For the Love of Fairy Tale Adaptations (Guest Blog)

UPDATED TO ADD: We'll be choosing the winner of the giveaway on Tuesday, March 6th!  So there's still time to comment here, or on Jessica's Teatime Ten (see below) to enter to win!

Today, Jessica Grey returns with a guest blog: For the Love of Fairy Tale Adaptations.

And there's more!  Jessica will also be giving away a free copy of her new book, Awake: A Fairytale!  To enter to win a copy, just leave a comment either here or in Jessica's Teatime Ten interview!

For the Love of Fairy Tale Adaptations
Guest Blog by Jessica Grey 

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” 
- C.S. Lewis
Illustration by W. Crane
Fairy tale adaptations are everywhere right now.  In the movies, on television, in popular fiction.  It’s a trend that seems to come around every decade and a half or so.  As a child I was lucky enough to grow up with Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater and a Beauty and the Beast remake on prime time television.  As a young reader I was able to read books like Beauty and Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley.  Of course whole generations of children grew up with Disney adaptations, and Disney Animation revived the fairytale tradition in the early 90s.  Adapting fairy tales is nothing new, and I would bet a whole nickel that the writers of Once Upon a Time and Grimm probably are close to my age and grew up with many of those same influences.  Fairy tales have a way of getting into your mind and soul and changing the way you look at the world and the way you write.

My early exposure to fairy tales (we had the most amazing collection of books when I was a kid) and adaptations has definitely affected not only the way I write but what I write.  My first novel, Awake: A Fairytale, is an adaption of Sleeping Beauty.  In my story Sleeping Beauty is awakened in modern day Los Angeles by a kiss, but the curse isn’t truly broken.  Instead, the sleeping spell transfers to the boy who kissed her.  My main character, Alexandra Martin, is a childhood friend of the kisser and is stuck trying to figure out a) how to wake him up, and b) what exactly to do with the awakened twelfth century princess. 

There are people that love fairy tale adaptations, but you also often hear people saying they prefer the original version of a particular tale.  While I am all for authenticity, and for fairy tales and folk stories being read in their earliest written forms, the fact is that so many of these stories existed as oral traditions before they were ever written down.  Even the Grimm brothers, as dark as their stories are, were accused of sanitizing some of the original tales.  In some cases, stories that we consider as part of the fairy tale lexicon were written by an author (Hans Christian Anderson is one of the biggest examples of this), and certain critics might be more justified in their distaste for modernizing or changing those stories.  I think it speaks to the power of Anderson’s stories, though, that they get included along with the iconic fairy tales.  They have become a part of the general consciousness in the same way as the earlier stories.

Illustration by Gustav Dore
The tricky part about stories that come from an oral tradition, like so many fairy tales do, is they are hard to pin down.  The story shifts and changes from teller to teller.  And as anyone who has ever heard a really great story teller knows, even when telling a known tale, they somehow make it their own.  Great stories tend to travel which results in many cultures that have similar stories.  If you are ever researching a fairy tale it is so much fun to check out the similar tales across cultures on Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.  Beware, it is a total time suck.  I could spend hours on that site reading versions of various stories. 

I made a conscious decision to have the main characters in my story actually research the fairy tale they were caught up in.  Alex and Becca are both really smart, college-bound girls.  When confronted with the fact that the Sleeping Beauty tale is true, and not only is it true but they’ve been saddled with the recently awakened star of the story, it makes sense for their characters to try to learn as much as possible about what they are dealing with.  So they research it.  It’s what I would have done, I would hope it’s what most people would do, although often YA novels especially have their main characters act before thinking in a way I find unrealistic.  When the girls start researching the origins of the story they run right up against this “pinning it down” problem:

A half ream of printer paper later, Alex wasn’t feeling any more in control of the situation. Becca was cursing quietly under her breath as she surveyed the haphazard stacks of papers on Alex’s bed and desk. “This is frustrating. None of these stories seem to match.”
Alex leaned back and sighed. “Yeah, there are elements that pop up in each one, but nothing that’s really feeling strongly like Lilia’s version of events. They certainly all have the prince she keeps harping on about.”
Lilia looked up from the bean bag chair in the corner, where she was flipping through a version of the story called Little Briar Rose from Grimm’s Fairytales that Alex had already perused, taken notes on, and abandoned.
“See, it is as I said. A prince should have kissed me awake. My true love; not this peasant boy.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t wake up in labor like the princesses in some of these stories,” Alex commented drily. “Being woken up by a peasant might be slightly preferable to being impregnated while unconscious by a prince, true love or not.”

Illustration by Breakspeare

While the sometimes murky origin of these stories may present problems for a historian or recorder (or two eighteen year olds trying to figure out how to break a curse that seems to have transferred), I believe it is this subtle obscurity that gives fairy tales much of their power and their ability to be adapted.  As adapters we can take our place in a long line of storytellers who have added their own personal flair to these famous stories.  We aren’t aiming to change how the story is passed on to future generations (although as an adapter of tales Disney may have managed just that), but to add another way of looking at a tale, a new thread, however small, in the grand story telling tradition.  We want to give the audience around our personal campfire a story that will inspire their imagination and get them thinking about these old stories that still hold so much power and meaning in our lives.


  1. I have always loved fairy tales and folklore. I am very excited to read this when the paperback version comes out! Thanks for sharing more about your story, Jessica. :)

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  3. I was just about to send you a tweet to see if Awake was going to be available in paperback! I'm happy it will.

    I can only imagine how many variations of fairy tales are out there! Very entertaining, as far as research goes.

  4. I love fairy tales. Love them! My absolute favourite course in University was a Fairy & Folk Tales evening class and I learned so much from it. It got into this very issue with the oral tradition and not knowing the exact origins of tales. What was especially fascinating was the fact that several different cultures would have the same tale with their own spin. So cool! I hope to one day tackle retellings of some of the lesser known ones. How fun would that be?

    Bought your book in e-book form and can't wait to read it! :)

    1. Thanks, Jaime! There are some really great lesser known fairy tales that would make for awesome retellings.

  5. I love fairytales, and I love the recent spate of adaptations that have been appearing. My husband and I were recently discussing writing an adaptation of our own and brainstorming how we would go about it. :)

  6. And I just bought the Kindle form of your book. :)

    1. Thanks so much! The great thing about fairy tales is they are adaptable into so many different genres.

  7. I think the fact that the main characters do some research will make the story more interesting. Can't wait to read this one!



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