood, a version of Rapunzel, a version of Sleeping Beauty, and many more. This collection would be appropriate for middle school readers, as intermediate readers might miss some of the humor in the tales. The two Little Red Riding Hood tales within this book are called "Little Red and the Big Bad" and "Lupe".

Little Red and the Big Bad gives the traditional tale an urban setting and the narrator tells the tale in urban slang, "You know I'm giving the straight and deep 'cause it's about a friend of a friend. A few weeks back, just 'cross town, a true sweet chiquita, called Red for her fave red hoodie, gets a 911 from her momma's momma." In this tale, Red is given the task of bringing Chinese take-out to her sick grandmother and meets "Big Bad" along the way. Big Bad appears to be a typical neighborhood hooligan but Red finds him attractive and can't help but flirt a little bit. Turns out, Big Bad sees Red's grandmother's address on the takeout slip and beats her there. Once inside, he threatens them for the Chinese take out. This tale is left open ended, as the narrator does not tell us what happens to the characters.

Lupe, on the other hand, presents a more traditional version of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. In Lupe, a young girl named Guadelupe - Lupe for short - spends a great deal of her time in the woods, in order to escape the misery in her family following the death of her baby brother. Eventually, Lupe is given the task of visiting Old Blanca, the terrifying witch that lives in the woods. Lupe's grief-stricken mother gives her this task because, as she puts it, "'Who else can help me? Who else will give me back what I have lost?'" Lupe reaches Old Blanca's house without incident but is confronted by a wolf after she enters Old Blanca's house. The wolf disappears after frightening Lupe, and Old Blanca is suddenly present. One gets the sense that the wolf was actually Old Blanca and Lupe had just passed some sort of test. Old Blanca does agree to help Lupe and her family and upon returning home - Lupe finds that the deep depression that had a hold of her family is now gone. Soon enough, Lupe's mother announces that she is again pregnant.

Both of these tales are very different than the traditional fairy tale version of Little Red Riding Hood and I enjoyed both equally. Little Red and Big Bad was truly a pleasure to read because it was full of humor and it represented the only "realistic fiction" retelling of the fairy tale I had encountered. However, the author's decision to make this tale a "cliff hanger" did not sit well with me but I did enjoy the suspensful implication at the end that "Big Bad" was not too far away from the reader. I also was a little confused during Little Red and Big Bad because after describing Big Bad as a neighborhood thug, it seemed that he was actually a wolf after all during the climax of the story and the traditional dialogue. I would have prefered that the author did not return to the literal interpretation of an actual wolf as the antagonist in this tale.

On the other hand, Lupe was the stronger story, for me, because it did not have the feel of a Red Riding Hood retelling. It seems to me that Lupe can stand alone in its own right. The only major elements that Lupe and Little Red Riding Hood has in common was the woods as a setting and the presence of a wolf. In Lupe, the woods are portrayed in a positive light, a place to be cautious of - but not to be afraid of. In fact, Lupe finds refuge in the woods when her family falls apart following the death of her younger brother. In Lupe, the wolf is a minor portion of the story - one gets the sense that the wolf isn't even real and the traditional dialogue between Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf is missing from this tale.
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