Zoë Writes

An Australian author living in Norway

Category: Fairy Tale Series

Who is Selina Carr?

Amidst the flurry of activity that is NaNoWriMo, I am taking a moment to talk about the other project that has been keeping me busy in the last couple of months, and to introduce you to a writer friend of mine by the name of Selina Carr. Hi! She’s me. I’m her. And we’ve written a fairytale that is about to be published in a stunning hardback book at the end of November by Tenebris Books (if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know about my connection there). Willow, Weep No More is a book of traditionally-inspired fairytales and fables that aim to capture the magic of classic fairytales while exploring the themes of inner beauty, wisdom and strength.

Yesterday was the cover reveal, and as you can see, it’s a thing of beauty. As is the rest of the book—believe me, I’ve read it many times already, given that I am the editor. But why would I credit some non-existent person with writing the story I contributed? There are lots of reasons writers adopt a nom de plume, but my reasons were two-fold:

  1. I have some ideas floating around in my (very full) brain, and some of them are for readers much younger than those I currently write for under my own name. The Eidolon Cycle contains a lot of death, some fairly horrific violence, and as such I would never recommend it for anyone under the age of fifteen or sixteen. So, if I later wrote something intended for ten year olds, and a ten year old loved it and went looking online for something else Zoë Harris had written, he or she would find titles intended for a much older reader. If I ever do write something for younger readers, I will do it under the name “Selina Carr”, and the story in Willow, Weep No More under that name would be fine for someone of that age to read.
  2. The second reason is ego. No, not to promote it, to deemphasize it. This book is very important to me, and I want it to be viewed by potential readers for what it is, and that is not a platform for me to publish my own work. I was torn about whether to contribute anything at all for exactly this reason, but I love fairytales so much I just couldn’t not write something for it. So, while it is a great thing to put my name to something I’m incredibly proud of, I didn’t want to do it at the expense of the other authors and illustrators who have contributed so much wonderful work. It is my imprint’s first publication, and I want it to be taken seriously, and judged on the merit of its contents. It can’t be “The Zoë Book and other stories”.

So, if I don’t want to confuse my readers, and I’m not about ego, why am I telling everyone who reads my blog? For starters, anyone who knows me personally will crack my code in seconds (Selina is my middle name, and Carr is my partner’s surname). But really, it’s not a secret meant to be kept under lock and key. It’s a branding distinction in the first instance, and an exercise in humility in the second. I truly do want my friends, family, and anyone who is interested in what I do to know about this book, not only because I want to hear their thoughts on my own contribution, but because I want them to read the other stories in the book—stories that are beautiful, poignant, enchanting and full of all the wonder one would expect from a classic fairytale anthology.

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Evil or Misunderstood?

ABC’s Once Upon A Time has cast, as one of its central villains, the Grimm Brothers’ character Rumpelstiltskin. In the series, though his character seems like simply a deal-making trickster, he is in possession of a level of magical skill coveted by some of the most evil characters in the show. When I first started watching, it seemed odd to me that he would be represented in this way, but perhaps the writers found it difficult to find a male fairy tale character who was evil enough to balance out all the evil women – after all, many of the human sources of evil in fairy tales are, in fact, women. Often they are step-mothers, or old hermit women, witches and evil queens, but there are also mothers and sisters of the protagonist who do their share of nasty business (usually spurred by envy of their daughter or sister’s beauty and grace).

But back to Rumpelstiltskin. I remember being perplexed by this story as a child – you’re clearly supposed to feel sympathy for the young girl, but to me she just didn’t cut the mustard. In reading the story again as an adult, I realized my childhood doubts were actually quite fair; though most of us remember Rumpelstiltskin for his desire to rob a newly wed young mother of her first born, is he really the nastiest person in his own story? Not by a long shot. Let’s take a brief look at the events in the story:

1. A poor father must go to see the king, and to make himself look good he brags that his daughter can spin straw into gold (a pretty stupid thing to say, but not really evil).

2. The king, who loves gold, demands that the daughter be brought to him and locks her in a room full of straw, telling her if she doesn’t spin it all into gold by morning, he’ll have her killed (yep, that’s evil).

3. The girl, understandably perplexed, begins to cry. Enter Rumpelstiltskin (let’s call him Rumpy for fun). Rumpy asks what the girl will give him if he does the job for her, she offers him a necklace (where did such a poor girl get a necklace from, one wonders), which he accepts and gets to work. Score one for Rumpy being a nice guy.

4. The king, happy to have a room full of gold, is still not satisfied. He locks her in a bigger room and makes the same threat. What a jerk!

5. The girl, instead of clueing in about how this works and finding a way to escape, starts to cry again. Rumpy returns once more to save the day, this time taking the girl’s ring in payment (yep, she also has a ring – couldn’t she have used it to bribe her jailer or something?). Rumpy spins all the straw into gold again – that’s two points for Rumpy, in total.

6. The king, never satisfied, locks the girl in an even bigger room, this time promising that if she succeeds in turning all the straw into gold, he’ll marry her. Not because he finds her charming, or beautiful, mind you, but because he wants the cash cow for his own. This king is a royal turd, if you ask me.

