Thursday, August 4, 2011

2 Novel Approaches to Fairy Tales

Image via Lantern Hollow

I grew up reading fairy and folk stories and I get a special glee out of reading stories that take their inspiration from them. Some of the awesome ones I've been reading lately are:

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Dixon's story is based on the fairy tale of the 12 Dancing Princesses, whose dance shoes are always ruined in the morning, though the girls never seem to leave their rooms. Azalea, the oldest princess, must take care of her little sisters after their mother dies and their father goes off to war, leaving them in mourning, with even the windows of their castle shrouded in black.

But pockets of magic from an evil king still exist within the castle, and Azalea finds a magic tunnel leading them to an evening dance hall where "The Keeper" lives as a spirit and can produce magical balls for the girls to enjoy.

Everything seems well until their father returns an d is enraged at their dancing, which breaks the code of mourning. He invites men to come find their secret, which many use as a guise to flirt with the princesses. Azelea is forced to deal with this suitors while Keeper grows more and more demanding of her, requiring that she find the magical device stopping him from realizing his full power.

An awesomely dark twist on what was originally a light-hearted tale, Entwined was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Azalea is a highly sympathetic character and its easy to get caught up in her misadventures.
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Marillier's novel takes its inspiration from the 6 Swans, in which a young princess must stay silent until she weaves shirts (out of painful material) for her 6 brothers who have been turned to swans. The first Marillier novel I read, Seer of Sevenwaters, takes place in the same universe and two of the brothers appear in that - which is what turned me on to reading the original story of the swan brothers.

Daughter of the Forest is told from the princess's point of view. Sorcha is raised more by her brothers than by her parents (her father absent with war and politics, her mother dead [of course]), and establishes a reputation for herself as a healer in her community before she's reached the age of 13.

When her father remarries, the woman turns her brothers into swans and Sorcha runs away. She encounters the fairy queen who tells her how to reverse the spell, and so begins Sorcha's difficult endeavor. She lives alone in a cave until she is raped by two men who find her there.

Then she leaves on the journey that eventually takes her in the path of one of her father's enemies who takes her home to his castle, certain that she has information regarding his lost brother's fate. Twists and turns in the politics lead to Sorcha being tried as a witch while her enemy/protector is gone searching for his brother.

This was also rather dark (Sorcha is physically and mentally scarred by her rape for much of the book), but the original story is too, so it was inevitable that any story based on it would be dark as well. Sorcha's ability to telepathically communicate with some of her brothers (when they're in human form) and her ability as a healer add unique dimensions to the original princess character. I also like how Sorcha was written as a tomboy who'd rather run around in the woods than sew.

I also have to give an honorable mention to the Fables comic book series created by Bill Willingham. They use all sorts of fairy tales and folklore from around the world to create a story about exiles fables who live in New York where they took refuge as "the Adversary" took dominion of all their fairy tale lands. I haven't read a single part of the series that I didn't like, though I'm not through all of the ones they've made so far.

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