Posts tagged once upon a time
Posts tagged once upon a time
Sleeping Beauty: the One who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass
Target Audience: Middle Grade
It’s not easy being Princess Rose. Especially when a fairy curses you and you find yourself avoiding all sharp objects … and then end up pricking your finger anyway, causing you to slumber for a hundred years or so.
And it’s not easy being The Prince. Especially when your mother has some ogre blood and tends to chow down at the most unfortunate moments. A walk in the woods would help, you think. Until you find a certain hidden castle … and a certain sleeping princess. Happily ever after? Not until the prince helps the princess awaken … and brings her home to Mother.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling with a perspective addition
Holy Unexpected Developments, Batman! Somebody included Perrault’s entirely unnecessary ending – and did it well, too! Color me utterly astonished!
But we’ll get to that.
So, as you may be able to ascertain from the title, this novel is from the same series as Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair. It’s called the Twice Upon a Time series, and it takes fairy tales and rewrites them for a younger audience, but in a way I can completely get behind because Wendy Mass knows how to write for this age group, and she does so very well.
Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: The Princess Aurore has had an unusual childhood. Cursed at birth, Aurore is fated to prick her finger at the age of sixteen and sleep for one hundred years — until a prince awakens her with a kiss. So, to protect her, Aurore’s loving parents forbid any task requiring a needle.
Unable to sew or embroider like most little princesses, Aurore instead explores the castle grounds and beyond, where her warmth and generosity soon endear her to the townspeople. their devotion to the spirited princess grows as she does.
On her sixteenth birthday, Aurore learns that the impending curse will harm not only her, but the entire kingdom as well. Unwilling to cause suffering, she will embark on a quest to end the evil magic. The princess’s bravery will be rewarded as she finds adventure, enchantment, a handsome prince, and ultimately her destiny.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling
Oh, Once Upon a Time summary writers, what am I going to do with you? To be misleading is one thing. But to be factually inaccurate about parts of the book? Aurore didn’t spend time outside because she wasn’t allowed to embroider. In fact, her going outside coincided with learning to embroider. And it wasn’t just needles she was kept away from – it was anything that could be considered remotely sharp and/or dangerous. Honestly, do you even read the books you’re summarizing, or are you summarizing from a summary?
Let’s just jump right in.
So, this was one of Dokey’s first offerings to the Once Upon a Time series, and it was the first one that I read. I’ve talked in the past about how Dokey tends to open her novels to this series with some sort of commentary on the nature of storytelling? Well, this novel’s was the first of those that I read, and honestly, while I always appreciate what she has to say, this is the novel where that really fits the best. Because so much about Sleeping Beauty is about how stories evolve over time and turn into legend and myth.
This book is a first-person narration, from our Sleeping Beauty character Aurore, and you can tell from the way that she speaks that she is coming to tell her tale after the events have already happened, after she’s woken up and been filled in on what her story has become. And so this great evolution of her narrative is silly to her, the way details have been changed to fit a little neater into place, the way things get exaggerated and overplayed.
So in the preamble, as she calls it, she pokes fun at that, stating that she has to begin her story with Once upon a time because that’s how stories like this are expected to start, and she wants the reader to think her story is a good one, so she’d better conform to expectations.
Aurore’s voice is just wonderful. She is spirited and feisty, and she speaks her mind. But more than that, she is incredibly conversational. You are always aware that she is speaking this to an audience, telling her story in a way that feels very one-on-one. And a lot of the criticism that I’ve read of this book calls Dokey out for this. It’s not a narrative tone everyone likes.
And I can get where that criticism comes from. This is a very different tone than novels usually take, and it’s not something that goes away. It is present throughout, so if that’s the kind of thing you don’t like, you’re going to not like for the entire book.
Personally, though, I love it. Because Aurore tells stories the way that I tell stories, and I’ve had more than one person I’ve recommended this book to tell me that Aurore sounds like me. I can see it, I guess, and if it’s true, then it goes a long way to explaining why I adore this character and her voice so much.
