When I was a little girl, I loved fairy tales. I owned anthologies of fairy tales, picture books of individual fairy tales, Disney VHS tapes.
Yeah, I was basically raised on the stuff. Stories of fairies and princesses, of evil stepmothers and witches, of gingerbread houses and castles and towers. Oh, and princes. Always princes, who are charming and handsome and who can perform death-reversing kisses.
My favourites were Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Rose Red, and Beautiful Vasilisa.
The love for fairy tales didn’t die with age, but doubt certainly grew. Why did princes always save the day? Why didn’t the fairy godmother in Cinderella save her from her horrible step family? Why was the evil queen so vain in Snow White? Why did girls get married to boys they barely met? How the hell did Little Red survive the gastrointestinal system of a wolf? (Seriously, if she loved her grandmother so much, why can’t she tell the difference between her and a canine?) And lets not forget the very flawed logic of a shoe that fits Cinderella alone (unrealistic unique shoe size is unrealistic), and yet is loose enough to conveniently fall off her foot when running down staircases.
This is where adaptations come in. Fairy tales are usually so short. The bare bones of a story, plagued with plot holes, and adaptations build on that framework. Ella in Ella Enchanted had fairy feet, so they were exceptionally small. Charlotte needs to know Jack Spinner’s real name to send his soul back to the grave. Wolf wants Scarlet and has violent episodes because he’s ruled by animalistic tendencies (the original fairytale’s sexual undertones transfer so well here). Cress (a reimagined Rapunzel), is emotionally unstable from being isolated from society, is both amazed and overwhelmed by the vastness of the world, and fantasizes madly about the first man she meets.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Cress is a little fangirl. And I adore that about her characterization. Meyer really thinks about what these situations in fairy tales do to the psychology of the recipients. And Cress’s little obsession with Thorne is a perfect example.
Because what are the odds that an isolated, impressionable young woman is going to fall in love with the first man she’s thinks is remotely handsome? Pretty darn high. And what are the odds that the guy is actually a scumbag who’s going to break her heart?
Okay, well, more likely the latter than the former in that last question, since the odds that the guy who finds her is the one with whom she can maintain a healthy relationship with are pretty darn slim.
But in Cress, Thorne and the situation force Cress to forget the fantasies and the (rather ironically) fairy tales she’s grown up with. Same with Cinder, who’s fairy tale salvation holds political strife. Same with Scarlet, who’s handsome prince is also under the liability of being turned into a senseless killing machine at any given moment.
And that’s what I like the most about fairy tale retellings. Authors recognize that love isn’t instant. Just because someone performs CPR on a girl doesn’t mean she’s going to marry him on the spot.
(And yes, that is a jab at Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.)
These characters have to work for it. Ella and Char are friends. Ella in Just Ella realizes the Prince is a moron and goes to be with clergyman. Cinder’s not afraid to be genuine with Kai, and Kai isn’t afraid of Cinder’s cyborg physicality. Scarlet tames Wolf and Wolf keeps her from being reckless, because they want to protect each other. And Cress and Thorne? Thorne helps her see reality, and Cress helps him be sincere.
It makes fairy tales relevant again, and I love that.
What are your favourite fairy tale retellings? Why do you like to read them?