fairy tales

Cinderella Strong – Guest Post by August McLaughlin

Last April, I read a post on the Cinderella fairy tale that made me see it in a completely new light. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I asked the author, August McLaughlin, if she’d allow me to re-post it here today. If you’re not already a regular reader of August’s blog, make sure you go there after. It’s my favorite place to get well-being tips–from healthy eating, to inspiration, to resolutions that could save our lives.

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Cinderella Strong

By August McLaughlin

August McLaughlin Dolly Cotour Alice Hu 2011Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation.

Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother, and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views in her best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.

The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.

The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.

The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.

Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.

And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you?

August McLaughlin Thriller AuthorAugust McLaughlin is a thriller author, health writer and freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter: @AugstMcLaughlin.

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How Much Do You Know About Snow White?

Snow White and the Huntsman

In honor of the release of Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend, I came up with a quick quiz for you to see how much you know about the 1812 Brothers Grimm version of the Snow White fairy tale.

1. What were the names of the dwarves?
a) Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee
b) Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey, and Doc
c) They didn’t have names

2. How many times does the Queen try to kill Snow White?
a) one
b) two
c) four

3. How does the Queen convince Snow White to eat the apple?
a) she disguises herself as an old woman
b) the Queen shoves it down her throat
c) the Queen eats part of the apple herself

4. What brings Snow White back to life?
a) the prince’s kiss
b) the death of the Queen
c) the apple falls out of her throat

The answers are below the movie trailer.

The answers to all of them are c 🙂

1. The names in a) are from the 1912 Broadway play Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the names in b) are from Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

2. The Queen makes four attempts on Snow White’s life. The first is when she sends the huntsman to cut out her heart, but he takes pity on her and brings back a boar’s heart instead. Next the Queen dresses as a peddler to sell Snow White stay-laces. The Queen laces Snow White up so tight she can’t breathe, but the dwarves rescue her in time. In the third attempt, the Queen disguises herself as an old woman and combs Snow White’s hair with a poison comb. The dwarves come to her rescue again. The fourth and final attempt with the poisoned apple is successful.

3. The Queen is actually dressed as a farmer’s wife when she brings the apple. She cuts a slice for herself and eats only the unpoisoned white part.

4. The prince’s kiss is a later addition. In the 1812 version, the prince falls in love with Snow White even though she’s dead, and asks the dwarves for the coffin. As his servants are carrying it away, they trip on a root and dislodge the apple from her throat.

How did you do on the quiz? Is anyone else looking forward to this movie as much as I am?

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What’s the Point of Fairy Tales?

Tales of Beedle the Bard fairy tales from Harry PotterLast weekend I sat down with a long-awaited treat—The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or watched the movie, then you’ll recognize The Tales of Beedle the Bard as the book of wizarding-world fairy tales containing “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (who owned the Deathly Hallows).

Before I tell you what I thought of the book, I think we have to answer one essential question. What’s the point of fairy tales?

Like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain, but that’s secondary. Unlike today’s novels, their main purpose is to give a moral in a way the audience will remember. They exist to teach a clear lesson.

In this, the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard only partially succeed.

I can hear the argument now. Yes, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are supposed to be fairy tales for wizarding children, not Muggles. People can’t actually perform magic, so you can’t expect a moral for us.

Paranormal romance author Kait Nolan (who I interviewed last year on her YA fairy tale reboot Red) pointed out in her excellent “What Makes a Fairy Tale?” post that what sets fairy tales apart is that magic or some kind of enchantment is basically required as part of the story. That magic doesn’t lessen the need for a universal truth. “Variations of the same stories can be heard all over the world,” Kait wrote, “because they spark something in our imaginations and hearts, such that we’re still telling stories that originated hundreds of years ago.”

Magic, enchantments, and witches show up all the time in fairy tales. The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t unique in that way. And they’re not exempt from needing to teach a lesson to anyone who reads them.

Okay, you might say, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are just supposed to be something fun and extra for people who loved the Harry Potter books.

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. (Don’t believe me? I ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.)

Part of what made the Harry Potter series popular was we could still relate to the stories even though we couldn’t perform magic and would never need to fight a dark wizard. The stories and characters transcended the details of the magical world to tell a story of a boy who longed for a family that loved him, who just wanted to fit in, who struggled to figure out the line between right and wrong, and who learned that some things are worth fighting and dying for. You don’t need to be a witch or wizard to relate.