There are a lot of books I read and love and cannot understand why everyone in the world doesn’t love them as well. This book isn’t one of those. I love it, yes, I adore it and it’s one of my favorites. But I do understand why other people might not like it. Just to get that out of the way.
Sleeping Beauty (According to Cassie)
So, basically, as happens so often in these things, we have a king and a queen who really want a baby, but aren’t having one for some reason until they do. It’s a girl, and what happens next depends on whose version you read.
A christening is planned, and the girl is given three or seven or twenty-one fairy godparents, who are each to bestow a gift upon the child, but the thing is, there’s another fairy in the kingdom who doesn’t get invited. The reason varies from story to story. You’ve got the pretty bad reason – the royals just forgot she existed – and then the really dumb reason – they left someone off the guest list because they didn’t have enough golden plates. I mean, seriously? You couldn’t just go buy another golden plate? Like, for reals?
Anyway, the Left Out Fairy is understandably pissed, so she shows up anyway, in the middle of the christening, after every fairy godparent but one has given their silly gifts of beauty and grace and musicianship and what have you, to show her displeasure. And rather than focus it on the parents who did the actual insulting, this fairy decides to curse the helpless infant princess who has pretty much done nothing except be born at this point.
The Petty and Petulant Fairy (I’m not calling her Evil because in the originals, anyway, she’s usually not) announces that the princess will live for fifteen years, but on her sixteenth (or eighteenth or twenty-first) birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.
Everyone is horrified, because geez, over-reacting much? But then the last fairy steps forward to give her gift, and her gift is to change the nature of the Ego-Bruised Fairy’s curse – the princess won’t die. She’ll just sleep for a hundred years! Because, yeah, that’s totally better…
I mean, seriously, if you have the power to change the gift, couldn’t you shorten the time frame a bit? Like, she sleeps for a year? But anyway, the fairy changes the death to a hundred year sleep, saying that the curse will be broken when the princess’s True Love comes to kiss her awake.
And then the king goes, “I have a better idea. Let’s just destroy all the spinning wheels ever and forget this ever happened because that will totally take care of the problem!” I hope whatever clothes exist in the kingdom currently will serve everyone for the next couple decades, because your king just told you that you won’t be making any more thread anytime soon.
And apparently, this is a king who is really confident in his decreeing power, because not only do he and the queen not tell their daughter about this curse, they’re out of town on the day when the curse is supposed to be enacted.
… Okay, so, let me get this straight. Your daughter is cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and either die or fall into a century-long sleep, depending on whose magic was stronger, and you happen to have the exact day this will all happen, your course of action is to 1) destroy all the spinning wheels (supposedly) so that your daughter will never know what one looks like, 2) leave her completely ignorant of the fact that the curse exists and there are things she should avoid touching, and 3) leave her completely alone on the day you know the curse is supposed to come to pass?
… Keep up the parenting, dude, you’re doing a stellar job.
Anyway, not surprising to me in the slightest, the princess stumbles across an old woman in the palace with a spinning wheel, who apparently has moved in since the king’s decree. To be clear, this is not the Grudge-Holding Fairy in disguise, it’s just an innocent old lady going about her business. The princess, never having seen a spinning wheel before because her father is somehow simultaneously the most over-protective and negligent father of all time ever, is intrigued, and asks if she can try. And she pricks her finger and falls down as if dead because she was never given the necessary knowledge to avoid this fate.
So the unconscious princess is taken up to the highest room of the tallest tower and laid out on the bed, and then the fairy shows up and puts everyone in the castle to sleep alongside her – usually. Not always, though. Sometimes the princess alone sleeps and everyone else just goes about her business, which has to kinda suck.
The fairy also encloses the castle in thick briars, presumably for protection, though we’re never told.
