I’ve had fairy tales on the brain.
I’ve been reflecting on the influence that fairy tales have had on my writing over the years, as seen here, and I’ve also been thinking about how I might return to them in a more deliberate way, using them as a launch pad for new projects and ventures. I’ve been in such a low place when it comes to writing for over a year now, and even before that, my writing was restricted to permutations of the same 4 characters, which was fun when it was just a silly project between my friend/writing partner and me, but severely curtailed the multiplicity of universes, ideas, and characters that I once had.
So here I am, entertaining thoughts about revisiting one of my old favorites, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Sure, she’s at risk from his “beastly” nature, as the Disney version demonstrated. Yeah, she’s got to unearth his more gentlemanly qualities (which kinda reminds me of those terrible self-help relationship books for women: “A good woman can transform a bad boy into a chivalrous gentleman!”). But it also creates a space where it might be possible to really toy with gender norms, or to at least give that female character more room to kick ass and be more aggressive than most fairy tales allow.
I’m always a little skeptical of the “feminist-izing” of the fairy tale, if only because I’ve read some interpretations that are so damn CHEESY and really… I dunno, self-conscious about the project. I want something that’s different, something that tries to toy with established norms, but at the end of the day, I want a story that’s good, with characters that are fully-formed and complex.
(One of my favorite “feminist” tales has got to be The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. It’s a fantasy and not an explicit reinterpretation of a fairy tale, but it features a female protagonist who is amazing and kick-ass and strong, yet flawed and wonderfully human… I highly recommend the series to anyone who hasn’t yet read it.)
But I digress. I’ve started brainstorming a “fractured fairy tale” of my own, and it is actually really intriguing to me. I’m starting from the premise that I want a story that features a cast of female characters who can transcend stereotypes, women who are lovers and fighters, who can be unapologetically sensual and sexual (no slut-shaming here), who can be sexually fluid, who are intelligent, witty, and exist as more than enablers for male characters, or devices to move the plot forward.
In this vein, we have Liandre, the princess of a realm that’s still nameless, but seems to be (in my head, at least) somewhat matrilineal in terms of the order of succession to the throne. She is the only child of the queen, Simone Hallivere, who is loved throughout the land for her battle prowess, her fierce sense of justice, and her shrewd political intelligence. The Hallivere line has ruled for some 300 hundred years, but in order for each princess to be designated heir to the throne, she has to prove her mettle through some act of renown.
This, perhaps, is where our story opens.
Liandre is approaching her twenty-first birthday (the age of majority), when she should be formally named heir to the throne. Unfortunately, Liandre is a mediocre student and still hasn’t undertaken the ritual rite-of-passage. Her advisors are beyond frustrated with her (because she happens to be a bit incorrigible, unruly and rebellious, and enjoys provoking everyone), her mother is at the end of her tether, and there are rumblings that she will be the weak link in the Hallivere line, the one who will cause their rule to fail.
Enter Liandre’s aunt, the sorceress/enchantress/witch Erlinda.
There’s magic at work in this universe, and a goddess who is more than a theological belief, but an actual presence and force (here I’m thinking about Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, as well as Pierce’s work — in their work, gods and goddesses are true actors, lurking in the background of their heroines endeavors.). In my mind, magic flows through the blood of the Hallivere queens, but every few generations it surfaces in ways more potent than others. These women inherit the full gift of the Goddess, which includes a command of magic and a lengthened life-span.
Erlinda is one of these women, and is something like 150 years old. She tells Liandre a story, a tale that Erlinda’s mother confessed on her death bed. It goes something like this:
“Many, many years ago, my mother fell in love with a man, a great lord who ruled a kingdom in the foothills of the Emerald Mountains. So deep was her love for him that she gave him a most precious gift: an enchanted rose, one that would protect him from all harm while he kept it in his grasp.
My mother’s trust, however, was misplaced, for the handsome lord betrayed her. The deep love that she felt for him was only passing fancy on his side. He gave the rose to another, the daughter of some powerful baron from a neighboring land.
In her wrath, she cursed him, trapped him in stasis, never to age, never to love, never to die until the spell can be broken.”
It’s a seemingly impossible task, one based on legend and hearsay and not on solid fact, but it is tantalizing to Liandre, something more exciting than staid, cliched dragon rescues (the fall-back option that her advisors have been encouraging) and yet easier than, say, defeating an army (her mother’s claim to fame). And so she sets off on her journey to find the Beast in his frozen castle…. and goodness knows what she’ll find there. Someone dark and brooding, who had his share of pretty negative qualities to begin with but has now festered in darkness for a couple of centuries… He’s bound to be great company. But I have a thing for Byronic heroes, so what’s a girl to do?
Anyway, still working on some drabbly things that can capture these ideas together. Also pondering this interesting world where we have sword-wielding Queens blessed by the Goddess, etc. Is it steampunky? Straight up-and-down medieval-esque? I still haven’t decided, and I imagine I’ll have to toy and tinker with it till I’m certain.
In the meantime, something from Kate Beaton on the Bronte sisters and their ridiculous love for Byronic heroes: