Posts tagged fairy tale
Posts tagged fairy tale
Fairest of All by Serena Valentino
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: For anyone who’s seen Walt Disney’s Snow White, you’ll know that the Wicked Queen is one evil woman! After all, it’s not everyone who wants to cut out their teenage step-daughter’s heart and have it delivered back in a locked keepsake box. (And even if this sort of thing is a common urge, we don’t know many people who have acted upon it.)
Now, for the first time, we’ll examine the life of the Wicked Queen and find out just what it is that makes her so nasty. Here’s a hint: the creepy-looking man in the magic mirror is not just some random spooky visage—and he just might have something to do with the Queen’s wicked ways!
Type of Adaptation: Retelling with a perspective shift
Really, I could call this an adaptation of an adaptation, with a perspective shift, because the evil Queen in question here is very specifically Disney’s evil Queen. This book exists to show us her backstory, her character, how she became who she was. And it does so very well. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but let me tell you, I am entirely on board. This book was wonderful.
This is the story of the Queen. Just like in the movie, she is given no name. What she is given is a history. She is the daughter of a renowned mirror maker who has no love for her. As is revealed over the course of the narrative, this man is a Piece Of Work. The Queen’s mother died giving birth to her, and her father never forgave her for that. He hated his daughter, and made that hatred known. He called her ugly her entire life, made it clear that no one would ever want to be with her.
And so, she grew to believe it. She grew up believing herself to be ugly, avoiding the mirrors her father made, believing that she will never be loved. So when the king shows up to pick up a special mirror and calls her beautiful, the Queen believes that he is poking fun at her. He father calls her an enchantress, saying she must have bewitched the king because he would never care for her on his own.
So, Rumpelstiltskin is really the first “problem” fairy tale we’ve looked at (yes, okay, fine, we’ve only looked at three so far, but just go with me on this one). East of the Sun is just fantastic all on its own, and Beauty and the Beast isn’t a great story, but at least it follows a basic pattern of logic and reason. But Rumpelstiltskin, as we discussed at the beginning of the month and really every week since, is a much more problematic story. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t well explained. There’s really very little rhyme and reason. And so, of course, it’s fascinating to me to see how authors handle it in adaptation.
As a reminder, this month, we read:
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde
The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn
On the first hand, we’ve got Spinners, which, all in all, really did take a pretty straightforward approach. Yes, Rumpel got his backstory, and was made slightly more complex by the twist of being the miller’s daughter’s real father, but really, this novel stuck pretty close to the original. We had the three nights to spin straw into gold, we had Rumpel striking his three deals, we had the contest to find out the name, and we had the stamping into the floor and ripping his leg off death at the end.
And really, to me, that was Spinners’ biggest weakness. Napoli and Tchen deviated a bit from the original tale, but not really enough. It’s almost like they were afraid to go too far away from the familiar details. But that becomes a problem when the familiar details just plain don’t make sense. This month, this book was definitely the weakest offering, and that’s really why.
In choosing to take the narrative in completely different directions, adaptations like A Curse Dark as Gold and The Crimson Thread really opened themselves up to brand new possibilities. In A Curse Dark as Gold, Bunce made a bold move and pitched a lot of those common elements – straw was spun to gold only once, there was no king in sight, and the name “Rumpelstiltskin” was never offered. Instead, this story and its essential elements were planted in a more realistic world (for all that we had ghosts and lost souls and curses presented as a matter of fact), and that made the story not only more relatable, but also more meaningful.
The same holds true with The Crimson Thread, which was even more of a departure from the original. Rumpel is a love interest, the firstborn child threat was never a serious deal, and the “miller’s daughter” leaves the “king” in the end – and we applaud that decision because in this day and age, it’s hard to root for a girl who agrees to marry the man who threatened to kill her if she didn’t live up to her father’s clearly impossible boasts. A Curse Dark as Gold and The Crimson Thread succeeded as adaptations because they made the choice to depart from the original. At the very least, think of them what you will, they were miles more successful as adaptations than Spinners was.
And then there’s The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, whose entire point is to deviate from the original plot. I’ve already talked about how brilliant I find this book, and this is the reason why. Because it’s detrimental when we get so attached to stories that we refuse to see anything bad about them. When our nostalgia for the familiar keeps us from recognizing the very real issues that whatever is familiar might have.
