What if Rumpelstiltskin and the miller’s daughter had an affair? Or if Cinderella held a fencing sword and said something like “I will slit you from navel to nose”? Or if Rapunzel lived in the American Wild West?
I’m a regular viewer of the fantasy TV series, Once Upon a Time (OUAT). I can go on about the show’s many faults, but one of the reasons that I keep going back for more is its retelling and re-envisioning of fairy tales and storybook characters. Not all of the show’s retellings have been successful, but there is comfort in hearing familiar stories, knowing the characters and stories on a meta level, and making connections various incarnations. There is also an anticipation in seeing a refreshing take on the characters and plot and seeing how it can still remain true to the most distinctive aspects of the “original” (if an official original even exists) tale.
The first “what-if” I posited references the stand-out retelling of Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale from a recent Once Upon a Time episode. We have all the well-known ingredients: a young woman having to prove that she can spin straw into gold or be executed; the help of the dealmaking imp, Rumpelstiltskin; a child being promised; the young woman’s marriage into royalty; and an ending where the tables are turned on the Rumpelstilstkin (who is supposed to be the bad guy).
However, the OUAT version fills in all the emotional notes and character motivations. The miller’s daughter, Cora, is not a silently suffering martyr. She is filled with anger at the contempt the royals had shown her because she is at the bottom rung of the social ladder. She wants them to bow to her. Under Rumpelstiltskin’s guidance, Cora channels her rage into creating the sort of magic that allows her to spin straw into gold. The child being promised is not her firstborn, but Rumpelstiltskin’s. And when she turns the tables on him in the end, it is an act of betrayal (they are sort of in a relationship).
Other retellings to check out:
- Beauty by Robin McKinley. Beauty isn’t quite beautiful, but her intelligence, practicality, and humor are sources of strength for her family and enable her to build a strong relationship with the Beast, who feels a lot more human than other incarnations I’ve seen.
- Ever After (1998 movie). The second “what-if” I posited references this retelling of Cinderella in fictional 16th century France (where everyone, inexplicably, has a British accent).
CinderellaDanielle de Babarac can floor a prince just by quoting Thomas More’s Utopia.
- Princess and the Frog (2009 movie). This is a movie based on a book based on the The Frog Prince fairytale. I never really liked the early versions of the tale because I don’t think spoiled princesses deserve handsome princes. However, in this movie, Tiana is a hardworking and talented young woman that I can cheer for.
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Ella is gifted with the curse of obedience (or is that cursed with the gift of obedience?), but she knows how to rebel in her own way. She is not going to take it lying down and goes on a quest to remove the curse.
What are your favorite retellings?