Once upon a time there was somebody good and when their struggle was overcome they found that magical happily ever after.
Sleeping Beauty with true love’s kiss, Cinderella had a glass slipper (and some crafty mice), The Little Mermaid got to keep her legs and Beauty married the Beast, who’s now a Prince. Hey she got the library so can’t really begrudge her too much.
Yet, once upon another time one there is a Sleeping Beauty who is raped and wakes only after she gives birth. She marries a king, who is her rapist but that’s fairy-tales. Cinderella (or rather Aschenputtel) does get her reward, after her stepsisters fail to make the slipper fit despite cutting of their toes and heels. They also get their eyes pecked out by doves. The Little Mermaid doesn’t get her prince, he marries somebody else. She kills herself because she’s unable to murder him, even though it would save her. Instead she turns into sea form.
In Japan there is Yuki-onna. She appears in snow storms, either watching people die by leading them astray or actively bringing about their downfall. Yuki-onna is pure evil or ethereal beauty with human emotions (depending on which narration you choose).
While glass slippers and magic roses have a place, there is a monster in the forest.
Zoë Marriott and I will be talking about the dark origins of fairy- & folktales. How they’ve influenced us and what there is left to explore.
Make sure your doors and windows and locked because you never know what could be crawling through the cracks.
Luna’s question to Zoë: Japan has so many legends, folktales and myths that there is a demon for just about everything. Which leads me to my first question; when you were researching The Name of Blade Trilogy you got dive into that world. Which were the best and what ones gave you nightmares?
Before I say anything else, I just want to say – thanks for having me on your lovely blog, Luna! And that’s a very good question, but it’s super hard to answer because Japanese myths and legends are totally bonkers in the best way. Every yokai – the Japanese word for a supernatural creature, spirit or ghoul – is so unique and strange to a Western perspective, like nothing you’ve ever heard about before. It’s almost as if you’re an alien learning about an entirely new planet’s culture.
If my arm was twisted, I would have to admit that my favourites are probably the kitsune. I mean, come on – they’re immortal, genderfluid fox shapeshifters who grow a new tail every hundred years and shoot lightning out of those same tails. They’re so much more interesting than macho werewolves and tortured vampires that I can’t believe everyone isn’t writing about them! My editor could hardly believe I hadn’t just made them up. And it was a story about a fox woman in the Reader’s Digest Big Book of International Fairytales that sparked my initial fascination with Japan when I was about nine.
But I also have a soft spot for the kamaitachi, the flying invisible weasels. If a sudden wind whips past you and blows you around, or you get a static shock or a sudden cut on your skin that you don’t remember receiving – it’s invisible flying weasels!
As for nightmares, for anyone who’s read the final book of the trilogy, I probably don’t even need to name the worst yokai. It’s jorogumo, a centuries old, giant spider who gains the ability to take on the illusion of a beautiful woman to lure her prey into a web and slowly feast on their blood. So many readers told me off for freaking them out with jorogumo, but she was just so awful, once I read about her I sort of had to exorcise her on the page or she’d have stuck around in my brain forever. *Shudders*
Zoë’s question to Luna: And now I’ve got a question for you, Luna – do you have a favourite fairytale or international myth that you’ve always wanted to see dealt with in fiction? Maybe one you’ve always wanted to write about yourself?
My favourite is the story of Allerleirauh. The second half of tale is familiar. Balls, dresses and marriage to a prince but the beginning…
Allerleirauh’s father, who is a king, promises his wife on her death bed that he will never marry another unless she is as beautiful and he keeps this promise. Unable to find a new wife he is alone until one day he notices that his daughter has grown up and she fits this criteria. Allerleirauh tries to escape the marriage by setting her father impossible tasks. Dressers of sun-, star- and moonlight and a coat made of fur from every animal in the kingdom. Hence the name Allerleirauh, as the English translation of the story is either All-Kinds-of-Fur or Thousandfurs.
Robin McKinley wrote a book based on another version of the tale by Charles Perrault, called Deerskin. It’s amazing but I think there is so much left to explore with Allerleirauh. I mean how many version of Cinderella are there? (*cough* everybody read Shadows on the Moon *cough, cough*) I wouldn’t even want to begin to count.
