I came to read A.S. Byatt by way of her novel Possession, a book I very much enjoyed. I was extremely intrigued to note that she also writes fairy tales, five of which are featured in this book. The first two are actually in Possession, which initially gave me an incredible sense of déjà vu until I went and read all of the original publication information and realized why they seemed so familiar. These two stories fit the Victorian setting of that novel well. It’s the other three stories that offer the greatest contrasts of the book.
“The Eldest Princess” is apparently a semi-autobiographical story, at least in that the author is an eldest child, and that had long worried her, because the eldest children in fairy stories are seldom the happy heroes of the tales. It’s an idea that had never occurred to me (I’m an eldest child), but was definitely thought provoking (especially after reading her notes about the story.)
“Dragon’s Breath” was a bit of a disappointment. I admit to not seeing the point of this story. There were three main characters, but I’m not sure what they were there to do, and the device of the dragons was somewhat mystifying.
“The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” was an enjoyable story, a fairy tale set in the modern world, and a very interesting take on the traditional story of the genie and three wishes.
I read through these stories in only one day, and had my mother and sister reading out of the book when I was done. Very highly recommended.