I’ve been a fan of Garth Nix for a long time, as you may know if you’ve followed my Old Kingdom ramblings on this blog for a while. However, I was a little disappointed by one of his more recent children’s offerings, Newt’s Emerald, and only picked up his latest, Frogkisser!, with some trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Frogkisser! ended up being a humorous, sometimes-satirical take on The Frog Prince, and had all of my favorite things — badass women of color, a rambunctious talking puppy, and absolutely zero romance for the fairy tale princess. But surprisingly, unlike other revisionist fairy tales, it reclaims some of the spirit of the original fairy tale, while subverting some, though not all, of what we believe The Frog Prince to be about today.
One of the things that I loved most about the Tyme series, which is a revisionist retelling of several fairy tales, is its depiction of fairy godmothers. In many traditional fairy tales, the fairy godmother is not particularly expanded upon; she’s simply a deus ex machina to get the protagonist from one place to the other. In the Tyme series’s retelling of Cinderella, it takes the concept of fairy godmother and builds on it in both a worldbuilding and a moral way.
After a long couple months of YA books that I couldn’t wholly get behind, I went back to the library to return them and then just wandered the aisles for a while. I didn’t have any other recommendations from friends or websites, so I ended up in the children’s section, picking out, somewhat at random, what looked like a fairy tale adventure with a Black protagonist. The back cover told me it was the second in a series, so I grabbed the first book, as well, and went home to see if they were any good. As it turns out, they were incredible. Not only are they some of the best revisionist fairy tales I’ve read, the book I picked up, Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella, was also centered on social justice and the ills of child labor. Did I mention I found this in the children’s section?
Minor spoilers to follow!
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer may not have caused as much public excitement as some of the other female-led sci-fi/dystopian YA series of the past several years, but it doesn’t mean it’s less deserving of our attention. In fact, it’s a very solid series, led by a team of awesome kickass teen heroines. The plot is engrossing and action-packed and has an intriguing twist to boot—the main four books of the series offer loose, but still recognizable, retellings of four well-known fairy tales: Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty.
Spoilers below for Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter (the main four books of The Lunar Chronicles).
One of the dismaying parts about writing for this column is that you often discover that a thing you really liked a long time ago is super problematic when you revisit it. For example, the last time I reread a Robin McKinley book (The Blue Sword) for a Throwback Thursday, I realized that it’s a dead ringer for the Mighty Whitey trope. Of all of McKinley’s books, Spindle’s End was always one of my favorites, so it was with some trepidation that I picked it up to read it again after several years.
To my great relief, I discovered that, in leaving the world of Damar behind for a different fantasy country, McKinley left her troubling racial tropes behind as well, instead weaving a fairy tale retelling that focuses on the importance of the bonds between several very different women.
Spoilers for a sixteen-year old book after the jump!
I’ve been pretty stressed out recently, so whenever I get a chance, I like to just conk out in front of the TV and relax a little. However, on one of these mindless couch potato outings, my cat decided to curl up on my lap and go to sleep at about the same time the movie on TV ended. This is generally a more than welcome occurrence, but the next movie that came on was… the movie version of Ella Enchanted. I looked around. The remote was out of reach.
Since I obviously couldn’t push my cat off my lap, I ended up, to my immense regret, sitting through most of the movie. Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite books as a kid (and still is today, if we’re being honest). To get the bad taste of the movie out of my mouth, I immediately went to reread my old copy, and I started thinking about why I loved it so much. It’s obviously a revisionist fairy tale, like the many other takes on Cinderella there have been throughout the ages, and what I really admired about this particular take on Cinderella was its worldbuilding. Unlike Maleficient, which didn’t exactly succeed in adding magic to its story, Ella Enchanted added magic to its story in a way that subverted tropes and enhanced its plot and characters.
A while ago, I wrote a Magical Mondays post on inserting magic into previously magic-less narratives. The example in that post—Sleeping Beauty—didn’t do so well with integrating magic into its story, but other tales have fared better. One such story is Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, a novel that is both a revisionist fairy tale and a case of adding magic (successfully!) to historical fiction. Though there are some mature themes to it (rape, war and its aftereffects), it’s a novel well worth reading and analyzing.
Spoilers after the jump!