#WyrdandWonder Challenge (Part III)

My next set of prompts for May’s Wyrd and Wonder Challenge

May 20Fantasy creature on the cover

(bonus points if it isn’t a dragon)

Well, the most recent fantasy book I read with fantasy creature on the cover, was Crown of Crystal Flame, by CL Wilson. It’s the final book in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series and it has a Tarien (sort of like a giant cat with wings) on the cover in the background. The first book in the series, Lord of the Fading Lands shows a Tarien a bit more clearly.
May 21Fantasy in translation

Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on books that weren’t originally written in English

The one that leaps immediately to mind is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, because it’s a favorite (well really the whole Cemetery of Forgotten Books series counts) The fantasy elements are stronger elsewhere in the series, but as I said, this one is my favorite, and it has those elements as well, to a lesser extent. It was originally written in Spanish.
Another book that, well, let’s say it made a strong impression on me was Troll: A Love Story by Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo.
Actually I’m a big fan of magical realism, which I suppose is a subgenre of fantasy. It has strong associations with Latin America, so a lot of the books are in translation from Spanish. Some favorites are Like Water For Chocolate, Eva Luna, and The House of the Spirits.
I suppose many classic fairy tale collections count as well. The Brother’s Grimm and ETA Hoffman were originally in German. Hans Christian Anderson was Danish. Charles Perrault was French. They all originally wrote in their native languages.
May 22Get in the sea

Seaborne fantasy, mermaid tales, the lady in the lake – make it watery for World Maritime Day
…or if you’re feeling bitter, what fantasy would you consign to the depths and why?


I really enjoyed Carolyn Turgen’s Mermaid. It’s based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid (which is very different from Disney’s version!) and follows the point of view of both the mermaid and the princess who the mermaid’s beloved marries.
May 23Book rainbow

book spines arranged in the colours of the rainbow

Some of the colors didn’t photograph as well as I would have liked, but I didn’t have a chance to play with the lighting.
May 24On the shelf

how long has that been on your shelf / TBR?? a book / books you really should have read by now

I think these have been on my shelf for the longest:
White As Snow by Tanith Lee
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Blue Girl by Charles DeLint

Hopefully I can get to them soon!
May 25Chosen one #TropeTuesday

Double-edged prophecies, irresistible destiny, a plot stick you just can’t dodge – let’s end the month on a classic

Well, this month these are the books I’ve read that use that trope:
Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson– This is the final book in the Tarien Soul series and the heroine, Elysetta, has every characteristic of a “chosen one.” She has a mysterious past, she was found in the woods as a baby, she has a supernatural/fantastic origin story, and she is destined to either save, or destroy, the fey.
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness-This is the second book in the All Souls series and I think that Diana has some “chosen one” characteristics too. She knows she’s a witch but she didn’t have any sense of connection to her heritage before the first book in the series. In this book, she starts her magic training, and it turns out she’s a “weaver,” a rare kind of witch that can make up spells. It’s been hinted that she might save supernatural creatures from extinction. She’s also married to a vampire, and there are prophesies about their offspring.
May 26All the feels

We all love an emotional rollercoaster – a book that gave your feelings a full on work out

I’m often an emotional wreck as I read, so this might be a long-ish list with major spoilers. Be warned…

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- The end when Bod leaves the graveyard, and the ghosts who raised him, and goes out to pursue his future as a living person.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– I’m counting this as a fantasy, even though you could make the argument for it being sci-fi. Really just the whole thing once we learned what the characters were and their inevitable fate.
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of books in the Outlander series have given me all the feels on a semi regular basis, but this one totally destroyed me when Jamie sends Claire back through the stones, to the future (they both think forever), and goes off to die (they think) at the battle of Culloden…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This was another series where I got emotional at many different points (the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, the end of The Goblet of Fire, the end of The Half Blood Prince…) but if I had to pick one part of the series, it would be this book. When people we love die in battle, when Harry goes into the forest, Dobby, Snape, and really everything!
The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody- Once again, the Obernewtyn series has given me all the feels at several points. But this one features the Misfits getting betrayed by people they thought were allies. Many important and beloved characters are murdered in an ambush I didn’t see coming. My friend, who recommended the series warned me that we’d lose some people in this one, so I was semi-prepared, but the scope and depth of the betrayal was what destroyed me.

