The Fairy Tale Roots of Melissa Albert's Bewitching "The Hazel Wood"

Seira Wilson on February 26, 2018

HazelWood.jpgIf you love dark fairy tales like those written by the Brothers Grimm, then I think you’re going to love Melissa Albert’s debut novel, The Hazel Wood.

Bad luck follows Alice and her mother everywhere and they’ve led a nomadic life trying to stay one step ahead of the strange and terrible things that befall them. Then there’s the Hinterland, a dark world of fairy tales written by her grandmother, whose characters seem to have jumped from their world into Alice’s.

There’s suspense, drama, and fantastic story telling to be found in The Hazel Wood, and everything that’s promised on this incredible book cover comes true on the page….

*The Hazel Wood is one of our Best Books of February*

 * *

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses"

This tale—of twelve sisters who open a secret door in their bedroom each night, trip down a hidden flight of stairs to an enchanted underground kingdom, and dance their shoes to shreds—is the closest the Grimm Brothers come to portal fantasy. It contains gorgeous images: the subterranean lake, the nighttime kingdom, the groves of silver, gold, and diamond trees. And it’s never clear what’s going on with the princesses: Do they want to dance all night, or have they been cursed? Are they longing to be saved by a clever suitor, or is he spoiling their fun? Bonus: for a good time, Google “Kay Nielsen Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The illustrations the artist created for the tale are epic. Second bonus: For irresistible full-length retellings, check out Sarah Cross’s Tear You Apart and Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing.

GrimmFairyTales.jpg"The Juniper Tree"

This one just might be the darkest classic fairy tale there is. It opens with a Snow White-ish setup: a childless woman longs for a baby as red and white as the apple she’s peeling. She gets her baby, but dies soon after, and her husband marries the wickedest stepmother in the canon. Years later, in a jealous rage, she kills her stepson, cooks him into a stew, and feeds him to his dad—but all is not lost! His grieving half-sister buries his bones, and his soul transmutes into a vengeful bird, which sings a lovely rhyme that opens like this: “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my sister she buried my bones.” It’s a rhyme I pay homage to at a crucial moment in The Hazel Wood.

"Snow White and Rose Red"

This is the rare fairy tale in which two siblings get along, and aren’t even trying to marry the same princess. These sisters, Snow White and Rose Red, live in a forest idyll, doing foresty fairytale things (gathering berries, taking naps on moss, hanging out with friendly rabbits). It was definitely #goals for me as a young reader, and of course their naïve goodness is rewarded in the end, when their bear bestie turns out to be a prince in disguise with a hot single brother. Yes!

Beauty.jpg"Beauty and the Beast"

I love this classic tale best through its wonderful retellings: Robin McKinley’s quietly lovely Beauty and dreamlike Rose Daughter, Naomi Novik’s funny, feminist Uprooted, Rosamund Hodge’s wildly creative Cruel Beauty. Even Angela Carter takes it on in short form, in her edgy, haunting, drunken-thesaurus style. It’s a tale made to be given new skins, and I never get tired of rediscovering it.

"The Girl Without Hands"

I gained a new appreciation for this creepy tale after seeing a gorgeous stage adaptation based on it called “The Wild Bride.” It contains a foolish father who accidentally trades his daughter to the devil, a girl whose piety saves her (she does lose her hands, but hey, they grow back), and a winding plot that’s equally parts bloody magic and spirituality. It’s a seriously weird one.

 —Melissa Albert

You might also like:


Sign up for the Amazon Book Review: Best books of the month * author interviews * the reading life * and more

Shop this article on

Lists + Reviews

Best Books Literature + Fiction Nonfiction Kids + Young Adult Mystery, Thriller + Suspense Science Fiction + Fantasy Comics + Graphic Novels Romance Eating + Drinking


Interviews Guest Essays Celebrity Picks

News + Features

News Features Awards


Omnivoracious, The Amazon Book Review

Feeds Facebook Twitter YouTube