"The title of Knipfel's offbeat collection of creepy stories makes one thing immediately clear—this, thankfully, isn't a typical collection of fairy tales. While there are the standard fantastical elements—talking animals, elves, and even a princess thrown in for good measure—these twisted stories horrify the reader, provide ample shots of humor, and, of course, offer lessons: in the title story, it's intimated that a gnome should not be ignored, for he will seek revenge. “Six-Leggity Beasties” makes it clear that people should be nice to their neighbors, because they may need help when cockroaches take over their home. The talking chicken of “The Chicken Who Was Smarter Than Everyone” may think she's smarter than everyone, but she can still be tricked. Funny, sarcastic, and disturbing, Knipfel's stories will cause readers to squirm in their seats and laugh out loud at the same time."
-Publisher’s Weekly (PW Pick of the Week)
"Knipfel fashions a wildly entertaining and wicked world…"
"Once upon a time, a literary iconoclast mocked classical fairy tales, and it was good.
It’s not often a book is nimble enough to extract laughs in its first paragraph, but these twisted fairy tales from memoirist-novelist Knipfel (Unplugging Philco, 2009, etc.) are the exception. In its charming, Douglas Adams–esque preface, the author reinvents Genesis with Satan at the helm. “In the beginning was the Void,” Knipfel writes. “But it wasn’t long before the Void started to lose its charm. I mean, what’s so great about the Void? You stare into it, it stares into you, and that’s really about the extent of it. Before you know it, it’s time for a snack.” This opener is followed by 13 parables that jab at folklore with unconventional wit. Among wicked elves and anthropomorphic chickens, there are many standouts. “The Boy Who Came To His Senses” reverses the Cinderella story with profane pragmatism when a youngster finds that scoring a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Plants Ain’t No Good” rocks Little Shop of Horrors from the plant’s POV. Kafka-esque nightmares re-emerge in “Six-Leggity Beasties,” while the tale “Rancid, the Devil Horse,” about a bank-robbing pony, is capped off with, “Indeed, it wasn’t Rancid at all. It was his showboating, drama queen of a younger brother, El Ran Hubbard.” Sure, the humor is intentionally juvenile in places, but it’s obvious that Knipfel knows the sacred ground on which he trespasses. Happily ever after, indeed.
Traditionalists, scholars and children need not apply. Everyone else ought to put down their milk before reading.
-Kirkus (starred review)
"The tests of a true fable are whether the
outcome feels inevitable, we recognize our
own motivation and it manages, nevertheless,
to surprise us. Knipfel's stories pass all these tests…Wickedly funny."
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and other Fairy Tales
Simon and Schuster, 2010
"The fairy tales that kids grow up with are bloody and brutish — frightening allegories meant to teach them about danger. Jim Knipfel has crafted this collection of fairy tales for adults, and while the morality might be a bit grayer and the beasties a little less bucolic, he taps directly into the twisted vein of creepiness that made Grimm so grim. Only Knipfel's funny. Really funny. In These Children Who Come at You With Knives urban pests (swarms of roaches, elves that place dog turds on the sidewalk) replace big bad wolves to gut-busting effect. And northing's as hilarious in Knipfel's sarcasm-soaked mind as those three little words, “Happily ever after.” A-
A collection of charming modern fairy tales for the young at heart. About as fucking close as I’m about to get to writing a goddamn children’s book
Well, I was at a birthday party for a publisher of mine. As I was getting set to head out, he pulled me off to the side. He was pretty sloshed, gotta say, and he put his arm around my shoulders. “You know what I’d really like to see you do next?” he slurred. “A collection of really, really dark fairy tales for adults.”
I had no inkling to do any such thing, but given my contract was finished and I was essentially adrift with nothing else lined up, I told him I thought it was a splendid idea. I didn’t care how drunk he was—I was gonna take him at his word. But that of course left me with the problem of having to write the damn thing. I had no fucking clue.
Well, there was this one story I had sitting around in my file of unpublished stories. I’d been asked to write a short fictional biography of a sock monkey for a fancy photo book by Arne Svenson, but in the end the editor of that project decided to cut all the stories leaving me with yet another orphan. It was a start anyway.
Next I went into my collection of potential book titles I knew I would never be able to use, things like Death Comes to Marv, Exploding Monkey Gazebo, and a couple hundred others I’d dashed down while drunk. I grabbed the handful that just sounded like they could be fairy tales, and wrote stories to match. Then (as ever) Morgan suggested a few story ideas and I wrote those.
So it was all pretty piecemeal and ad hoc, but for some reason it seemed to hold together okay.
Of course when I turned the manuscript in, the publisher had no recollection of ever having asked me to do any such thing, and in fact seemed horrified I’d ever think they’d even consider putting out such a mean, filthy litle book like that.
Okay then. I found another editor, but his first thought was that this should be aimed at the very lucrative Young Adult audience, the same kids who were buying all those Harry Potter and teen vampire books. But if it was to be aimed at them, he said, he was wondering if I might go back and cut out all the cursing and all those scenes in bars.
Luckily, Simon & Schuster came along, and they were sillyheaded enough to publish it as is.
Here’s the funny thing, though. I’m always amazed when people approach me to tell me what a certain story or novel “meant.” What I was trying to “say.” What “point” I was trying to make. Fact is, there’s never any “point,” nothing I’m trying to “say.” They’re just silly, meaningless stories is all, every last one of them. But I will never tell anyone that their interpretation is wrong, because that’s what reading is all about. You bring to a work your own background and experience, and take away from it what is meaningful to you.
But I’ll tell you, did I ever get some doozies with the fairy tales. First was the idea that the prologue set the stage for the rest of the book somehow. Well, okay, if you want it too, but it’s more developed an idea than anything I ever had in mind. but that’s cool, because it makes me look more clever than I really am.
After that every single story received its own wacky interpretation at one point or another, some more interesting than others. Far an away my favorite was the fellow who suggested “Maggot in a Red Sombrero” (a story about a poor, lonely elderly widow who is befriended by a magical talking maggot) was actually a commentary on the parasitic nature of the influx of illegal aliens.
It was one of the stories I’d simply written to match a title (the title being a line I’d written down in a little pocket notebook in 1991 after standing on post for 10 hours when I was a guard at the Guggenheim), but you know the more I thought about it, that interpretation made perfect sense. Or at lease as much sense as any other.
The soundtrack for this one was former Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil’s electronic score for Kenneth Anger’s film Lucifer Rising.