I was honored to be asked to write an author list for Shepherd.com. Since Beautiful is a faerie tale (I explain why I used that spelling in my intro!) I went with a list of other books that portray faeries as ambiguous and “other” in some way. Basically these aren’t your butterfly-like creatures hopping around gardens! Check out my list here, and let me know what you think. Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Is there anything I should have included?
I enjoyed writing my non-Disney fairy tale movies posts (here and here), so I decided to take a look at fairy tales done as TV series next. I’m actually sort of surprised that there haven’t been more. It seems like such rich source material!
Once Upon A Time – I think of this as sort of a TV version of Disney fairy tales, all mashed up. It originally aired on ABC, which is owned by the same company as Disney, so Disney characters mixed with characters from Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Arthurian legend, Greek mythology, and various other literary sources. Emma Swan is a private investigator, who meets the ten year old son she once gave up for adoption. He brings her to his hometown of Storybrooke, Maine, where the inhabitants are fairy tale characters, but they don’t know it. We see the backstory of the fairy tale characters alongside their stories in the “real world.” I enjoyed the first few seasons of this show, but then I felt like the characters started going around in circles. I also felt like the Disney influence became a bit too heavy for my taste (and I like Disney, most of the time!). There is a spin off called Once Upon A Time in Wonderland. [trailer]
Grimm- This series follows detective Nicholas Burkhardt, who discovers that he’s a “Grimm,” the last in a line of guardians sworn to protect the balance between humanity and creatures called “Wesen,” out of myth and folklore. The show itself is a cross between fantasy and police procedural. In the first few seasons it uses the ongoing storyline of the struggle between Wesen and Grimms to retell several fairy tales and deal with events inspired by a variety of traditions. A few seasons in, it felt like it started moving away from it’s fairy tale roots though and toward original fantasy. [trailer]
Beauty and the Beast – 80’s series. I’ve blogged about my love of this series here, so check out that post for more of a look at the plot and characters. It extended the concept of the traditional Beauty and the Beast fairy tale into a combination of fantasy and crime drama set in the 1980’s New York City. Yes, some of it is cheesy (it was the ’80’s after all!) but that’s part of the charm for me. It follows Catherine Chandler, a lawyer who is mugged one night after leaving a party. She’s injured and left for dead. When she wakes up she’s in the care of Vincent, a mysterious man-beast who brought her to his tunnel home to save her. He introduces her to the Tunnels, a community of misfits and outcasts who live in a vast network of abandoned tunnels beneath the city. When she is healed, Catherine returns to her life Above. But she maintains a strong psychic and emotional connection with Vincent. I really liked the first two seasons of this. Spoiler alert: If you want a happily ever after for all the characters, you might want to stop there. [trailer]
Beauty and the Beast- 2012 reboot- This is supposedly a reboot of the 80’s series listed above, but really the only thing they had in common was some character names, and the fact that they’re both inspired by the same kind of story. This one is about a cop, who witnessed her mother’s murder nine years earlier, When a case leads her to Vincent, an ex-soldier, who was believed to be killed in action, she finds out more about her mother’s murder and how that ties into who (and what) Vincent truly is. I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the 80’s series. [trailer]
Tell Me A Story– This series is actually what inspired me to make this post! It reimagines fairy tales in a contemporary psychological thriller format. It uses an anthology structure, so each of the two seasons has a different set of characters and mostly different actors (with a few exceptions). The first season combines The Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. The second season is a mash up of Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. It takes a while for the shape of the fairy tales to emerge. In the first few episodes of both seasons it felt like there were just a lot of references. But gradually it all started to come together. [trailer]
The 10th Kingdom- In The 9 Kingdoms fairy tales are history. Like actual history that you learn in school. But “happily ever after” didn’t last as long as everyone hoped. The kingdoms are beset with problems. An Evil Queen, held in the Snow White Memorial Prison, plots to escape and take over the fourth kingdom. She enlists some trolls to help release her just before her stepson (Snow White’s grandson) Prince Wendell makes an official visit to the prison. She transforms him into a dog, and then changes a dog into Prince Wendall. Wendall, in dog form, then runs through the prison, stumbles across a magic mirror and is transported to New York City circa 2000 (you can tell the approximate era by the presence of the World Trade Center and the absence of phones every you look). In the city, Virginia Lewis is a waitress who lives with her father, Tony. When their paths cross with Wendall, and the trolls and a half-wolf person that the queen sent after him, they are transported to the 9 Kingdoms. They have to get home and Wendall has to get back to himself and foil the Evil Queen’s plot. It’s kind of a long, complicated set up. But the show is a miniseries. It’s one season of ten episodes (on Amazon prime it’s 5 episodes because they have two in one). I saw this years ago when it first aired and I loved it. I recently rewatched it and felt it didn’t totally hold up, but it’s still a fun watch for a long, rainy weekend. [trailer]
