The comment in it that particularly caught my eye:
Oates: Have fairy tales, Gothic romances and other fantasies played a significant part in your background reading?
Atwood: The Gothic; the supernatural fantasy and related forms have interested me for some time, in fact, my uncompleted Ph.D. thesis is called "The English Metaphysical Romance." This may or may not have something to do with the fact that in childhood--I think I was about 6--we were given the complete "Grimms' Fairy Tales," unexpurgated. My sister was terrified of it, but I loved it. These are, of course, not "children's stories"; they were originally told by adults to anyone who happened to be there, and there is quite a lot of material that we wouldn't consider suitable for children today. It was not the gore--being rolled downhill in barrels full of spikes and so forth--that caught my attention, but the transformations. "The Juniper Tree" was and remains my favorite, followed closely by a story called "Fitcher's Bird." The other interesting thing about these stories is that, unlike the heroines of the more conventional and re-done stories, such as "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding Hood," the heroines of these stories show considerable wit and resourcefulness and usually win, not just by being pretty virtuous, but by using their brains. And there are wicked wizards as well as wicked witches. I would like to write about this sometime.
(Atwood, by the by, contributed one of her fairy tale poems to The Journal of Mythic Arts. You'll find it in our archives here.)
"It is interesting how impossible it is to remember a time when my head was not full of these unreal people, things and events. When I ask friends and colleagues what is their first precise memory of a fairy tale they almost all come up with some shock administered by that psychological terrorist, Andersen - the little mermaid walking on knives, Hans in the icy palace of the Snow Queen. But these shocks happen to people and children who already need and inhabit the other world which gets into our heads and becomes necessary - a world of suns and moons and forests, of princesses and goose girls, of old men and women, benign and malign, of talking birds and flying horses, magic roses and magic puddings, turnips and pigs, impenetrable castles and petrification, glass mountains and glass coffins, poisonous apples and blinding thorns, ogres and imps, spindles and spun gold, tasks and prohibitions, danger and comfort (for the good people) after it. It is very odd - when you come to think of it - that human beings in all sorts of societies, ancient and modern, have needed these untrue stories. It is much odder than the need for religious stories (myths) or semi-historical stories (legends) or history, national or personal. Even as a little girl I perceived its oddity. These "flat" stories appear to be there because stories are a pervasive and perpetual human characteristic, like language, like play...."
All three of these writers contributed fine essays on fairy tales to Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fair Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer. If you're a fan of fairy tales and fairy tale literature, I hope you haven't missed Kate's excellent book, or its sequel Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales. Or her journal, The Fairy Tale Review.