And then we sit and wait and nothing happens for a hundred years.
Now, see, if this was me, I would have handled what goes down next a little differently. The characters in this fairy tale are in the unique position of knowing exactly dates and time frames. The curse will happen on the princess’s sixteenth birthday. The princess will sleep for 100 years. It’s hard to miscalculate, is what I’m saying.
So, me, I’d have posted a sign or something: Hey. There’s a cursed princess sleeping in this castle. On this date, somebody should go wake her up or something.
Or, you know, at least passed the story down so people knew. I can sort of understand the parents not doing this; there may not have been time. But this good fairy? Yeah, she puts everybody to sleep and then disappears. Far be it from me to tell a godparent how to look after their godchild, but, uh … seems to me you could maybe be a little more involved? Nope? Okay.
Anyway, with the briars growing up around the castle and everyone being put to sleep and the fairies disappearing, the result 100 years later is that no one really knows anything about the castle and the princess and the curse. There’s tons of stories flying around, but they’re all rumors and hearsay, and honestly, the prince who finally makes it through to the palace is just trying to solve that mystery as much as anything else.
And again, how grim this part of the story gets depends on who’s telling it. In some versions, lots of princes have tried to get to the castle, but have been killed by the briars, until this One True Love prince comes by at the right time. In other stories, he’s the only one who ever really gets curious about a castle buried by roses bushes.
Either way, he sets out to get to the castle, and the briars … part for him. Evidence of his suitability, some might say. Me, I’m more cynically inclined to read this as yet another moment of inactive passivity, but we’ll get to that.
And then it’s the iconic scene, where he finds the princess on the bed, is overcome by her beauty, and kisses her – not because he knows it will wake her or break the curse mind you, just kisses the for-all-he-knows-dead girl – or, if you’re Perrault, just walks into the room and his presence is enough to break the curse and wake her up.
And so, with no one really having done anything at all, we reach happily ever after in possibly the most anti-climactic fairy tale climax ever.
Unless you’re Charles Perrault, in which case, you tack a whole other fairy tale onto the end of this one involving a stepmother who’s part ogress trying to eat the prince and Sleeping Beauty’s babies. Because why not?
Thoughts on this story?
I took a seminar on this fairy tale in college, so I’m pretty intimately familiar with it, and I actually have written a full length novel adaptation of it, addressing my issues with the story. And the biggest one is this:
Nothing happens in this story. Seriously. Nothing happens. Girl is cursed, she falls asleep, a prince walks in, she wakes up. That’s it. This story is boring. And stupid as Perrault’s tacked-on ending is, at least someone does something in it. There’s a villain and conflict and action. But the bulk of what happens in the tale of Sleeping Beauty we all know? There’s none of that.
Make the characters more active in their own story. Seriously, this is the fairy tale of People Who Had Things Happen to Them. The most active anyone gets is the evil fairy responding to something that didn’t happen, and the good fairy, who reacts with a solution that is possibly more passive than dying. I would like someone, anyone, to do something. Anything. Please.
Introduce more conflict. I’d like something to be at stake, beyond the evil fairy going, “YOU DIDN’T HAVE A GOLDEN PLATE FOR ME?? CURSED!” and then just kind of losing interest. This is a plot that desperately needs a driving force behind it. Give me one.
Explain the actions of the parents. Seriously. Parents of the Year, these guys. I desperately need an explanation – why didn’t they tell Sleeping Beauty about her curse? Why would they leave her alone on the day the curse is supposed to be enacted? And why would a man who lives in a place inundated with magic and fairies really think he could dispel the curse by going, “Burn ALL the spinning wheels!”
Flesh the story out. We get very few details here, on what is not a very long story, unless you’re Perrault and really need to add a wicked stepmother somewhere. Give me background and detail, and you’re golden. Find a way to work Perrault’s ending in and get me to commit to it? You’re super-human.
