Donoghue, Emma. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins. 1997. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 1999. Summary
: Twelve revised and loosely interlocking fairytales with a lesbian theme for a young adult audience. Comments
: A large font, widely-spaced lines, short chapters, and easy-to-read yet engrossing plots made this odd little book of retold fairytales the perfect book for the long commute. These traits also make what could easily have become an esoteric, self-congratulatory exercise on the author's part that only the most passionate feminist and/or lesbian literature fans would bother to pick up. Thankfully, Donoghue for the most part manages to sidestep this temptation, and the book remains interesting even for readers, who are, presumably, teenagers, uninterested in her agenda.
Though, of course, caring about her agenda certainly helps, and the agenda certainly is a novel one: recasting the archetypal heroine/evil stepmother or witch relationship so common to fairytales as a lover/lover one. In the process, she also--naturally--denounces the promise of "the prince" and the heteronormative lifestyle it implicitly advocates. (I bet the author would love Shoujo Kakumei Utena
...) Some fairytales seem to lend themselves better such revision than others; I especially liked "The Tale of the Apple," which recasts the wicked stepmother of Snow White as a potential lover for the heroine (once they both overcome their biases, naturally).
All of the stories are interlinked by a moment of exchange, where the "heroine" asks another figure in the story, usually the "witch," to tell her own story. At which point, the "witch" becomes the "heroine" of a story of her own. This is easily the didactic element of the book--a hidden oral tradition of lesbian women--and it could have continued indefinitely, but Donoghue wraps it all up in the thirteenth story (which I believe is original and not based on a fairytale). The denouement is the following statement made by a "witch" who lives in a cave: "...I am inclined to think that a witch should not kiss. Perhaps it is the not being kissed that makes her a witch; perhaps the source of her power is the breath of loneliness about her." In other words, none of these women in any of the stories were witches at all because they had all been kissed--and no woman who knows love of any sort could be anything other than the heroine of her own fairytale. Self-esteem-building stuff. Notes
: trade paperback, 1st printing Rating
- Highly ambitious, though imperfect. Recommended specifically for teenaged lesbians.