A Writer's Journey

February 3, 2014

Reimagining Fairy Tales

We are all fascinated by fairy tales. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a sweeping overgeneralization. But there are still enough of us entranced by fairy tales. And with reimagining them.

Why? Well, let’s look at what fairy tales are. They are archetypal stories and their Aesops timeless. Okay, some are the same. Snow White and Cinderella both contain the message about being good and getting rewarded if you are patient enough. Red Riding Hood is about stranger danger. Goldilocks about not breaking and entering. (Okay, it’s probably more about finding what’s “just right” for you, but breaking and entering is pretty bad). Sleeping Beauty is a warning about excluding people from your fancy parties. They will curse your firstborn otherwise.

All silliness aside, fairy tales are a crucial part of our culture. And not just because they are Disney’s bread and butter. Media has done a lot with fairy tales lately. Over on my other blog (shameless plug!), I reviewed “Mirror, Mirror”—a take on the Snow White fairy tale. And there’s “Once Upon a Time.” And the upcoming “Maleficent.” So many new fairy tale adaptations.

But these adaptations come with changes. Why? Well, fairy tales are a product of their times. And our values and expectations regarding characters have changed. Snow White and Cinderella are too passive for our tastes. Heck, I’ll throw Sleeping Beauty in there though she was put into a situation in which she couldn’t really be active. Her parents kept the curse from her so she couldn’t protect herself. Even the Disney version has her put under a spell which forces her to touch the spindle.

But I’m going to discuss a few changes I’ve noticed. Like making the princesses more active in their stories (though no one has really redone Sleeping Beauty). The biggest change I’ve noticed for Cinderella has to do with her stepsisters.

For me, it started with “Ever After.” One stepsister, Marguerite, was just as cruel as her mother. The other, Jacqueline, is sweet and kind to Danielle. A friend to her abused stepsister. Then Disney released Cinderella II: “Burning Off Completed Episodes of a Rejected Series.” One of them included an episode which showed a new side to stepsister Anastasia. Where she wasn’t as bad as Drusilla or her mother. She just wanted a chance to live her own life, expanded a bit more in Cinderella III: A Twist in Time.

So why? Why the sudden interest in rehabilitating at least one stepsister? In my opinion, it is because people are interested in shades of gray. We want to see conflicted characters. And I think we want Cinderella to have a friend. Who isn’t a mouse.

Why the stepsisters? I guess because the least is known about them. They are blank canvasses in that regard. Cinderella has to stay the same or at least remain recognizable. Writers though can create what they want with the stepsisters. And it’s fun.

I should know. I’m reimagining fairy tales with each of my NaNoWriMo projects. First, it was Snow White. Now, it’s Sleeping Beauty. After all, my main characters think they are the reincarnations of these fairy tale princesses. And the reason they believe this is because of strange dreams they have, which retell their fairy tale. They also start to mirror things in the characters’ waking life.

In some ways, I’m finding Sleeping Beauty is a bit more difficult to reimagine than Snow White. Why? I think it’s because Snow White gave me more to work with. The three attempts on Snow’s life. Her relationship with the dwarves. Even her relationship with her evil stepmother. Sleeping Beauty though…well, it’s a bit different.

First, I had to decide if I would go with the more Disneyified version or the original. Because the original does not include the princess being hidden away. I decided to go that route, though. To play with the princess’ relationship with the fairies. And with her prince. Which has been fun, I’ll admit, creating a world where Sleeping Beauty met her prince—without realizing it of course. She doesn’t know what’s going on, that I’ve kept.

The other difficulty I’ve had is how to mix it with her modern story. Once again, Snow White gave itself to an easier translation. But I’m working my way through. We’ll see what happens, won’t we?

Next week: More fairy tales! I may turn the whole month in fairy tale February.

(That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)

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