The Charmings- This was an 80’s sitcom that I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve only been able to track down a few episodes online, but if anyone knows where I can find more please share! The basic premise is that after Snow White and Prince Charming defeated the Wicked Queen, she got mad. She used a spell to put the Charmings to sleep for a thousand years, but the spell went wrong and she slept for a thousand years also. When they wake up, they’re in Burbank, California in the late 1980’s. They have to figure out how to fit into suburban life, and live with the Wicked Queen. It’s totally bizarre, but in a fun way! [trailer]
Dollhouse– It’s sort of hard to explain this show’s premise and connection to the Sleeping Beauty story succinctly. This blog does a way better job of it, than I can. Show runner Joss Whedon famously told viewers to “hang in until episode six” because the first five episodes had a lot of network interference. By the sixth episode, the intention becomes clear and in the following episodes, the shape of the series as a whole starts to emerge. The premise of the show is that “dolls” are rented out to clients. Their real minds and personalities are wiped out and replaced according to client’s specifications. The dolls are essentially the sleepers, but the dollhouse staff and clients also deal with being metaphorically awoken in various ways. It references older, darker, less comfortable versions of the Sleeping Beauty story. I’m trying to talk about these parallels without spoilers but it’s not easy! I’m linking a trailer, but know that the marketing promoted it as a show about pretty people, changing identities and kicking butt, but there’s a lot more too it than that. [trailer]
I had a conversation about this recently, and it got me thinking: why are fairy tale retellings so popular with YA readers?
First of all, I know that fairy tale retellings have an audience within all age groups. Some of the retellings for very young children tend to be the sanitized Disney type stuff we all grew up with. But there are many, many exceptions to that with fairy tales from around the world, retellings with unique illustrations, and even some scary stuff that might give some little ones nightmares. By the time they enter the middle grade reading group, kids have access to a wide variety of retellings from authors like Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Anne Ursu, Vivian Vande Velde and many others.
But fairy tales have really exploded in popularity with a teen audience. Let’s just look at the variety of genres that have fairy tale retellings:
Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
A Long, Long Sleep by Anne Sheehan
Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series
Alex Flinn’s Kendra Chronicles
Ash by Malinda Lo
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
East by Edith Pattou
These are just a few of many examples. And, of course, there’s plenty of crossover: books that encompass more than one of those genres. So it certainly seems like fairy tales are being aimed at teens regardless of the genres to which they gravitate. Why is that?
Well first of all, I think that fairy tales are universal. They’re made for people. That’s why we can find interesting fairy tale inspired work for all age groups. But since we’re looking specifically at teens, let’s think about it this way:
Teens are in a liminal space. They’re between childhood and adulthood. In some ways they’re expected to handle very adult burdens and responsibilities, but they still have a lot of the needs that they had when they were younger: security, consistency, a sense of safety. Obviously the extent to which these statements are true differs from one person to another, but I’m making a broad generalization here.
Fairy tales are about liminal spaces. Think about the action of fairy tales. The main character leaves home (a safe space) and goes on some kind of a quest. They journey will take them to dangerous places (the enchanted castle, the monster’s lair) but it will also take them through transitional spaces. The real growth takes place on the journey, of course.
The way we view fairy tales is also in transition. In their older versions many tales are dark and disturbing. Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle says: “Originally for adults (sometimes for children), fairy tales can be brutal, violent, sexual and laden with taboo.” They deal with fears and insecurities, as well as hopes and dreams. As different people have collected and compiled these stories for different reasons, they’ve made changes to suit their intended audience. In the 20th century, Disney’s animated films shaped how a lot of people saw these stories: as brightly colored, tuneful children’s tales. And they can be that. But they can also be very dark. People are starting to recognize that fairy tales are not always the friendly childhood tales that we think about. Retellings, in all forms, are starting to recognize and resurrect some of the complexity that fairy tales once had.
Yet in spite of this dark content, there is a lot of simplicity in fairy tales. Characters tend to be good or evil. They teach moral lessons. Those lessons are absolutely good for children to learn, yes. But as they venture into the world, teens are confronted (many for the first time) with ambiguity, with doubt, with ethical dilemmas. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim says:
The child needs ideas on how to put his inner house in order and, on this basis, to be able to establish an order to life in general. The child needs – and this hardly requires emphasis at this moment in our present history – a moral education that subtly conveys the advantages of moral conduct, not through abstract ethical concepts, but through what seems tangibly correct and, therefore, meaningful for the child.
