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Tag Archives: Fairy Tales

A while back my CPs and I realized we were all tapping into elements of popular fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and (mine) Cinderella. We didn’t see it as a Bad Thing. These stories have something called “enduring appeal”. Nothing wrong with that!

I’ve been thinking about Cinderella again (must be one of my favorites) and here are some of the reasons for her popularity:

  • The idea of a magical night where one meets (and instantly recognizes) one’s soul-mate. Glass slipper optional.
  • The whole rags-to-riches, ugliness-to-beauty transformation.
  • The desire to be rescued from one’s humdrum existence, the whole “Calgon, take me away!” fantasy.

But the rescue fantasy can also be the downside of a Cinderella story. I enjoyed the classic Disney animated version, but have to admit the mice carried the story. As a child, I wondered if you got a Prince just for putting up with annoying relatives. Knowing I couldn’t have put up with that evil stepmother and mean stepsisters made me feel a bit . . . guilty.

That was before we writers were told it was Bad to have a Passive Heroine who puts up with a toxic situation rather than leave or change it.

More recent retellings make an effort to reverse this. One of my favorite is the movie “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore. A plucky Cinderella, who has good reasons for staying with her family and does NOT meekly accept her fate (she punches out one evil stepsister, and rescues the hero from a band of brigands.)

A more self-conscious effort came in Disney’s remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (the version with Brandy and Whitney Houston). Some people dissed this movie for its interracial cast (but it’s a fairy tale, right, folks?) I enjoyed it for the most part, and thought Pablo Montalban was particularly charming as the prince though Jason Alexander was equally annoying as the palace gofer. Back to the subject, though, in this remake they have Cinderella run away from her toxic family near the end. Of course, on the way out she meets up with the Prince.

One Cinderella retelling I thoroughly enjoyed was Gail Carson Levine’s ELLA ENCHANTED. The movie version was cute, but totally deviated from the book except for the main premise, that Ella struggled against an enchantment that forced her to obey any command from anyone. The book is a fun read, with an important message.

On to some Regency-set romances with Cinderella elements.

ARABELLA, by Georgette Heyer, is perhaps the classic, quintessential London Season story, where a heroine from a modest country family becomes the most sought-after belle in society. It’s great fun, but I have to say too that it’s been imitated far too many times. The other Cinderella element that’s become rather tired is the poor, unappreciated heroine whose mother (or stepmother) unfairly favors her supposedly more beautiful sister.

One story that flipped over the Cinderella concept is AN UNLIKELY HERO, by Gail Eastwood. The hero, Gilbey, is a soft-spoken, scholarly NICE guy who comes into his strength while aiding the heroine and her sister. Loved this one!

A more obviously Cinderella-inspired story is ONE NIGHT OF PASSION, by Elizabeth Boyle. The story starts with the heroine seducing the hero at a Cyprian’s Ball. Though it doesn’t tap much deeper into the fairy tale, it’s a fun, quick read.

So what do you like best/worst about the Cinderella fantasy? When does a Cinderella cross the line from being worthy to being a doormat? Is it going too far to have a kickbutt Cinderella instead?

What are your best/least favorite interpretations of Cinderella?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

Inspiration can come at the most unexpected times—visiting a lovely, historic place, as the posts this week have demonstrated; seeing a movie with a particularly attractive (some would say hunky) man; reading a book, even if it’s not a romance (man, the ideas I’ve gotten from Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon. No, just kidding.)
Chances are, each writer’s inspiration is idiosyncratic, speaking to our most primal thoughts and images. For example, I like visiting a nice historic site, but I don’t think I’d get inspired to write because of it, even if I went to Gretna Green, found a blacksmith, and did that whole anvil thing. All five of my fellow bloggers have posted about places they found inspiring.
Me, I’d probably just look around a little and then go find where they sell the coffee.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy visiting historic places, I do; but I don’t feel my writer’s soul quiver when I’m there. For inspiration, I reach back into what I first loved about Happily Ever After stories and come up with two main sources:
A friend of my mother’s gave me The Green Fairy Book when I was born (I’m certain my parents would have preferred burp cloths, but there you go). Needless to say, it took me a couple of years after that to actually read it. And when I did, my romantic streak was born. Andrew Lang collected and compiled fairy stories from all over the world, from Europe to Africa to Asia. His translations, accompanied by H.J. Ford’s amazing art, defined, and continues to define, romance for me.

There are twelve colored fairy books in all, and I would say I’ve read them all close to a hundred times each. When my copies got too worn out and mildewed, my husband replaced them as a birthday present (and this was before the internet made thoughtful shopping so easy).
Also when I was little, my parents and I lived in New Hampshire (stick with me, I am going somewhere). Since both of them worked, I went to a neighbor’s house after school to play with her daughter and her friend’s two daughters. My babysitter was Trina Schart Hyman, a multiple Caldecott Honor Award winning illustrator. Trina’s artwork featured beautiful, independent women with long, wild hair and handsome, honorable men doing noble deeds (it also featured a guy who looked suspiciously like my dad, Trina’s martini-drinking buddy. I always got the olives.).

I read, and re-read, and re-read these stories hundreds of times. I imagined myself disguised as a boy and rescuing a prince from a dragon. I imagined myself sleeping for twenty years and being awoken by a prince. I imagined myself watching as a prince completed an impossible task set him by my father (notice the plethora of princes?) . Of course, I imagined myself as beautiful, graceful and quick-witted as these heroines, too, even though I was a chubby glasses-wearing asthmatic (I’m not chubby anymore, but don’t ever put my glasses near your cat).
And when it came time to write, I didn’t even give it a second thought. I would write a romance, a story where I knew the ending was going to be happy. Those are the stories, and images, that make me happy. That inspire me.

Romance novels obviously draw inspiration for their plot lines from children’s fairy tales—Cinderella, where the poor scullery-maid gets outfitted in a fabulous gown and meets a handsome prince, Beauty And The Beast, where a woman meets a man whose rough exterior hides a sensitive soul, and stories where the woman must sacrifice herself to an evil being to save her family (sound familiar?), and the evil being ends up being a handsome prince.

Cara’s post about children’s books reminded me of my all-time favorite fairy story collection, which Elena also mentioned: Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books, 13 in all, which gather tales from around the world, including Japan, Romania, Iceland, Africa, and India, as well as the ubiquitous European sources.

(For more information and complete texts (!) of Andrew Lang’s stories, click here. And if you ever get the chance to read one of these books for yourself, pay attention to H.J. Ford’s magnificent illustrations, which aren’t done justice recreated here on the web.)

I’m right in the middle of writing a road/marriage of convenience story, but am already beginning to think about the next book; what are your favorite fairy stories, and how would you translate them into a Regency setting?


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