One of the reasons I found myself diving into the reinvention of fairy tales is simply because the modern takes on them are too stale. They don’t dig into a lot of the more disturbing thematic elements of the original fairy tales. Now, my purpose isn’t to dig into the more violent aspects that riddle the fairy tales. No, it’s the background of the fairy tales that I bring forward along with some gender-bending since the trope of the evil stepmother is an old, problematic trope that I really didn’t want to continue.
In Cinderella, the backdrop to this tale is a poorer town bordering the extravagant castle where the King and Queen live with the unnamed Prince. There is a lot of poverty in that backdrop, and Cinderella, having come from one of the more prosperous families is forced into servitude, by her stepmother, an enforced poverty that is depicted as fairly similar to the poverty in much of the village. The Ball, where all is invited, is a bit of a misnomer. Not everyone is actually invited, since only those dressed well are let into the Ball itself. The story makes no qualms about the fact that those at the Ball are finely dressed, which means that the more poverty stricken households within the village cannot go. They simply do not have the money or means nor a fairy godmother. Cinderella is basically a dream come true for the more poverty stricken folk, a dream of where magic helps them out of their poverty, where they are seen as the beauty they are and are able to move up in the world, into a wealthier and more prosperous life style.
Most versions of this tale that I’ve seen focus on that transformation of Cinderella, from the girl dirty and overlooked in her servitude to the beautiful bride of a Prince. What they fail to see is the poverty stricken others who will never have that dream. My reinvention of Cinderella examines that backdrop and also gives the Prince a chance to actually have some depth as a character – rather than just being the vehicle for which Cinderella achieves her dreams. In my story, I examine a Prince who seeks, mostly out of curiosity at first but then out of a moral obligation, what the more poverty stricken folks in the Prince’s kingdom needs and how they perceive the announcements and policies of the King and Queen. The Prince is sympathetic to the lower income people, and thus, when Cinderella is revealed in her servitude state, the Prince is able to empathize and to not condemn. It’s not Cinderella’s beauty that captures the Prince, in my tale, but her determination, especially in times of hardship. I add a bit of spice to the Ball itself, for the Prince decides to aid those who do not have the money to make it, by giving them a route into the ball that bypasses the security. There they can protest and plead with the King and Queen or enjoy the Ball as they see fit. The Prince does not fully understand the consequences of this or the riot that will ensue, but Cinderella catches on far more quickly, and acts swiftly to not only get the Prince out of danger, but also to get others to safety as well. This is when she loses her shoe, and also when she must take quick leave of the Prince, leaving only her shoe as a keepsake.
It is my hope to examine the poverty that lurked behind the scenes in the original and various reincarnations, and to bring it to the forefront. The purpose of the story isn’t the romance of Cinderella or the Prince, nor is it the transformation of Cinderella from servitude to Prince’s bride. It’s the struggle of the rich against the poor, and how Cinderella and the Prince are simply pawns in that much larger struggle.
For Snow white, I examine a much different thematic element. In Snow White’s original tale, she is an orphan, her royal parents dead, with only her stepmother to take care of her till she comes of age. (Or is married off as is often the fate of girls in the original fairy tales.) The phrase that occurs the most is ‘fairest of them all,’ and shows how obsession over beauty leads to madness and death. The Stepmother ceases to see Snow White as a person of value, and seeks only to destroy the one person her magic mirrors claims is fairer than her. The dwarves serve as a safe haven, but even in their care, Snow White is not exempt from the malicious attempts on her life; she is shown to be remarkably naive and far too trusting, which is her downfall. In addition to these qualities, she is shown to care for the dwarves, doing the household chores and making their food, and as such, she is being shown as the proper lady in comparison to the stepmother, mad with envy and who doesn’t exhibit these ‘lady-like qualities’ that old tales were often obsessed with themselves. The theme of obsession is even apparent in how much the original versions of the tale stress those ‘lady-like qualities’ and ‘beauty’ Snow White has.
However, it is the Prince’s journey, once again an unnamed Prince in most versions, that gives the theme of obsession an even darker twist. When Snow White “dies” by the poisoned apple, the Dwarves, heart-sick with grief, put her in a glass casket on a mountain for all to see and mourn. She is on display as an object, and this is how the Prince encounters Snow White. He sees her beauty and decides he wants it. He doesn’t seek who Snow White was, nor has any regards for her consent or wishes (which at this point she cannot give). He only wants her to be his based on what he sees in the casket. It takes some time, twice in one version and thrice in another, but he convinces the dwarves, who have ownership of her body, to give her away. Worse off, the Prince then kisses her, despite being told she was dead. Disturbing? Yes. This somehow dislodges the poisoned apple from her throat, and she awakens, only to be married to the prince. The stepmother then, in the original version, dances until she dies as their entertainment. In other versions, she is killed by the Prince or left for dead.
When I set about reinventing Snow White, I focused on the Prince’s journey and that of the Stepmother. The two are interrelated in the sense that both obsess over a particular idea and person. Both obsess about Snow White; in the step mother’s case, the obsession focuses on eliminating her and, in the Prince’s case, about obtaining her. Snow White’s consent and thoughts are not taken into account, and she is at the whims of these two forces. The Huntsman, sent to kill Snow White in the first attempt on her life, spares her partly because of her pleas and partly because of her beauty. She asks for her life to be spared, and he gives her that. Even in this instance, she has little control over her fate. It lay in the hands of the Huntsman, and then later in the hands of the dwarves and the Prince. Secondly, the obsession is shown to be evil in the stepmother, but in the Prince he is rewarded with Snow White, despite his obsession about her beauty. His behavior, especially in obtaining Snow White from the dwarves, served to me as an eerie and disturbing correlation with the sex slave trade that is rampant today. Where girls have no agency and are on display for people to examine them as goods for them to purchase. In some cases, these sex workers are sold into the slavery by people they once trusted. In this vein, the dwarves, whom Snow White trusted, gives her away to the Prince, knowing that he wants her only because of her beauty. He is an object of his desire, and the story ends with their marriage. Nothing is really said about if Snow agreed to it, but then she isn’t entirely in a position not to agree. She has no where else to go, and if she doesn’t agree, she will probably end up with the dwarves, which the fairy tale – and the various reincarnations of it – show as a lesser state than the Prince.
If there is one thing these two fairy tales have in common is that the Prince’s way of life is the ultimate goal for the both girls, even if neither outright wanted it at first (or in Snow White’s case, there is no evidence that she considered it a possibility until she awoke in his arms.) It is assumed in both that the girls would automatically fall for the Prince and, of course, they’d want to wed into this higher status. Both live for awhile in a lower status, and both are lifted out of it. Cinderella through magical means, and Snow White through what amounts to being given away like a heirloom.
In adapting these fairy tales, I realized that I could use the setting of my Elivera universe as a way to expand my own world-building, and to give myself more room to focus on the thematic elements and characterization of the heroines and the Princes. This is why I set them in my Elivera universe, just set a few thousand years in the future from my current batch of Elivera novels. It is my hope that as I explore the two fairy tales I can examine one, the plight of the impoverished in these yarns; two, the consequences of obsession; and three, agency and lack thereof.
Snow White’s tale is my NaNoWriMo project. The Cinderella tale is only half written, and I hope to finish it in the next two months.