7. Rumpy comes again, but this time the girl has nothing left to give. Rumpy suggests that she give him her first born child, should she become queen (I’m going to take two points away from Rumpy for this one, it’s a pretty nasty bargain). She thinks it probably will never happen, so she accepts – naive, or just plain stupid? You decide.

8. The king is finally satisfied (for now, at least, but he better keep her close just in case), and marries her. And she accepts – not evil, but pretty stupid.

9. Everyone’s happy until the queen gives birth to a child. Rumpy comes back and demands payment, and the queen begins to cry because she’s become quite attached to her evil husband’s baby. Rumpy takes pity on her (yes, you read that right) and gives her three days in which to guess his name. If she gets it right, she can keep her child. Another point to Rumpy.

10. The queen sends messengers far and wide to find out all sorts of strange names. The first two times Rumpy visits, she guesses every name she can think of (yep, he doesn’t even give her a limit – another point), but to no avail. But on the third day, her messenger returns with a story about a strange little man dancing around a fire singing about how he’s going to take the queen’s child in the morning, and how he’s so happy no one knows his name is Rumpelstiltskin.

11. The queen makes a couple of fake guesses and then BAM! She kicks Rumpy right in the rump with his real name. He’s so furious that he stamps his foot through the floor, and then tears his leg off in an effort to free himself. He hobbles away without his leg, and without the baby.

Rumpy, by my count, comes away with a solid two points for being a good guy, even if he does have an anger management problem. The king, his queen and her father, however, are a jerk, a wuss and a braggart, respectively.

The Big Bad Wolf

I’m a bit late out of the gate with getting started watching NBC’s Grimm, but I have the whole first season lined up and ready to watch, and I’ve just finished watching the pilot episode. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about a television show that turned my beloved fairy tales into a police procedural, but I have to admit I’m intrigued. After all, you could say police procedural dramas serve a similar purpose in our modern society to the role fairy tales and folk tales played in the lives of our ancestors: they serve to entertain, but they are also precautionary tales warning us of those who would do us harm, by showing us what happens to the unwary wanderer.

It looks like each episode of Grimm is going to be based on one of the tales collected and written by The Brothers Grimm (translated from the German Grimms’ Kinder und Hausmarchen or Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales). And why not? Even if they went straight down the list, they’d have enough source material for at least three seasons. But then, there is really only a handful of these stories that most people would recognize – we all know about The Frog Prince, Sleeping Beauty (which the Grimms called Briar Rose), Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood, but how many of us could retell the tale of The Mouse, The Bird and The Sausage? Or Fundevogel? It does make you wonder why some tales have become more famous than others.

But I digress… Let’s talk about the pilot episode of Grimm. It was loosely based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood (or Little Red-Cap), but in this version of the story, the wolf is portrayed as a part-human, part-wolf who is apparently attracted to red hoodies, kidnapping young girls who wear them with the intent of devouring them. There was no dressing up in Grandma’s clothes, no familiar cry of “All the better to [see/hear/eat] you with, my dear” – all in all, there was little else about the episode that really links it with the original story of Little Red Riding Hood. For a while I thought maybe the character of Aunt Marie would be something of a stand-in for Red’s grandmother, but it seems she is part of the bigger story arc and has no direct relation to the Red Riding Hood story. It’s really the wolf who brings the two stories together.

So let’s talk about him. The Big Bad Wolf. He’s not really known as Big Bad in Grimms’ stories, he’s just referred to as “the wolf” – in fact, it was most likely Walt Disney and Frank Churchill who invented the name that has come to be used for all evil wolves in fairy tales, in the 1933 animation of The Three Little Pigs. But, call him what you will, this archetypal furry bad guy appears in many other folk stories: he is also the villain in a similar Grimm tale called The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, in which a mother goat must go out and leave her seven kids at home, warning them not to open the door to anyone but her. She tells them they will know the Big Bad Wolf by his rough voice and black paws, but he tricks the kids by eating chalk to soften his voice, and by having a baker cover his paws in dough and flour so that when he puts his paws up to the window and calls to the kids in a soft voice, they let him in and he devours them.

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Fairy Tale Blog Series

Fairy tales are hot right now. From TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, to recent movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood, classic fairy and folk tales are experiencing a reboot for modern audiences, and this time around we’re not looking at damsels in distress or sickly sweet Prince Charmings. We are returning to the old texts where ugly step-sisters cut off toes to fit into Cinderella’s slippers, and villains are forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until they die. Today’s audiences want to embrace the darkness recent generations have been shielded from in watered-down versions of classic fairy tales.

I have always been drawn to these tales which, although often gruesome, are fascinating in their simplicity. There are many challenges in adapting these stories to fit the character-driven narratives readers and viewers are looking for today; fairy tales gathered by the likes of the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault, were morality tales, with little to no character development beyond whether each character was good or evil. Yet, there is an unmistakable draw – something about these simple tales keeps us coming back to them again and again, and as a lifelong fairy tale buff I am both excited and nervous about the recent spark of interest in these stories.

In a new blog series, I am going to look at some of the new versions of fairy tales and compare them with the original texts, as well as bringing to light some lesser-known stories and examining what it is that makes a story a fairy tale in the first place. I hope you will join me as every Friday I take a step into the land of far, far away.

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