Spinning Fairy Tales

Before I start, thanks to everybody who came to a tour event.  I was so happy to meet you!

On April 4, 2010, Guinevere Amoureaux wrote, I have a problem with revamping fairy tales.  I always ask myself “why” and “how come” but I never find anything.  Then, when I read a retold fairy tale, I say, “Oh yeah! Why didn’t I think of that?”  And then, when the book THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS, a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” came out and I saw it at the library, I nearly boiled over. All day I was saying to myself, “Why didn’t I think about that?” I could have JUST asked, “WHY did the princesses dance every night?” Could you give me a bit of advice on this topic?
I’ve been fascinated by “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” too.  When I wrote The Two Princesses of Bamarre I was really trying to tell the tale of the twelve, but I couldn’t get it.  After I read your question, I looked The Thirteenth Princess up online, although I confess I haven’t read it.  When the review said that there were twelve princesses because the king kept trying for a son, my reaction was exactly the same as yours: Why didn’t I think of that?

Let me go through my process with this story as an example.  Here’s the tale, lifted (legally) from this URL at Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Dancing_Princesses:

Twelve princesses slept in twelve beds in the same room; every night their doors were securely locked, but in the morning their shoes were found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night.

The king, perplexed, promised his kingdom and a daughter to any man who could discover the princesses’ secret within three days and three nights, but those who failed within the set time limit would be put to death.

An old soldier returned from war came to the king’s call after several princes had failed in the endeavor to discover the princesses’ secret. Whilst traveling through a wood he came upon an old woman, who gave him an invisibility cloak and told him not to eat or drink anything given to him by one of the princesses who would come to him in the evening, and to pretend to be fast asleep after the princess left.

The soldier was well received at the palace just as the others had been and indeed, in the evening, the eldest princess came to his chamber and offered him a cup of wine. The soldier, remembering the old woman’s advice, threw it away secretly and began to snore very loudly as if asleep.

The princesses, sure that the soldier was asleep, dressed themselves in fine clothes and escaped from their room by a trap door in the floor. The soldier, seeing this, donned his invisibility cloak and followed them down. He trod on the gown of the youngest princess, whose cry to her sisters that all was not right was rebuffed by the eldest. The passageway led them to three groves of trees; the first having leaves of silver, the second of gold, and the third of diamonds. The soldier, wishing for a token, broke off a twig of each as evidence. They walked on until they came upon a great lake. Twelve boats with twelve princes in them were waiting. Each princess went into one, and the soldier stepped into the same boat as the youngest. The young prince in the boat rowed slowly, unaware that the soldier was causing the boat to be heavy. The youngest princess complained that the prince was not rowing fast enough, not knowing the soldier was in the boat. On the other side of the lake was a castle, into which all the princesses went and danced the night away.

The princesses danced until their shoes were worn through and they were obliged to leave. This strange adventure went on the second and third nights, and everything happened just as before, except that on the third night the soldier carried away a golden cup as a token of where he had been. When it came time for him to declare the princesses’ secret, he went before the king with the three branches and the golden cup, and told the king all he had seen. The princesses saw there was no use to deny the truth, and confessed. The soldier chose the eldest princess as his bride for he was not a very young man, and was made the king’s heir.
The version I know ends intriguingly by saying that a day was added to the princes’ enchantment for every night they danced with the princesses.

There are oodles of mysteries in this tale in addition to the puzzle about the quantity of princesses.  When I read it or any fairy tale, I question everything.  That’s what I’d like you to do right now.  Write a list of questions or mysteries, aspects of this story that seem unresolved.  Try to come up with at least eight.  My questions are below, but don’t look.  STOP READING AND WRITE.

I thought of continuing in a separate post, but that seemed untrusting.  Here are my questions:

1.    Why do the princesses share a bedroom in an enormous castle?

2.    Why is the king locking them in at night?

3.    Why aren’t evening entertainments held right there at the castle?

4.    If he cares so much about the dancing slippers, why doesn’t the king deprive his daughters of them at night and let them walk barefoot to the privy?

5.    Why does he kill the unsuccessful suitors?

6.    Why three days and nights for the trial rather than one or twenty-five or any other number?

7.    Generally, what’s up with this crazy king?

8.    Why does the old woman help the soldier?

9.    Who is she?

10.    What is she doing with a cloak of invisibility?

11.    Why are the princesses willing to let young men die rather than reveal the secret of their dancing slippers?

12.    Why do they dance with the princes?  How did it begin?

13.    Why three groves of trees, and why are their leaves made of precious metals and jewels?  (This is my favorite part of the story.)

14.    Is this enchanted world of the trees, the lake, and the castle underground?

15.    Why are the princes there?

16.    What does the soldier think of all this?

You may have come up with different questions than mine, maybe more, maybe fewer.  There’s no right or wrong number or right or wrong question.

So that’s my approach with fairy tales.  Questions jump out at me, and I make up answers.  I follow the answers to more questions and more answers, and eventually a story emerges.

