I’ve been thinking a lot about fairytales lately. My new series, the Chronicles of Nerissette, is based on a group of teenagers who get sucked through a book of fairytales in the library and end up in a magical world that’s on the brink of civil war. As I was writing these books I spent a lot of time pouring over fairytales and fairytale retellings, trying to figure out what it was that made them resonate. What is it about princesses locked in towers and brave princes on white horses that sticks with us. Then I found a quote by G.K. Chesterton and it seemed to sum it up for me:
“Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton
The problem was—in my books, the dragons are the good guys. Not to give away too big of a spoiler—it’s pretty obvious really if you’ve gotten past about page 3—but the love interest in my series is a dragon. But I rolled the quote around in my head and I realized that old G.K. had it half right. It’s not the dragons we need fairytales for—it’s the evil that the dragons in old school fairytales were meant to embody. And I think that’s what fairytales and Harry Potter and all those stories that resonate for us is that all of them show us the same thing—that in the end the good things in life—love, friendship, loyalty—they can defeat the evil things.
Once I figured the whole psychological thing out I realized that I didn’t love fairytales any less because I’d figured them out. I realized I loved them more. And because I love fairytales and their retellings so much I’ve put together a list of my top 5 favorite fairytale retellings and I hope you love them as much as I do.
1.)The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor – this is the first book in a trilogy that sees Alice in Wonderland taking on a whole new, steampunk feel. A relatively late comer to this series (I picked all three books up off the bargain table at a Barnes and Noble) and spent an entire weekend going “not now I’m reading”. Now whenever my husband sees one of them on my nightstand he just plans on ordering pizza to feed him and the kids.
2.)Enchantment by Orson Scott Card—I’m not a fan of his politics but I don’t think anyone can deny that Orson Scott Card can write one heck of a story and in my honest opinion this one leaves Enders Game in the dust. A retelling of Sleeping Beauty that’s set in Post-Soviet Russia it involves time travel, a talking bear with one eye, Baba Yaga and a disappearing 747—all of it told from the poor confused hero’s POV.
3.)Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine—Who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story? And one with a couple of inept fairy godmothers who keep screwing things up? The story would be a keeper just from that but throw in spunky Ella and her view on the world and that just makes it a classic as far as I’m concerned.
4.)Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire—Before the musical there was the book. Wicked embodies the spirit of “the winners write history” better than any other book I’ve ever read. This book tells things from the other side though and it changed how I watched the Wizard of Oz from that day forward.
5.)Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce—Little Red Riding Hood with an ax to grind—quite literally. Scarlett and Rosie are characters that captured my heart and sort of made me wish I could have traded my brother in for a sister back when we were young.