Rumpelstiltskin, as a fairy tale, is a highly problematic story, and it won’t be the only one that we look at this year. Now, Rumpelstiltskin also doesn’t have quite the level of nostalgia attached to it that some of the others do (likely due largely to the fact that Disney has yet to tackle this one (not counting ABC’s Once Upon a Time and the brilliant Robert Carlyle, of course)), but we will talk in the coming months about more of these problematic stories – Sleeping Beauty jumps immediately to mind – and once we do, I know we’ll be fighting that nostalgia factor, so I want to state this reminder, for you all as well as for myself:
If we sacrifice objectivity for nostalgia, we do ourselves and our stories a disservice. Rumpelstiltskin and its adaptations have shown us that this month. The strongest offerings are those that dared to take the story in a new and different and divergent direction. That says a lot.
So! The individual novels and their rankings:
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde gets top ranking of the four for me, with a Strongly Recommended. Its snark and meta-ness and the fact that Vande Velde did exactly what I’ve been doing won it the spot. The six stories are brilliantly done, and yet all so very different, but all making the same points.
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce also gets a ranking of Strongly Recommended. I really enjoy the grittiness of this novel and how much is constantly at stake. With its stubbornly infuriating protagonist and excellently well rounded cast of characters, it’s well worth the read.
The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn ranks third, with a Recommended ranking. I enjoyed the story a lot, but it did suffer some pacing issues (and, yes, now that they’ve been pointed out to be, some pretty unfortunately historical inaccuracies). It’s a great story with a great premise, just not quite as well executed as the other two.
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen falls last, with a Not Recommended ranking. It hurts me to assign it, because so much of the book was good, but the ending just killed it for me. It could have been so much more.
Other Notable Novels: None, really! Between Heidi and I, we pretty much exhausted the adaptations of Rumpelstiltskin. Want a great new take on his character? Watch Once Upon a Time and the brilliant Robert Carlyle! :)
Thanks for reading along this month!
August’s fairy tale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C Bunce
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Charlotte Miller’s father has died, and left her struggling under a crushing debt she didn’t know existed. If she can’t pay back her father’s mysterious loan, she’ll lose the mill that’s been in her family for five generations, and her tiny town will lose its major source of income. Charlotte is determined to raise the money, but when hardship after accident after disaster devastates her attempts, the old whispers of the curse of Stirwater Mill crop up again. Three times desperate, Charlotte makes deals with a mysterious man who calls himself Jack Spinner; and three times, he delivers. But in the end, he demands a terrible price, and if Charlotte cannot uncover who he truly is and how her family is tied up in his business, she’ll lose everything.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling
When faced with a fairy tale as well known and problematic as Rumpelstiltskin, the clever adaptor will boil the story down to its bear bones, find its essential pieces, and rebuild from there. This is precisely what Bunce has done, and though, in her novel, straw is spun to gold just once, there isn’t a king to be found, and the name “Rumpelstiltskin” is never spoken, A Curse Dark as Gold remains a truly masterful retelling of this tale.
Bunce weaves a truly masterful rendition of this story. It’s really brilliantly done, incredibly complex and intricate – I’ve barely scratched the surface in this synopsis because the complexity of this story is far beyond what I want to try and summarize. So let’s see how the checklist compares.
A point? Definitely. This story is well woven and well contained. The messages are strong, and there’s definitely a purpose. I like that it reads as Charlotte simply setting down her tale as all the Millers before her have done. This story is very strong, and it really resonates in a real way, as well.
Backstory for Rumpel? Oh, and what a backstory! The Millers took his son and his life, and so in return, he takes their sons and does all in his power to destroy the mill that destroyed his child. I like the idea that he’s been playing this pattern for years, the bargains with all the Millers, slowly decimating them one by one. Serving simultaneously as their savior and their destroyer. Did all the other Millers bargain their children away, I wonder? Did they choose the mill over their sons? Bunce has made the story that much darker for raising those questions and giving her Rumpel character such a rich place to have come from.
Likeable characters? Definitely. I love Charlotte. I want to hit her over the head for half the story, but I love her. She’s impossibly stubborn and fiery as hell and you do have to admire her spirit. She won’t see what’s right in front of her eyes until she can’t possibly ignore it anymore, and she pushes away the people who can help her because she won’t let them be hurt for her sake. She is wonderfully drawn. Likewise, Randall is a fantastic character. No greedy king, he’s just doing his job, and he does truly fall in love with Charlotte. I like the romance lent to this story, that pure grain of love given to what was originally just cold and lifeless. You can’t help but love Randall. As for the rest of the townsfolk, they are fantastic. A very rich cast of characters. You’ve still got the greedy bastard in Uncle Wheeler, but every story’s got to have one right?
