Fairy tales are part of our childhood. Stories of heroes and villains, princes and princesses, witches, wizards, dragons, etc. fill our young minds with images of faraway places where magic, true love, and happily ever after are the norm.
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Once Upon a Time. The show starts as many narratives of this ilk start. Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) is racing to awaken his beloved, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) from the sleeping curse placed upon by The Evil Queen (Lana Parilla). As with the traditional tale of Snow White, she is awaked by true love’s kiss. It appears that their life together will be long and happy. But the Queen is not done with her stepdaughter. She places an ever greater curse on the land, taking away their memories and tearing loved ones apart.
But there is a light in the darkness. A savior will arise, break the spell and give the Queen what is coming to her.
The beauty of this series is that it took the basic characters that we have come to expect and flipped them on their heads. Everyone within this world is human, and complicated. The female characters are empowered, capable, and not even close to their damsel-in-distress predecessors. The baddies are not just evil for evils sake. They have made choices, for better or for worse, that have led them to become considered evil by others. The stories we think we know have new layers, jagged edges, and twists created seven seasons of some of the best television I have ever seen.
Many girls dream of becoming princesses when they are young. But what happens when you discover that you are a princess?
This is the jumping off point of the new YA novel, Tokyo Ever After. Written by Emiko Jean, the book was published last month. Izumi “Izzy” Tanaka is a high school senior living in a small town in California. One of only a handful of Asian-Americans students in her school, she is used to the not so polite questions and stares she receives from her her classmates.
Raised by her single mother, she never knew her father. That is, until her best friend does some digging. Izzy’s father is the Crown Prince of Japan. Before she knows it, she is in Tokyo, meeting her father and family that she never knew existed. The world of the Imperial family is an ancient one, bound by rules, traditions, and expectations that are a 180 from the middle class life she knew in the United States. Torn between the life she knew and the life that she could have, Izzy has to make a choice.
The narrative is somewhere between What a Girl Wants and The Princess Diaries. I truly loved this book and Izzy as a main character. The tension between her want to fit in with her new relations and being true to herself felt very relevant to me as a reader. I loved the details of the Imperial Palace, the images were so visceral that I felt like I was there with Izzy.
Fairy tales end with the line “they lived happily ever after”. But as anyone who has ever been married can tell you, the wedding is only the beginning.
The Heir Affair (the sequel to The Royal We), by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, was published last year. It takes place right after the first book ended. Nick and Bex are newlyweds, but life is not all sunshine and roses. The scandal that nearly ended their engagement has forced them to go into hiding. When they are forced to return to London, Bex knows that she and Nick must face the music. Adding to their troubles is the revelation of a family secret and a question of succession.
I loved this book. I didn’t think it would have possible to top The Royal We, but somehow the authors were able to. As a reader, I was able to relate to the characters because it is the story of an imperfect family, who, at the end of the day, are no different than any other family. I wont spoil the ending, but I will say that it humanized these people, instead of elevating to images of royal perfection.
In our world, when we think of princesses, we think of a certain type of character. She is a dainty, angelic young woman, usually a damsel in distress who is waiting for her beloved to rescue her. She has no agency, does not have much of a character arc, and walks off into the sunset in some version of happily ever after.
In 1995,Xena: Warrior Princess premiered and destroyed the stereotypes. An off-shoot of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena (Lucy Lawless) is a warrior princess with a less than clean past. Seeing the need to redeem herself, she fights against evil with the help of Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor).
Back then, this show was revolutionary. As a female character, Xena (and Gabrielle by extension), broke the mold. She was everything the classic princesses were not. There was also an element of romance between the main characters, opening the door for LGBTQ characters and viewers.
Joker: In this re imagined world from that Batman universe, Joaquin Phoenix adds new layers to this iconic character while talking frankly about mental illness.
The Song of Names: Based on the book of the same name, the film follows a man who is trying to discover the secrets of a missing childhood friend.
Frozen II: This sequel to the mega-hit Frozen was well worth the six year wait. Instead of doing a slap-dash direct to video type sequel, the filmmakers expanded this world in new ways, making the story even more relevant.
This will be my last post for 2019. Wherever you are, thank you for reading this year. May 2020 be bright and hopeful.
In a traditional fairy tale, the princess/young female heroine is not an active character, in spite of being the lead character. She is a passive character, reacting to what is happening to her and waiting for someone else (i.e. the prince) to rescue her.
Sophia, Princess Among Beasts, co-written by James Patterson and Emily Raymond was released in July. Sophia is a teenage princess who loves books, her widower father and her people. Then her kingdom is invaded. Sophia is taken into a world in which beasts that only exist in storybooks live. Somehow, she must return to her world and save her kingdom from the coming invasion.
Initially, I didn’t know what to think of this book when I picked it up at the library last week. As a writer, I have heard of James Patterson, but I had yet to read any of his books until I started this one.
