For most of my published career I’ve been involved with retelling fairy tales. I put a kinky spin on Cinderella in The Glass Stiletto, and changed the hero and heroine into step-siblings for Her Beastly Stepbrother and Her Stepbrother’s Christmas Gift (and two others), and I edited two anthologies of horror retellings (I actually wrote a zombie Beauty and the Beast for one). So why have I returned to this realm again with Wickedly Ever After? Because every time we retell these stories, there is something more for us to see and enjoy, something more to discover about ourselves.
Fairy tales are timeless examples of happy endings at the end of the journey which makes them ripe for reinterpretation. They are, I believe, modern mythology. There may not be deities, but there is magic, villainy and lessons to learn and mistakes to make before achieving success. And although we don’t wait for princes to kiss us awake, need to stay with a beast who treats us poorly in the hopes of transforming him, or wait for a fairy godmother to change our destiny, there are other more modern ways of looking at and telling these stories that are still powerful.
It’s a lot of fun to spin these stories and create a tale relevant for today. Perhaps we want a story about a woman who needs to leave behind the people who are holding her back or who have stolen her voice so that she can go for her dreams (as in the Little Mermaid). Maybe our heroine has to get out of the roles she’s been assigned in order to find what she most wants (Cinderella), or break free of the tower that has shielded her from taking risks in the world (Rapunzel).
Look at how much Hollywood loves to reexamine these tales - Snow White and the Huntsman, Ever After and Ella Enchanted, Gretel and Hansel, Maleficent, Sydney White, Beastly. Some are better than others, but all have the same roots. Fairy tales are a starting point for exploration whether we change the ending, the sexual orientation of the main characters, when and where the story takes place, or who is the actual hero. They give us a familiar place to say “What if…” and discover a new and deeper understanding of what we thought we already knew. In the words of Stephen Sondheim who did one of my favorite retellings in his musical Into the Woods:
One another's terrible mistakes
Witches can be right, giants can be good
You decide what's right, you decide what's good
Find your tale – and tell it.
A Jersey Girl trapped without good diners or boardwalks in New England, Rachel Kenley is the author of seven novels as well as several short stories and novellas. She started reading romances at fourteen and credits them with her lifelong fascination with relationships and how they influence our lives. When she is not writing she is homeschooling her sons, trying unsuccessfully to keep up with laundry, and laughing as much as possible. She desperately needs her morning coffee, enjoys shameless flirting, never misses the chance to watch The Wizard of Oz, and believes in the joy and importance of retail therapy. She is currently the President of the international writers’ group Broad Universe.