When I attempted to turn “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” into a novel, I began by eliminating nine princesses, because three main characters seemed interesting and twelve impossible for me and the reader to keep straight.  Then I decided that the old woman was a sorcerer in disguise and that the king was consumed by grief for his dead wife, and I had an idea that the groves of trees somehow represented the seasons.  (I loved that idea.)

I got stuck in several places.  Even if the old woman was a sorcerer, I didn’t know why he/she wanted the princes discovered and why she chose the soldier, and I couldn’t figure out why they were enchanted and what their enchantment was.  At one point I decided that they might be specters, which seemed promising.

The obstacle I couldn’t get around was the princesses.  They seemed the obvious choices for heroines, but I hated them for allowing all those suitors to die.  Eventually I let the enchanted princes and the soldier go and lopped off one princess.  The sorcerer, who had been malevolent at the beginning, turned into kindly Rhys.

This wasn’t easy.  I was despairing when I couldn’t figure out the original, beloved fairy tale.  My story emerged slowly, and I no longer remember how I came to it.  The moral is, though, that the fairy tale is a jumping off point.  It doesn’t matter if you stick with it.  What’s important – the only important thing – is writing a story, which is bound to be your own, even if you hew closely to a known tale.  You’ll put something of yourself into it.

I’ve been thinking about “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” again.  I may have a new approach that will allow me to write it.  But if not and it veers off again and I get another different story, I’ll just throw up my hands and celebrate.

Here’s a prompt: The craziest fairy tale I know of is “Lovely Ilonka,” which you can find in Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book.  The Lang books (each named after a different color, and the series contains the well-known tales and many lesser-known ones) may be in your library, and they’ve all been digitized, so you can get them for free online.  Please don’t read the abridged version in Wikipedia, because you won’t see the full wackiness.  Read the fairy tale, ask yourself questions about it, develop your own interpretation, and see where you wind up.  Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. If you get the Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, you wouldn't believe some of the things they come up with in there. Amazing! and so different from what people write now. It's a great way of seeing how people thought back then. Not to mention, a veritable mine of story ideas.

  2. I actually listened to what you said for once and came up with questions myself – eleven of them. Then I read yours, and was astounded by how different mine were. And when I read yours, I thought 'Why didn't I think of that?' Haha!! Irony! 🙂

    Anyway…I loved this post. My absolute favourite. I've always been intrigued by fairytales, and have numerous retellings sitting in my shelves…I just can't get enough of them!

    Also, about the twelve-to-three-princesses deal. In your book, Writing Magic, you include a small paragraph of how you wanted to start the book, I think. I loved that excerpt, and when I read it, wished that you could have written the retelling as you wanted it. Though the story never does go where you will it, does it?

    Anyway, I am now inspired enough to work on THIS particular fairytale retelling. I was looking for a plot for this year's NaNoWriMo, and maybe this might be it!

    There is a recently published retelling of this story, too. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. I haven't read it, but it sounds good. Just thought I'd mention it for anyone who wanted to read another published story.

    Sorry for the long (long, long!) comment! I'll be back after reading the Lang story you mentioned. Thank you for this post, I've never felt more excited about writing! 😀

  3. Oh, I really enjoyed that! I've read another similar one – I can't pinpoint it – about how the king wants to marry the princess whose portrait he saw, but that princess is swapped for the coachman's sister or something. And then there's the one about the girl, her dresses and coach coming from three walnuts that the prince/king cracks.

    Fairytales are amazing. A world without them is devoid of something.

  4. Ms. Levine,
    This was great. I've never really written a re-telling before but now that you mention it; i may want to try it! I'd never heard the story of the 12 dancing princesses before, what a fascinating tale! Thank you again and I'll keep reading and writing.

  5. Ms. Levine,
    I am only writing on this post because in earlier posts, you said you don't see the comments left on earlier blogs. Sorry if this comes off as a bit "fan mail"-ish.
    When I was 8 years old, in 1999 I read your book, Ella Enchanted. I fell in love with it. My copy was more than worn because I read it so often. I had the book nearly memorized. When the movie came out, I have to admit, I was devastated. It was my first experience with a book I loved being turned into a movie and not being the same. I tucked away my copy of Ella Enchanted and it sat in a box for years.
    Yesterday, I was looking through some boxes I had left in the basement when I went to college, and I found my dusty, battered copy of Ella Enchanted. Reserve bubbled up with my hesitation to read the movie's namesake that had spurned the heartache I had felt as a kid. However, I blew off the dust of the years and brought the book home with me. Last night I couldn't stop reading. It was amazing to me how the book that I loved as a child could still bring me so much joy over ten years later.
    I finished the book and while online, I stumbled on your blog. When I saw you had been in Salt Lake only yesterday, I was so sad that I had missed it! What are the chances that my favorite childhood author was only a half hour away from me, the day that I picked up her book once again?!
    Anyway, this has been a long winded story of me just wanting to express my thanks for creating such a beautiful story. I won't make the mistake of putting my Ella Enchanted on the shelf again!

