The Brocaded Slipper: A Review or The Trouble With Fairy Tales

The Brocaded Slipper coverI like mythology. I like fairy tales. I like Disney movies. I like anti-princess books even though I feel like the term is kind of aggressive and confrontational. That said, it’s easy to forget, with sanitized Disney/picture book versions aplenty, how very creepy some fairy tales can be.

Such was my main difficulty with The Brocaded Slipper and Other Vietnamese Tales (1982) by Lynette Dyer Vuong with illustrations by Vo-Dinh Mai. Although these stories originate in Vietnam, the stories have familiar counterparts in the West collected by the Brother Grimm in Europe. Readers well-versed in fairy tales will recognize Cinderella, Thumbelina, Rip Van Winkle, the Frog Prince, and even Goose Girl (who I must admit I did not recognize). Readers familiar with the original Grimm stories, or even the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, will recognize the brutal, grim, tone found in so many “original” fairy tales.

Just to give an idea of what I mean, in the title story (a version of Cinderella) the heroine Tam achieves happily ever after only to be killed by her evil stepsister. Three times. Once, when she returns to life as a bird, Tam is eaten.

The stories in this volume are told in a style very similar to the Grimm tales. While the names might not be familiar, the stories will be for some readers. Each story runs about twenty (small) pages with larger print, so the book goes by fast. This is a great companion to any collection of Western tales for readers looking to broaden their fairy tale perspectives.

I found The Brocaded Slipper difficult to deal with for a lot of reasons. While I like fairy tales it has become increasingly more difficult to purely enjoy them. Reading from an English major’s perspective the stories feel simplified. From a feminist perspective they are often chauvinistic and support gender stereotypes. They can be scary and violent and even gory. Often they’re just plain weird.

And yet, the main thing I got from this collection was a question: How did we get from Cinderella being eaten to a world of happily ever after?