Fairy tales have enabled children to confront some of the darkest parts of humanity through stories with a clear moral or lesson to learn. Retellings of fairy tales often gloss over the violence and gore present in the original versions of the tales, and we forget that some of these tales sprang from dark parts of history. Bluebeard, recaptured by Metaphrog, balances the darkness of the story with the light of a new moral.
The basic premise of Bluebeard begins with a rich, mysterious man who marries a poor, beautiful young woman. Early in the marriage, he tells her he has business to attend to. He leaves her with keys to every room in his castle, but points out one key she must never use, lest she bring about his wrath. Of course the wife uses the key. She opens the door and finds bodies of previous wives, and her husband returns that night. He is about to add her to the body count when she is saved by her brothers, who kill him.
The commonly agreed origin for Bluebeard is in Charles Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose from 1697 (source: Encyclopaedia Britannica). Other cultures have similar versions of the story, and many point to tales of historical serial killers as inspiration for the tale. The stated moral in Perrault’s tale is that sating curiosity comes at a high cost and is not worth the price (perhaps in comparison to Eve and the apple). Others have since said that using the key brings about knowledge, allowing the wife to leave her naivete behind. Metaphrog’s version perhaps takes this moral further by saying if you make a decision that endangers you, while friends and family bring hope to save you, you must also be prepared to fight for yourself.
Metaphrog’s Bluebeard, a self-proclaimed feminist retelling of the tale, provides a backstory for the young woman, Eve. We see her growing up, living with her family in poverty, and developing a close friendship with Tom, a local goat herder. When Bluebeard asks her father for a daughter to marry, Eve understands her marriage will provide for her family. As in the original tale, she too falls prey to curiosity and opens the forbidden room. She is about to be killed by Bluebeard, but in this retelling, she has more agency in saving herself.
While the building of a backstory gives this version a more dynamic depiction of the wife, the way it is incorporated into the story is a bit clumsy. Characters are given more depth through details, but these details don’t seem to serve much purpose other than to lengthen the tale. For example, Eve nurses a a bird back to health that later delivers a message from Tom, but it seemed unnecessary and took several pages. Another several pages depict a terrible season for the village, emphasizing their poverty and providing a reason for Eve to feel justified in marrying a man to help her family. However, it could’ve been presented in far fewer panels, and perhaps without the panel of screaming goats that called to mind the work of Lane Smith, artist for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.
Screaming goat panel aside (which stands out in pretty stark contrast to the other artwork), the stylized art makes this retelling of Bluebeard vibrant. Pink and blue washes depict village life versus Bluebeard’s castle, saturating the pages with rich color. Many panels use silhouettes to pace the story, focusing on a quiet moment between Eve and Tom or showing the distance of the castle from the village in silhouettes climbing Bluebeard’s mountain. Bluebeard is set apart from the villagers by his opulent clothing—a giant cloak, fur collar, hat, and cane—and Eve stands out with her shining pink hair with pearlescent highlights. Despite being a gory story, gore is not depicted. The closet of dead women is a panel of shirts and feet washed in red.
Metaphrog wrote this story as a children’s book, aimed at ages 7 and up. The age range is appropriate, especially for parents reading the book to their children. Some parents may feel uncomfortable with the morbid closet of dead wives, but parents who share non-Disney fairy tale stories with their kids are unlikely to mind. The story is labeled as a “feminist retelling,” but I wouldn’t add it to a display of books of such a theme, because it’s not overtly so. I would add this tale to a digital collection, but I don’t know if it merits a spot on shelves where real estate is a high commodity. This version of Bluebeard didn’t really resonate strongly with me, but I am completely on board for more graphic novels and comics retelling fairy tales that give more agency and depth to characters while retaining some of the darkness of the original stories.
Publisher Age Rating: 7+
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Related to…: Retelling