This is just as true for teens as it is for young children, if not more so.
But despite the clear lines between good and evil that’s typical of the form, fairy tales also have a sense of moral ambiguity to them. That’s something that starts to emerge as our thinking matures. Sometimes we do sympathize with the wicked queen who is so afraid of aging and losing the beauty that defines her, that she lashes out at her innocent step-daughter. We can also find fault with the heroes. When the prince kisses the sleeping princess (usually a stranger to him) we might not think about it much as children. But as we grow and learn and mature, that can becoming very troubling.
Therefore fairy tales have an “in betweenness” to them that makes them great for people in a transitional point of life. Goddard Blythe, a child psychologist, says: “Fairy tales are important not because they show children how life is, but because they give form to deep fears and dreams about life through fantasy.“ Life is looming for teens even more than younger children. The transition from child to adult is more immediate, and it’s natural to have some anxiety about that. Fairy tales can act as a canvas on which that anxiety can play out. Naturally teens have a wide range of interests. Different kinds of settings and genres appeal to different people. Therefore YA fairy tale retellings are giving teens the stories they need in the styles (whatever those may be) that they enjoy.
What’s your opinion? Agree? Disagree? Have the fairy tales that appeal to you changed from childhood to adolescence to adulthood?
- Really enjoying Amazon’s Carnival Row. Has anyone else seen it? It’s a fantasy-mystery set in a sort of steampunk Victorian England called the Burgue, where humans and mythical creatures live side by side (though not without significant problems…) It’s definitely not perfect, but I really like it. It was renewed for a second season but production halted due to the pandemic. Then it resumed, then it stopped again. As of now there are five episodes for season two filmed, and Amazon plans to release those and then film the rest when they can. I’m hoping that’ll be soon!
- Also really liking Netflix’s The Chair.
- In a bit of a reading slump. For me, reading slumps don’t make me read less (nothing makes me read less!) but I enjoy it less. Probably because I’ve read several “blah” books in a row. Here’s hoping I find something good soon!
- Getting lots of ideas for posts. I don’t know why that is, but my drafts folder is bursting. So stay tuned for more.
- In the stage of editing hell where every word I write seems absolutely unpublishable and I start to wonder if I was crazy thinking that I could write another book.
- Trying to make my internet presence a little more author-y (since I’m starting to work on actually publishing Frost. Ahhhhh!). I’m looking at new templates for my website, updating information, making logos… In some ways my blog/social media presence is all over the place. I know it’s supposed to be targeted to my potential audience and I should be focusing on read alikes for my blog, and similar genres in terms of film, tv, etc. But I’m not a focused person. My interests run far and wide, and I’d rather be myself online than focus and build a business. Besides you never know what will turn up in my writing someday.
- Starting to think about getting some advance reviews for Frost. When Beautiful was published, one thing I wish I’d known is how much having advance reviews help with pre-orders and initial sales. So I definitely want to think about it for this release.
- Wondering how on earth some authors are able to write and release several books a year! (see this post for more about that) I want to get to the point where I can do one book in two years, but it takes me four years per book to write/publish at the moment. Who knows if/when I’ll get there? I keep telling myself that’s OK: writing and publishing any books is an accomplishment! But I feel like I have a lot of stories I want to tell….
For That Artsy Reader Girls Top Ten Tuesday:
May 19: Reasons Why I Love [insert your favorite book title, genre, author, etc. here]
I decided to go with what I know and what I write. Fairy tales!
1. They can be scary: Example: The Changeling by Victor La Valle made the familiar and beloved things seem alien and menacing.
2. They can be intricate: Example: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is a Rapunzel retelling that weaves together three narrative strands, like a braid.
3. They can create new worlds: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier launches Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. It’s a six book series set partially in Ancient Ireland as well as an Otherworld based on Celtic mythology. These should be read in order. Following Daughter of the Forest, there’s Son of the Shadows and Child of the Prophecy. Then the second trilogy that makes up the series is Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters, and Flame of Sevenwaters.
4. They can give us new looks at old worlds: Example Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series is set in an alternate version of the history we know, similar to what we know in many ways with a bit of extra magic thrown in. These don’t need to be read in any order, but I recommend the early books in the series, which are much better than the later ones. My favorites are The Fire Rose, The Serpent’s Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, and Phoenix and Ashes.
5. They can be romantic: Example I found Juliet Marillier’s Beauty and the Beast retelling Heart’s Blood to be beautifully romantic in addition to having great historical and fantasy elements.