Allerleirauh experiences one of the deepest betrayals. Her father convinces the kingdom him marrying his own daughter (can we please take a moment to appreciate what this means!) is a good idea and they agree. The ending with the prince of another kingdom wasn’t what spoke to me when I was little, or what I love about it now – it’s that Allerleirauh fights for herself.
I am pretty sure though that I worried my teacher, because when she was reading us Grimm’s stories (think I was about 9) and I said this was my favourite, I just got this look. Allerleirauh was not in the children friendly collection she was reading from.
Which I suppose leads to my next question. These tales change and evolve all the time, sometimes through retelling and sometimes through censorship. Even the Grimm’s Brothers edited their own collections. Originally Hansel & Gretel’s and Snow White’s own mothers, not their stepmothers, who set out to destroy them. I’m assuming it is less harrowing if it was a stepmother, which is why it was changed later.
Luna’s question to Zoë: When you’ve found inspiration to write a story that takes its roots either in fairytales or myth, how do you decide what to keep and what do you want to achieve with your book that sets it apart from others?
I actually think that some of the process isn’t really conscious? By which I mean: we all respond to myths and fairytales in quite an instinctive way, because they’re ancient tales based on ancient archetypes that have the potential to reach directly into our backbrains and hit us there emotionally. But they affect us all in different ways for different reasons, because we’re individuals, too. So the things that I find vitally important about a particular piece of mythology or folklore can often be completely different to the things that would affect someone else.
For instance, when I was writing my very first fairytale retelling, The Swan Kingdom (which is based mostly on The Seven Swans by Hans Christian Andersen, but also a bit on The Children of Lyr from the Celtic Mabinogion) the way my narrative constructed itself was driven by my need to answer a bunch of questions I had about the story. Because it had always struck me as being full of all these gaps, liminal spaces begging to filled with history and context, and some kind of human, pyschological reason for the characters actions. I wanted to know what had happened to the children’s mother, and how this little silent, oppressed girl could have such immense strength and resolution, and what her brothers were really like, and how their father could treat them all that way, and where did this terrible, wicked stepmother come from in the first place?
And because to me that was the heart of what I was trying to achieve – making sense of just what was going on in everyone’s heads – other things, like the traditional ending of the HCA tale where the heroine is accused of witchcraft and tied to a stake to be burned, only to be saved at the last moment, didn’t really seem vitally important. In fact, it needed to go by the wayside. It couldn’t be justified. My hero would never act that way, and besides, I didn’t want to write a book where the ‘happy ending’ was the heroine being stuck with a man who had been totally OK with murdering her five minutes before. Not to mention that her world was full of magic, so the idea of witchcraft being anathema didn’t work.
But for someone else, that might have been the most vital aspect of the story! They’d mentally anchor their version of the tale there, with the symbolic death and the flames turning to flowers, and their retelling would form around that like a pearl forming around a piece of sand in an oyster. Nicholas Stuart Gray wrote a whole play based on his fascination with the idea that the youngest brother never fully transformed back, and ended up stuck with a swan’s wing permanently. Obviously that part touched him deeply. But to me, it was an afterthought that didn’t fit.
Having said all that, though, some things *are* conscious. Just because you’re working with archetypes, it’s not an excuse for allowing everything else to be a tired cliche. For instance, in writing Barefoot on the Wind I wanted to turn certain classic Beauty and the Beast tropes on their head and I had to think long and hard about the best way to do that, about what structures from the original story needed to be preserved so that the subversion of other parts would really hit home. It was really important to me that the heroine wasn’t constantly being backed into corners by the male characters, but was making her own choices within the story and driving events. To make it clear that was happening, the structure of the book had to follow the original story’s quite closely – the difference being WHY and HOW those plot points took place.
And other problematic things needed to be tackled too, consciously and thoughtfully. Like the decision that my beast’s form would not be dark and hulking (which is something we take for granted in our fictional monsters but which, actually, is quite an icky trend if you think about it for five minues) but would instead be white and beautiful, so I could make the point that dark/ugly =/= evil. His ‘beastliness’ would come from his own lack of control, the danger he posed to others in that form. And my heroine, Hana, needed to be plain to make the point that physical beauty =/= virtue.