Favorite (Non-Disney) Fairy Tale Films

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

beauty-and-the-beast-1946-granger! 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-1! 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

cinderella-lg

Moviestillsdb.com

*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-3*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]

6db5c710-0eab-469a-a4fa-e4ad9d6706c5! 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-lg

moviesstillsdb.com

!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]

ondinefeat

aftercredits.com

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

shoemakersshop_theredshoes

thesouloftheplot.wordpress.com

! 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

company_of_wolves7

damonart.com

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-lg

moviesstillsdb.com

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]

Snow White

1018418-balloffire

awn.com

!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]

Sleeping Beauty

elvis-annabelle-stills-max-minghella-7309030-746-500

fanpop.com

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?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

白雪姫のクリップアート princess Snow White Disney cartoon イラスト素材22

Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

Indie-love: Blue Water

One of the elements of being an indie writer that I’m definitely still in the process of figuring out is advertising. The fact that I’m on a limited budget makes it even more challenging. But fortunately, the writing community is really supportive. JA Armitage‘s new book, Blue Water released today She’s sending out a newsletter to her readers and will be mentioning my book, Beautiful, in it today. In exchange, she asked me to give Blue Water a shout out to my readers. I was happy to do so.

51i5yamkjvl-_ac_us218_

Princess Erica can’t live under the ocean and Ari can’t live above it and yet they are destined to be together, bonded by magic. With circumstances keeping them apart and magic bringing them together, they find themselves living impossible lives with no way around it. Snatching time together here and there is one thing, but when Erica’s father becomes ill and with Erica due to ascend to the throne, even that has to stop.
Blue water is the second book in the Little Mermaid trilogy and the fifth in the Reverse Fairytale series by USA Today Bestselling Author J.A Armitage.
Take everything you know about fairytales and turn it on its head.

Remember that the best ways to support indie authors are:

  1. Read their books.
  2. Tell others about their books.
  3. Write positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

Without a publicity department behind you, it’s important for authors to support each other and readers to support authors.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Since most of what I write is in the overall category of fairy tale retellings, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites in the genre. If there’s a specific tale that you’re interested in, mention in the comments. I might know some good retellings. I’ve read a lot of these over the years!

Novels

51jx4jtbmpl

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Kate Forsyth is amazing. She’s  a long time fantasy author, with a doctorate in fairytale studies.  Her blog has some amazing background information on this book.  This Rapunzel retelling imagines three parallel storylines. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles due to a series of affairs. She takes refuge in a convent, where a nun tells her the story of a young girl who is sold to a mysterious woman in exchange for some bitter greens. It also tells the story of Selena, the muse of the 16th-century artist Tiziano, who comes to be known as La Strega Bella. These three narratives are braided together (pun intended) to create the story of Rapunzel. Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real person who wrote the Rapunzel story. Selena is also based on a real historical figure.

“I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
‘You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles … I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword? You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?”

51nnz9wc7ql

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon– This is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, that has a sad tone more in line with Hans Christian Anderson than Disney. Princess Margrethe’s kingdom is at war. One day while walking along the beach she sees a mermaid rescue a nearly drowned man. By the time Margrethe reaches them the mermaid has disappeared beneath the waves. As Margrethe nurses the man back to health, she learns that he’s a prince of the enemy kingdom. But she falls in love with him, and certain that he was brought to her for a reason. Margrethe comes up with a plan to bring peace to both kingdoms. Meanwhile, mermaid princess Lenia is also unable to forget the drowning man that she helped to rescue. She’s willing to sacrifice her home, her voice, and her health to become human, to be with him. While the prince is a bit more two dimensional than I might like (I’d like to know why these two women love him so much) the fact that this novel presents both of these characters as heroines and puts them at cross purposes, makes it both poignant and compelling.

“There are people all over the world who carry the mermaid inside them, that otherworldly beauty and longing and desire that made her reach for heaven when she lived in the darkness of the sea.”