Like Cinderella, there are a lot of novels to choose from, but the line-up for the month after careful deliberation is:
Week 1: Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
Week 2: Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took a Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass
Week 3: A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
Week 4: A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Week 5: Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
Feel free to read along!
Little Red Riding Hood Wrap Up
So, this month, we looked at another of those problem fairy tales, those “Then I Found Five Dollar” tales. And similarly to Rumpelstiltskin, in wrapping up the month and looking at how our different authors chose to handle adapting the tale, we’re going to set aside Cloaked in Red for the time being, and look at the three novels that weren’t written specifically to address the issues of the original tale: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue, and Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George.
So the first thing I noticed about these three novels is that in exactly none of them is Little Red a child. Scarlet is 19 and Ruth and Petunia are both 16, and this directly ties in with the second thing I noticed, which was that in exactly none of these novels was the wolf an actual wolf. Scarlet came the closest, making Wolf a sort of human-wolf hybrid, and there’s the werewolf bit in Scarlet Moon, but essentially, all of these novels portray the wolf as human. Which leads directly to the last thing I noticed:
In each and every one of these novels, the wolf became a love interest for Little Red.
This point is a little disturbing to me. I mean, I get it, we live in a culture where every story has to have a romance, and Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t, but … the wolf? The creature who preys on Little Red in the original story, who wants to kill her? That’s who we’re choosing to turn into a love interest?
And I mean, yes, all three of these novels also have a secondary wolf in there somewhere who fills the bloodthirsty, wanting Little Red to die role, allowing these primary wolves to also play the role of the hunstmen, but … still.
Honestly, as much as I loved Scarlet and Princess of the Silver Woods, I am a little disappointed that no one took a different direction with this story. No one made the wolf a real wolf, no one made Little Red a child, everyone turned it into a romance. Which is fine, looking at each novel individually. But all together, seeing the stories that, boiled down to essentials, are so similar … I don’t know. To me, making Little Red older and turning the wolf into the love interest is the easy way to retell this story, and I find myself wishing that someone had taken a more challenging route.
So to that end, thank you Vivian Vande Velde.
I also noticed that of the people we read this month, only one chose to deliberately retell Little Red specifically, creating a world around that story. We’re leaving Cloaked in Red aside again, because of the different motivation in writing it, and Scarlet and Princess of the Silver Woods both used LRRH as a sequel structure, fitting the fairy tale into a world already established for another fairy tale, and while they both did it very well, LRRH was not the starting point for either of them.
At the end of the day, the offerings we have on this story say a lot about how well it lends itself to retelling, which is: not very well. The most successful adaptations this month didn’t try to retell the story on its own, but wove the elements of the story in with others, which I feel like you almost have to do with a story this problematic.
So! Rankings for the month:
Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde, Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George, and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer all receive Highly Recommended ratings for vastly different reasons.
Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue gets a Not Recommended from me, but with the caveat that it is very much not my cup of tea, but isn’t necessarily badly written.
May’s fairy tale, and the last fairy tale of the year and the project, is Sleeping Beauty. See you tomorrow!
Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: When Petunia, the youngest of King Gregor’s twelve dancing daughters, is invited to visit an elderly friend in the neighboring country of Westfalin, she welcomes the change of scenery. But in order to reach Westfalin, Petunia must pass through a forest where strange two-legged wolves are rumored to exist. Wolves intent on redistributing the wealth of the noble citizens who have entered their territory. But the bandit-wolves prove more rakishly handsome than truly dangerous, and it’s not until Petunia reaches her destination that she realizes the kindly grandmother she has been summoned to visit is really an enemy bent on restoring an age-old curse.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling in combination with the legend of Robin Hood
So, I’m facing some significant challenges summarizing this one for you, not because it’s not good, and not because it’s not Little Red Riding Hood, and not because the LRRH narrative doesn’t extend fully throughout the novel. No, all those things are true. But Princess of the Silver Woods written by the object of my literary adoration, Jessica Day George, is the final book in the Princesses of Westfalin trilogy, the final sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass, which means that while it tells LRRH and tells it fully, the plot that LRRH arranges to is very much the final plot of a trilogy.