6. They can be funny: Example Sarah Pineborough’s Tales From the Kingdoms (Poison, Charm, Beauty) trilogy made me chuckle at several points. They probably work better if they’re read in order, but you can probably still understand everything that’s happening even if you don’t.
7. They can be tearjerking and heartbreaking: Example: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan is a beautifully written but harrowing tale (trigger warnings here) with an ending that is ultimately bittersweet but in the moment may seem more bitter to some readers. Not all stories have happily ever afters, and even in the ones that do, those happy endings don’t apply to all.
8. They can be innovative: Example: I first discovered Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in a college class I took called “Innovative Contemporary Fiction.” I’m glad I read this for the first time in an academic setting because it gave me a chance to really dig into the text and notice things I would have otherwise missed. There’s a lot happening between the lines of these stories!
9. They can be beautiful: Example I found Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy to be beautiful in terms of story, setting, and prose. It satisfied on almost every level. These should be read in order. It’s The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl In the Tower, andThe Winter of the Witch.
10. They’re what I do: Example: Once again it seems I’m not above promoting my own book. My first novel, Beautiful: A Tale of Beauties and Beasts is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It’s my first published novel. I’m working on a follow up right now, that’s based on The Snow Queen.
A while ago, when our lockdown/isolation/shelter in place/quarantine began I wrote a post of some of my favorite non-Disney fairy tale films for all ages. Since we’re still spending a lot of time alone/indoors I decided to make a sequel. Like the first post, I make no guarantees that these movies are safe for the kiddos. I put a * next to the ones that I think are kid friendly and ! next to the ones that are alright for kids above 12.
Beauty and the Beast
! Beauty and the Beast– TV series from the late 1980’s. I wrote a post about this a while ago so, click the link to see it. I know that this was rebooted in the 2010’s at some point, but I wasn’t a fan of the remake. There is a lot of 80’s cheesiness to this show, but that’s part of the charm. It’s about a wealthy NY lawyer whose path crosses with that of a mysterious man-beast who lives in a secret network of tunnels below the city streets. It’s sort of a fusion of romance, fantasy and crime drama. It’s also the work of a pre- Game of Thrones George RR Martin.
! Penelope– This fantasy features a gender reversed Beauty and the Beast with a great sense of fun and fantasy. Penelope Wilhern is born under a family curse; she’s got a pig nose until she earns the love of “one of her own kind” (the reasoning for the curse is explained in the movie). So he mother tries to find ways to fix her up with blue blooded men. Enter Max, who hits it off with Penelope until he sees her face, and promptly refuses to marry her. This sets Penelope off on a journey of self discovery. The move is one of my “happy” movies: things I watch when I need a mood boost. [trailer]
! A Werewolf Boy– In many ways this is similar to Edward Scisscorhands (which I featured on my last list). It’s about a teenage girl who moves to the country and befriends a feral boy who she finds on the grounds of her new home. But his nature may be more animal than human and the beast in him threatens to emerge. [trailer]
Rebecca– This classic novel by Daphne DuMaurier has been adapted for the screen several times. But I think the best bet is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film. Yes, plotwise there are some significant changes from the novel, but the film still follows the Bluebeard template (a woman married a widower and finds herself haunted by her predecessor) and most importantly, it gets the atmosphere of DuMaurier’s atmosphere heavy novel right. If you want some more Hitchcock films with Bluebeard echoes you can also take a look at Suspicion and Notorious, but I find this one has the strongest ties to the original tale. [trailer]
The Secret Beyond The Door– Celia marries Mark while on vacation in Mexico after a whirlwind romance. When she joins him in his New York home, she learns some things about her new husband that he left out during their courtship. For example he’s been married before. He also has a son. Celia’s predecessor died under mysterious circumstances, and she start to suspect that she might be next. [trailer]
Gaslight-Paula and Gregory get married abroad after a whirlwind romance (notice a pattern here?!) When they return to London and settle into their new home, strange things start to happen. Paula notices missing pictures, strange footsteps at night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. Gregory claims to notice nothing. Is Paula losing her mind, or is Gregory up to something? Or both? [trailer]
Dragonwyck– Bluebeard inspired movies were apparently very big in the 1940’s! This one is based on Anya Seton’s novel of the same name about a young girl whose new marriage is threatened by her husband’s streak of madness. [trailer]
Hansel and Gretel
