Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Elements of a Fairy Tale

A fairy tale begins with the proposition of romance. Whether the characters are a prince and a princess, a chef and a frog or a pair of naval aviators, each needs the other to save them. While fairy tales do not always emphasize the role each plays in saving the other, the couple in question is a potential savior and lover for each other.

For example, in the classic fairy tales of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the princes are saved by their love and attraction to the princesses in question. Cinderella's prince faced a loveless match, a marriage forced on him by his father out of duty. He had no interest in the women he was presented with until he met her. If she had not dared to dream and go to the ball, he would never have had this opportunity. Even in the Disney version, it is her preservation of the other slipper that saves the day and lets the two be together.

Beauty and the Beast is another great example of redemption because the Prince who became the Beast did so because he was selfish, arrogant and without compassion. It took the compassion, open-minded acceptance and real love from Belle to free him from his curse. The most powerful element of a fairy tale is the ability to see beyond the surface to the person beneath, to express that depth of observation and feeling and to be open to the changes it brings.

Erotic Fairy Tales
When you turn the tables on a fairy tale and treat it more erotically such as was done in The Sleeping Beauty Novels: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty / Beauty's Release / Beauty's Punishment written by Anne Rice under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure, the traditional fairy tale is twisted with sexual fantasy. Yet, even in these tales of erotic delight, it is the guileless wonder of the heroine that eventually saves the ones she loves and empowers her.

Erotica allows readers to explore potential fantasies with strong, powerful characters that take control of their own destinies. While Beauty may have seemed like a victim in The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, she was anything but at the end of her experiences. She embraced her power as a sexual being and wielded it both gently, yet forcefully. While Anne Rice took us far beyond the origins of this fairy tale, she did it with both grace and panache for the story of a Princess, who though saved by a Prince, saved him and others.

Kiss the Girl, Save the Guy

You cannot have a fairy tale with one weak character and one strong character. You cannot have the Penelope Pitstop heroine that is always saved by her prince. As a woman, I have a hard time rooting for another woman who does nothing to save herself. As a mother, I have a hard time endorsing a story that encourages my daughter to be weak. As a writer, I have a hard time writing a character that cannot at least try to be proactive in her life.

Powerful female leads are very alluring in fiction, I want to read about them, I want to root for them and yes, sometimes, I even want them to be saved. Think about the relationship between Rick Castle and Kate Beckett on ABC's Castle. Beckett is a strong, self-assured and extremely capable woman. She is self-possessed and more than capable of saving herself. Earlier this season, she went to Castle and asked him for help in figuring out who killed her mother. This was a wonderfully moving scene because we know how strong Beckett is, but even strong people need help sometimes and it was made all the stronger by her trust and faith in Castle. Their relationship has evolved from writer and cop to partners to friends. They both bring to the table a powerful personality and the capability of caring for others as well as for looking after themselves. Not that it isn't great fun when Beckett has to save Castle (such as when she strutted her way into the gambling house at the beginning of the season), but they work because there is balance.

The elements of a fairy tale begin with a once upon a time and end on a happily ever after, but without the balance and the strength in between, it's just a flimsy story with pretty pictures.

What fairy tale elements do you enjoy in fiction, movies or television?

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