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Familiar Diversions

I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.

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SPOILER ALERT!

Toad Words and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher

Toad Words and Other Stories - T. Kingfisher

Toad Words and Other Stories is a collection of three poems and eight stories. Almost all of them feature familiar tales that have been twisted or tweaked somehow. Be warned, my review spoils some of those twists.

If you like the cover, I should mention that there's a cute toad illustration on the title page as well.

“It Has Come To My Attention”

A poem about a person who isn't interested in the aspects of fairy tales that they're supposed to be. This was okay, but, honestly, I'm not a poetry person.

“Toad Words”

This story is a twist on the “Diamonds and Toads” tale, in which one daughter speaks and jewels fall out of her mouth and one speaks and toads fall out of her mouth. In this version, neither daughter is a particularly terrible person, and both have long since adjusted to their gift/curse. The POV character is the one who speaks and frogs and toads fall out of her mouth. When she learns that various amphibians are going extinct, she decides to do something about it.

This was nice and actually made me wish a curse like that could exist. The main character certainly made the best use of it that she could.

“The Wolf and the Woodsman”

In this “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling, a little girl called Turtle goes to her grandmother's house only to find her grandmother and a wolf waiting together for the woodsman, a man her grandmother had gotten to know and who had become increasingly controlling and violent.

So in this retelling we have the wolf reimagined as the grandmother's friend, and the woodsman reimagined as a threatening figure whose disturbing behavior has been escalating. I liked it, even though it was pretty predictable once I realized how everyone's roles had been tweaked. This was the first story that made it clear that these fairy tales were Not For Kids.

“Bluebeard's Wife”

Based on the “Bluebeard” story. Bluebeard's last wife had grown up with sisters who never respected her privacy, so she was determined to respect her husband's. When he mentioned that there was a locked door in their manor that she must never open, she never opened it and, as a result, had many pleasant years with her husband. It wasn't until after his death that she learned what he had been hiding.

One thing I liked about these retellings is that they looked at how these characters might react to their stories if they were real people. Althea, Bluebeard's last wife, was a person trying to reconcile the decent husband she'd lived with for 27 years with the horrors she later learned he'd been hiding, that she'd only escaped because she'd allowed him his privacy. I really felt for her.

“Loathly”

A “Loathly Lady” story told from the perspective of the loathly lady. This story was dark. The main character was turned into a monster, forced by magic to kill, and eventually forced to rape a man who agreed to terrible things in order to survive. Then she was raped by him after she transformed back into a human.

I had to take a break after reading this one. “The Wolf and the Woodsman” was dark, but at least the ending had some justice in it. This was just dark and heavy and left me feeling horrified for all the characters.

“The Sea Witch Sets the Record Straight”

This one is based on “The Little Mermaid.” The sea witch explains that she didn't take the mermaid's voice for herself, but rather to keep the girl from blabbing all the ocean's secrets to the prince.

Like “Toad Words,” this story has a bit of an environmental twist to it. The lighter tone was a great relief after “Loathly.” Although the sea witch was still a little villainous, she wasn't unkind. The mermaid was a bit silly and tragic, but there was still a chance that she could go back to her old life.

“Never”

A chilling reimagining of Peter Pan as a monster and a tyrant, from the perspective of a girl in his “Lost Boys” gang.

Yeah, I don't think there's a happy ending for this POV character, although I wish there were. The author did a great job twisting Peter Pan into something horrible that still fit within the framework of the original story.

“Bait”

One of the collection's three poems. I think it might be based on “The Snow Queen.” It was okay, but, again, I'm not really a poetry person.

“Night”

One of the few stories in this collection that isn't based on and doesn't reference any stories (as far as I know). It pictures “Night” as a theater production that has been going on for billions of years. I thought it was cute, and one of the most quotable stories in the whole collection. My favorite: “The excitement, that first time when there, in the third row, a self-replicating amino acid was spotted, clutching its ticket and peering around with the nearsightedness of something that lacks sense organs, and which can only be called an organism in the loosest sense of the word. It couldn't see the show, and the show couldn't see it without a microscope, but still, the tension in the air was electric.” (57)

“Boar & Apples”

A “Snow White” retelling. I'm pretty sure this was the longest story out of the bunch.

I loved the efforts of the huntsman and the other servants to quietly defy their increasingly cruel and disturbed queen. I liked Arrin, and although Snow started off as a fairly “blah” character, she gradually grew stronger and more capable. And the pigs were a great twist on the “seven dwarves” aspect.

Although it felt like the ending happened too soon and was a bit too sudden, I still really enjoyed this retelling. Even if I hadn't liked any of the other stories, I think Toad Words and Other Stories would have been worth it for this story alone.

“Odd Season”

After “Boar & Apples,” this poem was a letdown. To be honest, I didn't really get it. I felt it was the weakest work in the entire collection.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)