Move Over, Cinderella! These 7 Fairy Tale Feminists Deserve Starring Roles in YA Novels
Once upon a time in 2013 and 2014, fairy tales were taking over the YA novel marketplace. Authors are building novels around their favorite fairy tale heroines, creating a new world and new circumstances around them, while alluding to a few key story elements.
On February 4, Marissa Meyer is continuing this trend with the third installment of her Lunar Chronicles series, Cress, which will feature Rapunzel as a teenage girl trapped on a satellite. Meyer's world building was already in construction with Cinder, featuring Cinderella, and Scarlet, with Little Red Riding Hood. The next in the series is titled Winter, and will add Snow White to the mix. The same week, on January 28, Rosamund Hodge is taking the tale of Beauty and the Beast to tell a Greek-mythology-inspired tale of a girl promised to marry a demon in Cruel Beauty .
Meyer and Hodge's YA novels join a populated genre with stories about Tiger Lily, others about Belle and the Beast, others about Rapunzel, and plenty about Cinderella. But while the princesses take center stage, what about the secondary characters? These seven fairy tale women have the star power to run their own YA novels, and they have a greater chance of a "happily ever after" that doesn't just involve Prince Charming.
In Grimm's original Cinderella fairy tale, Cinderella is aided by the spirit of her late mother, but Disney and other adaptations have popularized a fairy godmother in the magical assistant role. While the tale is troubling from a feminist perspective — a young woman waits for good things to be magically bestowed upon her and then marries a man she doesn't know — the fairy godmother is one woman who seems to have her life in control. Recent YA novelizations of the Cinderella story have taken the fairy tale to task for its helpless heroine, including Marissa Meyer's Cinder, in which the titular character is a competent cyborg mechanic with a removable foot in place of a glass slipper. It's time to get the back story on Cinderella's fairy godmother. How did she fall into this role? Is she happy making other people's dreams come true? What are her own dreams? What does this career woman really think about Cinderella? And she's definitely got the sass to work a heroine role.
Goldilocks could use a redemption story. Goldilocks and the Three Bears paints the girl as a cuckoo bed intruder who teaches kids the dangers of wandering off in the woods. Because most adaptations don't give any characterization to Goldilocks other than her hair color, a YA novel could delve into what drove her to the bears' cottage in the first place; what was she running from? Age Goldilocks into her teenage years, give her a real name, give her a family, and give her some actual motivations, and you'll get a more well-rounded tale more interesting than anything the little girl has gotten before. And if she is a hostile thief, Dr. Phil would want the story to take a good look into her parents.
Everyone knows that Maleficent is the baddest of all fairy tale characters, man or woman. But she's also one of the most powerful women in Disney history. She has incredible magical powers, she's smart, she has minions, and she can transform into a dragon.
UltimateDisney named Maleficent the number one Disney villain, ahead of even Hades, who literally rules the Underworld. The Sleeping Beauty character earned A-lister Angelina Jolie as her movie representation, but she has yet to get her due in a novel. Maleficent, whose name means "doing evil," is so evil that she cursed Princess Aurora for the mere violation of not being invited to her Christening. But what we don't know is how she got to be so wicked. The Wicked Witch of the West got her back story in Wicked, but Maleficent has so far only existed as the biggest bad in all of fairy tale land. A YA novel in her name might explain why an invite snub caused so much hubbub and lend a little humanity to Maleficent.
4. Maid Marian
Maid Marian happens to date the foxiest fox in all of Sherwood Forest.
Disney's adaptation of the English folklore hero gives us Robin Hood, Little John, and Prince John in spades, but the story could use a little more female attention. The noble, proper Maid Marian is involved with one of the most wanted outlaws in the land — how about a little back story? How did Robin and Marian meet? I suspect this romance bloomed before Robin Hood's archery performance at the May Games, if their dancing at the hopping party in the woods is any indication.
Marian shows enough spunk and courage to run a novel, and she and Robin could be Bonnie and Clyde (but with noble intentions) before Bonnie and Clyde even existed.
Not to be confused with the Jane of "Me, Tarzan; you, Jane" fame, this Jane is Wendy Darling's daughter from Barrie's Peter Pan stories.If Robin Hood is the coolest of the Disney heroes, Peter Pan might be the creepiest. While Disney avoided talking about Pan's stalkerish tendencies, Barrie certainly made them clear in his original works. In his 1908 work An Afterthought, Peter Pan returns to Wendy's house, but she is grown up and lost the ability to fly. Instead, Wendy allows Peter to take Jane to Neverland. Jane, however, does not fall for the excitement and spends her days wishing she could get away from Neverland and the obsessive Peter Pan.
A novel focusing on Jane's "adventures" in Neverland can get at some of the issues with the supposedly romantic Peter Pan books and adaptations (really, there are just two women in the whole land and one is an obnoxious fairy?) and advance the tension and creepiness of living among a group of boys who never want to grow up.
Thumbelina's world is ripe for novelization. But it's not just that she's as tiny as a thumb and so her perspective on the world is akin to Honey I Shrunk the Kids; it's that she's a tough, albeit tiny, woman and goes on crazy adventures. She fends off advances from a girl-crazy toad and mole — whose appearance in Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre anthology in 1984 gave me nightmares into my teenage years. (It should be noted, too, that Princess Leia Carrie Fisher played Thumbelina.) Like many, many other fairy tales, Thumbelina does find her prince in the end, which seems to detract from her behavior in the rest of a story. A YA novel is the perfect chance to course correct that mistake.
Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather mainly exist in Sleeping Beauty as a support network for Princess Aurora-turned-Briar Rose. But they deserve so, so much more. First of all, these three fairies can throw a party.
They're funny, they're courageous, they're loyal, they're sarcastic, they speak their minds, and they prove that female friendship can overpower a romantic relationship over the long haul. While Sleeping Beauty is frittering about in the forest, singing to animals, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather are getting it done. They're the ones that put everyone to sleep, giving the story its name, as a tactic to defeat Maleficent. And don't forget, they're the ones that saved Prince Phillip so he could take on Maleficent and get to Aurora. Give them a starring role already.
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