I’ve been retelling fairy tales in my writing for several years now, and I’ve also loved reading fairy tales retold by others for pretty much as long as I can remember! I love seeing all the different ways people can take the same elements, and do something new with them. There seems to be an endless selection of retold Cinderellas or Sleeping Beauties, but authors still keep coming up with different ideas. I love that blend of familiar and new, and seeing what each new story decides to do.
I also believe that, for the fairy tales we know best, there’s a reason we know them best. There’s something in the themes or the shape of the story that appeals on a deep level. Stories don’t become as universally well-known as Cinderella without having something vital and essential at their heart.
I love novels or short stories that take those essential hearts of fairy tales, and then build a unique story around them—because when you really look at the stories in the original Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, they don’t make a bit of sense! I like to begin the process of retelling a fairy tale by asking questions—why is the Good Fairy turning people into stone? Why is the Evil Fairy so upset about being left off a guest list? Why doesn’t Cinderella go find a job? Why is it always the youngest son who succeeds at quests? The answers become the basis for the resulting story.
In my own loose categorization of the subject, I see two types of retold fairy tales. One is to fully retell the original plotline, more or less close to how Grimm or Perrault (or another source) told it. The second is to take familiar tropes of fairy tales, like youngest sons always succeeding at quests, or all curses taking effect at age sixteen, and then weave them into a new plotline.
My novel, The Wanderers, is mostly the second kind of story. The plot and the characters are original, but the characters have to deal with a lot of fairy tale tropes. In one section, however, the novel becomes the first kind of story, directly retelling “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Although, of course, things don’t go exactly the way they did in Grimm! That story is also the basis for the companion novel, The Storyteller and Her Sisters (due out next fall).
I also see two ways to handle the answers to those questions I asked about the original fairy tales. One is to come up with an explanation, expanding on the original plot and characters. For instance, why does the champion in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” think it’s a good idea to sign up for a challenge that means having his head chopped off if he fails, or marrying a complete (and unwilling) stranger if he succeeds? My wandering adventurer is forced into it by a curse from a Good Fairy—and as to why the Good Fairy wants to do that, well, that’s a longer tale!
The other option for handling fairy tale absurdities is to keep them absurd, and be self-aware about it. One of my favorite sequences in The Wanderers involves a very inept youngest son pursuing a quest. Everyone involved has to try very, very hard to help him succeed…because he’s the youngest son! And that’s How Things Are Done!
One of my writing group friends likes to describe my writing as “subversive.” And on almost any level, it’s really not. But I do enjoy subverting traditional fairy tales—or reading the “subversive” tales other people have spun!
Her first novel, The Wanderers, was published in November of 2013. It’s a Young Adult Fantasy, loosely inspired by fairy tales. The book tells the story of Jasper, a wandering adventurer; Tom, a talking cat; and Julie, a witch’s daughter. They pursue quests and fight monsters, such as a sea serpent, an ogre, and a very dangerous Good Fairy. There are a lot of elements from familiar fairy tales…but generally with a bit of a twist!
The Wanderers is available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon, and in other e-book formats through Smashwords.
Thank you Cheryl.
Here’s how to get your hands on a copy of Cheryl’s novel The Wanderers: Paperback Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. E-book Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords (Coupon Code: YC76V to get a discount on Smashwords until 20/12/13).