  6. Sheraya I know exactly how you feel, except for the movie part. I was much younger when it came out. When I wasn't at a dance competition, every Saturday of my third grade year was spent rereading Ella Enchanted, watching Ella Enchanted (I didn't care about the differences much, I just loved it) and telling my mom all he funny stuff in the book and the movie. I used to dress up and pretend to be Ella and always played out my favorite scenes (the ball, the giant wedding stuff like that). I used to think Gail Carson Levine was like a goddess or something. I remember when I was sad I would tell my imaginary Gail Carson Levine to write a book about my troubles( I know, really creepy). I have to buy a second Ella Enchanted book because my first one is utterly unreadable.

  7. "Lovely Ilonka" sounds a bit like the goose girl, a princess whose lady in waiting forces their switch and the princess's beloved horse killed. Its head is hung on the wall at the palace, where the princess works as a goose-herd.

    I just LOVE fairy tales and their retellings. Your Ella Enchanted and Robin McKinley's Beauty are my two favorites, though there are many others that are a close second.

  8. Robi Mckinley also did a great job on Spindle's End, so different from the Disney version of Sleepng Beauty. I also love Ella Enchanted and Fairest, two more great examples of re-written fairy tales. from these three books, I think the best twist to add to a fairy tales is to make the main character more dimensional, which is almost synomous with more likeable. (I especially love Aza!)

  9. Thanks for delightful insight into your idea creating process! I also came up with a different list – 13.

    @ F – I've just started PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL and it's off to a good start! My girl's love George's DRAGON SLIPPERS books. It's interesting to see what George got from the original fairy tale (so far) and what she has modified.

  10. Knitting patterns is all I know of, lol. I liked her Dragon Slippers books, but I felt she could have tied everything together a bit tighter.

    But I'll still be reading that book. And the sequel is out too!

    I've read Robin McKinley's Rose-daughter (I think) – I liked that ending the best! But my favourite has to be Ella Enchanted, because it's so different. Cinderella was starting to become quite boring for me otherwise.

  11. It was so lovely meeting you the other night! I've loved your books ever since I discovered Ella at the library circa 1997, and still enjoy re-reading it every now and again. I'm so glad you were able to stop in Arizona on your tour! 🙂

    I adore fairy tale re-tellings—it's fascinating how many different takes there can be on the same story (I always found it interesting that Robin McKinley wrote two unique novels both based on Beauty & the Beast). "Ella Enchanted" and "Beauty" have always been my favorites.

    Other re-tellings I've enjoyed in recent years are "East" by Edith Pattou, "Book of a Thousand Days" by Shannon Hale, and "A Curse Dark as Gold" by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

  12. :3 These posts always come at just the right time for me. I've really been wanting to figure out how to retell a story in my own way, just never really put it all together.

    I'm sort of newish to reading the blog, so maybe you've answered the question before, Mrs. Levine. But I'll ask any way, because it's sort of been nagging at me.
    How do you make rather dark characters still come across likable? I have several characters that have had a hard time previously in life and because of this are really bitter at everything, but I'd hoped people would at least sympathize with them. So far, no one really has. Are there any tips to making a lovable cynic?

  13. Ms. Levine: I've always admired your books and have been following this blog for months now, haven't found a chance to comment till now. Thanks so much for sharing all these tips about writing, I find it really encouraging.

    Re Bearcoon's question: I've written a few dark characters before, so I understand your plight. I've always found that it helps to give your "dark" character relatable flaws and habits–i.e. they bite their nails when nervous or are hopeless at reading road maps–just a couple random examples. This way, we feel they aren't so different from us and might be in a better position to sympathize with their problems.

  14. Princess of the Midnight Ball is a super book–it has a great story-line and addresses the unresolved questions so well that I had a hard time clearing my mind of the answers and asking the questions that come out of the original story!

    And yes, LOVE Ella Enchanted. And LOVE libraries–I own very few of my favorite books, and I don't mind waiting for others to return the books–because in the end I still get to read them instead of just staring at them in the bookstore window. 😀

  15. I just read "Lovely Ilonka," and I have to say I disagree that it's the strangest fairy tale. As far as I'm concerned, "The Gnome" still wins that title. It's my favorite fairy tale and the strangest thing I've ever read. I don't know if it's possible to retell it without losing it's epicness, but I'm now tempted to try.

    Mercedes Lackey has a fun series where there's a magical force called The Tradition that is trying to force the world along fairy tale paths. It's called… Tales of the Seven Kingdoms, maybe? Don't remember.

  16. That was a wonderful post Miss Levine! Its great coming back from a long holiday to another really useful post. I have had quite a share of experiences, in my trips, which seem to be perfect scenes in a book. Someday in the future, sigh.=)

    With fairy tale rewriting, I've badly wanted to do a faithful version, but many strategies have tended to end in failure. But I'm definitely trying out your questions and answers plan, I think this could work, I"m excited already!

