Whenever we pick up a collection of fairy tales, we expect to be relieved by their happy endings, especially when they are re-told tales by the Brothers Grimm. Thus contemporary authors of refurbished fairy tales such as Robin McKinley ("The Door in the Hedge"), Charles de Lint ("Jack the Giant Killer") and William Goldman ("The Princess Bride") continue to offer prescriptions for happiness a la Grimm. Not so Wendy Walker. She is a writer more along the lines of Angela Carter ("Bloody Chamber") and Tanith Lee ("Red as Blood"), for she probes the murkier side of fairy tales and provokes readers to search for the hidden meanings of unresolved conflicts.
Walker has rewritten six tales from the Grimms' "Children's and Household Tales," composed two new stories about Samson and Delilah and the woman who lived in a boot, and invented a parable about the cathedral of Notre Dame, all with the purpose of altering our customary notions about the classical fairy-tale tradition and the real-life conflicts within it. She accomplishes her modernist goal of restoring the unspoken of the traditional tales by fleshing out the lives of the original characters, probing their psyches, and altering narrative perspectives.
In the title tale of the book, "The Sea Rabbit," based on the Grimms' "The Little Hamster From the Water," she presents an unlikely protagonist, who refuses to accept the role of hero. He is not particularly enamored of the cruel and haughty princess, who takes pleasure in cutting off the heads of her suitors. Despite the fact that he outwits the princess and "wins" her, he is not optimistic about the future.