The stories within "The Bloody Chamber" are explicitly based on fairy tales. Carter was no doubt inspired by the works of author and fairytale collector Charles Perrault, whose fairy tales she had translated shortly beforehand.
The Bloody Chamber
(based on "Bluebeard")
The narrator, a beautiful teenage girl, marries an older, wealthy French Marquis, whom she does not love. When he takes her to his castle, she discovers his collection of pornographic images and takes pleasure in her embarrassment. They consummate that night, and the following morning she hears of urgent business he must attend to in New York, leaving her alone in his castle, with only several maids, butlers, and a chain of keys. While away, he tells her she can use any key to go about the castle as she wishes, only forbidding her from entering one room. She tries to grow accustomed to her new-found decadence, but, being a talented pianist, feels most comfortable with the blind piano-tuner. Closer to her age, he lives in a nearby town and, after tuning the organ her husband gave to her as a wedding present, asks to hear her play once in a while. But still, her husband's absence makes her feel melancholy, and she repeatedly telephones her mother. Afterwards, she starts going through the Marquis' things in order to learn more about him. After going through his desk, she learns more of his previous wives, which pushes her to take the forbidden key and enter his chamber. She soon realizes the full extent of his perverse and murderous tendencies when she discovers the bodies of his previous wives. In her shock, she drops the key, staining it with the blood on the floor. When she meets the piano-tuner again, she confides the newly discovered secret to him. Before the two can flee, the Marquis returns home, his business trip having been cut short. Unable to clean the blood from the key, the Marquis discovers that she has entered the room and proceeds to try to add her to his collection of corpses through beheading. The brave piano tuner is willing to stay with her even though he knows he will not be able to save her. She is saved at the last moment at the end of the story by her mother, who bursts into the mansion and shoots the Marquis just as he is about to murder the girl. The girl, her mother, and the piano tuner go on to live together and the young widow opens a little music school on the outskirts of Paris. Most of the money she inherited is given away to various charities and the castle is turned into a school for the blind.
The Courtship of Mr Lyon
(based on Beauty and the Beast — the concept of the Beast as a lion-like figure is a popular one, most notably in the French film version of 1946)
Beauty's father, after experiencing car trouble, takes advantage of a stranger's hospitality. However, his benefactor – the Beast – takes umbrage when he steals a miraculous white rose for his beloved daughter. Beauty becomes the guest of the leonine Beast, and the Beast aids her father in getting his fortune back. Beauty later joins her father in London, where she almost forgets the Beast, causing him to wither away from heartache. When Beauty learns that he is dying, she returns, saving him. Beauty and the Beast disclose their love for one another and the Beast's humanity is revealed. They live happily ever after.
The Tiger's Bride
(also based on Beauty and the Beast)
A woman moves in with a mysterious, masked "Milord", the Beast, after her father loses her to him in a game of cards. Milord is eventually revealed to be a tiger. In a reversal of the ending of "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", the heroine transforms at the end into a glorious tiger who is the proper mate to the Beast, who will from now on be true to his own nature and not disguise himself as a human.
(based on "Puss in Boots" and similar to The Barber of Seville)
Figaro, a cat, moves in with a rakish young man who lives a happily debauched life. They live a carefree existence, with the cat helping him to make money by cheating at cards, until the young man actually falls in love (to the cat's disgust) with a young woman kept in a tower by a miserly, older husband who treats her only as property. The cat, hoping his friend will tire of the woman if he has her, helps the young man into the bed of his sweetheart by playing tricks on the old husband and the young woman's keeper. Figaro himself finds love with the young woman's cat, and the two cats arrange the fortunes of both themselves and the young man and woman by arranging to trip the old man so that he will fall to his death.
Angela Carter had described Puss in Boots as “the Cat as Con Man... a masterpiece of cynicism... a Figaroesque valet – a servant so much the master already”.
