Monday, August 18, 2008

Fantasy and Fairy Tales

For various reasons, I went to my local used bookstore this weekend to try to find a light, frothy book to make the rainy days cozy rather than confining, and I stumbled across The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey. (In my defense, at the time I did not know that the publishing company Luna was actually a branch of Harlequin, but I doubt it would have mattered because the storyline seemed so interesting despite the incredibly lame front cover.)

Anyway, without delving too far into the story to risk ruining it for others, I enjoyed the book and it was a very quick read. I love re-works of fairy tales almost as much as I love re-works of Biblical tales, and Lackey weaves some Russian fairy tales in with the predominant "Cinderella" story. If you like fantasy novels or fairy tales, you'll probably like this book, though the sex scenes were superfluous and added nothing to the story. (I guess it wouldn't have been Harlequin without them, though.) The book was good enough, however, that I'm seriously considering tracking down the other two books in the series to continue reading them.

What stuck in my mind afterwards, however, was a Q-and-A with Lackey in which she says that she enjoys fantasy because it is the closest genre we have now to moral tales. Generally, the good triumph over the bad and everyone lives happily-ever-after-the-end. She also added that women tended to be less willing to settle for anything less than pure bliss, while men weren't as opinionated on the matter.

First of all, I'd like to know where she gets her information. I suppose on the one hand it seems to be superficially true (why read a romance novel if it ends sadly?), but on the other hand, it gives women very little credit for any depth of thought. It also completely discounts Danielle Steele's success as a "women's writer," when (from what I understand) her books generally have two main love interests, one of whom dies tragically part-way through. Women are known to enjoy sad stories, and I know quite a few who will watch a sad movie just because they "feel like crying." (Actually, I've done this in the past--my brother swears the entire female species is crazy for actually wanting to cry, but if I'm feeling emotionally blah, the last fifteen minutes or so of Braveheart or Armageddon will fix that problem right away.)
On the other hand, while fairy tales may very well be "moral tales," what we often think of as fairy tales are in no way like the original Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson stories of old, which are, generally, vicious and cruel with incredibly bloody endings. Do we really want moral tales that end with the "bad" having limbs hacked off to live in poverty for the rest of their miserable lives? Especially when, deep down, none of us is perfect and we each secretly know that we, too, would receive the painful, bloody ending if these "moral tales" were true?


Daniele said...

I loved that book too, unfortunately I didn't think the next two were as good. Have you read the Gregory Maguire books? Those are also retellings of fairytales. Robin McKinley has some too, my favorite of which is deerskin. I actually wasn't familiar with the story before I read her novel, but it's really good, I think you'd like it. Mercedes Lackey has another series called the Elemental Masters. This series covers Beauty and the Beast (The Fire Rose), Snow White (The Shadow Serpent), Cinderella (The Pheonix and the-something, Ashes maybe), and Sleeping Beauty (The Gates of Sleep). The Snow White one is my favorite, but I might be biased because the protagonist is a doctor. They're all strong women with very little "damseling." (I have a biochem midterm tomorrow and I'm completely burnt out on studying-that's why I'm commenting on a bunch of your posts, and it's good to hear from you again. Reading your blog sortof lets me in on your thoughts and I remember how much fun we used to have.)

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I LOVE Robin McKinley! I've read everything of hers that I can get my hands on. And I'll try the Elemental series--I agree with you, I tried the second of this series and it bit the big one. And you're MORE than welcome to comment on my blog--it validates my efforts.

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