Do rats overrun your castle? Is your daughter beautiful but so willful no man will have her? Does a worm snuggle in against your heart and cause you great depression as it devours? Then you are in luck, my poor cursed friends; you have only to travel to the mysterious land of Fremont this Thursday, where Bret Fetzer awaits you with the cures for your ailments, all tucked within his three slim volumes of modern fairy tales. Be warned, however; much like the devil's bargains that rule all of these tales, you might end up worse off than you were.

If you are, however, brave and strong enough to attempt this journey, then your rewards will be great, for Fetzer has a way of illustrating the deepest, most horrible truths about humankind, while simultaneously keeping tongue planted firmly in cheek and cracking a joke now and then. Fetzer's charming narrative voice, which weaves in and out through the text just enough to connect the stories without being overbearing or painfully self-aware, keeps the tales from tumbling too far into the blackest pits of despair, often snatching up some small bit of light from the darkest centers, like the fairy tale frog who rescued the princesses' golden ball from his pond. The black humor and primitive, wood-cut-reminiscent illustrations peppering the pages of these books (done by Jessica L. Dodge, Ignatz Green, Kelly A. Wright, and Natalie Niblack) serve as necessary distractions from the darkness of the tales, a small bit of comic relief in Fetzer's ceaselessly dismal universe, in which the stories operate under their own logic.

These ain't yo' mama's bowdlerized, Christianized fairy tales--lovingly as a film scholar restoring a vintage Hitchcock print to its original terror and questionable moral shadings, Fetzer has harnessed himself to the Bros. Grimm and produced a collection that feels autochthonous, as if it's not so much him telling the stories as it is him plucking them out of the evil ether itself, where they lurk fully formed, baring rows of sharp teeth.

Although Fetzer places a comfortable distance between us and these stories--setting them in Arabia, China, Japan--each tale resounds with an uncomfortable echo of our world: Termites rule kingdoms, rats overrun palaces (sounds like Washington to me), people devour each other hungrily, and troubled princesses say things like, "My life is worth nothing, so I will stay and drink."

These tales are peopled with strange, petty, inconstant creatures; creatures not unlike ourselves. Added to this is the narrator of the stories, who reminds readers, "The world is not made for our happiness," and, "Alas, there are 999 ways for men and women to be miserable." Yet somehow, the people in Fetzer's stories often find a way to escape this and live, if not happily ever after, then something close to it--yoked by their own troubles and base human natures, yes, but having discovered some bit of grace, if not in the story itself, then in the telling of it.

(PS: Although the content of many of these stories will trouble most small children, I can't help but wish we could expose them to these kinds of stories instead of breeding a nation of Potterheads--although then we would have a nation full of kids who know the measure of a human heart, which is infinitely more dangerous.) Bouchee Creperie, 3510 Fremont Ave N, 632-5220, 7:30 pm, free.

MIDNIGHT CABARET--Stories, song, and performance with host Sylvia O'Stayformore. Saturdays at midnight. Coffee Messiah, 861-8233, free.

OUT OF TUNE--Poetry and music free-for-all hosted by Jon Hogan. Thursdays at 8:30 pm, signup at 8 pm. The 15th, 7515 15th Ave NW, 706-4973, free.

POETSWEST--Featuring John Burgess, Lauren Valk Lawson, and others. Sun Dec 22 at 7 pm. Wit's End Book Store, 4262 Fremont Ave N, 682-1268, free.

reBIRTH--All-ages open-mic brouhaha. Sundays at 7 pm. French and European Artistic and Cultural Center, 623 Broadway E, 726-4843, free.

SCRATCHING POST--Poetry open mic, all ages. Thursdays at 8 pm, signup at 7:30 pm. Mr. Spot's Chai House, 5463 Leary Ave NW, 297-2424, free.

TAKE A POEM INTO YOUR HEART--A poetic Christmas with David Thornbrugh, Christopher J. Jarmick, and J. Glenn Evans. Thurs Dec 19 at 7 pm. Lottie Motts Coffee Shop, 4900 Rainier Ave S, 725-8199, $2.

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