So what it all comes down to is that it’s a mixture, really, of figuring out what the emotional heart of the story or myth is for you and trimming away extraneous bits, and then making good, thoughtful choices about how to tell that vital story without being problematic as Hell about it 🙂
Whoo, long answer – sorry!
Anyway, that touches on the question that I wanted to put to you…
Zoë’s question to Luna: …which is about how fairytales in particular have evolved into something that we consider to be fluffy, pat and child friendly, despite the fact that the original versions were hugely adult and filled with gruesome murder, torture, and rape. Do you think we’ve gone too far in sanitizing them and ruined them? Or were the first versions condoning awful behaviour, and the new versions show how far we’ve come since then? Or is there room for both?
I definitely think there is room for both. Sometimes you just need fluffy and there is something about the happily-ever-after-versions has reassurance. Taking the Disney adaptations for example, it’s like a safety bubble. You know the “good one” will win and there is a guaranteed happy. But it’s also too easy to pick those films apart and don’t get me started on the whole ‘Disney Princesses’ brand thing…
To be fair the good will triumph over evil is prominent in most Western Fairtytales. There is generally a comeuppance for the one inflicting suffering, while the one who suffered gets rewarded.
One of the things I dearly miss about Germany is Sonntagsmärchen (SundayFairytales). It’s been running in different guises since I think the 60/70s. They are made for TV movies, but based more closely on the original versions. So the violence is toned down yet they haven’t erased it. For example in Die Gänsemagd (The Goose Girl) the princess still talks to the mounted horse head over the gate and in Aschenputtel (aka Cinderella) her sisters hack at their feet to fit into the shoe. It’s not graphic but the audience knows it’s happened.
I grew up with both of these, Disney and Märchen-films, as well as having various Grimm collections on my bookshelf. As much as the lightness of sanitized fairytales has its appeal I do think we’d be losing something if that is the only type. I really wish they had something like Sonntagsmärchen in the UK.
As I’ve delved into fairytales and their origens, I keep learning more. Like Little Red Riding Hood, this started out as medieval tale and was about losing innocence. The Bad Wolf leading you astray… She gets asked the question: “Do you choose the paths of pins, or the path of needles?” The path of pins being the one of innocence, this is all down to the sewing instruments of the time and what they symbolised. I find that fascinating.
Each side of this has its pull, and I don’t want retellings to stop but if I could only choose to stay with one, it would always be the originals. Even in a world of magic, the good don’t necessarily win and yes people do truly terrible things to each other. Personally, they hold more truth for me.
Luna’s question to Zoë: I guess it would be a little remiss not to ask what fairytale you loved / or affected you the most growing up and which you one you wish you never found out about?
Before I answer that, I just wanted to respond to what you said above by putting in a world for The Storyteller, that used to be on TV when I was a kid. I LOVED IT. It had a lot of that sense of darkness and depth you’re talking about, but at the same time it was very accessible for kids, too. Bring The Storyteller back, I say! And give us more fairytales in general! There used to be a magical fairytale quality to a lot of the really good children’s TV when I was growing up – Bagpuss, for example, is so unbearably melancholy and beautiful and dream-logic-y if you watch it as an adult. A lot of kid’s entertainment now is designed to sell merchandise and can often (in an attempt to appeal to certain demographics and not offend anyone) be kind of bland and slick and generic. Not everything, of course! There’s still loads of good stuff. In my opinion they’ve never made a big-budget Batman or Superman film that’s half as good as the animated series and movies…
Ahem. Where was I?
Oh yes, fairytales which affected me growing up… well, I’m glad we talked a bit about TV, actually, because it’s reminded me of a fairytale that I loved as a kid (and which was on The Storyteller!) which was East of the Sun, West of the Moon. That’s the one where the heroine ends up married to a prince who is trapped in the form of a bear, and (Cupid and Psyche-like) accidentally loses him when she glimpses his real, human form one night. Then she has to undergo several challenges and travel great distances to get him back, aided by three magical walnut shells, each of which contain (depending on the version) either a different beautiful dress to wear to a ball in order to win his heart again, or else exactly the right supplies she needs to break into her rival’s palace and rescue him.