    Shareya- You post makes me bold enough too, to do some fangirling lol. I've loved Miss Levine's books since I was 10, though I didn't realise the Princess Tales were actually written by the same author of a book I was going to love.;).
    I actually got introduced through the movie, which a teacher showed it in class and I really liked the title "Ella Enchanted".=) A few years later I glimpsed the name in my school library, and immediately picked it up. Talk about instant connection lol.=D So far, I find Ella Enchanted to still be my favourite published fairy-tale retelling. =)

    @Bearcoon: I actually have the same problem with one of my new characters. I've put in a few flasbacks, which are also related to the story. Perhaps that could help you too.=)
    Haha, your question lead me straight to thinking about Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice=D, who comes off as mostly dark character until we find what we hope, that he's not that bad after all, in the middle. In fact, the only thing that makes him likeable, to us, in the beginning, was the fact he admired our heroine. So maybe you could put something similar too. Sorry if I sound long-winded or presumptious, couldn't resist mentioning Mr Darcy lol.

    Thanks once again for great post.=D Oh, and Lovely Ilonka was definitely wacky stuff!

  17. I thought of an exercise that might be fun. Ms. Levine, feel free to erase/call a halt to this if you feel like I am hijacking your blog. 🙂

    What if we try a group construction of a 12 Dancing Princesses retelling? I'll start by posting a couple of my questions and the solutions I came up with.

    I'll end with a question and leave it unanswered.

    The next commenter who wants to join in can answer the question and then end by posting a question of their own, for the next commenter to answer.

    I'll start with more than one question, because the answer I came up with answers more than one of the questions I listed.

    Where is the princesses' mother?
    How does the old woman know the secret?
    Why would she help and *old* soldier?

    The old woman is actually the princesses' mother. She was able to escape the enchantment to get help, but when she did an enchantment turned her into an old crone and she is prevented from ever entering the castle again.

    She picks an old soldier because she knows that to defeat the one that keeps her daughters enchanted, it will take a good fighter with a stout heart. And war is hard on a man, harder on those who find no joy in killing; he's not really as old as he looks.

    And here's an unanswered question for the next participating commenter to answer:
    What is the youngest sister like? (When she complained about the speed of the rowing was she just concerned, or whiny?)

  18. Aww thanks guys!
    To bad they haven't worked to well so far, because I've employed them already. Oh well… there has to be something about them that isn't terrible.

    Another sort of related question, what about rewriting classics? I know there's been some reworks of Alice in Wonderland (Ha, that's actually becoming quite a favorite of mine.) Anyone know what the cut off date for creative commons and such is for that type of thing, I know if it's supper old you've got just as much right to it as anyone to rewrite.

  19. Reading through the comments, I want to add a few other really good, but "odd" re tellings. Wicked (and those in the series after), Mirror Mirror, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. All by Gregory Maguire. They are wonderful books (but as I said, odd at times).

  20. About the likeable evil character – my villain is someone I adore, and I wanted to make him seem nice as well. I interspersed the story with flashbacks as to how he came to be so…evil and mad.

    @Erin: That sounds like a wonderful idea, and about the mother…I thought that question might've been too simple, so I didn't really think about it (yesterday). But hey, it seems as if every small detail counts! 🙂

  21. So that's how you come up with such great retellings of fairy tales… Ms. Levine, you're truly amazing… and kind enough to let in on such secrets of the trade! 🙂

    I just finished reading "The Thirteenth Princess" about two days ago, and it was a good book, but "The Princess of the Midnight Ball" by Jessica Day George was better if you ask me, although they're both really good.

    @Erin: I'll join in on the exercise, it sounds fun!

    The youngest princess, being of course the youngest, had no great desire for anything but to be with her sisters. She clung to them like a monkey to a bunch of bananas (I couldn't think of a good simile… sorry!) and her greatest fear was to be separated from them. Of course, none of her sisters minded, as they all loved each other greatly. Thus, as the slow-rowing prince fell behind from the youngest princess's sisters, of course she would speak up and ask for the prince to keep up with the other boats.

    A question I had was where all the silver, gold, and diamonds came from. Here's my answer:

    We know of the race that set the order of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac: the rat coming in first, the boar second, etc. (although there are probably many different versions). However, there is another, little known race, that changed mankind and forever put the lust for gold and other fineries in the heart of man. This was the race of the elements, and the fight to win a place in the world where magic, spirits, and all that mankind believes in is born. Hey, I could spin a pretty neat tale from this! Anyway, if I were to cut this short, silver, gold, and diamond worked together in order to create a magnificent forest, earning a place in the Before-world and establishing themselves as the three most valuable "elements" to mankind.

    Here's my question to the next participating commenter: Where did the princes come from?

  22. Another neighbouring, reclusive and 'hermit' kingdom, which makes no contact with anyone apart from the necessary protocols. All the princes are brothers, and match the princesses in age.