(an adaptation of the Erlking in folklore; a sort of goblin or spirit of the woodlands)
A maiden wanders into the woods and is seduced by the sinister Erl-King, a seeming personification of the forest itself. However, she eventually realises that he plans to imprison her by turning her into a bird, which he has done with other girls. Realising the Erl-King's plan, she kills him by strangling him with his own hair, thus keeping her freedom.
The Snow Child
(has roots in various folktales, most apparently The Snow-child, particularly in its variant The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood, but also in tales such as Snegurochka and an obscure variant of Snow White.:xvi)
A Count and Countess go riding in midwinter. The Count sees snow on the ground and wishes for a child "as white as snow". Similar wishes are made when the Count sees a hole in the snow containing a pool of blood, and a raven. As soon as he made his final wish a young woman of the exact description appears at the side of the road. The Count pays immediate attention to her, much to the chagrin of the Countess. At the Countess' command, the girl picks a rose but is pricked by a thorn and dies, after which the Count rapes her corpse. After this, her cadaver melts into the snow, leaving nothing but a bloodstain on the snow, a black feather and the rose that she had picked.
The Lady of the House of Love
(based loosely on Sleeping Beauty and more directly on a radio play called "Vampirella")
A virginal English soldier, travelling through Romania by bicycle, finds himself in a deserted village. He comes across a mansion inhabited by a vampire who survives by enticing young men into her bedroom and feeding on them. She intends to feed on the young soldier but his purity and virginity have a curious effect on her. When they enter her bedroom she accidentally cuts herself and the soldier kisses it better. He wakes up to find her dead. He leaves to return to his battalion and is assumed to be killed in World War I.
(based on "Little Red Riding Hood")
A girl goes to visit her grandmother, but encounters a werewolf on the way, whose paw she cuts off with a knife. When she reaches her grandmother's house, the paw has turned into a hand with the grandmother's ring on it, and the grandmother is both delirious and missing her hand. This reveals the girl's grandmother as the werewolf, and she is stoned to death. The girl then inherits all of her grandmother's possessions.
A closer look into the story might suggest that in fact the girl had set up her grandmother through a set of convenient lies, in order to gain her inheritance. For example, the snow covering any evidence of a struggle with the wolf.
The Company of Wolves
(closer adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood")
"Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves."
In the beginning of the piece, the wolf is described as an evil thing. One mini story in the beginning is about a witch who turned a whole wedding ceremony into wolves. She likes them coming to her cabin and howling their misery for it soothes her. In another mini story a young lady and a man are about to have sex on their wedding night. As they get ready the husband says he needs to stop and relieve himself in the forest. The wife waits and he never returns. Off in the distance a wolf can be heard howling. She then figures her husband will never return and marries a new man. With her new husband she bears children. Her first husband comes back and sees his wife. The first husband then becomes furious and bites the leg off the eldest child. Her second husband kills the wolf, who dies and looks exactly the same as he had when he disappeared; this makes her cry and her husband beats her. Later we meet a girl walking in the woods. She was loved by everyone and feared nothing. She meets a handsome hunter who makes a deal with her; whoever can get to the grandmother's house first wins, and if the hunter wins she owes him a kiss. She lets the hunter win because she wants to kiss him. The hunter arrives at the grandmother's house tricking her. She is frail and sick. She holds a Bible in her hand for protection. He eats the grandmother, then waits for the girl. When she arrives, she notices her grandmother's hair in the fire and knows the wolf has killed her. He threatens to kill and eat her too, but she laughs in his face and proceeds to seduce him, stripping off their clothes and throwing them into the fire. The last lines are "See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf."
(based on an obscure variant of "Little Red Riding Hood":xviii and with reference to Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, this tale explores the journey towards subjectivity and self-awareness from the perspective of a feral child)
A feral child, whom some nuns have attempted to "civilize" by trying to teach her standard social graces, is left in the house of a monstrous, vampiric Duke when she cannot conform. She gradually comes to realise her own identity as a young woman and human being, and even develops compassion for the Duke, going far beyond the nuns' stunted views of life.