Edit Pattou did a retelling of this called EAST (North Child in the UK) which was so masterful that it’s so far put me off trying to do my own version – I highly recommend it. But in the original version, I think I was very drawn to the way that each part of the story had new stories nestled within it, like the magical walnut shells themselves. The heroine’s resolution and courage had a big impact on me, too. Aside from The Wild Swans, probably that story was my favourite as a child, although I can still remember thinking that if I’d had the good luck to be married to an awesome giant bear, I would have been very disappointed if he ended up being transformed into a boring old human prince later on.
As to myths or stories I wish I’d never read… well, I have to admit that the first time I read Italo Calvino’s versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and realised that True Love’s Kiss started out as rape on an unconscious young woman… it definitely made me feel extremely nauseous. I also had a slightly morbid fascination with the tale of Branwen from the Mabinogion growing up – she was virtuous, kind and wise, yet she had nothing but misery and mistreatment from every person in her life who ought to have loved her, and this culminates in her son being horrifically killed by her half-brother, and then her dying of a broken heart blaming herself for everything. I’ve always felt so very sorry for her. I even used her name for the tragic queen in The Swan Kingdom.
Zoë’s question to Luna: Why do you love reading fairytales, Luna – why do you think you in particular, and people in general, are still so drawn to them?
You know I spent a few hours pondering that question. Why do you love writing them? (That’s your question btw; turnabout is fair play and all that.)
I’m not sure I can answer for people in general. I’m not even sure I have an answer for myself. My initial reaction was “because”. Which isn’t much of an answer but after a lot of thinking and overanalysing oneself (which I wouldn’t recommend) – I guess its reassurance and familiarity.
As I’ve said in my previous answer, Western Fairytales do follow a set structure. Even at their darkest the person suffering will generally find a reward at the end.
With retellings the reader has a starting point, and no matter how different the new story, the ending still follows the same structure as the original that inspired it. Not a happily ever after necessarily, but there is a resolution and hope. As the reader you know this before you begin. I’ve not come across a retelling that has ended badly (if there is one, this theory of mine collapses).
Luna’s question to Zoë: So yes, why do you why do you love writing stories inspired by fairytales and myth? And why do you think people in general, are still so drawn to them? (Yep, Luna mean…)
You’re not mean at all! I think I’ve sort of already given my answer away though, at least partially. I talked before about how I felt The Wild Swans called for a retelling because, to me, it was full of liminal spaces. Well, I think, to a certain extent, all fairytales are like that, full of gaps which are just begging to be filled with our own interpretations – something which dates back to the oral storytelling traditions which gave rise to our concept of ‘fiction in the first place. People never saw stories as static then, as finished, as definitive. Stories were living things, ever changing, and everyone added their own flourishes or regional or cultural details to bring those tales to life. That’s what is so fascinating about folklore, to a writer – these are narratives which are designed to be evolving, which offer more questions than answers, that beg to be examined, subverted, reinterpreted.
In fact, I don’t think you need to be a writer to feel that, I think ALL people feel that way about our common mythological background. As a species, we seem to need to reinterpret these stories at least once in every generation. And of course we each interpret them differently as individuals, too.
When the live action Disney Cinderella came out not long ago, I saw a furore on Tumblr about it, because some people claimed that the central message of the story was anti-Feminist and encouraged women to be passive and accept abuse or mistreatment rather than fighting back. Others said that this completely misunderstood the tenets of Feminism – which are not, in fact, that all woman should be kicking ass in leather pants at all times – and that surviving abuse is not something women should be shamed for. But they were both right! An individual interpretation of that kind is only valid in so far as *everyone’s* interpretation is valid. If Cinderella seems like Feminist Icon to you, then she is. And if she seems like a shallow, misogynistic shell of a female character, that is also correct. The chameleon-like nature of these stories and characters is what gives them their enduring strength of appeal. They stay with us because they are always the same, yet literally never the same twice.
