I dislike fairy tales, which long ago lost any worthwhile cultural resonance. Due, no doubt, to the ceaseless commercialization a la Disney princesses and a million other Hollywood sins, all of which removed the bloody edge of birth and death from what were once tales imparting life lessons across generations. When I see a fairy tale these days I run the other way unless convinced otherwise by someone whose judgement I trust.
And I trust the storytelling judgement of Priya Sharma. Which is why I read her new brilliant new short story "Blonde" in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Interzone.
"Blonde" is a retelling of the traditional Rapunzel fairy tale. Yet instead of being trapped in a mythical tower in a forest, here the titular character is thrown into a dystopian modern world of poverty and criminals and starvation and life among the ruins. In Sharma's retelling — which can be read equally as science fiction or fantasy — Rapunzel's ever-growing locks are valuable solely because they're blonde, an almost mystical hair color which has nearly passed from the human gene pool. But humanity's fixatation on blond hair is in no way healthy, as Rapunzel discovers to her horror.
"Blonde" is a gripping, eerie, well-written tale with the most compelling Rapunzel I've ever read. And unlike any Disney reworking of the fairy tale, this story retains its razor-slice edge as it presents a thought-provoking examination of the stereotypes and beliefs which influence the world around us.
I've long loved Sharma's stories — for my money she's one of the most underappreciated short fiction writers in the SF/F genre. She's also one of the few writers who could convince me to take a chance on a fairy tale retelling. In this case I'm glad I did.