I first came about this collection of stories through the inclusion of two of its works in the Neil Jordan film, the Company of Wolves. From this, I was immediately impressed and intrigued by Carter’s style of writing. In ‘the Company of Wolves’, we saw the ingenious juxtaposition between the varying mythologies of the fairy story, with the natural-sexual awakening of the adolescent. This is the defining factor of these works. Though the stories move from place to place to explore further myths and legends, it is this one consistent thread that anchors the stories together to create a unified work. The writer creates reoccurring motifs of love, lust and sexuality that give the stories a further narrative cohesion, despite being generally fragmented in terms of characters and scope.
The unity of the book, and the sustaining of the literary atmosphere, is also created through the varied textual forms that Carter chooses to chronicle. So, for her examinations here the writer hand-picks legends that have the strongest roots in sensuality... so we have vampirism, werewolves, feral children, and jungle beasts beguiling and defiling a succession of young women in a series of deeply emotional narrative episodes. To go into any great detail about these stories would be a great injustice to readers who are yet to experience Carter’s poetic use of language and deft storytelling capabilities. Needless to say, the stories featured drip with a dense, erotic atmosphere that is occasionally overwhelming... though there is also a strong underlining of horror, tension and mystery; with the reader free to read between the lines and decode the various clues that Carter layers within her work.
The author’s real genius though, is her ability to depict the more mundane aspects of life, and enrich them beyond the realms of everyday literature into a kind of Technicolor majesty through the use of poetic prose, self-referentialism, biblical quotations and more than a hint of metaphorical imagery. She also writes her stories in a beautiful stream of conscious style that is filled with richly constructed details, which brings to life every action in a completely vivid way to further develop the evocative world that is created especially for us. It’s an audacious device, but one that works exceptionally well with this kind of material... so because of this, the continual atmosphere of gothic gloom also helps to lull the reader into an almost hypnotic state in which Carter’s words can re-develop, in order to take on newer, more subjective meanings.
This book takes us on a beautiful, shocking and often frightening journey into realms of innocence and sensuality that few literary works can equate. Carter’s talent as a storyteller and as a poet are greatly under-appreciated by the so-called people in the know (how else can you explain her lack of inclusion in the Big Read’s Top 100?), and, when viewed in the context of this book, becomes something of a sad reminder of what a great talent we’ve lost. Thankfully, this book should succeed in opening your eyes to her genius, since it brilliantly demonstrates her various creative skills mirrored within each of these separate stories.