"The Bloody Chamber"
"The Bloody Chamber" is based on the legend of Bluebeard. The nameless heroine tells the story many years after the events in it happened. She narrates in present tense, going back to the age of seventeen, when she is married off to a Marquis. She is a poor pianist, who is attracted to the considerably older Marquis because of his wealth. The Marquis has already been married three times, and his last wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Despite her unease at the Marquis's impenetrable personality, the heroine is excited to move into his extravagant seaside castle. The Marquis gives her a painting of Saint Cecilia at the organ as well as a wide ruby choker as wedding gifts. The Marquis takes the heroine's virginity in a room filled with mirrors and then is called out of town suddenly on business. He leaves the heroine with keys to every look in the castle, but forbids her to enter one room that he says is his oasis and his hell. In the Marquis's absence, the heroine befriends a blind piano-tuner named Jean-Yves. She orders the servants around like a spoiled child and is so overwhelmed by the luxury surrounding her that she calls her mother to complain.
Later, while exploring the castle, the heroine accidentally drops all the keys on the floor. The first she happens to pick up is the key to the forbidden room, and, overwhelmed by curiosity, she sets out to the remote corner of the castle where it lies. In the dark chamber, the heroine finds the corpses of the Marquis's three former wives, whom he murdered. He killed his last wife so recently that her body is still bleeding onto the floor. The heroine is so shocked that drops her key in the blood. Then she regains her composure, destroys all evidence of her having been in the room, and locks the door behind her. The phone is dead, so she enlists the help of Jean-Yves, who tells her that the castle is known in folklore as the Castle of Murder. They find that the bloodstain on the key has resolved into a red heart that will not disappear no matter how hard they scrub it. Just then, the Marquis returns, claiming that his trip was cancelled. The heroine tries to stay calm, but panics when she sees all the servants, save Jean-Yves, leaving for the mainland.
The Marquis demands to see the key and, noticing the bloodstain, he announces that he will behead the heroine. He presses the key against her forehead so that the bloodstain transfers to her skin. Jean-Yves accompanies the heroine to the courtyard, where the Marquis has prepared a chopping block and sword for her 'immolation.' Before he can kill the heroine, her mother bursts into the courtyard on horseback and kills the Marquis with a bullet to the head. She knew instinctively from her daughter's phone call that she was in grave danger. At the story's end, some years later, we find the heroine and Jean-Yves happily married and living with the heroine's mother on the edge of Paris. They have given away the Marquis's fortune and turned the castle into a school for the blind. They make a modest living by tuning pianos and giving piano lessons. The heroine ends the story by saying she is glad Jean-Yves cannot see the indelible mark on her forehead, because it spares her shame.
"The Courtship of Mr. Lyon"
A third-person narrator relates to us the tale of "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," which is based on the story of Beauty and the Beast. The story centers on Beauty, a young woman with an unusually unspoiled nature. Beauty waits at home for her father, who has gotten trapped in a snowstorm on his way back from a business meeting. He has just discovered that he has lost all his wealth. Beauty's father approaches a house for help and is astonished when the door opens and closes behind him without anyone touching it. A spaniel greets him and leads him to a room where food and a card to call a tow-truck service is set out for him. When he leaves the house, he accidentally knocks the snow off a single, perfect white rose that is growing, though it is the dead of winter. He picks it for Beauty, because she requested that he bring her a white rose and he is too poor to buy one. Suddenly, the Beast, a creature with a lion's head, appears beside Beauty's father and shakes him violently for trying to steal his rose. Beauty's father appeals to the Beast, showing him a picture of Beauty. The Beast decides that he will forgive him and help him regain his fortune if Beauty stays in his house while her father is in London.
Beauty does not want to live with the Beast, but she finds him sadly intriguing. One night, after their customary fireside talk, the Beast throws himself on Beauty and licks her hands, then flees on all fours. Pity overcomes her. The Beast keeps his promise, helps Beauty's father regain his wealth, and lets Beauty join him in London. Beauty promises the Beast she will return before winter ends. In London, Beauty learns to be pampered and petulant. She sends the Beast roses, but otherwise forgets him. One day, the spaniel arrives at Beauty's door, ragged and frantic. Beauty realizes that the Beast is dying, and rushes to his home, where she finds him motionless in a bed in the attic. He explains that since she left, he has not had the strength to hunt. Beauty throws herself upon the Beast and as her tears fall on his face, he transforms into a human. Even in human form as Mr. Lyon, the Beast's long hair and broken nose make him resemble his namesake. At the story's end, we see into the future, where Mr. and Mrs. Lyon happily stroll their estate together.