51brjista7l-_sy346_

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier– This retelling of The Wild Swans kicks off a six book series, though it can be read as a stand-alone. Lord Colum of Sevenwaters (in Ancient Ireland) has seven children. Six sons and a daughter, Sorcha. When Colum marries a sorceress, Sorcha’s brothers are enchanted. They are turned into birds. In order to break the spell, Sorcha must weave shirts out of nettles for all of them, while remaining silent until her task is complete. The silence becomes more difficult when Sorcha is captured by the Britons and taken overseas. But she continues her task until she is confronted with choosing between saving her brothers and protecting the man with whom she has fallen in love. Sorcha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart, determined, and strong but not in a cartoonish way. She has weaknesses too, that make her a well-rounded character.

“The man journeyed far, and he heard and saw many strange things on his travels. He learned that – that the friend and the enemy are but two faces of the same self. That the path one believes chosen long since, constant and unchangeable, straight and wide, can alter in an instant. Can branch, and twist and lead the traveler to places far beyond his wildest imaginings. That there are mysteries beyond the mind of mortal man, and that to deny their existence is to spend a life of half-consciousness.”

41oyve54sgl

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– This is a Beauty and the Beast story that is both fantastic and very human.  Eighteen-year-old Caitrin was trained as a scribe, but she runs away from home to avoid a forced marriage. She takes refuge at Whistling Tor, where Anluan, the crippled, cursed chieftain, lives in a house full of (literal) ghosts. When violence once again threatens her happiness, Caitrin and Anluan must stand together to break a curse.  By making Caitrin find refuge from an outside threat with Anluan, Marillier avoids any possible accusation of Stockholm syndrome, and creates a lovely, bittersweet romance.

“He was seated on the bench now. He had his left elbow on his knee, his right arm across his lap, his shoulders hunched, his head bowed. White face, red hair: snow and fire, like something from an old tale. The book I had noticed earlier was on the bench beside him, its covers shut. Around Anluan’s feet and in the birdbath, small visitors to the garden hopped and splashed and made the most of the day that was becoming fair and sunny. He did not seem to notice them. As for me, I found it difficult to take my eyes from him. There was an odd beauty in his isolation and his sadness, like that of a forlorn prince ensorcelled by a wicked enchantress, or a traveller lost forever in a world far from home.”

51ck4irm2cl

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– I am one of the rare McKinley fans who prefer Rose Daughter to McKinley’s other Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I like Beauty but I think Rose Daughter’s more innovative while still keeping the spirit of the original story. I can see where the ending of this one might be a bit controversial among fans, but I liked it. We see Beauty have a different relationship with her sisters than we’re used to. They don’t always get along, but they basically care about one another. We also see that Beauty has really fallen in love with the Beast himself, rather than the castle and his wealth etc. There’s more complexity to this telling IMO.

“She looked up at once, pierced to the heart by the sorrow in his voice and knowing, from the question and the sorrow together, that he had no notion of what had just happened to her, nor why. From that she pitied him so greatly that she cupped her hands again to hold a little of the salamander’s heat, not for serenity but for the warmth of friendship. But as she felt the heat again running through her, she knew at once it bore a different quality. It had been a welcome invader the first time, only moments before; but already it had become a constituent of her blood, intrinsic to the marrow of her bones, and she heard again the salamander’s last words to her: Trust me. At that moment she knew that this Beast would not have sent such misery as her father’s illness to harry or to punish, knew too that the Beast would keep his promise to her, and to herself she made another promise to him, but of that promise she did not yet herself know. Trust me sang in her blood, and she could look in the Beast’s face and see only that he looked at her hopefully.”

61fscnkklil

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory McGuire This book tells us straight away that we should forget about the magical Cinderella story we knew. In 17th century Holland, the widowed Margarethe marries a painter and she and her two daughters move in with him and his daughter, Clara.  We follow the story of Iris, Margarethe’s plain-faced daughter, and Ruth, her mentally challenged sister, as they try to find a place for themselves in the world. They learn that deception can be found where you least expect it. But love can be found there too. The “wicked” stepsisters here have complex reasons for their actions. And love is usually at the heart of those reasons.

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings…. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats….

51lw2h2yw2bl-_sy346_

East by Edith Pattou– In the rural villages of Norway it is believed that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born.  Nymah Rose was born facing north. North born babies are intelligent, unpredictable, and likely to leave home and break their mother’s hearts. Rose’s mother lies and says that her daughter was born facing the more obedient east. But destiny can’t be denied that easily. One night a white bear shows up at the house and says that if she goes with him her ailing, poor family will be happy, healthy and rich. Rose jumps at the chance. She lives with the white bear in his castle. But when her actions unintentionally harm her new friend, Rose must go on a seemingly impossible quest to save him. This story blends the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon with Nordic superstition, Norse mythology and Inuit mythology. It moves through the voices of each of the characters to give us a kaleidoscopic view of the world Pattou creates.