In other words, this book is more concluding the story of PotMB and PoG than it is being a Little Red Riding Hood narrative.
But I’m gonna do the best I can, and I’m gonna try not to stray too far from what is LRRH.
Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Ruth’s grandmother lives in the forest, banished there for the “evil” that the townsfolk believed she practiced. But if studying the stars, learning about nature, and dreaming of flying is evil, then Ruth is guilty of it too. Whenever Ruth took food and supplies to her grandmother, she would sit with the old woman for hours, listening and learning.
When she wasn’t in the woods, Ruth was learning the trade of her father, a blacksmith, now that her brother would never return from the Crusades.
Amidst those dark days, a new man enters Ruth’s life. William is a noble with a hot temper and a bad name, and he makes her shiver. But the young man is prey to his heritage, a curse placed on his family ages ago, and each male of the family has strange blood running in his veins. Now Ruth must come face-to-face with his destiny at Grandma’s house.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling (I feel like I should call it Historical Recontextualization, because it’s set against the backdrop of the Crusades, but given that the Crusades spanned 200 years, we’re never told which Crusade it is, we’re never given a country in which it takes place, and magic’s a real thing, I decided ‘Retelling’ was the best bet)
So I feel like I ought to start this review with an apology to my friend Drew because when I started reading the Once Upon a Time series back in high school, this was his favorite book of that series, but when I read it, I hated it. That was almost a decade ago, though, so I tried to go into the reread with an open mind, but … sorry, Drew. I still hated it. At least now, though, I hope I can be better about articulating why.
And the best way I can think of to do that is to explain that Northanger Abbey is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and then to reassure you that, yes, this has a point. See, Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s most satirical novel, and it spends the majority of its time making fun of Gothic romances and everything they entail. I love this because I hate Gothic romances and the tired and cliche melodrama they’re made up of.
In other words, if Jane Austen was writing today, it would be books like Scarlet Moon that she was making fun of. This book is so over-the-top melodramatic, teen paranormal romance in the worst way. And hey. If that’s your thing, fine. But for me? Let’s just say that forcing myself to finish this novel was a pretty big task. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
Type of Adaptation: Futuristic Retelling
So, Scarlet is the sequel to Cinder, which we read last month, and I was a little wary of adding it to the review list because of that. And true enough, there’s about half of this book I won’t be touching because it’s a continuation of Cinder’s story, which isn’t our current focus. But I really wanted to read this sequel, and it was Little Red Riding Hood, so …
And as an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, this book surprised me. But in a good way.
Where Cinder took place in the Asia area of this futuristic, post-WWIV version of earth, Scarlet takes place in Europe, specifically France. Scarlet is a teenage girl who works alongside her grandmother at a small country farm. Scarlet is largely responsible for driving the delivery hover to vendors in the city and delivering their food.
But Scarlet has been fighting a problem for some time when our story opens, and that’s that her grandmother is missing, and has been for almost two weeks. The police have decided that there is no foul play involved in her disappearance, but Scarlet knows otherwise, and if the police won’t help her, then Scarlet is determined to find her grandmother on her own.
Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: So you think know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions:
-Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged?
-Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest?
-Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared?
-Who is the strangest? (Notice we’re not “not including” anyone, because they’re all a little off.)
-Who (no fair saying “the author”) has stuffing for brains?
Vivian Vande Velde has taken eight new looks at one of the world’s most beloved (and mixed-up) stories. You may never look at fairy tales in quite the same way again
Type of Adaptation: Retellings
So, as I stated before, I believe, Vivian Vande Velde is a writer after my own heart. I would love to sit in a room with her and talk about fairy tales and how silly some of them are, and if she continues to write short story anthologies on what I like to term the “Then I Found Five Dollars” fairy tales, I will be a very happy lady.