Overall, Bunce has created the best kind of adaptation – she didn’t limit herself to a strict retelling of original events. Instead, she took this tale and found its essence, and that essence is what she worked into a new interpretation, and in my opinion, it far outshines its source.
Beastly by Alex Flinn
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Kyle Kingsbury used to be the most handsome, most popular, most sought-after guy in his high school – until he public humiliated one of the so-called “ugly” crowd. Unfortunately for him, she was no teenager, but a modern-day witch, and as punishment for his beastly behavior, she’s turned him into a true beast. Shipped away to a penthouse by his famous father, he has two years to find a girl to love him or he’ll stay that way forever.
Type of Adaptation: Modernization with a perspective shift
So Alex Flinn is a relatively new name to the fairy tale adaptation genre, and what I like about her books is that she writes modernizations almost exclusively, and with a story like Beauty and the Beast with iconic adaptations like Beauty to its name, it’s nice to see the new context that a modernization forces. Because when you’re setting a story in the real world, there are some questions you have to answer: how does magic work? Are there really witches walking among us? How do you hide a beast in New York City?
I thought Flinn translated the story very well into modern times with modern sensibilities. How well? Well, let’s to the checklist.
Stronger Beauty character? Yes. Lindy’s not in a lot of the novel, but she’s very well developed when she is. We sympathize with her, we understand her, and yet, she’s very human and flawed, too. She loves her father despite everything he puts her through, but she’s not a saint. She still judges the Beast, and it takes time for her to grow past that, to learn to trust him. So check.
Stronger backstory for the Beast? Well, it isn’t backstory here; it’s the story, and as I said earlier, I love the translation this made to a modern character. It’s not just about selfishness, it was about cruelty. The reason for the curse got stepped up a notch, which it needed, and Kyle’s growth was very believably done and very rewarding for the reader.
Stronger reason for Beauty’s non-return? Like many other adaptations this month, she didn’t have to return. It wasn’t a condition. Now, Kyle did ask if she would, if she would visit him, and the reason why she didn’t there was great – she didn’t know how to get back to the penthouse. She didn’t have an address, her father wouldn’t tell her, and she’d only gone there once before by a very roundabout way. I buy it, so yes, check.
Stronger relationship between Beauty and the Beast? My favorite part about this relationship is that they knew each other before the curse. Lindy knew Kyle when he was beastly in both respects, and she’s the one he first showed that redeeming bit of kindness. It really wrapped her into the story early on, giving the whole thing a lot more connectivity. And once she got to his home, again, very well done. Full marks.
Stronger message? Not just a stronger one – one a bit more applicable to our time. It’s got the whole “inward beauty is more important than outward” message, but with a twist of, “No, the world doesn’t follow that aphorism, so you’re going to have to continually fight to believe it,” which is wonderful.
This is a masterful adaptation. One or two flaws in the narrative, to be sure, but the story is contextualized really well, and despite the magic added to New York City, it’s entirely believable.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: When the Lass was born, her mother was so upset to have yet another useless girl that she refused to name the child. Growing up, her father was terrified that, because she was nameless, she would be stolen by the trolls, so the Lass spent most of her life shut up in her family’s cottage with only her eldest brother for company.
Until the isbjorn, the white bear, comes to their door and whisks her away. At his palace, the Lass is confronted with a harrowing mystery – one that she is all the more desperate to solve because it matches so closely with the mystery surrounding her dear eldest brother. But her curiosity does her in, and when she sets off to set right the wrongs she caused, she discovers that the cycle has been going on for longer than anyone imagined. No one yet has been strong enough to put an end to it, but if stubborness and love can do, the Lass is determined to succeed.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling
More than either of the two adaptations I’ve read so far this month, this book reads like a fairy tale. East begins with a description of woman going through an old trunk. Ice begins with Cassie hunting polar bears on the Arctic ice. But Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow begins thusly: “Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.” Have no doubt, ladies and gentlemen. You are reading a fairy tale.
This tone continues for the entire book, using phrasing and words that are more formal, more old-fashioned, and therefore more universal that everyday language. Phrases that, in other words, immediately evoke fairy tales.