“I knelt by the design. Yes, there was the sun rising. But the white form I had always thought to be a cloud was a bear. I could see it now, upside down. White bear, isbjorn, stood for north. Father had not been able to help himself. The truth was there, too. Truth and lie, side by side.”

Short Fiction/Poetry

616foja0kcl-_sx332_bo1204203200_

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter If you’re a teen or adult who loves fairy tales but hasn’t read this collection, please do so right now. I’ll wait. In these stories, Carter retells tales that we all know, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood… But she retells them in ways that are humorous, dark, sensual, and subversive.

“There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption.”

51oe7ps03el

Transformations by Anne Sexton– In this collection, Anne Sexton adapts seventeen fairy tales. Each poem opens with a modern-day prologue in which Sexton, compares the tale to a modern theme. These touch on topics like desperation, memory, insanity, and deception.  Then she retells the story through this lens. Most of these poems have a sense of humor, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness as well.

“He turns the key.
Presto!
It opens this book of odd tales.
Which transform The Brothers Grimm.
Transform?
As if an enlarged paper clip
Could be a piece of sculpture.
(And it could.)”

Fairy Tale Heroines: The Good, the Bad and the Sleepy

Like many young girls I once wanted to be a Disney princess. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella…. I wasn’t really fussy. I suppose the idea of being totally gorgeous, with a beautiful singing voice, and a handsome prince, still appeals to some degree. But as I got older, I started to gravitate toward different kinds of stories. I found myself liking heroines who weren’t perfect. I also started to want them to *gasp* do stuff!

白雪姫のクリップアート princess Snow White Disney cartoon イラスト素材22

The old school Disney princesses were largely reactive. Snow White runs away because it’s that or be killed. Sleeping Beauty just sleeps while the prince does all the hard work. While Cinderella is a little more proactive, she still sits around crying until her fairy godmother shows up to help. This passiveness isn’t just Disney’s fault. The heroines in the stories on which the films were based were really just… there.  That was largely reflective of the the way an ideal woman was expected to behave.

But that changed. In my early childhood, I saw Ariel decide to leave everything she’s ever known and venture into a new world, in The Little Mermaid. I saw Belle give up her own life to save her father in Beauty and the Beast. I liked these heroines more because they actually made choices.

1c0421ab-3a8a-4ad1-b48f-a3d1c3eaf67d

Is that only because society’s expectations of women changed? I don’t think so. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast both feature female characters who make active decisions that shape their lives. That much is the same in the original stories.

Those are the stories that I gravitate to more now. They’re the ones that I’m most interested in re-imagining in my own work. In Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Queen, The Wild Swans, East of the Sun, West of the Moon,  and many more, the heroine drives the action of the story.  Actually my current work in progress is based on one of these stories, so stay tuned for that!

18175922_6323

I know a lot of people are critical of fairy tales because of the gender roles that they reinforce. And yes, even in some of the more modern Disney films we see some disturbing stereotypes. But try to reframe it. Point out that these characters show tremendous courage at different points. Make it explicit that it isn’t brave if you’re not scared.

We can even look at some of the more passive heroines through that lens. Yes, Cinderella sobs until her fairy godmother comes along. But before that she survives in an abusive environment day after day (it’s not like she could just leave with no money and nowhere to go) without losing her characteristic kindness. When she hears about the ball, she decides to make a dress and go herself. Yes, she cries when it’s ruined (who wouldn’t, after all that work?) and accepts outside help. But that doesn’t make her weak. It just means she seized an opportunity when one showed up. As for goals, really she just wanted to take a night off and go to a party. She didn’t want the prince until she met him.  In the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the daughters of a controlling father rebel in one of the few ways available to them; by sneaking out of the house and doing what they want at night. They even drug the men who are supposed to be watching them, so that they can sneak away.

I always get frustrated when people assume that fairy tales are simple. Because they’re anything but.  Gender roles are just one example of this. Their complexity is part of why the speak to people on a universal level. It’s why I love them, and why they inspire me creatively.