And in this anthology, like in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, she has tackled the issues she (and I) has with Little Red Riding Hood in eight short stories, so let’s just jump right in, yes? Yes.
Little Red Riding Hood (According to Cassie)
So basically, there’s this girl, and she’s named after a piece of clothing because that makes perfect sense. She lives with her mother on the edge of the woods; if there’s a father, we never hear about him.
There’s a grandmother, though, and she lives in the middle of the woods, and she’s also been feeling a bit under the weather, so Mother asks young Little Red to take a basket of bread and wine into the forest for Granny, to make her feel better. Why we’re sending wine and not soup or something isn’t made clear, but hey. Alcohol’s medicinal, right? Though it should be noted that not everyone includes the wine. Perrault just had them send a cake and some butter because that’ll heal a body right up!
Anyway, the mother packs the basket and sends Little Red out into the woods. In some versions, she gives instructions: don’t talk to strangers and don’t stray from the path; but in Perrault’s, the little girl just goes skipping off into the woods with alcohol and sugar for the invalid.
And as she skips along the path into the woods, who should she encounter but a wolf! And not just any sort of wolf — a talking wolf! Why a little girl has been sent alone into a forest containing a talking wolf is not addressed. Nor is it addressed why an invalided old lady is living alone in a forest containing a talking wolf.
Anyway, Little Red meets this wolf and does not immediately turn and run in the opposite direction. Nor does she express any sort of surprise at the fact that this wolf strikes up a conversation with her, so maybe in this world, talking animals are fairly commonplace.
Or maybe Little Red is just an idiot. I mean, that’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, given what happens next.
Because the wolf starts chatting up Little Red, asking where she’s going and what’s in her basket and why she’s in the woods. And Little Red doesn’t say “none of your business” or “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” or “why do you care?” No, instead she flat out tells him that her grandmother lives alone and is sick, and then, she practically draws him a map with GPS coordinates for how to find said sick old woman who can’t possibly defend herself.
Seriously, it’s not, “I’m visiting my grandma who lives in the forest.” That would be not too smart, but the forest is a big place, and hey, maybe grandma’s a lumberjack or something. But, no. No, Little Red tells this wolf exactly where to find her sick grandma, which house in which part of the woods and all. And then, the wolf proposes that they race to grandma’s and see who can get there first.
No, none of this strikes Little Red as suspect at all. Which means she’s either young enough that she shouldn’t be wandering around a forest on her own or dumb enough that she shouldn’t be wandering around a forest on her own. Either way, this girl really ought to be supervised, is what I’m saying.
So, Little Red finds nothing creepy or suspicious at all about the wolf’s suggestion, and in fact, seems to entirely forget about it once the wolf follows her incredibly specific directions and heads away. In some versions, he specifically distracts her by suggesting she go further into the woods to gather flowers for her grandmother, but in Perrault’s, he doesn’t have to! The child wanders away of her own accord, and honestly, I’m surprised it took this long.
So, yeah, the wolf gets to Granny’s way ahead of Little Red, and in a move that provides decent evidence that Little Red’s idiocy might just be hereditary, this obviously male wolf tells Granny that he is her granddaughter, and she gives him instructions on how to unlock the door from the outside and invites him right in. Having very easily gained entrance to the house, the wolf eats Granny.
Then he dresses himself in her nightgown and climbs into bed to wait for Little Red. And soon enough, Little Red shows up. She knocks on the door, and when the wolf answers, claiming to be her grandmother, Little Red is slightly alarmed by the sound of his voice, but decides that her grandma must just be hoarse because of her cold, and so she goes right in. This, to me, is slightly excusable.
