I’ve been slow on the uptake over the years. Rewriting fairy tales didn’t seem that interesting to me. The story has been told a million times already, over hundreds of years. Everybody knows what’s going to happen. Where’s the surprise, the joy in discovery?
Everybody knows a mean old witch tries to fatten up Hansel and eat him. So, Gretel has to push the witch into her own flaming oven to save the boy. Ha! Read The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli, and see what really happened. Maybe the mean old witch wasn’t so mean after all.
Heather Tomlinson is making a brilliant career out of adding depth and wonder to fairy tales with such gems in her list as Toads and Diamonds, Swan Maiden, and Aurelie.
And here I must brag that I knew Heather back when! Shortly before she was published I had the privilege of reading Aurelie in an early form, when it was more like the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I wish I could say my critique was what put her on the path to greatness, but she was obviously there already.
Shanon Hale re-wrote The Goose Girl in a way that makes you actually like her rather than think her a weak ninny. At least the girl tried to save the white horse in Hale’s version!
Those who know the Six Swans fairy tale will recognize it clearly in Juliet Mariller’s Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Series Book #1). The thing that makes it special is that the characters are more alive, the details more delicious, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen.
Juliet taught us that traditional fairy tales are just the skeleton for your new story. It’s how you flesh out the story that makes it intriguing.
· Tell it from the villain’s point of view and maybe she becomes a sympathetic character, a hero even.
· Tell it from a modern day perspective and the horrible beast living in a castle full of wealth is a rock star with a drug problem, or a youth with a disfiguring disease.
· Tell it with today’s values, so the meek princess of yore, becomes a strong heroine who stands up for herself and earns her prize rather than having it handed to her because she is the most beautiful in the land. (She can certainly be beautiful, too, but it better be on the inside as much or more than on the outside.)
I came away with a new understanding and respect for this writing genre. Ideas bounced around in my head the whole drive home. This could be great fun!!
In spite of the fact that I now see how glorious a retold fairy tale can be, I still have the nagging feeling that it smacks a tad of cheating, writing a story that’s already been written. It’s probably because I haven’t tried it, yet, that I think that would make it so much easier.
Twenty-some years ago, before I had seriously gotten into writing, more than once I finished a book with the words, “I could do better than that!” This many years later I understand it’s harder than it looks. Most things are, I guess.
All in all it was a wonderful day, full of friends, reassurances, and bright new ideas. There is no better time spent than among creative people traveling in creative spaces!
Thank you SCBWI.
(For a refresher on old fairy tales check out SurLaLune.