Fairy Tales and YA Romance — A Guest Post by Author Alyssa Sheinmel
I’ve never really outgrown the fairy tales I grew up with. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that the Disney movies I watched as a little kid are a far cry from the much darker stories that inspired them. And sure, I know all about the potentially pernicious lessons in fairy tales about justice and heroes and being carried off on a white horse by a dashing prince. Still, at the end of the day, as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing quite so enchanting as Rapunzel letting down her long hair or the twelve dancing princesses sneaking out to dance until the soles of their shoes are worn through.
I actually took a class on fairy tales in college, where we read different versions of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast (along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy). I own more than one annotated version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, revealing the stories behind the stories behind the stories. I gobbled up an amazing book a while back called Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked about all the dark and disturbing versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” that have existed over the past several centuries. As a nine-year-old, I dressed up as Snow White for Halloween and I watched my favorite version of Cinderella so many times that my old VHS tape was worn down at my favorite parts.
Just a few of the books on my fairy-tale-centric bookshelves.
Today, every time I read a love story, I feel the same way I did as a little kid watching my favorite movies and paging through my favorite picture-books. As far as I’m concerned, every romance is at least a little bit of a fairy tale. Starting with the classics: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights; and on into today’s young adult love stories. Falling in love always has its own sort of magic, even when the story lacks wicked witches, enchanted spindles, poisoned apples, or fairy dust.
Fairy tales have cropped up in one form or another in every single book I’ve written, but Second Star is my first real re-interpretation. No coincidence, it’s also my first real love story.
I guess that technically, Peter Pan isn’t a fairy tale in the traditional sense. Sure, it has its share of fairies, but there’s no Prince Charming and no princess trapped by an enchantment. Still, it is something of a love story. In their own way, both Tinker Bell and Wendy are in love with Peter, and he – like every other clueless boy before or since – is totally oblivious to the fact, or at least he has no idea what to do with that kind of love.
The funny thing about fairy tales is how few of them actually get a fairy tale ending. (I mean, have you ever read the original story of Rapunzel? Dark stuff.) In Peter Pan, Wendy doesn’t end up with Peter, the boy she’s spent the entire book adoring. In fact, she outgrows him entirely, the way a lot of girls do with their first loves. But that doesn’t mean it was any less real a love.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ve never really written a book that ends on a “happily ever after” kind of note. But I don’t think a story has to end with a girl being carried off by a prince on a white horse to be considered a love story. In fact, many of the stories in YA today turn that paradigm completely on its head. Today, it’s the girls who are carrying off the boys, or maybe they’re each riding off into the sunset on their own horse, or maybe they’re not riding off at all. Maybe theirs is a story of unrequited love, or of love gone awry; maybe it was just a love that was only meant to last a short while.
And then there are the stories that are not about romantic love at all. Instead, they’re about the love between a sister and her brothers, between a child and her parents, a teen and her hometown. There’s room for all of those kinds of love in today’s YA romances, and as far as I’m concerned, if there’s love, it’s a sort of fairy tale.
Maybe that’s part of why I write stories myself: it’s my chance to try writing a fairy tale, over and over again. Even if the story takes place in the real world, even if there’s nothing resembling a magic wand in sight, even if I never get to type the words “and they lived happily ever after.”