But what happens next is not. Little Red heads for Granny’s room, and sees the wolf in Granny’s nightdress. And despite the fact that a) she met this same wolf earlier, b) he told her he was going to be heading to Granny’s, c) she’s already suspicious because of the unfamiliar voice, and d) it’s a freakin’ wolf in a nightdress!!!, Little Red does not immediately recognize that it is not her grandmother in the room with her.
Now, I’m no expert, nor did I grow up in this fantasy land, but it seems to me that if you have difficulty distinguishing between your grandmother and a wolf in a nightdress, then you either need to have your eyes checked, your head examined, or offer some sort of explanation as to why your grandmother is regularly covered in fur.
And what gets me about this is how Little Red knows that something’s wrong … she just can’t quite put her finger on what. Is it the fur-covered arms and legs that end in paws and claws? No … Is it the pointed, furry ears on top of the head? No… Is it the glowing yellow eyes? No … Is it the fangs in the snout-like mouth? Oh. Yup. That was it. The teeth. Being eaten now. Shucks. Wish I could have seen that coming.
That’s the end of the story, by the way. Little Red gets eaten, along with Granny, the wolf enjoys a nice full meal and heads off, presumably in search of other idiotic little girls to eat. No huntsman, no rescue, no survival. This is the end of the tale, as far as Perrault is concerned.
Honestly, if it weren’t for Perrault’s heavy-handed moral, I’d really be okay with that. Seriously. Act like an idiot, get eaten by a wolf. Works for me. Unfortunately, though, Perrault’s moral is not ‘Learn to tell the difference between your family members and hungry wild animals, you idiot child.’ No, his moral is this:
“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”
Thanks, Charlie. Your concern for the well being of children, particularly “attractive, well-bred young ladies,” is really quite sexist and condescending. But what else is new? And point of interest: morals become slightly less effective when they’re longer than the story you were telling in the first place. Also, if you have to explain the metaphor.
And, yeah, I know the story has been continued in many other versions. The wolf curls up to sleep after eating Little Red, and a huntsman, the smartest human in the forest, apparently, passes by and realizes that wolves don’t normally curl up in nightdresses, so he figures out that something strange is afoot. He cuts open the wolf’s stomach (which somehow doesn’t kill said wolf) and out climb Little Red and Granny, somehow not dead despite having been eaten.
Then Granny fills the wolf’s stomach with rocks to kill him in a slow, torturous, agonizing death that I really don’t feel he deserved, skins him once he’s dead, and makes Little Red a cloak from the skin.
Guess she’ll have to have her name legally changed now.
Thoughts on this story?
It should be noted that I am entirely ignoring the incredibly rape-y original oral versions of this story, and focusing on when it got written down for kids.
As you might be able to glean from the heightened levels of snark in this synopsis, this fairy tale kinda rubs me the wrong way, at least with the common ending. I can get behind it as Perrault’s morality tale, even if I think the moral he identified is stupid and sexist. If the purpose of this story is to say, “hey, this is what happens when you’re an unobservant idiot, try thinking before you act next time,” then I’m totally down with it.
The problem is, that’s not what this story is, usually. When you add the huntsman and the rescue and the wolf’s death … what are you left with? No one learns anything, no one grows as a character, and there’s no point to this story. It’s Rumpelstiltskin all over again. I disobeyed my mother, I got eaten by a wolf, I was rescued by a huntsman, and then I found five dollars.
So. What am I looking for in an adaptation?
Make Little Red less of an idiot. Make her innocent and naive and overly trusting, by all means. But make her less of an idiot, and let’s see some growth by the end of the story, hmm?
Develop the world. I want background and exposition and explanation. There are questions we don’t ask in a morality tale, but when it’s novel length, I need answers. Why do the wolves talk? Why is that not cause for concern? Why does the wolf want to eat the humans? Why is the wolf so easily mistaken for Granny? I need this world to be more developed and more defined, offering answers to some of those questions.
Give me a point. For the love of God, give me a point. Just like with Rumpelstiltskin, why are you telling this story? What’s your message? What’s your ending? Why should I care about your story?
