Since Chris started posting about YA and MG novels based on fairy tales and folktales, I’ve been wondering–What is it about modern day twists on fairy tales that I like? I’ve been thinking about some of my favorites examples of this perpetual source for stories. Here’s what I came up with:
It’s fun to “spot the story.”
I loved Francesca Lia Block’s The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold; I liked trying to figure out which fairy tale each modern day story represented, and figuring out how each element from the original story had been translated into something new. The Ice Queen who kidnaps a boy and takes him away to her palace? She’s now a heartless girl looking for her next boy toy. Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel? Now a heroin needle.
Another book that makes “spotting the story” an incredibly satisfying feat is The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber. The main character, an orphan named Lump, meets several fairy tale characters throughout the course of the novel, some easier to spot than others. The fairy tale character Lump himself parallels? The answer is the story’s best surprise.
Familiarity is inviting.
Every fairy tale has its iconic elements: Cinderella has her shoe, Snow White has her dwarfs, Hansel and Gretel have their candy. Stories that create modern-day correlations borrow from what we’re already familiar with. What’s great about that? It’s clever, for one thing, and fun. But we also start off knowing the heart of the story: a new take on Cinderella will still be a rags to riches romance, a new Sleeping Beauty will involve a girl under a curse. We know what to expect and that makes it easier to enter the story.
When a flying carpet and a genie come into the possession of the main character of Diana Wynne Jones’ hilarious Castle in the Air, we know things are bound to get a lot more complicated before they’re going to get better. The story is a twisty-mishmash of The Arabian Nights but with a familiar warning of “be careful what you wish for.”
Modern takes can play on expectations.
We think we know what to expect from a story based on a fairytale. We know that Snow White ends with a kiss. We know witches are evil, princesses are good, step-parents are suspect. But sometimes writers take advantage of that to surprise us. That’s a risky thing to do, because changing a major element of a traditional tale can take a story too far from its source. But surprises can also be fun.