Wish Upon A Southern Star – a review

Wish Upon a Southern Star, edited by Shelley Chappell

Reviewed by Lee Murray


“Stories change, but fairy tales never go out of fashion. Like a basic item of clothing, they may be reshaped, trimmed, decorated with frills or remodelled altogether,” writes editor Shelley Chappell in the introduction to Wish Upon a Southern Star, a stunning new collection of fairy tales, freshly re-imagined by new and established writers from Australian and New Zealand. Chappell says, “the authors in this collection have run the traditional tales through the mill and come out with new cloth.” Indeed, some are barely recognisable, like Philippa Werry’s evocative and beautifully-crafted Snow from the South, a contemporary version of the Snow Queen, appropriately set in Antarctica at a time when ‘melt pools were forming in the sea ice”. New Zealand might have guardianship of only a small part of the frozen land, yet Kiwi readers will find a familiarity in this haunting retelling of the classic tale.

Other authors have delved deeper into the characters, revealing the cursed backstories which shape futures and lead characters to emerge as the hero (or the villain depending on the one’s perspective). Simon Fogarty’s Belletower, a dark rendering of Rapunzel, is one such tale, a sweeping saga of multiple characters and hidden motivations, cleverly retold in the short form. Hillary Barrett’s Signor Frizzio – A Hairy Fairy Story, a corporate rebranding of Rapunzel, is, by contrast, a hilarious send up with a wonderful OTT voice that you will want to read aloud; much like Hannah Davison’s Snapunzel, another satirical account where the story arc is charmingly revealed via changing relationship statuses on Facebook. Australian Goldie Alexander’s Jacqui and the GM Beanstalk too is a quasi-spoof, albeit with a serious moral about the dangers of gambling. Nevertheless, the general light-heartedness of these versions remind us that the primary purpose of fairy tales is to engage and entertain.

Angela Oliver’s Kissa Whitepaw is a delightful version of a less well known fairy tale from Iceland, Kisa the Cat, this time told not from the princess’ perspective, but from the kitten’s, making it perfect bedtime reading younger readers. One of my favourite stories in Wish Upon a Star is Stacey Campbell’s exquisite Hine-te-iwaiwa and Rumpelstiltskin in which the author seamlessly blends two traditional storytelling styles, also incorporating te reo to create an exceptional story unlikely to be found in any other collection. A standout.

Along with its 21 wonderfully different stories, Wish Upon a Southern Star also offers readers a poem, a recipe, and suggestions for further reading: a list of fantasy stories based on fairy tales, including titles by SpecFicNZ members Juliet Marillier and Helen Lowe. A truly stellar collection, familiar and yet full of surprises.

Blurb: The Southern Cross shines high above a fairy tale wood. Come step inside. Drink dew from the leaves with tiny Tommelise. Eat egg sandwiches with a toothy young troll. Escape with Rapunzel. Trick Rumpelstiltskin. Shiver in the snow. Climb the beanstalk. Pray to the Piper. Be a cat. In and out of the wood, whether in this world or another, these stories will take you to new places. Explore how far you can go in this anthology of twenty-one fairy tale retellings by New Zealand and Australian authors.

Featuring retold fairy tales by Mahoney Adair, Goldie Alexander, Hilary Barrett, Stacey Campbell, Shelley Chappell, Hannah Davison, Graham Davidson, Simon Fogarty, Maria Hansen, S.M. Harris, K.S. Liggett, Sara Litchfield, John Lowe, Virginia Lowe, Megan Norris, Angela Oliver, Kate O’Neil, J.L. O’Rourke, Leigh Roswen, Philippa Werry, and Tony Wilson.

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