The trouble with fairytales

The trouble with fairytales... and they lived happily ever after

Don’t get me wrong; I like a good fairytale. If I tried to list the number of films and stories I’ve seen and read with their roots in one fairytale or another, we would be here a very long time. And I can out-Disney any seven year old girl out there; I’m word perfect on pretty much every princess song they’ve ever written.

BUT…

In almost every fairytale I’ve ever come across, the main action takes place over a timescale of days, weeks at a push. Cinderella falls in love with her prince over the course of an evening. Sleeping Beauty gets one hundred years, but since she’s asleep for most of them, she doesn’t even get to meet her prince until he’s already confirmed as her One True Love by breaking the spell. Still, at least he was human; I think I’d need more than three nights to fall in love with a Frog, even a talking one.

The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog

And Disney – love ’em or hate ’em – has only accentuated it. In their early formats, many fairytales had dark undertones and a happy ending wasn’t guaranteed. Well, a Disney movie without a happy ending wouldn’t be a Disney movie, and I’m not saying there’s no place for them. But, just to pick one example, three days to make a prince fall in love with you, without even the basic ploy of being able to talk to him… Failing miserably and turning into seafoam a la Hans Christian Anderson is a more realistic outcome than a shipboard wedding.

Funnily enough, Disney even referenced the phenomenon of insta-love in their most recent Princess blockbuster (Frozen, of course). I’ve seen plenty of people welcome Elsa and Kristoff’s astonishment that Anna wants to get engaged to someone she’d only met that day, calling it real progress on the unrealistic expectations set up by the Disney Princess franchise. However, I’ve not yet seen anyone mention that it’s immediately undermined by Anna and Kristoff supposedly falling in love after… two days. That second day made all the difference there, you see.

It’ll all come out in the draft…

I write romantic fantasy; possibly one of the least realistic genres in existence. If I want my readers to suspend disbelief long enough to invest in the story, any non-fantasy elements have to be as realistic as I can possibly make them. I’ve written passionate, explosive love affairs, slow-burning romances, friendships that blossom into more… and not one of them would be believable if I tried to squeeze that much character and relationship development into the space of a few days.

But one of the advantages of being a writer is that everyday frustrations make excellent story fodder. One of my future projects has grown out of just this exasperation. A loosely-linked series based around the theme of Happily Ever After, or rather, what actually happens after the curtain drops on the fairytales that everyone knows and loves.

What’s your view on fairytales – love ’em or loathe ’em? What are your particular pet peeves?

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