To say that I was impressed with the novel is an understatement. It is well written and has some predictable elements of the traditional fairy tale/fantasy genres. However, there are elements in the narrative that make the story stand out from the traditional fairy tale/fantasy story.
As a feminist and a writer, I appreciated Sophia’s story arc. She may start out as the typical fairy tale princess, but does not end the story as one would expect.
Fairy tales are often though as stories for young children. One note characters and predictable plots are often the hallmarks of this genre. But, if a writer can think out of the box with three dimensional characters and unexpected plot twists, the adult reader may be as engaged as the child reader.
Angela Carter’s 2011 book, The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories is an adult twist on the traditional and sometimes simple fairy tales. Pulling from a number of well known fairy tales, Ms. Carter’s adaptations are dark, sometimes violent and not for young children.
Did I like this book? Well it was short, but the length of the book is usually not a determining factor. In truth, the book was simply okay. But if I am looking for fractured or adult fairy tales, I would not go back to this book.
I love them because they represent hope, love and all of the good things that the future can bring. I hate them because not only do they contain stock characters that are uninteresting, but they continue to teach young girls that the only thing they should want or need in life is marriage and children.
Alethea Kontis’s 2013 novel, Enchanted is a very interesting novel.
Sunday Woodcutter is the 7th daughter of a 7th daughter. She and all of her sisters are named for the day of the week. Her only solace from her busy, noisy household is writing. While writing near a lake, a frog with human like attributes asks her to read to him. She agrees and the relationship quickly turns from friendship into something deeper.
One night, she kisses her frog goodbye. What she does not know is the frog is Prince Rumbold, who was though to be dead because of a curse linked to Sunday’s family. The king announces a series of balls. At the ball, Rumbold instantly recognizes Sunday, but she does not know the the frog and the prince are one and the same. With dark magic about and the secret of his former non humanoid experience hanging over him, will Rumbold be able to tell Sunday the truth so they can live happily ever after?
I loved this book. Combining three of the most famous fairy tales (Cinderella, Jack And The Bean Stalk, The Frog Prince) in a very readable way, the author was able to re-shape the stories without resorting to the one note and predictable “some day my prince will come” style of storytelling. In short, she is able to utilize the standard character and plot that a reader would expect in a fairy tale, but the novel is written in a way that keeps the reader hooked to the very end.
Fairy tale male leads are often a certain type. Tall, dark, handsome, charming and maybe a little flawed, just to make him interesting. He is the one who not only rescues the princess, but also marries her. Their happily ever after and ride into the sunset is predictable from the word go.
Shrek (2001) smashed this stereotype, forever altering the way we see the male lead character in fairy tales.
Shrek (Mike Myers) is an ogre. He is rude, smelly, keeps to himself and not the image that a female would conjure up when she thinks of Prince Charming. Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) starts to encroach on Shrek’s swamp. Shrek makes a deal with Lord Farquaad to rescue his intended, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and bring her back to his kingdom. If Shrek agrees and bring bring the princess, he will be left in peace for the rest of his days. Traveling with Shrek is Donkey (Eddie Murphy), a talking ass who is part sarcasm, part performer and part wise old man.
Did Shrek break the mold for fairy tales? No. Did the story have the predictable, typical happy ending? Of course. But what this movie does brilliantly is to take the stereotypes of genre, flip it on the head and skewer in a way that is pure genius. The twist in this story (which I will not share, in case anyone has not seen this movie), certainly goes a long way in redeeming the standard ending.
Do I recommend this movie? Sure. Do I recommend the sequels? Let me put it this way. Outside of Star Wars, Star Trek and a handful of the most recent superhero movies, most movies that have multiple sequels begin to loose their steam after a while. The sequels that followed this movie are among the movie sequels that will never be as good as the first.
Fairy tales are very often a child’s first book and first story. The beauty of fairy tales lies in their simplicity. This simplicity allows these very basic and simple stories to be re told time again, to be re-written and re-adapted in many different ways. Cinderella, one of the most common fairy tales is a perfect example of this.
Malinda Lo’s 2009 book, Ash is Cinderella with a LGBT twist, a concept that in my opinion is long overdue.
Aisling, or Ash as she is referred to, like the heroine in the original tale is an orphan. Her mother dies early in the book, her father re-marries. Her new stepmother tolerates the girl, but only until her father dies and it is discovered that he was in debt. Ash must now work as a servant for her stepmother to pay off her father’s debt.
Ash lives in a land where there are tales of fairies who steal mortals and take them to the fairy kingdom. When she meets Sidhean, a dark and dangerous fairy, she is ready to join in him in the fairy kingdom. Then she meets, Kaisa, the King’s huntress and begins to learn how to hunt, her starts to change in unexpected ways.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading it. I found it to be original, fun to read and very easy to read. Lo keeps the basic story and characters of Cinderella intact while adding a new layer with the fairies and her heroine falling in love with a woman.