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? This 1972 film is sort of a campy horror classic starring Shelly Winters. It’s about Mrs. Forrest (also known as “Auntie Roo”), a lovely old lady with a Christmas tradition of inviting orphans to her mansion for a party. But Auntie Roo has a dark side, and when Katie Coombs and her brother sneak into the party they must fight to get out alive. There’s a lot of camp in this one, especially by today’s standards, but that can be fun – and funny. And once you get past it there’s actually an interesting, dark take on the fairy tale. [trailer]
Hansel and Gretel (2007 Korean) This is sort of a horror- fantasy that may appeal to fans of films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. It’s about a traveler who gets lost in the woods. He’s rescued by a young girl and brought to her house. It’s a beautiful house, like something out of a storybook. But, as he discovers, it’s a house that hides horrible secrets, and possibly no way to escape. [trailer]
Black Swan- I was hesitant to include this one because it’s based on the ballet, Swan Lake, rather than a single tale. The ballet’s plot is based on a number of folk tales. Possible sources include “The White Duck” and “The Stolen Veil” by Johann Karl August Mursaus. But it could have been inspired by a number of animal bride/swan maiden tales. Regardless I decided it was fairy tale enough to count! The plot of the film follows a dancer whose upcoming starring role in Swan Lake pushes her to the brink of madness. In some ways the “fairy tale ballerina on the edge” story is very similar to The Red Shoes, which I featured on my last list. So if you like one, check out the other. [trailer]
Fairy Tale Mash-up (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more)
!Into the Woods (original Broadway cast) Yes, Disney did eventually get to this one in the 2014 film. While that film has it’s good points, I (and many others) felt that it removed the musical’s teeth. And part of the point of the musical is that fairy tales have teeth. And claws. They’re dark, subversive, and not everyone makes it to happily ever after. But they (and Stephelan Sondheim’s beautiful music and brilliant lyrics) also teach us to see complexity. They show us that “witches can be right/ giants can be good/ you decide what’s right/ you decide what’s good.” Here we see a Red Riding Hood and Wolf dripping with innuendo, a Cinderella who finds married life somewhat lacking, and witch who does the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons. It’s been said that The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim was a source of inspiration. If you dig into the lyrics you can analyze them like poetry. The level of sophistication doesn’t take away from the magic of these stories at all. Rather it adds to them, because there’s a sense of danger. We’re left with a caution “Careful the wish you make/ Wishes are children/ Careful the path they take/ Wishes come true/Not free”
Other Non Fairy Tale Fantasy Films
These aren’t based on a specific tale or tales but will probably appeal to fairy tale fans nonetheless.
! Ladyhawke– This is an 80’s film in many ways but it’s a good one. I’ve wanted to rewatch it again ever since I read this incredible analysis. It gets into the folkloric roots behind the film and I highly recommend it to anyone interested. As for the film itself, in a nutshell the film is set in the 13th century and is about two lovers who are cursed to be together and apart: she is a hawk by day and he is a human. By night, she is a human and he is a wolf. They can’t really be in one another’s presence except for a brief moment at twilight and dawn. Unless a young thief can help them break the curse. [trailer]
! Stardust– This is based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman but tonally it’s more in line with The Princess Bride (see below) and old Hollywood screwball romantic comedies like It Happened One Night. But it still works. The story is about a star who falls from the sky and is observed by several parties. One is a trio of witches who believe that eating the heart of a star will restore their youth. One is a prince who needs her power to secure the throne. One is a love-struck young lad whose beloved asks for a fallen star as a token of his esteem. But when he finds her, he finds, not a piece of celestial rock, but Yvaine, a young woman fallen from the sky with an injured leg and a sarcastic tongue. He must get her to his beloved, while keeping her from the others who want her for less noble means. [trailer]
! The Princess Bride– I expect that most of us have seen this movie and so it needs no introduction, but if you haven’t seen this yet, do so immediately. Otherwise you’ll never know the meaning of phrases like “Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” “Inconceivable!” and of course “As you wish.” Since you might have more free time on your hands than usual I would also recommend reading the book (even if you’ve seen the movie). If nothing else it will help you appreciate the artful use of the frame story in the film version as a way to incorporate the annotations in the book. [trailer]
Pan’s Labyrinth– This film makes me think about the purpose of fairy tales. They’re an escape, an enchantment, an education, a warning. They serve all of those purposes in this tale of a young girl in Spain circa 1944. Ofelia’s new stepfather is sent to a remote forest to flush out rebels. He brings Ofelia and her mother. As she witnesses her stepfather’s sadism, brutality and abuse, Ofelia is drawn into Pan’s labyrinth, a magical world of legendary beings. [trailer]