    My question that I answered – How do they have such endurance to dance throughout the night, every night? Because the world is enchanted and does not touch them – physical needs like food and rest are disregarded. But that does not touch their clothes, shoes etc., which are the only mark of the passage of time that alert the Princesses to go back.

    Question for next poster – this has always bugged me – Is the eldest princess content marrying the soldier? Maybe she wanted to marry the soldier? What about the youngest princess?

    ((Sorry for the short answer in the beginning, my whole answer got accidentally erased, and so…))

  23. @pippin14 – It's fun to see that you came up with a totally different answer than I did. It helps to see all the possibilities that a question poses and how many different directions the story could go!

    @F – Sorry about the erased first answer. Computers! Anyway, your next question was one of the ones I had. :)Maybe not something the original writers even considered if their culture had arranged marriages. It will be interesting to see the answer…. 🙂

  24. Gail,
    I just wanted to say that it was lovely meeting you in SLC at The King's English and being able to interview you with Emily. I'd waited 11 years to meet you! Thanks for requesting SLC on your tour.
    Also, thank you for investing so much in new writers and keeping such an informative blog. It's a great tool and I know the girls in the Literati youth group will find it inspiring. Thanks again!


  25. O.O Oh wow I love the 12 Dancing Princesses story some serious lot! In fact I'm pretty sure I've read/seen every adaptation ever made & like them all for different reasons.

    Thirteenth Princess–I liked how much heart this had

    Night Dance–The Arthurian twist was cool

    Wildwood Dancing–intense and dark but still enchanting

    Princess of the Midnight Ball–thought the twist of dancing-curse and the bad guys were awesome

    Faerie Tale Theatre Dancing Princesses–(on Youtube!) I love the colors and music in this one

    There's a bunch more. And of course all the picture books with the gorgeous illustrations. My favorite adaptation is (don't laugh) the Barbie version! It's really appealing or something. The fairy tale is so visual (forests of jewels, big ballgowns, dancing) that I think visual adaptations work really well for it.

  26. Sheraya and Jill–Thank you for the kind words. I'm touched.
    Bearcoon–I think you've gotten excellent suggestions about making difficult characters sympathetic, but I may be able to come up with some ideas too. I've added your question to my list. As for your second question, copyright is complicated, and I'm not an expert. I suggest you ask a librarian for guidance.
    Erin Edwards–I'm lost in admiration. I never thought of the crone as the mother. And I like the idea of continuing to ask and answer questions, and I'm enjoying all the answers that are cropping up.

  27. @Erin – as you can see, something of the original got lost in the retyping. >< I mentioned soldier again when I meant prince/dancing partner. ><

    @Heath Dixon – Don't worry, I love the Barbie version too! Especially all the princesses (Courtney's my favourite cause she's always reading, but I love Blair's dress). I really liked how the underground pavilion was attached to their mother, and the bit about it only being open for three days. 🙂 And you're right, visual adaptation is best for it. I only ever had a picture book for this tale, and I'd love to see a movie/short that sticks closely to the story!

  28. @Jennifer R
    I've read quite a few of Mercedes Lackey's books, and I've tried to love them, but I just can't. Her writing is just okay, not great, which I can tolerate if the story is really good, but the ones that I think are good tend to have sex in them, which I dislike reading. 😛

    Gregory Maguire is a good writer, but probably only high schoolers and up should read those books. Most of them are probably not appropriate for middle schoolers and younger.

    Now, let's see… Was this the last question?

    Question for next poster – this has always bugged me – Is the eldest princess content marrying the soldier? Maybe she wanted to marry the soldier? What about the youngest princess?

    What if the crone was the eldest sister in disguise? That would explain why she knew the secret. Maybe she didn't want to dance every night, but they were cursed to. It would also explain why the crone would have such a fantastic treasure as an invisibility cloak (the sister took it from the treasury, perhaps?). If she was the crone, then she would have picked the man to marry her or her sisters (so she might have wanted to marry him).

    Or maybe she isn't the crone and she isn't content marrying him, but because of arranged marriages she obeys. Or perhaps she sees it as punishment for getting caught/not listening to her littlest sister's warnings.

    I would think the youngest sister would be relieved not to marry an old man. I think most young girls love to dream about a knight/prince on a white horse coming to swoop them off their feet. And as the girls get older, they realize that's not realistic. But to be faced with reality so suddenly when you're naive, especially when experiencing all of this magic every night—it might have crushed her. Hence the relief.

    My question: Why dancing? Why not just picnic or stroll through the lovely gardens with these princes (or by themselves)? And what kind of dancing? I could go clubbing all night and while my feet would hurt by morning, I wouldn't have worn *through* my shoes! That's some vigorous dancing.

  29. @ April – I like the idea of the crone being the disguised eldest sister. Fun.
    And as for the dancing question: their shoes likely weren't as sturdy as ours today – the soles might have been cloth or leather, not as durable as good ol' rubber.

