Disney FAIRIES, of course

A few months ago, some questions came in about my books. Maybeawriter started it off with this: You know, I’ve been wondering about the Disney thing for ages, but for some reason never brought it up. I was wondering, how much did Disney give you as a jumping-off point, and how much was your own ideas? Was it your idea to make the sequels, or did Disney want you to? What about Vidia? How much of her was your idea? Do you feel annoyed that they changed her personality so much in the Tinker Bell movies? And the Tinker Bell movies as a rule. It grates on me every time somebody calls her “Miss Bell,” although it’s mostly this one fairy that you could argue is incomplete.

I adore Rani! She’s my favorite fairy, although Beck runs a close second. Water talent powers are just so awesome! In fact, if I got my wish to be able to switch between a human and a fairy whenever I wanted, I’d want to be a water talent. I also love Rani because was her selfless, noble sacrifice of her wings. – Sniff – It’s so beautiful!

Also… I think you said at some point that even though the fairy you named your sister after was your personal favorite, she wasn’t completely happy about it. I wonder, what could she possibly dislike about such a noble fairy?

And then Charlotte asked, also on the subject of the Disney Fairies books, Who chose David Christiana as the Fairies illustrator? Did you work with him in some capacity, or did your finished manuscript get shipped off to him for illustrations? Do you like what he did with it–are his illustrations true to what you imagined?

Three editors from Disney took me to lunch and proposed the idea of a series based on the fairies J. M. Barrie created in Peter Pan. I was interested because I adored the book as a child. The editors brought with them some drawings that had been done by Disney artists for one of their movies, Bambi, I think. Included in the drawings was one of a dove, which I loved. That dove became the inspiration for Mother Dove, although David Christiana’s interpretation of her is quite different, and I love his, too. Disney had been kicking around the idea for the series with their video department, and the editors also gave me proposed names of some fairy characters, one of which was a wicked fairy named Invidia. I didn’t like the In, so I shortened the name to Vidia, and that’s how she came about.

The only absolutes that Disney gave me were that Tinker Bell had to be in the story and Captain Hook couldn’t be. But I put him in anyway, only in the first draft I didn’t let him speak. I thought I might be able to get away with that. My editor asked for more Hook in the revisions!

My only absolute was editorial control. I had an editor, naturally. I need criticism! But not a word could be changed without my approval. The books I wrote are entirely mine. If you don’t like them, blame me. If you do, I take the bow.

I didn’t expect to write sequels, which was freeing. I knew there would be more books, but I thought other writers would write them. I enjoyed tossing in features that might give these future writers trouble, ha ha!, like the fact that fairies can’t fly with wet wings. Then, to my surprise, I was asked to write a second book and had to deal with the booby traps I’d built in!

Before I started writing, I reread Peter Pan and found that I still adore it. Barrie was a marvelously supple writer, who could make sentences do figure eights and turn cartwheels. I wanted to suggest a flavor of his writing but I found that I couldn’t imitate his style. The best I could do was to follow his habit of sprinkling the phrase of course willy-nilly throughout. If you’ve never read the original Peter Pan, I can’t recommend it highly enough no matter how old you are. If you have read it, I suggest you take another look and pay attention to Barrie’s sentences for their originality, fluidity, flexibility – they are triple-jointed!

More controlling than the few constraints imposed by Disney was my wish to do honor to Barrie. I hope that my Peter and my Hook are close cousins to his. The baby’s first laugh turning into a fairy comes directly from Barrie, likewise human disbelief killing fairies, and, of course, the clapping cure.

But the hundred years that divide my books from his also made some variation necessary. Barrie calls Tiger Lily and her tribe redskins, which would be objectionable today, so I eliminated this strand. And Tink’s only words in Peter Pan are “You silly ass!” She needed to say more and not that!

I watched the first movie, but I haven’t seen any after that. I’m not annoyed. Disney has the right to do as it pleases, and they know their market. I have Prilla call Tink Miss Bell in the first book, but Tink doesn’t like it.

Yes, Rani is my favorite, because of her deep feelings, her sympathy, enthusiasm, and generosity. My sister gave me permission to use her name, and I don’t think she’s entirely unhappy about the result.

I didn’t choose David Christiana. I’ve never picked any of my illustrators or cover artists. That’s generally the publisher’s purview, but I’ve rarely been disappointed (I like some covers more than others). I think David is a marvelous artist and illustrator and draftsman. Disney didn’t consult me on sketches either; I saw David’s work when it was finished or close to finished. We’ve since become friends, and when I wrote the second and third books, I emailed him secret hints of what I was doing. His illustrations weren’t what I imagined, which is fine, better maybe, for the surprise and for the insight into what my story brought out in one reader.