"The Tiger's Bride"
The nameless Russian heroine of "The Tiger's Bride" is also the narrator. Like "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," this story is based on the tale of Beauty and the Beast. The heroine explains that her father lost her to The Beast by wagering her in a game of cards. He had already bet all his wealth, and because he is a gambling addict, could not resist wagering his daughter. The Beast lives in a remote part of Italy, secluded from human contact. He covers his body from head to toe, including concealing his face with a mask showing a perfect man's face. He cannot speak normally, so that his valet must translate his growls. The heroine moves into the Beast's dirty and unadorned mansion, where he tells her (through his valet) that his sole wish is to see her naked.
In exchange for a glimpse of her virgin body, The Beast promises to return her and all her father's wealth. The heroine defiantly tells The Beast that she will not undress for him, but will concede to merely pull her skirts above her head. The Beast is so ashamed by her anger that he cries a single tear. Then the valet takes the heroine to a windowless cell where a wind-up soubrette attends her. When he tries to give her diamond earrings, she throws them into the corner. She even threatens to kill herself.
When the valet escorts the heroine back to The Beast's room, she again shames him with her reluctance to undress before him and he cries a second tear. After locking her in her cell for more hours, the valet summons the heroine to come riding with him and The Beast. Out in the country, the heroine realizes that she feels more akin to The Beast, the valet, and the very horses than she ever has to men. She understands that society considers her to be as soulless as an animal. The valet announces that because the heroine is reluctant to disrobe for The Beast, he will disrobe for her. The Beast takes off his clothing to reveal that he is a tiger. His gesture moves the heroine to take off her shirt, but this embarrasses The Beast and she dresses again.
Back at the castle, the heroine looks into the soubrette's mirror and sees her father rejoicing amongst his wealth, which The Beast has returned. She is free to go home. Yet the narrator suddenly realizes that she does not want to leave. She strips naked, dons a fur that The Beast gave her, and begins to run to his room. On the way, she encounters the valet, who has also stripped naked to reveal himself as an ape. The heroine's furs turn back into rats and run away. The heroine finds The Beast pacing distraughtly in his chamber. When he first sees her, he is afraid of her. Then, realizing that she wants to stay with him, he begins to purr so loudly that the walls shake and windows shatter. The Beast begins to lick the heroine with his rough tongue, pulling off her human skin to reveal that she is, in fact, a tigress.
The title character of "Puss-in-Boots" narrates the story. Puss is a conceited tomcat who takes pride in wooing, acrobatics, and "singing." He acquired his characteristic boots when a young man threw them at him in response to his 'concert' of yowling. Seeing Puss put on the boots, the young man realized he was clever and invited him to be his valet and companion. Puss and his master are a team of trouble-making, lecherous bachelors and have a great time together until Puss's master falls in love with the young wife of Signor Panteleone. Panteleone, a notorious miser, keeps her locked up in a tower and allows her in town only to attend church, veiled and accompanied by her guardian hag.
Puss dances for the young lady as she walks in town so that she laughs and pulls back hr veil to reveal her face. After seeing his love's face, Puss's master becomes totally consumed by his love and desire for her. To Puss's dismay, he not only refrains from all raucous bachelor behavior, but even stops eating. Puss hatches a plot to get the lady to sleep with his master in hopes of regaining his master's attention. When his first plan, a serenade, fails, Puss befriends Tabby, the young lady's cat, and conspires with her to create a diversion so that the hag will leave his master alone with her mistress.
Puss and his master arrive disguised as rat catchers at Signor Panteleone's house, throughout which Tabby has strewn rats. The terrified hag lets them in and the young lady convinces her to leave her alone with them in her room. There, Puss's master takes the young woman's virginity as Puss makes a racket to cover their moans. Later, Puss discovers that sex has only fanned his master's desire for the young lady. Ever the faithful servant and friend, he hatches another plot with Tabby. Early one morning, Tabby trips Signor Panteleone in his dark stairwell so that he falls and breaks his neck. Puss and his master arrive disguised as doctors, and pronounce him dead. Then Puss's master and the young woman have sex-on the floor-because Signor Panteleone's corpse occupies the bed. Their lovemaking scandalizes the hag when she returns, but the young lady pacifies her with generous severance pay.
At the story's end, Puss's master and his pregnant wife live happily together with Puss and Tabby. Tabby has already given birth to kittens, which bring everyone great joy. Puss ends his tale with a characteristically conceited wish for every man and woman to have a cat as clever as he.
The heroine tells the story of "The Erl King" as it happens. She walks through the forest in late fall, sensing around her an overwhelming mood of death and decay. The heroine explains that people, like Red Riding Hood, fall prey to their own illusions in the woods because there, "everything ... is exactly as it seems." The Erl-King draws the heroine to him with his birdcall, which sounds simultaneously girlish and mournful. He is a creature much at home in nature, and in fact seems to have come alive from nature's "desire." He eats weeds, lives in a house 'alive' with moss and lichen, and can make every creature in the forest obey him. Countless caged birds are suspended from the walls of his tidy home, and a fiddle with no strings hangs on the wall.