  30. @April: Arranged marriages are all very well, but they can't just do that without the Princesses' consent! And the reason I mentioned the youngest sister was because it was her dress he stepped on, and her boat he sat on. 😛
    Anyway, Why dancing? Good question. It neatly paired off each princess with a prince, and…if they're dancing as vigorously as to wear through their shoes (Which I assume are made of cloth/thin leather), then they don't have to talk to the princes. You know, maybe they're not allowed to converse in the ballroom.
    I'll leave another question, shall I, since Rose didn't?
    Why did they have to cross the lake? Why didn't the secret entrance lead directly to the ballroom?

  31. The best (and one of the only) retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses I've read is Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it yet. I highly recommend it to all of you. Though, mostly for the twelve and up…it's no Twilight and I don't want to say it's got any bad parts in it, but it wouldn't quite be for younger readers. (i wouldn't have read it if it was bad.)

  32. Oops, I did forget a question.
    My biggest puzzler is, what happened to the rest of the princesses? Did they get discreetly married off, or did they go back to dancing every night? Or did their princes finally show up in daylight and take them away?

  33. Wildwood Dancing is a really good story, but my favourite was actually a fanfic (don't laugh here either=)), recommended by a friend to me. Its far better written than many published books, and all the princesses have distinctive personality, which is quite an amazing feat. Here's the link if anyone's interested:http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2781021/1/The_Adventures_of_the_Dancing_Princesses

    The question game sounds great! Since both Rose and F have left questions, I guess I get to ansnwer two of them!

    Why did they have to cross the lake? Why didn't the secret entrance lead directly to the ballroom?

    Maybe the ballroom, which is in the princes' castle, is protected by secret spells so it'd impossible for anybody outside of that kingdom to create magical ways of getting right into it.
    And suppose there was a relation between the princesses' castle and the enchanted one, sometime in history, like an well-known evil sorcerer long ago using items delivered from the enchanted world to create havoc in the princesses'.

    Wow, that could really be a story!

    What happened to the rest of the princesses? Did they get discreetly married off, or did they go back to dancing every night? Or did their princes finally show up in daylight and take them away?

    Hmm, I like to think the princes showed up and whisked them away to the enchanted world, with the happily ever after lol.

    My question is, how did the princesses first discover the magical kingdom? How long have they been doing it?

  34. I think the youngest tripped and fell, catching hold of the knob that opens the stairway down to the enchanted world. They've been doing it for a year – so after observing it for some time, the king sent out the proclamation that had the soldier go to the castle. So yeah, a year.

    My question…Did the Princes live in that world? If not, who discovered it first?

  35. Maybe they also lived in the real world and they got into the enchanted world by a trap door or something. As for who first discovered it, I'm thinking they are all cursed to come to this land every night and dance until they are exhausted and their shoes worn. Though who cursed them and why and when this happened, I'll leave for the next person to answer.

    I also have a list of questions:

    First in some versions the soldier is a young gardener instead and marries the youngest princess. So which is it really?

    How did he throw out the drink without it being noticed?

    Did the princesses care that they were causing all those deaths? Was there anything they could do to stop it?

    How old are the oldest and youngest?

    Wouldn't it be hard to break a twig off a diamond/gold/silver tree? Wouldn't anyone hear the snap?

    Did the princesses like dancing? Are they exhausted? Are they cursed or like someone posted, is there a spell that prevents them from getting tired?

    If course the next person does not have to answer all those unless they want to!

  36. Ulp! Here I am, the next person! I'll do my best.
    How the soldier managed not to drink the drink? Some versions say he turned sideways so that he seemed to be drinking it, but actually was pouring it down the collar of his cloak. Bad for clothes, but I guess it worked. 🙂
    As for who cursed the princesses…my brother said (I'm not sure how serious he was) that maybe the king did it, since he seems to be rather unpleasant and mean. Maybe he did it by accident, and now doesn't know how to undo it, so has to pretend that he doesn't know anything about it.
    I don't think the princesses could have prevented the deaths of the unsuccessful princes, except by revealing their secret. And I guess I thought that part of the spell might be a charm to keep them from telling anyone about it. That shuts their mouths if they try to reveal it.
    I may come back to this later, if my thoughts will stand in line for a bit.

    But in the way of retellings of the story: one I enjoyed a lot was Phoenix Dance by Dia Calhoun. It puts a quite different spin on the tale – that's about all I can say without spilling most of the point of the book.

  37. In the version I read, the soldier avoids drinking the…drink by letting it dribble onto a sponge under his chin. It always made my wonder HOW the princess couldn't see it, and also how extremely uncomfortable that would be. Actually, letting it go down his collar would be more so! DX
    Maybe the crone cursed the princes and the princesses? The one who sent the soldier on his way. Maybe she has some motive…something she did long ago that caused her to perform both actions?

  38. F – maybe the crone repented, but is somehow unable or unwilling to break her own curse. So she finds a likely stranger and gives him a cloak to help him.