The City of Lost Children– A mad scientist named Krank has lost his ability to dream. He is attempting to fight off death by stealing children’s dreams. The storyline of the film itself follows Krank’s henchman, Scratch, who kidnaps a 5 year old boy. The boy’s father, (a strongman with a travelling circus) and his 9 year old friend Miette, team up to save him. At times this movie is dark and creepy enough to make you think it’s only intended for adults. But at times it allows its heart to show enough to make you think the intended audience might be slightly younger. The result is a visually arresting, sentimental, provocative, nightmare fantasy ride. [trailer]
Beasts of the Southern Wild– Early fairy tales served less as entertainment and enchantment than as warnings. I think that’s how to take this film. In fact, I think watching it at this point in time might be frightening for that reason. 6 year old Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink in a remote Delta community. When Wink gets sick, nature seems to respond in kind: temperatures rise, ice caps melt, and prehistoric beasts run loose. When the rising waters threaten her community, Hushpuppy goes on a search for her long lost mother. Though this film was made in 2012, the tale of humanity’s seeming inability to live in harmony with nature taking a toll of people’s physical health, seems very apt for today’s world. [trailer]
I was very honored to be a guest on Natalie Summers’ In The Closet! We had a lot of fun talking about Beautiful, fairy tale retellings in general, fantasy, and publishing. Check it out:
A lot of us are stuck indoors for the near future. We’re isolated. We’re anxious. So we need fairy tales. As much as I love Disney, I decided to highlight some of my favorite films based on fairy tales that are not Disney-made or styled. Be warned, some of these are kid friendly but some aren’t. I put a * next to the ones that are OK for most kiddos, and a ! next to the ones that should be fine for kids above 12, but you might use caution with younger ones. If I don’t put a symbol next to it, I’d suggest sticking to adults audiences.
Beauty and the Beast
! La Belle et La Bete (1946) Jean Cocteau begins this film by imploring his audience to watch it with the eyes of a child- to regain that sense of wonder and imagination. He then plunges the audience into a magical world full of stunning practical effects, mystery and magic. There are allusions to other tales, and you can read into it from different perspectives and make a lot of arguments about subtext. Or you can do as Cocteau asks, and watch it from the a child’s point of view, and be enchanted. [trailer]
! Edward Scissorhands (1990) This is a movie takes place in a world that is in some ways very like our own. But the town in the film is overshadowed by a mysterious, seemingly abandoned fairy tale castle. When make-up saleslady, Peg, knocks on the door she finds Edward, a naive fellow with scissors instead of hands, she takes pity on him and brings him home to stay with her and her family. Her daughter, Kim is initially not happy that her mom has brought home this strange young man. But Edward unwittingly finds a place in her heart. The fairy tale feel here is very stylized, and once again there’s lots of metaphor, but there’s not need to go there unless you want to. There’s plenty to enjoy on a surface level. [trailer]
*Cinderella (1957 Television Production) – In 1957 this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was televised live with the incomparable Julie Andrews in the title role. The telefilm was remade in 1965 with Leslie Ann Warren and in 1997 with Brandy. It also did a stint on Broadway in 2013. But if you can deal with black and white picture, this is the best for my money. [trailer -fanmade]
*The Slipper and the Rose(1976) This lavish musical film adds depth the Cinderella story while still maintaining a kid-friendly fairy tale feel. We still have a fairy godmother, the stroke of midnight, and step families. But we also see the royals worried about outside attack, and some of the challenges that face Cinderella and her prince after he identifies her by her glass slipper. It’s also got some great tunes from the Sherman Brothers, beautiful costumes, and settings. [trailer]
! Ever After (1999) This Cinderella story eschews the magic in favor of a historical setting. But it still manages to include the ball, the glass slipper and Leonardo DaVinci in the fairy godmother role. We also see a more rebellious Cinderella who works hard for her own reasons (not because her stepmother demands it) and isn’t afraid to tell her stepmother to shove it. [trailer]
The Little Mermaid
!Splash (1984) Some may argue that this 80’s fish out of water (literally) comedy has little in common with Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. On the surface they’d be right. But there’s a mermaid in love with a human. She can’t speak (until she leans how in this), and gives up the sea to be with her beloved on land. Or you could just enjoy this funny, sexy, 80’s rom com for exactly what it is. [trailer]
Ondine (2009) This actually has more in common with several other water spirit/selkie tales than it does with The Little Mermaid, but I’m including it here for the sake of ease. Syracuse is a fisherman in Ireland. One day he catches a beautiful woman in his net. His daughter believes that she’s a selkie, and as he and the woman fall in love, he starts to think that the fantastical might just be true. But the woman, whom they call Ondine, had a life before she turned up in Syracuse’s nets. And that life might threaten everything she’s built with Syracuse and Annie. [trailer]