The Erl-King has seduced the heroine into visiting him frequently to make love and learn the ways of the woods. When he makes love to her, he bites her neck. Although the heroine is not afraid of the Erl-King, she fears the way he knocks her senses off-balance, making her feel as though he is controlling her. She fears that she will become trapped in the eerie greenness of his gaze.
The heroine's fears of entrapment are justified, because the Erl-King is building a cage for her to live in along with the rest of his birds, who were once young women. When she realizes his intentions, the heroine's wish to be free overwhelms her adoration for the Erl-King. She plans to strangle him to death with his own hair, free all his birds so they can transform back into women, and string his fiddle with his hair. The fiddle will then play of its own accord, "Mother, mother, you have murdered me!"
"The Snow Child"
"The Snow Child" is based on the story of Snow White, and comes to us from the perspective of a third-person narrator. A Count and Countess ride through the snow in the dead of winter. The Count wishes he had a girl "as white as snow," "as red as blood," and "as black as [a raven's] feather." No sooner than he utters his wish, the girl appears, naked. The Count places her on his horse and they continue to ride. The Countess begins thinking up ways to kill the girl. First, she tries to desert her; she drops her glove and tells the girl to fetch it, but the Count says he will buy the Countess a new glove. Suddenly, the Countess's furs jump from her shoulders onto the girl's. Then she tries to drown the girl; she throws her brooch into a pond and orders the girl to fetch it, but the Count says he will buy the Countess a new brooch. At that, the Countess's boots jump from her legs onto the girl's. Then the Countess spies a rose growing and orders the girl to pick it. The Count consents, so the girl dismounts and picks the flower, which pricks her finger. She dies immediately. The Count rapes the girl's corpse as the Countess looks on. When he is done, the corpse melts away, leaving behind only the rose, a feather, and a bloodstain. The Countess takes back her furs and boots. When the Count hands her the rose she drops it, exclaiming, "It bites!"
"The Lady of the House of Love"
A third person narrator tells the story of "The Lady of the House of Love," which is set in an abandoned Romanian village on the eve of the First World War. The title character is also called the Countess and she is queen of the vampires. She is all but completely isolated, having only her governess and a caged lark for company. The Countess sleeps in a coffin during the day, and at night sucks the blood from young men whom her governess lures into her chamber. The Countess bemoans her vampire identity, and is disgusted each time she finishes feeding. She finds solace in her deck of Tarot cards, although they always spell out the same fame: "wisdom, death, dissolution."
A vacationing young British soldier enters the Countess's village on a bicycle. The narrator explains that he is special because he is a virgin, and because he is destined to fight in France. Simultaneously, inside the castle, the Countess draws a different hand of Tarot cards for the first time; it reads, "love and death." When the soldier reaches the town square, the governess approaches and invites him to the Countess's castle. Even though the soldier is afraid of the castle, he shrugs off his fear easily because he does not believe in supernatural things.
The governess leads the soldier into the Countess's chamber. When she holds up her lantern to his face, the Countess collapses as though blinded. As she falls, she knocks her cards to the floor. Once the governess has revived her, she puts on a pair of sunglasses so that she can bear the soldier's presence. The soldier finds himself charmed by the Countess's pitifully beautiful appearance and manner. Her physical perfection mesmerizes her. Finally, lust overtakes the Countess and she leads the soldier into her bedchamber and begins to undress. She shakes so violently with nervousness that she knocks her glasses onto the floor, where they shatter. When she tries to pick up the pieces, she cuts her hand. The soldier kisses the bleeding gash.
The next morning, the soldier wakes up on the Countess's floor to find that the windows are open and light is flooding into the room. He finds the lark, which the Countess has set free, and urges it into the sky. He then finds the Countess hunched over and dead, with a withered rose near her corpse. She no longer looks inhumanly perfect because she became human before she died. The soldier takes the rose, leaves the castle and the village behind, and rejoins his regiment. Back in his barracks, the soldier tries to "resurrect" the rose by putting it in water. When he returns to the barracks some time later, he can smell the rose's unnaturally strong scent from down the hall. Upon entering his room, he discovers that it has become perfect again. The story ends with the soldier and his regiment departing for France.
A third-person narrator who speaks directly to the audience tells the story of "The Werewolf," which is based on the tale of Red Riding Hood. The story takes place in a bitterly cold mountainous region where the peasants live short, hard lives. They believe in supernatural evil including witches, which they identify by a third nipple and stone to death. A peasant mother sends her daughter into the forest to bring food to her ill grandmother. The girl is unafraid because she knows the woods, but her mother arms her with a knife.