More about others of my books next week.

These prompts are based on Peter Pan. Questions have come up about using the prompts on the blog, and in general, go ahead. Write stories, novels, seven-book series. Publish them, and please let me know. It’s all good. In this case, however, a little caution: When I wrote the Disney Fairies books, the term of copyright for Peter Pan was at the edge of ending. The book may be in the public domain by now. If that’s the case, you can do whatever you like with Barrie’s characters, but not with the ones I wrote and the others in the Disney series, for which Disney owns the copyright. You can write anything for pleasure and for sharing with friends, family, teachers, but not for publication. So here goes:

∙    A submarine surfaces off the coast of Never Land. What follows is a meeting of modernity and the island. Write what happens.

∙    A UFO touches down on Never Land. Write the scene.

∙    Wendy, at eighteen, too old to fly over, starts sailing for the island. Write the story.

∙    Tootles and Curly, two Lost Boys, come down with a high fever. They’re close to death. Peter wants to save them. Write what happens.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. I love this post! I always love to hear how you write your stories and where you get your inspiration. I know that it took you nine years to get Ella Enchanted published, but what was it like writing the book? How did you think of all the languages? And how did you turn the classic story of Cinderella into something so new and exciting?
    Thank you for another amazing post!

  2. My childhood obsession with Peter Pan is the reason one of my sisters is named Wendy. 😉 I'm so glad you tried to keep the heart of the original!

    (I used to grind soap into "pixie dust," and every night for weeks I left 2 Lifesavers on my bedroom windowsill. Peppermint for Peter and wild cherry for Tink, always.)

  3. From the website:

    Thanks so much for answering these questions!

    Don't get me wrong; I do like the Pixie Hollow of the movies and online world, but it does kind of bug me that there's no Mother Dove, and that their Vidia becomes downright nice in The Great Fairy rescue. And of course there's the utter lack of Rani.

  4. @carpelibris– that's so funny! You could incorporate that into one of the writing prompts as well. Very cool.
    @Gail– so after a number of years if a story becomes public domain we can use it in any way we want (pretty much)? How would you find out when exactly we are able to do that without breaking the copyright laws?
    Thanks again for a great post! Question: in the movies, Tink is actually a bit of a… brat. I suppose that's the way she was in the original Disney movie, but did you plan for her to be that way? I don't remember her being that rude in your stories.

  5. Gail, I've been a huge fan of yours and follower of your blog for a long time. I was really excited to read this post — my young daughters and I have read all your Disney Fairies books (and many of your others, as well), and yet I had no idea that you actually created that world. I wanted to let you know the *enormous* impact the fairies have had on my daughters. They have poured through your books to the point they know every detail about every fairy, and they collect every possible book out there relating to the Disney Fairies. Your characters have brought them so much joy, and have really been an integral part of their childhoods. Thank you!

  6. From the website:

    Thanks so much for answering these questions!

    Don't get me wrong; I do like the Pixie Hollow of the movies and online world, but it does kind of bug me that there's no Mother Dove, and that their Vidia becomes downright nice in The Great Fairy rescue. And of course there's the utter lack of Rani.

  7. Also from the website:

    I have a question not about writing, but about reading. Since I know you do both, I figure it's a go. I am in seventh grade, and when we were in fifth grade, we watched Redwall, the abridged version on the movie. Most of th other children thought it was odd, but I liked it and started to watch the cartoons. When I found out it was a book, I fell completely in love with it. I have since read the prequel, Mossflower, and now should read Mattimeo, the sequel to Redwall.
    My question is, how to let go of a book? I am apprehensive to the point of not wanting to read Mattimeo because I am desperate for nothing to change. Have you ever felt this way about a book? What did you do?

    —Many thanks, Lexabella

    One post you said that you didn't think white skin, black hair, and red lips would be a nice combo. I believe the tale made her look like that because pale skin, as you may know, was fashionable, red lips made one look not dead (one looked dead after they smeared on all the white lead makeup)
    and fair hair was favored, making black hair seem exotic (in several fairy tapes the most beautiful princesses have black hair)

  8. Lexabella–The only series I've been reading lately is the DISCWORLD series by Terry Pratchett, and he's never disappointed me, although sometimes things in earlier and then later books haven't been as I expected. When I was a girl there wasn't much fantasy and I never read a fantasy series. But I would suggest that you trust the author. Anyone else have thoughts?

  9. The Discworld books are fantastic!

    Lexabella, I read several of the Redwall books years ago and liked them. IIRC, the early books especially all had a lot of the same familiar elements, (for instance, lots of feasts!) so you might enjoy them.

