fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terri Windling The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood's SurvivorsThe Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors by Terri Windling

I love adult fairy tales, but it seems that all too often, writers pump up the sex and violence to render the tales “adult,” rather than more deeply exploring the human emotional dramas in the stories. Maybe that’s why I love the anthology The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors which was edited by Terri Windling. The tales and poems here do include sex and violence, yes, but at their heart is the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

So many of the classic fairy tales include situations that we would now call abuse. Hansel and Gretel were abandoned, Donkeyskin suffered incest, and the original Sleeping Beauty was raped rather than kissed. In most of these stories, the protagonist endures great pain, then rises above the suffering and triumphs over his or her tormentors. In the old versions, the protagonist often does this by gaining fortune and position. In the retellings collected in The Armless Maiden, the victory is more often psychological. Marina Warner writes that, more than any other distinguishing characteristic, “metamorphosis defines the fairy tale.” In these stories, we see victims transformed into survivors.

These are serious, and often heartbreaking, retellings. My personal favorites include Emma Bull‘s poem “The Stepsister’s Story,” in which one of Cinderella’s stepsisters regrets the friendship they never had; and Ellen Kushner‘s short story “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” which features a young girl left in the care of a cold-hearted guardian and haunted by the ghost of the woman’s unhappy daughter. I recommend The Armless Maiden both to abuse survivors and to anyone with an interest in sensitively retold fairy tales.

The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors — (1995) Publisher: An exploration of the benefits of a fantasy life for victims of childhood abuse combines the works of such author as Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen, and Steven Gould with essays on the transforming powers of fairy tales.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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