The Red Shoes
! The Red Shoes (1948) This movie retells Hans Christian Anderson’s story of The Red Shoes. Here we have a ballerina who is thrust into a backstage drama, when she’s torn between a handsome composer and the ruthless ballet instructor who demands her total dedication to her craft. The film features stunning technicolor visuals and a gorgeous ballet within a film, that tells Anderson’s tale against the backdrop of this tragic romantic triangle. [trailer]
Red Riding Hood
The Company of Wolves (1984) If you read my blog, you probably have a sense of how much I admire Angela Carter. This film is based on several of her Red Riding Hood stories as well as themes that pervade her fiction. The film deals with a teenage girl who has vivid dreams about werewolves. The movie weaves in and out of dreamscapes and stories. It’s lurid, stylized and has some (intentionally?) cringe-worthy effects, but also some interesting elements and a perfectly cast Angela Lansbury as Grandmother. [trailer]
Freeway (1996) This film features a teen delinquent on the run from social services. She travels to her grandmother’s house while being stalked by a serial killer. It’s campy and darkly humorous, but also features some satirical criticism of our justice system and a the racial and class dynamics in the United States. [trailer]
!Ball of Fire (1941) Snow White gets an old Hollywood screwball comedy treatment in this film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. Betram Potts is one of seven professors living and working together on a dictionary. When they realize that they’re unfamiliar with contemporary slang, they head to a nightclub to expose themselves to it. There they meet Sugarpuss O’Shea, the girlfriend of a gangster. She needs to hide out, and the seven professors live far enough from the realm of normal people to give her the perfect place to hide. She might just make it out alive, if she doesn’t fall for Bertram… [trailer]
Elvis and Anabelle (2007)- Anabelle is a small town beauty queen who dies. Elvis runs the town mortuary with his dad, the mortician. When Anabelle ends up on the table in the morgue, Elvis sneaks a quick kiss before he begins his work, and is really surprised when Anabelle suddenly wakes up! Anabelle convinces Elvis to keep quiet about her resurrection for a few days, and they start to fall in love. But their real world issues could keep them apart. [trailer]
Does anyone else have any other recommendations for fairy tale movies that aren’t necessarily for kids?
I read earlier that actor Billy Porter will be playing a genderless fairy god-person in a new film version of Cinderella. My response to the news was mild curiosity. It’s an interesting idea, that has the potential to be done well. Whether or not it is done well depends on a lot of factors. But then I read several comments bemoaning yet another film adaptation of Cinderella. People were asking why we can’t have fewer reboots and more original stories. For the record, I think that fewer film reboots is a great idea. But I don’t consider retelling a fairy tale to be an unoriginal remake, unless the filmmakers don’t think outside the box. There are a lot of original unique ideas that stem from fairy tales.
I suppose that because my own creative work is based on fairy tales this is an issue that’s close to my heart. But truly believe that fairy tales make rich artistic source material because they’re both flexible and powerful. Various critics have attempted to identify precisely why fairy tales endure. In Why Fairy Tales Stick(2006) Jack Zipes says: “we respond to these classical stories almost as if we were born with them, and yet we know full well that they have been socially produced and induced and continue to be generated this way through different forms of the mass media.” While that’s true certain images call to mind a fairy tale in ways that transcend media. Show someone pictures of a fancy shoe, a clock and a pumpkin and it’ll call to mind Cinderella. The images may have nothing to do with the story itself but they’ll call the story to mind because these stories are so much a part of us. Some may say that’s because we’ve been bombarded with the fairy tale nonstop. And there may be an element of truth to that.
But fairy tales have never been simple stories. Many people associate fairy tales with their Disney adaptions. If they’re aware that the Disney films are, in fact, adaptions, they’ll often refer to “the original story.” As if such a thing exists. But most fairy tales have diverse sources. Often Disney will draw from predominantly one version over another, but that’s not to say that’s the “original.” Most of these stories are drawn from oral tradition and mythologies.
Because they come from diverse sources, fairy tales can be told for many reasons. In an essay called Wearing Tiaras: On Fairy Tales, Community and Happiness, Ruth Daniell argues that:
If fairy tales can grab our attention more quickly than other forms of storytelling—and certainly they grab our attention soonest, as they make up so much of what children first encounter—then don’t we need them, as much or more as other media, to tell us that violence is wrong, that everyone should be able to be happy?…Sometimes it’s easier to deal with trauma in less direct ways. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine a happy ending for a princess than for yourself. Sometimes it’s easier to become the princess than waiting for the world to right itself.