    I didn't even know that Redwall had been made into a movie.

  10. I'm getting a potentially interesting idea based on Prompt #3. Could anybody tell me…

    I read that the book was published in 1911, but when is the action of the story supposed to take place? Any chance 1894 would be plausible?

    In case the story isn't in the public domain yet, If Peter or Wendy aren't mentioned by name, would the story violate copyright?

    Thank you!

  11. carpelibris–Maybe 1894 would work, since most of the book takes place on the island. Try checking the references for the off-island parts and also the pirates. I don't know how much Barrie based on actual pirates. As for copyright, I can't advise, as I'm not an expert.

  12. Thanks, Agnes!

    1894 isn't too crucial. I'm trying to make Wendy in her late teens/early 20s in 1912, and IIRC the original Disney novelization said she was 12 at the time of the story…? I don't remember if the original story is that specific at all.

  13. I prefer the name Vidia, too. 🙂 It's much more fitting.

    @Lexabella – the Redwall books do change – every one has it's own unique cast, though there are overlaps. I loved every one of them, even though they were different. The basic elements were the same, which was all that mattered to me personally. 🙂 I'd say don't worry too much – if you don't like Mattimeo, or any of the others, you can always put them down and go back to Redwall, right? That's just me, though. 🙂

    @Gail – do you have any posts on working on the psychological aspect of stories? It's something I've been interested in lately and I'd like to learn more about it.

  14. Gail – I so enjoyed reading about how you came to do the series and how it developed! I especially love reading about your appreciation for artists and movie makers, no matter how it differs from your vision. I think it takes an extra talent for an artist to appreciate what others do with their work. I'm also going to check out the original Peter Pan right away! And at this house we *love* Terry Pratchett. He has some YA titles as well that even my 4th grader enjoys.

    For those with questions about copyright – first let me say that I know the bare minimum about it. There's a book that has been much recommended that I've been meaning to buy or you might check for in your library:

    The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know – Stephen Fishman J.D

    From the official government copyright FAQ, an official search to find out who owns a copyright is quite expensive: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html#whoowns. A question would also be what kind of copyrights Disney owns. There are also some Peter Pan books by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry.

  15. Jenna Royal–Can you expand your question a bit? Sounds like one for a post but I want to be sure I know what you're asking.

    Erin Edwards–Thanks for the copyright reference! The Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry books are published by Disney.

  16. Erin Edwards – thanks for the links! I'm going to bookmark them in my folder of writing resources for future use.

    Gail – Well, I've been really interested in all the psychological parts of books lately, and how they affect the characters and the reader. I'm interested in how the characters' pasts would affect them, and how a series of events might cause them to behave or think in one way or another. From a readers' standpoint, I'm interested in how you can use a book to convey a deeper message or idea – basically, how you can reach a reader on a deeper level. I love books that trigger a passionate reaction, either a question or a feeling or a resolution. Books that inspire, or heal, or encourage, or support. It's to interesting to me. I want to know if you have any thoughts on the subject, or any experience – it's something I want to know more about.

    Does that answer your question? I hoped it helped to clarify . . .

  17. Gail-I was only recently reading one of your earlier posts when you talked a bit about Beloved Elodie. I saw you named the mountain Ineberg. The only thing I can imagine you meant as a joke is that "Berg" means "mountain" so "Ineberg" could be heard as "in 'ne Berg" meaning "inside a mountain." Is that right?

  18. Jenna Royal–Yes. I'll take a stab at a post on the subject. I've added your question to my list.

    Melissa–Almost. It's not that big a joke. Yes, berg is mountain. And ein is one, so Ineberg is One Mountain. I don't speak German. I know just a few words, and I've been using a computer translator to put in a few Anglicized German words, as I did with French in A TALE OF TWO CASTLES.

  19. Peppermint Bay says:

    Hello, please excuse my intrusion Mrs. Levine. I really love your works, particularly the Disney Fairies, because how much Prilla, Tink and the Disney Fairies mean to me because I interpreted them as autistic, like me. But me and a good friend found the terminology of “incomplete” fairies really offensive, because they are or seem to be coded disabled. I don’t think that was your intention, and I’m sorry for bothering you with this comment, these books mean a lot to me and this has bothered me for a long time.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Thank you for letting me know. I certainly wasn’t thinking of human disability, but I can see that I might have been more thoughtful. Sorry! I’m glad the books have meant a lot to you. I particularly love Prilla, too.

  20. Peppermint Bay says:

    Hi again Mrs. Levine! I apologize for the intrusion, but I had question:

    How old are the never fairies suppose to look excatly? In Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, it’s stated that fairies look grown up- Would that make them appear like teenagers, young adults or actual adults?

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