I recently read Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Gingerbread, which was like reading a lucid dream. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, and I’m still thinking about it. It is modern, smart, funny, and filled with enchantment mashups (think hidden land like the island in Lost mixed with gingerbread houses, but sophisticated).
The book, as I gather many of her books are, is loosely based on (or at least references) a fairy tale. In the case of Gingerbread, that fairy tale is “Hansel and Gretel.” As I sorted my thoughts after reading the novel — I’m not going to lie, the novel challenges the reader and does not dumb anything down for you — I tried to put its pieces together to see if it parallels “Hansel and Gretel,” and if there were any clues that would help me understand deeper meanings that were there.
I texted my mom.
”Hi mom! Do y’all still have the Grimm’s book of fairy tales?”
They did! And a book of Russian fairy tales too. Mom boxed them up and sent them right away. Today they arrived in the mail.
As a young person, I turned to this book of fairy tales whenever I was bored or ran out of other reading material at home. My favorite story was “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and as I scanned the table of contents today, I remembered “The Fisherman and His Wife,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” and “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” I’m so happy to have this to turn to again when I want to be transported.
The Grimm’s Fairy Tales has “50¢” penciled in on the front end paper. 50¢! The copyright date is in Roman numerals: MCMXLV (1945). In the front of the book of Russian fairy tales, in my beloved grandfather’s penciled handwriting, is his name. I haven’t seen his handwriting in many years, and I love having this book that he held and read.
Now I’ve got my afternoon cup of coffee and fairy tales to disappear into. And now I’ll be ready for the next Helen Oyeyemi book I pick up.