May 31st, 2013


Once upon an over and over and over again...

Let's talk about fairy tales.

Yesterday, Mattel—the company that makes my beloved Monster High Dolls, literally dozens of which occupy multiple rooms in my house—announced the launch of a new toy line: Ever After High, where the children of famous fairy tale figures go to school as they prepare to take the Legacy Pledge and relive the stories of their parents. Hundreds of generations of Wicked Queens and whiteout girls passing poison apples back and forth between them like Valentines.

One of my favorite TV miniseries of all time, The 10th Kingdom, is about a world where fairy tales are true, and where the descendants of the stories we know here, today, in our world still live, trying to eke out a chance at happily ever after. The main character, Virginia, is both Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, just one more girl in danger (and falling in love with) a wolf. The novelization of the miniseries is one of my first choices for comfort reading.

Once Upon A Time, currently airing on ABC, is basically someone filming the playtime of a group of very inventive children (I'd say about age twelve) who have between them a complete set of the Disney Princess Collection dolls, a Peter Pan playset, and whatever other toys they've been able to scrounge from the rooms of their siblings. I keep expecting a T-Rex to show up, just before all the other kids start shouting at Crystal about how they let her make Red a werewolf, why does she keep ruining everything.

Fables and its spin-offs—especially Cinderella, which is deconstruction of both her story and of the modern myth of the super-spy assassin who never dies—are some of the best things happening in comics today. The worst issue of Fables is better than the best issue of a great many other things (none of which I will name here, because that's rude). It's a glorious fairy tale stew, and it tastes so very sweet when we put it in our mouths.

I could go on for quite some time (and eventually I may, because these are all things that are very much worth experiencing, for their similarities, for their differences). There have been Marvel Fairy Tales, recasting X-Men and Avengers into classic roles. There have been movies like Sydney White, recasting Snow White into a college-age modern woman and the seven dwarves into her socially outcast friends. Fairy tales are everywhere. Fairy tales are older than you think. They were the first form of urban fantasy, and I fully expect them to be the last. They are urban legend mellowed and fermented from vinegar into fine wine (and yes, sometimes, turned sour by the passage of time and changing cultural standards).

And here's the exciting thing. Each and every work I've cited above is, at its core, transformative fan fiction. Snow White is a really common figure in modern retellings: something about that whiteout girl with the bloody lips and the murderous mother figure appeals to us. Don't know why, although I know why she appeals to me. Don't much care. I'm having too much fun writing and reading and watching and loving fanfic about her, and I'll leave the deep contemplation to other people. We're all bringing our own touches to the reimagining, and that's the most fun part of all: is Snow White a politician? A gunslinger? A witch? A government agent? Does she have a wicked stepmother, or just a rival? Is she going to eat the apple? Can she escape her story? Does she want to?

It's the little things that make all these stories individual, distinct, and worth enjoying. (And before someone says "but if it's fanfic how can any of these things be under copyright, that makes no sense," remember that original characters and plot elements can be copyrighted even when the public domain source material is not. So my ATI Management Bureau, and Bill's Fabletown, are both protected by their recent creation, even as we stuff them full of characters that belong to everyone, forever. Again, this is how we don't all wind up getting sued by Disney.) We're in a period of remaking the fairy tales we grew up with, trying to turn them into something that we feel is still relevant, and will be relevant for generations to come.

Fairy tales are powerful things.

There's always room for one more happy ever after.