Marissa Meyer Talks 'Heartless" And Making Us Love The Ultimate Villain Of Wonderland
She's taken you inside the futuristic words of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, and now author Marissa Meyer is trading in sci-fi for whimsical fantasy and hero stories for villains in her retelling of one of the greatest villains in fairy tale literature: Alice in Wonderland 's The Queen of Hearts.
Marissa Meyer's Heartless (Feiwel & Friends) centers on Catherine, one of the most desired bachelorettes in Wonderland, but she'd much rather spend her time baking sweets with her BFF than worry about finding a match — "If people aren't craving dessert while they're reading the book than I have failed," Meyer tells Bustle. Unfortunately, that's not really a viable option, because the unwed King of Hearts has taken a fancy to her (and her baked goods), and her respected parents aren't going to let Cath spurn him.
While being forced to spend time in the palace with the courting king, Cath falls for his court jester Jest, who shows her a world of zany midnight tea parties, magic, and even danger from the infamous Jabberwocky. But her Cath and Jest's love would never be tolerated.
Devoted fans of Lewis Carroll's original tale of Wonderland will notice one major thing different between the Lunar Chronicles and Meyer's latest novel.
"I didn't want to put anything into Heartless that would directly contradict anything in the original classic book," Meyer says. "So while certainly I allowed myself to take certain liberties with the story and the characters, ultimately i was drawing a ton of inspiration from Lewis Carroll's work — his wordplay, his use of nursery rhymes, the various little quirks we see throughout Wonderland — and try to take all of those things and stay true to them while also trying to give my own spin to the story."
"As opposed to the Lunar Chronicles where I had the source material to use, these classic fairy tales, but I gave myself very few restrictions as to what I could then do with those stories," she adds.
In essence, Meyer's story could totally have existed in Carroll's original story. If you move from Heartless to reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, it will transition into one smooth story. In fact, that's exactly what Meyer hopes you do.
"I honestly hope that a lot of readers will be made curious or inspired to read Alice in Wonderland. I find that, especially with an origin story, one of the greatest compliments is if it introduces you to a world that you may not be completely familiar with, or maybe you only know it from the Disney version," Meyer says.
For those who are already familiar with the Alice in Wonderland tale, whether it is through Disney, the meh Johnny Depp-Tim Burton remake, or from reading the original books in class or for fun, we already know that, uh oh, Cath is the Queen of Hearts. So this sweet, tart-making, Jest-crushing girl is going to be the ultimate Big Bad of Wonderland.
It's the Titanic effect: Everyone knows the ship is going to sink. So how can Marissa ensure we're still captivated through hundreds of pages, when we already know how it's going to end? (And let's be clear: She totally does keep us captivated.) She talks to Bustle about how she crafted the story to keep us on our toes.
"At the beginning of the story, [Catherine] really is a fairly normal girl. She's a smart girl, she has ambition, she has talent, she has dreams," Meyer says.
"Well, how does a girl who has so much potential in her life go from being the daughter of a Marquess, who has everything going for her — what kinds of things and experiences will she have to go through, what kinds of choices will she have to make that will take her down this path toward ultimately becoming the evil queen."
Of course, this isn't the first time Meyer has had to work under these restrictions. Heartless takes a page from her killer villain origin story in Fairest, which tells the early life of the Lunar Chronicles' evil Queen Levana.
But Heartless is different because the world is already set. And, at that, the world is a place where literally, nearly anything can happen. According to the self-described Type-A writer, this presented a challenge at the get-go.
"In writing Wonderland, I felt like I was constantly trying to push myself to expand my imagination of what was possible and what could happen in this world. And I kept having to remind myself that not everything has to be explained. It's OK for there to be these little details that just are, that are whimsical and fantastical, because that's the world this is," Meyer says.
And its these little details — animals talking and living human lives, trees growing out of dreams, magically large pumpkins, a crazy hatter with a penchant for playing host — are what makes Heartless stand out from so many fairy tale adaptations. Rather than explain away the nonsense, Meyer leans into it.
Maybe that's because, while she claims it goes against type for her personality, the Wonderland love is in her genes.
"My mom was a huge Alice fan, and she has Alice collectibles, and so I was constantly surrounded by Alice in Wonderland figurines, and jewelry and costumes, and she had a whole Alice in Wonderland tree for Christmas, and so I felt I knew the story intimately when I was growing up," she says.
Next for Meyer is a trilogy about teenage superheroes and the grey line between superheroes and supervillains, with the first book out next fall. But she has her sights set on another fairy tale adaptation in the future: Bluebeard. She tells Bustle that she has been imagining this alternative fairy tale, essentially about a murderer, as a contemporary YA thriller about a serial killer.
Bring it on, Marissa.
Images: Courtesy of Macmillan; @fiercereads/Instagram (2); Giphy (2)