A wolf attacks the girl as she is walking through the forest, but she defends herself and cuts off its paw with her knife. As the wolf retreats, she wraps up its paw in a cloth and puts it in her basket. The girl arrives at her grandmother's house to find the old woman in a terribly fit of fever. When she unwraps the wolf's paw, intending to use the cloth as a compress, she finds that the paw has turned into her grandmother's hand. She identifies the hand by a single wart. After struggling with her grandmother, the girl manages to pull back the covers to reveal the grandmother's severed arm. Hearing her screams, the neighbors flood into the house. They declare the wart on the severed hand to be a "witch's nipple" and chase the grandmother to the edge of town, where they stone her to death. The girl moves into her grandmother's house, where she flourishes.
"The Company of Wolves"
A third-person narrator tells us the story of "The Company of Wolves," which is based on Red Riding Hood. Like "The Werewolf," the tale occurs in a cold, mountainous country where people live hard lives and are superstitious. The narrator begins by explaining that wolves are ruthless creatures who live to kill and eat other creatures. Any traveler puts himself at the wolves' mercy by entering the forest, but they are not safe even in their own houses, which wolves sometimes manage to infiltrate. The townspeople fear werewolves even more than wolves because they are in cahoots with the devil. The narrator relates two tales of townspeople who killed wolves only to discover that they were werewolves when their corpses reverted to human form. We must not pity werewolves even though they are half human, because they only want to harm us.
A young woman, who has just begun to menstruate, sets out into the forest to bring food to her ill grandmother. She wears a blood-red cape and is armed with a knife. The narrator explains that unlike others her age, the heroine is "afraid of nothing" because her family has sheltered and loved her so much. As she walks through the forest, the heroine hears a wolf's howl and clutches her knife, but a handsome young hunter and not a man steps out of the bushes and greets her. They become fast friends, and she trusts him so much that she lets him hold her basket, which contains her knife. The hunter bets the heroine a kiss that he can beat her to her grandmother's house by going off the path and using his compass. Then he disappears with her basket. The heroine makes sure to walk slowly because she wants the narrator to win his kiss.
The hunter, who reveals himself as a werewolf, kills and eats the grandmother. When the heroine arrives, he blocks the door so that she cannot escape. As werewolf and heroine go through the traditional "What big eyes you have" exchange, a chorus of wolves howls a "prothalamion," a wedding song, outside. Hearing their tormented cries, the heroine takes pity on the wolves. She undresses in front of the werewolf and throws her clothes into the fire. When the werewolf threatens to eat her, she laughs in his face because she knows "she [is] nobody's meat." The heroine ignores her grandmother's bones, which clatter a warning from underneath the bed, and removes what clothing the werewolf still has on. The heroine sleeps with the werewolf and as dawn breaks on Christmas Day, "the werewolves' birthday," she lies sound asleep in his arms.
A third-person narrator tells she story of "Wolf-Alice," which is based on Red Riding Hood, Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, and actual stories of feral children. Wolf-Alice is a child who was raised by wolves. She is human in form, but wolf in her behavior and perceptions. Townspeople discover Wolf-Alice in the forest, next to her wolf-mother's bullet-riddled corpse. They bring her to a convent, where the nuns attempt to civilize her to no avail. Exasperated, they send her to live with a werewolf called the Duke.
The Duke lives alone and terrorizes the town by stealing humans and human corpses to eat. He is not afraid of the folk or religious symbols they use to try to ward him off. The Duke casts no reflection in the mirror. He ignores Wolf-Alice, who acts as a primitive maid to him, using the few skills she learned from the nuns. Wolf-Alice first becomes aware of time when she begins to menstruate. Her bleeding also makes her experience shame for the first time. Wolf-Alice begins to see things as humans do; she realizes that she is separate from her surroundings and, moreover, feels as though they have no significance independent of her.
Wolf-Alice discovers a mirror. Like a child or animal, she thinks that her reflection is another creature and plays with it. Then one day, she grasps the truth about her reflection. Just then, she spies a wedding dress behind the mirror. Its beauty stuns her so much that she makes a point of washing herself thoroughly before putting it on. Wolf-Alice leaves the castle wearing the dress, which (in addition to her human body) is "the visible sign of her difference" from the wolves.
Wolf-Alice wanders near the town church, where a bridegroom grieving for his bride, whom the Duke killed, is preparing for revenge. The bridegroom and townspeople's chanting enthralls Wolf-Alice until she notices the Duke approaching. She senses that something is amiss. Indeed, the townspeople flood out of the church and aim bullets and holy water at the Duke. A bullet wounds him in the shoulder, and he retreats back to his castle. Seeing Wolf-Alice chasing the Duke in her dress, the townspeople assume that she is the bride's ghost, come to avenge her own death. They flee. Back at the castle, the wounded Duke is slowly wasting away in bed. Wolf-Alice takes pity on him and begins to lick his face clean. Slowly, for the first time in years, his reflection appears in the mirror.