The fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm are deceptively simple: little character development, plots full of holes, dubious moral stances. Like the red-as-blood apple offered to Snow White, these primal plots have long tempted contemporary writers to make their own mark. The latest, “The Fairies Return” is a reissue of a 1934 anthology of “British, literary, and for the most part, playfully satiric” fairy tales for adults.
Publisher Peter Davies was the best possible person to commission such a book: The adopted son of “Peter Pan” author J. M. Barrie, Davies was rumored to be the inspiration for the “boy who would not grow up,” much to his later chagrin. But sadly, many of the stories in “The Fairies Return’’ read like historical relics in a time capsule from interwar England. Devices like Irish dialect, narrating to an imagined audience of clamoring children, and anachronistic in-jokes make the stories seem as if they’re working too hard to be funny.