Week 1: Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde
Week 2: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Week 3: Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue
Week 4: Princess of the Silver Wood by Jessica Day George
Feel free to read along!
As ubiquitous as the fairy tale of Cinderella is in cultures around the world, it is easily as ubiquitous in fairy tale novelizations. There have been months in the past where the struggle was finding enough novels to fill a full month. Here, the struggle lay in narrowing down the choice (in other words, the “Other Notable Novels” section is going to be quite full this month).
And yet, for all that that is true, almost every novelization I could have read and reviewed pulls from Perrault’s Cinderella. There are exceptions, of course. Donna Jo Napoli has a wonderful one that uses the Chinese Cinderella as its basis, and Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters Cinderella retelling uses more of Grimm’s, but for the most part, authors tend to latch onto Perrault’s.
And that got me thinking — why? Why fixate on arguably the weakest version of Cinderella out there, a story with a heroine so helpless she can’t even voice her own wishes? And then it occurred to me (and hang onto your hats, folks. I’m about to go Super Meta):
Maybe authors latch onto Perrault’s Cinderella because she’s the one most in need of rescue. Not from an evil curse, not from enforced servitude, but from the very confines of her own story told by an incredibly sexist narrator (appreciate as much as you want the work that Perrault did in terms of collecting and reproducing oral tradition tales in France; I certainly do. But that appreciation aside, you can’t deny that he was sexist and chauvinistic, and the stories he chose to collect and the way he chose to tell them reflect this).
I think authors tend to hone in on Perrault’s Cinderella because they want so badly to rescue Perrault’s Cinderella, above and beyond the other Cinderellas out there. Because Grimm’s made her own way to the ball. Chinese, Russian, Native American Cinderellas took charge of their own destinies. And so many other Cinderella figures out there – even if they couldn’t go after what they wanted, they could at least articulate it. But Perrault’s is so terribly helpless, you can’t help but want to give her a stronger personality and some small measure of control.
Because that’s what I noticed this month. Without exception, every Cinderella from every novelization was far less passive, far more proactive, far less willing to sit around and wait for her life to improve. Across the board, we got Cinderellas with gumption and fire and stubbornness, far more than Perrault’s ever showed.
I also noticed that all five of these novels offered Cinderella friends, another thing missing from Perrault’s tale. Ella from Just Ella had Jed and Mary; Poppy had Christian and Marianne and Dickon; Cinder had Peony and her android and Kai; Cindy had Malcolm and India; and Ella from Ella Enchanted had Char and Areida and Mandy. None of our Cinderellas were left alone, and in four out of five cases, they all met and became friends with the prince long before the ball, and in the one instance they didn’t, he turned out to be an idiot.
So, we give her passion, and we give her friends, and I think that’s significant. Every novel we read this month stressed the importance of those two things above and beyond the importance of romance, and it’s hard not to be a fan of that.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George both come Highly Recommended and remain some of my favorite novel adaptations.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Cinder by Marissa Meyer are both Recommended for sure.
Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer was pretty disappointing, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go out of their way to read it.
Other Notable Novels: Tons. Seriously, guys, there are so many.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, which tells the tale of the Chinese Cinderella.
Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey, which is one of my favorite of her Elemental Masters series.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, which I haven’t read for a while but remember being blown away by.
Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey, which has a fantastic take on Cinderella’s father.
I Was a Rat by Philip Pullman, which examines the story from the perspective of one of the rats turned into a footman, and is tons of fun.
And I’m gonna go ahead and throw out The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C Hines and The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, both of which have Cinderella as a character combined with other fairy tale characters in truly wonderful ways.
Also, someone please read Cinderella: Ninja Warrior for me? My copy had to go back to the library before I could read it, and I just want to know!
There are so many others, guys. Cinderella is everywhere! But the month is up, and we have to move on.
April’s fairy tale is Little Red Riding Hood!