She goes on to say that:
Children of all genders—not just girls—can and should, if they want to, enjoy fairy tales. We can aspire to a variety of ideals and receive reassurance from a wide range of characters. Yes, a patriarchal society chose its canon of fairy tales, but many of them are—despite their problems—wonderful stories, and, too, there exists beyond the (popularly) known canon even more stories, some of them wilder, stranger. Some have deeply feminist themes. I believe there are responsible ways to share fairy tales—by sharing a diverse range of them, by talking critically about the ways in which gender, class, violence, love, et cetera is depicted in them—and I think it’s worth doing that work to do so. The stories make us, but we make the stories. We can make the stories. We can reclaim the old stories. We can make new ones. We can disrupt the gender roles, we can normalize new kinds of love stories, we can imagine new kinds of ways of being happy.
In other words, if fairy tales are stories that can be enjoyed and shared among a diverse audience for many reasons, then isn’t there room for many tellings?
Since I started this by talking about Cinderella, I’ll continue discussing that. There have been many films based on Cinderella made for many reasons. I’m going to highlight a few:
Cinderfella (1960) retold a gender reversed Cinderella for the purpose of highlighting the comedy of star Jerry Lewis.
Ever After (1998) is often seen as a modernist, post-feminist reinterpretation of the story with the magical elements removed. It’s set in Renaissance-era France.
Cinderella(2015) is a live action adaptation of Disney’s 1950 animated film.
The target audiences for these films were largely different: fans of Jerry Lewis’ comedy might not also like Leslie Caron’s dance heavy adaptation or the Sherman Brother’s tunes in The Slipper and the Rose. Similarly, fans of Ever After might not take to the magic in the 2015 Disney film. All of these films purposed the story for their own target audience.
In literature, Cinderella has been retold or recalled in worlds that range from Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister to Carolyn Turgeon’s Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story to Stephen King’s Carrie (I explain a bit about this here)! All of these books have different tones, aim to do different things and use the conventions of different genres. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder uses sci-fi tropes and conventions and makes her Cinder a futuristic cyborg. In Bound, Donna Jo Napoli roots her retelling in historical fiction and Chinese Cinderella tales. In Ash, Melinda Lo writes a LGBT friendly retelling. Yes all off these authors retell the Cinderella story we all know. But more than that, they use the story to highlight different ideas. They bring originality to it, in turning it around and looking at it from different angles.
I consider fairy tales to be powerful narratives precisely because they are open to so many interpretations. So maybe, when one is announced, we can be welcoming rather than roll our eyes. What matters is the execution, not the source material.
February 11: Love Freebie
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d do a list of my favorite romantic fairy tale retellings,
1. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley- This Beauty and the Beast retelling features a twist at the end that some readers don’t like, but I found romantic and very true to the themes in then fairy tale. I won’t say anymore to avoid spoilers.
2. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth– I’m hesitant to call this “romantic” because this actually has some fairly disturbing content. But it also has a beautiful love story that takes place over many years. Some might argue it’s not a “retelling” but rather historical fiction about Dortchen Wild, wife of Wilhelm Grimm, who helped him and his brother compile their collection. But I would argue that her tale parallels Many-Furs, one of the darker stories in the Grimm’s collection.
3. The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb- This Little Mermaid retelling actually features two romances. One is a LGBT romance, and one is a romance featuring a middle aged couple (both are groups without a lot of representation in popular fiction). It takes place in contemporary times in the world of opera.
4. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – All of Marillier’s Sevenwaters novels have at least a dash of romance, but I really like how it was handled in this book, the first in the series, based on The Six Swans. It’s a slow building romance that seems to sneak up on the characters, but not the reader.
5. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine– This retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses is set in NYC during the roaring twenties. One thing that impressed me here was that there were a lot of characters (twelve heroines!) but I was still invested in the romance relationship of the main character, the oldest sister, Jo.
6. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– Again it’s debatable as to whether or not this is a retelling or a story that strongly references Bluebeard. Regardless it’s a story of a new marriage with secrets and a locked room (though the contents are significantly different than in the fairy tale).
7.Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– This is one of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings, from one of my favorite authors in the genre. It also features a beautiful romance where you really root for the central couple.
8.The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey- I think that this Beauty and the Beast retelling (set in the same world as Lackey’s elemental masters series) has some interesting parallels to Heart’s Blood. But to me the fantasy elements are more prominent in this one.
9. Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey – I like Lackey’s elemental master’s envisioning of Cinderella because it’s got more grit and less Disney (not that that I don’t also love Disney!) and the Prince is as wounded as Cinderella in his own way.