  39. You know, there should totally be a friendly competition like this. All the contestants sit and work out the plot, and then write it and compare how different the final story is to each other! That would be so cool, because not everybody will be answering every question the same way!!
    Another question – what's so special about the Soldier? Why was HE chosen by that crone? Also, how old is he?
    Feel free to answer one, all or none. 😛

  40. @F- I totally agree, it would be nice to have contests like these at workshops and things. Unfortunately, we don't have any sort of writing groups in my town.)=

    Anyway, I'll answer your question!

    I really liked April's idea too, that the old crone is the eldest princess in disguise. So going by that theory, I think the princess saw the soldier as their saviour, in a magic mirror purchased from a real old crone. She then disguises as the crone, tracks down the soldier and gives him the cloak.

    As for his age, I think he'd be 36. With 12 grown up sisters, the eldest princess would probably be in her 30s too.

    Next question- What was the king like? Was he close with his children?

  41. He always spoiled his daughters and made sure they never wanted for anything, but they were still…'seperate' from him. Like, no heart-to-hearts. In front of him they act all nice and proper, so he doesn't really know the 'real' sides of his daughters…which they perhaps are free to let loose in the underground world? ((Like in Mulan 2 where the three princesses seem very cold but are actually just going by protocol))
    Next question…
    What happened to the Queen? If she died, how/why? Why didn't the king remarry?

  42. I was reading about the tale on Wikipedia, and there seems to be a TV version where…'the soldier is offered his choice of one of them to be his wife, the soldier chooses "none of them", telling the king that his daughters had lived despicable lives of deceit and treachery, and that "if that is their nature as a girl, what would it be as a wife?"'
    As childish as it is, that bit kind of disheartened me!! Especially since it's so true, and I don't want the princesses to be 'villains'. 🙁
    What do you all think?

  43. Ms. Levine, do you mind if I use the questions you posted on your blog for my story? That may be an odd request, but I feel as if I'm stealing them if I don't ask, and I don't want that!

  44. @F – If, as Rose suggested and also happens to be what George chose in her version MIDNIGHT BALL, the curse prevents the princesses from telling anyone about their curse, then the princesses were not living despicable lives and they're not villains, they're just cursed. Does that make you feel better? 🙂 Or, since I just reread this particular version and it says that confronted with the truth the princesses saw no reason to deny it – it sounds like they could have told. So, if that's the case, maybe they can tell that all the princes who came wanted to just get the throne and cared nothing about the princesses. In fact, they were all vile and greedy and no one they wanted to marry. All bad men, so that the princesses were saving the kingdom by not marrying them and giving them power.

    I've enjoyed reading everyone's questions and answers! I finished MIDNIGHT BALL while we were out of town, so I'll have to work to keep that from influencing my questions and answers, but I'll try!

    So, I think the last question might be, what happened to the Queen and if she died why didn't the Queen remarry?
    So, if we go with perhaps what this particular version is suggesting, that the princesses were just going out dancing to be disobedient because they know they are all going to be married off to old men for political purposes and they aren't happy about it. (And F, I think it happened a lot without the princess' consent, much as we hate to think that now!). The Queen simply isn't mentioned because the King doesn't think anything of her counsel and doesn't even ask her advice as to how to discipline the princesses. She has no say in who the princesses will marry. She's alive but can't help her daughters.

    So, another question: Once their secret was revealed, could the princesses return to the underground world or not? Did that have something to do with why they wanted to keep it a secret?

  45. @Ms. Levine: Yay!! Thank you! 😀
    @Erin: Unfortunately…you're right. But I just had the epiphany for my story's ending in the bathroom some time ago, and it's going to be bitter-sweet. As much as my heart broke at the princesses' being evil (well, kinda), I think I'm going to be delving into that a little more.
    I went and read the fanfic Mya posted the link to – thanks for that. It was wonderful. And I hope it doesn't influence my writing. >.<

    Answer: They couldn't return to the underground world, since obviously, the king would (and did) forbid them. Which was why they kept it a secret.

    Question: Why did all the TWELVE princesses sleep in one room?

  46. Ms. Levine-
    When you are reworking a fairy tale, how do you stop yourself from basically rewriting the fairy tale over again, just in different words?

    Maybe the king didn't trust the princesses and felt that by having them sleep all in one room, he would have an easier time keeping an eye on them. Or maybe the stairs/passageway that leads to the enchanted forest only connected to one room, and the princesses themselves insisted on sharing a room.

    Question: In the version with the gardener's boy, who was the lady that appeared to him in a dream?

  47. Oh, so there IS a version with a gardener and lady in a dream…the fanfic I read had the lady as a faerie…anyone else, please feel free to answer, I can't think much. 😛

    As for your question about rewriting, if I may answer…I think if you think it out properly and outline it, you won't be able to get the same thing as you expand it and begin to write. Even if you re-write it trying to get the exact tale, maybe your princess will have red hair instead of black, or maybe the king would speak with a lisp. That will anyway make it your own. 🙂 If you go with the flow it should work out!

