First off, I got an email this week from The Alliance for Independent Authors saying that “you have been nominated to receive a ‘Top Website for Self-Publishers Award’ by our members.” This stamp of approval goes to blogs or websites, and in this case I have to assume that the recognition belongs to the blog (which is part of my website). And lots of the credit goes to you, faithful readers, for your insightful comments and important questions. Kudos all around!
On December 22, 2012, Tiki Armsford wrote, I was just noticing earlier how books and movies based on fairy tales are starting to become more and more popular (something that’s incredibly joyful for me, since I love fairy tales with a passion) and I was just wondering what your take on this is? Why you think they’re rising in popularity, and what are some tips you could give to someone who’s considering adapting a fairytale?
I’m ashamed to say I’ve read few of these new books and have seen none of the movies or tv series, but I have a few ideas.
Fairy tales deal in universals: love, jealousy, rage, fear, death, beauty, acceptance, good, evil, and probably more. They provide instant entry into these deep topics. Take “Snow White,” which may beat out all the competition with seven out of nine: love (Snow White’s mother, the dwarves, the prince), jealousy (the queen), rage (ditto), death (Snow White), beauty (ditto), good (ditto, the hunter, the dwarves, the prince), evil (the queen).
Universals appeal, obviously, because everybody relates.
In “Snow White,” we’re glad when the evil queen dances in those red hot slippers because she represents parts of us (of me, certainly) – the rage and jealousy – that we’d like to kill off (even though we can’t entirely). We go back to the tale because those disowned parts keep cropping back up in us.
In “The Princess and the Pea,” to pick another example, the MCs virtues come through despite her unpromising appearance – soaked through, hair plastered to her scalp, nose probably running. We get confirmation from her for every time we’ve been misunderstood and underestimated.
Coming at it from a more commercial direction, I think film makers and tv series makers (not so much book writers, in my opinion) look for the familiar to help them find the enormous audiences they need. Many kids today don’t read the original tales, the Brothers Grimm or the Perrault versions, but they read picture book adaptations (or sit cozily in a lap while the story is read) or they see a Disney recreation. The stories are in our bones. This is a leg up for those who survive only if lots and lots of people watch. I don’t mean a criticism; if the stories are well told, I’m happy.
And then there’s magic. If I were an animator, I’d bet magic would be my favorite thing, a license to go wild. And even in live action, I suspect the special effects possibilities are vast and irresistible. And audiences love the wonder.
I do, too. I love fooling around with magic. My editor was disappointed that there wasn’t more in Beloved Elodie, which has become Stolen Magic. So I worked in a few things, and boy, did I have fun! And I felt the story perk up.
The most helpful aspect of fairy tales for me, probably the reason I go back and back to them, is that they provide a rough story framework. Plot may be more important to me than any other story element, but I struggle with it. A fairy tale structure helps me make the plot work.
Let’s look at “The Princess and the Pea” again, which became my The Princess Test in my Princess Tales. The original tale is simple, only a few pages. I can tell it even more briefly: A king and queen want their son to marry a true princess, so they devise a test: the young lady will spend a night of luxury atop twenty mattresses, and underneath the bottom one lies a pea. If that tiny pea disturbs her sleep, she is a true princess and deserves the hand of their son.
There. Two sentences.
But look what’s locked up inside those few words. What sort of character could possibly feel the pea? What made the king and queen come up with such a test? What does the prince think of it? What’s going on with all the princesses who show up for the trial? Isn’t it humiliating?
I came up with one solution, but there are many ways to go, and now that I’m thinking about it, I’m getting really curious about the damsels who failed the test. Where did they go next? Did they have a kingdom to go back to? Are they really not princesses because they failed?
As for tips, I look for lapses in logic. I haven’t attempted “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” a fairy tale I love, because it’s perfect, in my opinion. The plot makes sense, and the characters behave reasonably within the context of the story. In many of the stories I fool with, the damsel is passive, and my job is to give her gumption. But here, the slave girl Morgiana takes action and saves the day.
If the story is kind of a mess, I’m in my element. I pointed out the absurdities of “The Princess and the Pea,” but there are other absurd stories. And they’ll strike you differently from the way they appear to me. Love in fairy tales is a target for me. It happens too fast and for the wrong reasons: beauty, handsomeness, rank. Even goodness can be lame. I like a little idiosyncracy mixed in with pure goodness. So those are the places where I get to work.
If you love a story but you’re also mad at it, that can get you going. For instance, my picture book Betsy Who Cried Wolf grew out of my irritation with the grownups in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” for abandoning the boy when he clearly isn’t old enough for the responsibility he’s been given.
There are some fairy tales that I haven’t figured out how to approach: “Rapunzel,” “Aladdin,” and “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” They interest me, so who knows? Maybe I’ll figure it out. Or you will. Fairy tales are free for all of us to play with.
Here are two prompts:
• Try your hand at “Aladdin.” What strikes you as illogical? What can you make of it? Write the first scene, including the sort of detail and realism that suits a novel, moment by moment. Write the scene when Aladdin rubs the lamp.
• Think of the bare bones of a fairy tale: damsel or lad in distressed circumstances, some magical element, possibly a fairy, probably a prince or princess, possibly an evil character or several, who may have magic on his side. Put them together to create your own fairy tale.
Have fun, and save what you write!