I love fairy tales. It’s not something I’m necessarily going to defend, although I could. They’ve influenced me in a lot of ways, especially in my growing up. As a kid, I was all about the princesses, the fancy dresses, the parties, all the things I thought those stories were about. I was blown away by Cinderella, impressed by Snow White, entranced by Sleeping Beauty…both the movies and the stories. Yet the movies always tended to hang around longer in my mind’s eye (probably because of the visual reference). And yet, my parents always made sure I knew there were other versions of the stories. Not so nice versions. Versions I couldn’t read just yet. That threat didn’t last long, because nothing was going to keep me from my princess fix.
I actually have a very vivid memory of when I was probably no more than four or five. Playing pretend was one of my favorite things ever, and through the years those games could range from ghost busters to martian dog catchers vs. earth canines (and you wonder why I’m an author…), to princesses. This particular day, I was doing what most little girls do: forcing her father to act out the narrative of Cinderella for the 50,000th time. We got to the end, which meant sweet relief for Dad because it was the end of the game. Except for the fact that he had me for a daughter, heh.
I remember stopping after the happily ever after bit and asking “But what happens after they got married? What did they do?” (No, I didn’t mean THAT. I was like five, come on, now). I meant, surely there had to be more to the story, right? The answer I got was something to the effect of what kings and queens do all the time: sit on their thrones and be royal and stuff. I think we attempted to extend the game with this plot device, and I vaguely recall Cinderella getting bored and suggesting they call out for pizza. This was probably when I started getting restless with the princess thing. I mean, they didn’t really DO much…Cinderella has magic to save her. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty get into trouble but then they just lay there…it was disappointing. And if happily ever after was just sitting around…no thank you. As I grew older, I will admit to losing my ever-loving mind over The Little Mermaid (shut up, I love that movie) and Beauty and the Beast (somewhat better street cred, I’ll admit), and yet, I remained unfulfilled. They weren’t exactly ladies I could connect with. Yeah, I mean they didn’t go through the best circumstances (I couldn’t relate to that yet) and then they got a nice reward (I definitely didn’t have that, but could understand wanting love and security, even at a young age).
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a collection of Cinderella stories compiled by Judy Sierra that my mind was blown wide open. Years later I’d get into the work of Clarissa Pinkola Estes and my mind would just be exploded everywhere, but the Cinderella collection started it.
Let me ask you this:
Did you know that there are approximately 300+ stories that are considered “Cinderella” tales?
Did you know that many of them contain trolls?
And they keep going long after the marriage takes place?
And there are weird talking animals and curses and witches and cannibalism and all sorts of AWESOME THINGS?
Well there are.
So I thought I’d finally found my fairy tale jam, because while the narratives followed a similar arc, a lot of these chicks worked to solve their problems, at least in part. Plus they were way more exciting.
As I grew up, I remembered the tales as a fond childhood/teenage memory. I really couldn’t relate to princesses in any fashion. I was a Midwest small town gal, a starving artist, a fairly scrappy person that no magic animal or fairy godmother would take a second glance at. I didn’t have it that bad. Having hit every branch of the awkward tree on the way down at that point in my life, I definitely wasn’t catching the eye of any princes.
And then life happened. In re-examining what led me to write Olde School, and especially on the subject of princesses, I finally realized why these tales really, really connect with me. Fairy tales as a whole, perhaps, and this particular narrative arc in particular.
A lot of these girls come from absolutely horrible situations. While I didn’t have that, I have had some dark moments in my life. I’ve made mistakes, just like some of these heroines. I’ve done stupid things I’m not proud of. I’ve fumbled around in the woods, not knowing what’s in front of me. In some cases, I’ve been thrown into the darkest parts of the woods by circumstance or people who I wrongly trusted. I know what it’s like to have to be clever, to have to stand on two firm feet, and walk and walk and walk until you find somewhere else to be, somewhere that presents a solution. It may not be the solution you want at first, but it gives you something to work with. I’ve known false love, false friends, false aid. The people in disguise plot device is a trend I can relate to all too well at times.
I’ve also known grace. I may not have glass slippers or magic gowns, but I have been helped out in situations that would have brought me to me knees and lower. I’ve had people be very generous and patient with me, aiding me so that I could get to the point where I could help myself again. I’ve known magic in some ways. Creating costumes, writing tales of my own, appreciating the art that others create or their own special abilities…if that isn’t a world full of magic, then I don’t know what is. I’ve seen warriors in my time, and helpers that may have well have been Faerie for they could assess the situation and do what was needed, and I’ve seen empathetic people who may not know what to do, but lend support, nevertheless. I’ve known animals that I’ve loved with all my heart, and though they may not have talked in human words, we’ve communicated just the same.
The love thing, I’m still a little cynical about, but then again, it’s not necessarily the end of my story, either. These things keep going, after all. I have gained a different perspective on the gender role/marriage as reward argument, however. My thought process is this: with these darker stories, at some point the dudes in question are hopefully going to hear about what they’re lady loves went through. It takes a hell of a dude to be able to care for someone who’s been through hell (and without getting too graphic, let’s just say some of these princesses have. Not all of these stories involve catty stepsisters or stepmothers. Some involve fathers, some involve biological mothers, some involve an insane combination of things). While I’m filling in between the lines, I’d like to think they end up with their husbands not just because they’re royal (though in the day and age these tales were written, that was the highest a lady could achieve. It may not seem right these days, but there it is). These guys would have had to be understanding. A lot of these girls don’t just masquerade as a gorgeous girl. They also double as hideous creatures or complete wretches in some cases. There are two sides to them, and these dudes have to accept both sides. That kind of thought process makes the marriage elements not only acceptable to me, but awesome.
The older I get, the more I realize that my type of princesses are the ones who know hardship, know work, know entrapment, and have escaped it all, either by their own hand or by a mixture of their wiles and grace. Ladies like Allerleirauh, Katie Woodencloak, and Vasilisa…those are my princess broad squad. I’m much more down with helpers like Baba Yaga than some random fairy godmother.
So don’t write off princesses. They don’t all sit around waiting. They aren’t all “good”. They’re human. They’re going through a process. They get the rewards they want, on their terms. They could be any nationality, any economic level, any type of woman. They could be me. They could be you.
And that’s what makes a character in a story amazing.
The princesses (and women in general) in Olde School are all over the map, just like real ladies tend to be. You have your catty teenagers, your outsiders, your schemers, and your fighters. Flora is a strong woman, a waitress whose heart has been hardened, yet she still has soft spots for the right sort of people. She’s clever and holds her own. There’s a young gal named Caroline who obviously wants to be part of the in crowd, even though she actually has reason to just tell them where to go. It doesn’t matter – she wants to be part of things. Nobody…well, Nobody wants what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. She’s focused and hungry, for better or worse. And then there are a few of the ladies that I’ve mentioned above that show up in surprising ways…and some stepsisters, too. They may be reinterpreted and they may not seem completely likable yet, but they all have their own stories. I’m hoping I get to write them in a side collection sometime soon. Their tales deserve to be told, but until they are, I hope you look at them without complete judgement. Remember: it’s easy to say what you would do in a situation or to cast people as “good” and “bad”…but you never quite know what a person (or a princess) has gone through to get her to a certain point. I’d like to think there’s always something under the surface.
And I suppose I have Cinderella to thank for that.
Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.
Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.
Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians.
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