  48. Regarding the princesses' sharing a room – I felt that they preferred it that way. They're sisters, and before all this dancing started I'm sure they liked to talk at night, and help each other get dressed in the morning, etc. It would be a fun way to live, even if a bit crowded sometimes.

  49. Yvonne–I think F is onto something. Your own ideas are likely to work their way in. Having said that, there are some fairy tales that, at this time anyway, seem perfect and I don't want to fool with them. "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" is one.

  50. I'm loving all of these ideas! Lately, I've been reading a lot of Alice Munro, so my mind has been exploring a lot of rural Canada, but not too many fantasy worlds. Munro has me wanting to tackle the little things that make the small town where I grow up, but this entry has also tempted to try a short fantasy story! 🙂

  51. Yvonne–I agree with F that you will inevitably bring something of yourself to any story. Having said that, there are some fairy tales I think work so well as they are that I have nothing to add. I feel this way about "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," for example.

  52. @F I'm glad you liked the fanfic! I found it very inspiring, as a story.=)

    Anyway, I've actually noted down lots of the ideas here, and I'd really like to write my version of the tale. Is it alright, for everyone who have answered the questions, if I use some of your ideas in my story? Like F, I'd feel guilty if I didn't ask.

  53. @Mya: The fanfic was wonderful! I just hope the sequel of the story gets updated…I'd love to read more!

    And since I participated in some of the Qs and As, I'll say it's fine. And now I'll wait beside you and hope the other's okay it as well. 😛

  54. @F: Thanks! I guess the game is supposed to help us with ideas, and this is the last day of the game=(, I'll take it as a yes from everyone.

    I am curious though, a few posts, including one of mine, aren't showing up, the ones after F's post on July 4. Does anyone know what the problem is?

  55. Myra–I'll ask my techie husband. My comment appears twice because it disappeared after I posted it the first time, so I rewrote it, and then it came back. The reason could be this miserable East Coast heat wave wreaking havoc with communication networks. This is the first time I've seen a problem. Has anyone noticed something like this happening before?

  56. @Mya

    There are only 9 stories in existence in this world. All the others are telling the same stories with new words. With that in mind, since this was like a big brain storming session, there isn't anything wrong with you adapting the suggested ideas to fit your own needs. 🙂

    Here are the 9 stories I'm referring to:
    Character vs. Character
    Character vs. Him/Herself
    Character vs. Culture/society
    Character vs. Setting
    Character vs. Situation
    Character vs. God(s)
    Character vs. Fate
    Character vs. Unknown
    Character vs. Machine

  57. It's fine with me for anyone to use any ideas when writing a story. There is no way to ignore anything even if you tried. 🙂 (I'm reading BLINK, by Malcom Galdwell right now and he talks about how many things we do unconsciously and we can't avoid it.)

    I read somewhere that lots of blogs on blogger are having trouble with comments lately.

  58. @April, Erin- Thanks. I really liked the Character vs example. And yes, I guess we all do borrow ideas from others.=)

    The comments are showing up now, so it must be Blogger.

  59. I loved this post! I've come up with a long list of questions that turned into a plot that is now pestering me to write it. Oh well. Thank you so much for this blog!

    I'm also loving the Q&A going on! I can't resist jumping in and leaving a question of my own.
    First, as far as the princesses sharing a room, maybe the king had enemies who wanted to get at him through his daughters, and it was easier for royal guards to protect them if they were all together. Or, my favorite theory: What if most or all of the princesses were illegitimate, daughters of the king and women other than the queen. This could make it interesting if the queen had…a son, or another child. From there it could go two ways: either the king wanted to hide them and it was easier to do if they were all in one room that people were forbidden to go into; or, the queen had them all share a room because she disliked them. That's probably the theory I'll use if I go with a rewrite, but I'm not sure. You could tie in that the old woman was one of the princess's mother, with that. 😉

    My question: Why did the man who solved the mystery choose the eldest princess? (I have a few theories, but I'm anxious to see what other people come up wtih.)

  60. For your questions:
    1. All sisters shared bedrooms back then. Besides, maybe they requested it.

    2. Maybe he doesn't want them to run away or be kidnapped.

    3. Well maybe they are, but the princess's don't like the company(snobbish?).

    4. I thought that they kept their slippers in their closet(s?) at night.

    5. In the version I know, he just banishes them.

    6. 3(the number of nights)X 4(the number of items the soldier took)=12(the number of pincesses)Probably not the reason, but who knows.

    7. Back then he would have been normal.

    8. Again, in the one I know, he gives the old woman bread and cheese.

    9. Probably a witch or sorceress.

    10. See 9.

    11. See 5.

    12. A sorceress or sorcerer gave it to them, to amuse them(and so that they owed him/her)

    13. See 6.

    14. See 12.

    15. Who knows.


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