Teenage fiction: Magic for a modern age

11th April 2003 at 01:00

Beauty
By Robin McKinley
David Fickling Books pound;10.99

Poison
By Chris Wooding
Scholastic Press pound;12.99

The Folk Keeper
By Franny Billingsley
Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;5.99

Tithe: a modern faerie tale
By Holly Black
Simon amp; Schuster pound;7.99

In these days of gutter-realism teen fiction and horror-fantasy sword sagas, what is the place for the traditional fairytale?

In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim tried to unearth reasons for the power and longevity of fairytales. Rather as Freud had for myth, Bettelheim concluded that fairytales persisted because they served a twin purpose: they dealt with unresolved primal conflicts and they pointed out lessons for adult life.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast , for instance, touched on the irrepressible potency of sexuality and its taming into conjugality; on a more practical level, it offered sage advice on such knotty points as keeping promises, looking after family interests and treating even the most startling acquaintances with respect and good manners.

Not everyone agreed with Bettelheim, then or now. Magical beings who are capricious yet attractive, like but unlike humanity, are appealing to authors and readers, perhaps, because they allow us to explore hived-off human attributes; because they bring in new plot possibilities, defying laws of probability; or simply because they are great characters.

Such possibilities are delightfully explored in a new crop of fairytales for today, while the best of them also resonate with the beat of deeper meanings.

Read the reviews in this week's TES

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