Fairytales at their heart are about heroes. They teach you dragons can be defeated…and that sometimes you turn into floatsom when you don’t get the guy. They paint the hero in a bloodless white robe, a do-gooder who can do no wrong. But I think that’s what I like about twisted fairytales.
They give faults to heroes and stories to villains.
Whenever I think of twisted fairytales, I think of Starkid’s Twisted. Perhaps I think of this zany musical because of its title, or perhaps because of the subtitle that follows: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier—Jafar. Twisted does exactly what the title implies: it twists the narrative of Aladdin as if told through the eyes of a villain, who become more than just a maniacal goatee-grooming parselmouth.
But not every twisted fairytale has to be about the villain, though. There are plenty of other ways to twist a tale—change the origin story, setting, plot devices, even whole genres!
Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty turns Belle into an assassin betrothed at birth to a beast who has cast a 900-year-old curse on her people. It’s one of my favourite Beauty And The Beast retellings, second only to Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Hodge masterfully reimagines a beast that is both charming and vicious, bound by circumstance and the cause of it.
But in twisting a tale, one can also shift genres, and in doing so imagines up a hundred thousand new possibilities. Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles does just that. In her first instalment, she weaves threads of Cinderella into her cyborg sci-fi. In the second book, Scarlet, she crafts the Big Bad Wolf as a street fighter who falls hopelessly in love with a young woman looking for her missing grandmother. And in Cress, Meyer throws Rapunzel into in a satellite orbiting space. Meyer crafts characters that are so organic, they feel as if they belong in the stars.
Another favourite twisted tale of mine is East by Edith Pattou. A reimagining of the Norwegian tale East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon, Pattou sets her heroine on a journey of self-discovery when she is taken away to the farthest north, and becomes prisoner alongside a prince who has been cursed as a polar bear.
Twisted fairytales can also take on a heart of their own, with only traces of their origins. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is one such fairytale. Another retelling of Beauty And The Beast—to a much stranger extent—Jones crafts beauty with a curse, and the beast as a beauty. The characters are nuanced, the castle itself an enchantment, the story a study in the nature of people in unusual circumstances rather than the nurture of beauty to a beast. Howl is the character I aspire to craft. Spoiled, charming, utterly ridiculous—and yet somehow the reader falls in love with him just as slowly and steadily as Sophie. To say I am a huge fan of this book is an understatement—I am trash for it.
Aside from books, one of my favourite TV shows that recycles old fairytale tropes into fresh ones is kind of an old show itself. A six-part series from the year 2000, The 10th Kingdom is a whirlwind of all the best hits, from Cinderella to Rapunzel to Snow White to Red Riding Hood. It came on ABC Disney’s Sunday night slot, and I remember sitting down for six straight Sundays to watch it. I was entranced—and still am. It ranks up there with Ever After in how it gives agency to characters often-times overlooked, and makes you fall in love with unconventional love interests.
Twisted fairytales gives me all the feels that their original incarnations never could, and there is a special kind of magic in that—the untold story.
In Geekerella, I looked for inspiration from my favorite Cinderella retellings—from Ever After to A Cinderella Story to Ella Enchanted. But where their magic comes from Drew Barrymore’s headstrong heroine and Hillary Duff’s lost cell phone and Ella’s curse, I wanted to find the magic that made Geekerella special. So, I turned to the only magic I knew—the unapologetic passion of fandom, where there is community, love, and adventure. It is the story I know best of all, because sometimes magic isn’t fairy godmothers or talking mice, but a hand-me-down cosplay and the sound of your favorite theme song blaring from the speakers of a vegan food truck.
Geekerella is published by @QuirkBooks on 4th April.