Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happily Never After? - New Twists on Old Tales

If you asked me to tell you the exact moment that I fell in love with fairy tales, I couldn’t…at least, not exactly. As I child, I know I loved them – that elusive “happily ever after” always kept me greedily coming back for more. However, as I grew older I suppose I also grew jaded. It didn't take long for me to learn that “happily ever after” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But then, I discovered something that changed the way I looked at fairy tales forever. The tame, watered-down versions I’d been fed as a child were not the original tales; the true stories were actually MUCH darker – and they didn’t always have happy endings.

From that point on I became fascinated with unearthing all the numerous variations that could be found on just a single familiar tale, like Cinderella, for example. I immediately began building
a collection of fairy tale adaptations. It was easy, of course, to find picture books that retold the famous stories, such as Cinderella Skeleton, The Frog Prince Continued and Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter. However, although these were definitely fun to look at, I wanted something meatier, something that would flesh out the characters I knew and loved – I wanted NOVELS! So, off I went in search of what I was sure would turn out to be a very elusive topic. Was I ever in for a shock! There was FAR more out there than I ever could have imagined! It quickly became obvious to me that I wasn’t the only one that craved more substance in my fairy tales, and I soon became devoted to authors such as Donna Jo Napoli, Gail Carson Levine, Mercedes Lackey, and Robin McKinley. Of course, I discovered many other wonderful authors as well - while they weren’t fairy tale novel gurus, each had one or two wonderful “fairy tale-related” stories like Edith Pattou’s East, Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, and Diane Stanley’s Bella at Midnight. It also wasn’t long before I discovered a wonderful series called “Once Upon a Time” where each book focuses on a different fairytale and turns the story on its head. For example, what if Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t so little and had more of a problem with werewolves than actual wolves? Or what if Beauty, instead of being held captive by a Beast, became the prisoner of a mysterious Native American shaman instead?

There are so many wonderful re-tellings, but during my search I discovered something even better – GRAPHIC NOVELS! That’s right - while there aren’t many around, quality definitely makes up for quantity! There are some absolutely wonderful GNs that travel into the world of fairy tales. Probably the most famous series is
Fables*, which is written by Bill Willingham. It takes all the fairy tale characters (good and bad) from all of your favorite stories and throws them together in modern day New York. They’re definitely NOT the characters you might remember from childhood, but what really makes this story interesting is WHY they’ve all been forced to live out their days in the mortal realm. Another terrific addition to the GN fairy tale genre is a series called Lullaby by Ben Avery. This story uses not only fairy tale creations, but also other characters from classic literature, such as a very curvaceous version of Alice from Alice in Wonderland and a sword-wielding Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. Recently, Marvel decided to take on the genre as well with X-Men: Fairy Tales, and they’ll soon be releasing Spider-Man: Fairy Tales and Avengers: Fairy Tales, too! All of these stories take your favorite Marvel characters and put them into a fun variety of multi-cultural stories…each with its own special twist. Another recent favorite of mine is a four-volume manga called Pretear. This is a wonderful fantasy re-telling of the Snow White story, however, instead of seven dwarves, the main character, Himeno, finds herself in the middle of four hot guys and 3 adorable little boys. Together they must fight against an evil force that threatens to drain the life out of everything on Earth. I know it doesn’t sound much like the Snow White you might remember, but part of the fun is discovering all of the connections to the original story.

You can also find a variety of other types of fairy tale retellings in the form of short stories, poetry, movies and even Broadway plays.
Gregory Maguire & Terry Windling both have some great short stories to share. And, while we don’t carry anything in the library’s collection, Disenchantments by Wolfgang Mieder and If the Shoe Fits by Laura Whipple have some great poetry to offer. As for movies, one of my all-time favorites is “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott, but if your looking for something dark, try “Snow White: a Tale of Terror”* with Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill. Broadway also offers a wonderful morality play entitled “Into the Woods”; it’s a musical which brings together a variety of fairy tale denizens who must band together when a giant invades the enchanted forest. More recently, although not exactly a fairy tale re-telling, is the musical Wicked which retells the story of The Wonderful Wizard of OZ from the wicked witch’s point of view - its a dark tale based on Gregory Maguire's book, also entitled Wicked*. It shows the struggles of two unlikely friends as they do battle with each other and themselves in order to find out what's truly important in their lives.

There are so many more wonderful books, authors, etc. that I could continue typing for a ton more pages, but now that I’ve (hopefully) created an interest, I recommend you go out and explore for yourself. After all, as with many fairy tales themselves, the search itself is half of the adventure. ;-)


* The starred titles are those that would probably be more appropriate for an older reading audience, 16 and up.

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