I sincerely hope that little girls (and hopefully boys) in five hundred years time will be going to parties dressed up as Cinderella, that well-known fairytale hero who crashes the Princes’ ball in order to save him from robot assassins. No doubt people will be up in arms about that version of the story, too – which is what will give it the strength to keep on going strong for another five hundred years 🙂
Zoë’s question to Luna: What is your favourite retelling or cinematic version of a fairytale, myth, or folklore – and why?
I’m going to pick two films, both retellings of Cinderella and both very different from each other. The first is The Slipper and the Rose, a British Musical Retelling from 1976 – way before I was born.
I grew up on old movies, and this one was a regular. My mother loved the song ‘Protocoligorically Correct’ and my father the sarcasm of Annette Crosbie, who plays the Fairy Godmother. The Slipper and the Rose is more traditional retelling, with great songs and costumes. I loved it when I was little and I have a lot of memories that are tied to it.
The other Cinderella retelling is Ever After. It’s still traditional in the sense of the setting but Danielle is different from many of the Cinderella’s I’ve come across. She’s confined by her status and the society she lives in but so strong willed. She transforms the prince, rebels against her stepmother and won’t be broken. Plus she loves books, so you know bonus points.
Luna’s question to Zoë: So, everybody who visits Luna’s Little Library gets this: What is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
Hmmm, this is a toughie, especially since all your questions here have been so good! Actually, I think I know, because my favourite thing to do (well, one of my favourite things, besides cooking, going to the cinema, taking my dogs for long walks and singing power ballads super loud when there’s no one around to hear) is recommend books that I love to people. And my biggest rec right now would be UPROOTED by Naomi Novik, which is a simply brilliant version of Beauty and the Beast set in a kind of fantasy version of Medieval Poland, and one of those books that the moment you begin to read it you *know* you’ll be re-reading it over and over for the rest of your life. Go get it! Now!
Note from Luna: I did. 😀
A companion title to Zoë Marriott’s critically acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND is a darkly magical retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in fairytale Japan.
There is a monster in the forest…
Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it – or be killed herself.
But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…
Win a signed set of Zoë’s amazing The Name of the Blade Trilogy!
(Seriously you’ll want these – SO GOOD!)
To enter just click HERE
Ends 21st August 2016
I was born and raised in Lincolnshire, where the wild North Sea meets the gentle green-gold curves of the Wold, and I’ve known that I wanted to be a writer since I finished reading my first book; ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton. I think I was about eight, but I’ve never changed my mind in all the years since then.
I got my first publishing contract when I was twenty-two, but had to wait until I was twenty-four to see my debut novel – The Swan Kingdom – published. It went on to be shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and the Lincolnshire Young People’s Book Award, and become a USBBY Outstanding International Book, among other honours.
Since then I’ve written many other books and have been lucky enough to win or be nominated for many other awards, including the Great Britain Sasakawa Prize and a second place in the Lancashire Book of the Year Awards. I have also received grants from the Royal Literary Fund and the Arts Council England.
I currently live in a little house in a town by the sea, with my two rescued cats, one called Hero after a Shakespearian character and one Echo after a nymph from a Greek myth. I also have a springer/cocker spaniel called Finbar (otherwise known as The Devil Hound).
My favourite colour is green. My favourite food is Chinese dim sum. My favourite songs are ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ by Death Cab for Cutie and ‘Spem in Alium’ by Thomas Tallis.
Read all of Luna’s reviews here:
Frail Human Heart (The Name of the Blade #3)
Darkness Hidden (The Name of the Blade #2)
The Night Itself (The Name of the Blade #1)
Shadows on the Moon
Daughter of the Flames (Ruan #1)
Frostfire (Ruan #2)
The Swan Kingdom
You can also enjoy the live-tweet experience of me reading Zoë’s newest book, Barefoot on the Wind, by clicking on the link HERE
YA Shot is in partnership with Hillingdon Libraries and Waterstones Uxbridge, the main aim of YA SHOT is to highlight the importance and value of local libraries, with the big event taking place on October 22nd.
To find out more information about YA SHOT, visit https://yashot.wordpress.com and follow the blog/vlog tour to it’s next stop!