Once upon a time, a literary iconoclast mocked classical fairy tales, and it was good.
It’s not often a book is nimble enough to extract laughs in its first paragraph, but these twisted fairy tales from memoirist-novelist Knipfel (Unplugging Philco, 2009, etc.) are the exception. In its charming, Douglas Adams–esque preface, the author reinvents Genesis with Satan at the helm. “In the beginning was the Void,” Knipfel writes. “But it wasn’t long before the Void started to lose its charm. I mean, what’s so great about the Void? You stare into it, it stares into you, and that’s really about the extent of it. Before you know it, it’s time for a snack.” This opener is followed by 13 parables that jab at folklore with unconventional wit. Among wicked elves and anthropomorphic chickens, there are many standouts. “The Boy Who Came To His Senses” reverses the Cinderella story with profane pragmatism when a youngster finds that scoring a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Plants Ain’t No Good” rocks Little Shop of Horrors from the plant’s POV. Kafka-esque nightmares re-emerge in “Six-Leggity Beasties,” while the tale “Rancid, the Devil Horse,” about a bank-robbing pony, is capped off with, “Indeed, it wasn’t Rancid at all. It was his showboating, drama queen of a younger brother, El Ran Hubbard.” Sure, the humor is intentionally juvenile in places, but it’s obvious that Knipfel knows the sacred ground on which he trespasses. Happily ever after, indeed.
Traditionalists, scholars and children need not apply. Everyone else ought to put down their milk before reading.