The lessons in Harry Potter, while secondary to an entertaining story, are what made it so loved by people who wouldn’t otherwise read a fantasy. It’s also what makes them re-readable.

If you didn’t like the Harry Potter books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t worth reading.

For those of you who are curious, here are the five tales in the book.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot

A wizard refuses to use his magic to help the local Muggles. His cooking pot starts to hop, sprout warts, cry, and otherwise show the wizard that the people he refused were suffering. Eventually he gives in, and once he helps, the pot returns to normal. The wizard moral seems to be that wizards should help Muggles. I guess we could really stretch this to the Muggle moral of “we should help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

The Fountain of Fair Fortune

Three witches and a knight overcome obstacles to try to bathe in the Fountain of Fair Fortune, which is supposed to give good fortune to one person per year. They get through the obstacles based on luck and, in the end, none of the three witches need to go in because their problems are already solved. The knight goes in and, made brave, proposes marriage to one of the witches. They all leave happy, and “none of them ever knew or suspected that the Fountain’s waters carried no enchantment at all” (35). The moral would likely be that we make our own good fortune in life, but the fact that a lot of things in the story happen due to luck rather than skill or hard work actually dilutes this moral.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart

A wizard thinks people act foolishly when they fall in love, so he takes his heart from his chest and locks it away. Left in isolation, it grows withered, dark, and hairy like a beast. When he finally takes it out again, he ends up killing a maiden and cutting out her heart because he wants to replace his with hers. The wizard moral is that even magic can’t make you invulnerable to every physical, mental, and emotional pain. The Muggle moral could perhaps be that, if we don’t open ourselves up to love, we shrivel and become savage?

Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump

A king wants to be the only one in the kingdom to possess magic, so he gives an order to hunt down all magical folk. An old witch tricks him into rescinding this order. Honestly, while this is a cute story, I can’t figure out what the moral for magical children would be. As for the moral for us non-magic folk…“don’t lie” is the best I can come up with, but it doesn’t entirely fit the story.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Three brothers cheat death by building a magical bridge over a dangerous river. Death gives them each a wish. The aggressive first brother wants an unbeatable wand. The arrogant second brother wants a stone that will bring the dead back to life. The wise third brother wants to remain unseen by Death. The first and second brothers end up dead because of their wishes. The third brother meets Death as an equal once he’s old. The moral for magic folk and Muggles alike is that death is inevitable. The best you can hope for is to postpone it until you are old and live a full life. This is the best of the fairy tales in the book, and the only one that I think works perfectly.

Do you think I’m wrong about the purpose of a fairy tale? If you’ve read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, am I being too harsh?

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How Do We Know If Someone Has Truly Changed?

Once Upon A Time on ABC

How can we tell if someone has truly changed? How many chances should we give someone before saying “no more”?

The knotty nature of authentic change is a theme Once Upon A Time comes back to again and again. Sydney Glass has the chance to change from being Regina’s spineless, love-sick toy to a man of honor, but allows her to continue to use him. Emma changes from someone who’s alone because of her fears to someone who’s slowly building friendships and desperately wants to get back her son.

Each layer of Mr. Gold’s story especially returns to the nature of change.

In “Skin Deep,” we find out that Mr. Gold isn’t only Rumplestiltskin, but also the Beast to Belle’s beauty. She falls in love with him the way we knew she would, and believes it’s still possible for him to change. And she thinks she’s found the way—true love’s kiss.

Instead of escaping when given the chance, Belle returns to him and kisses him. The curse starts to break, and Rumplestiltskin jerks away. He demands to know what she’s doing. He has his chance, but he refuses to take it.

We see it again in “The Return.” Disgusted by what his father has become, Rumplestiltskin’s son makes a deal. If he can find a way to get rid of his father’s magic that doesn’t hurt either of them, his father has to agree to do it. When his son finds a way to take them to a world without magic, Rumplestiltskin turns him down. He has the opportunity to give up the power that’s making him cruel and evil, but he won’t.

I think the writers of Once Upon A Time keep coming back to the theme of change because we as people are forced to come back to these questions every time someone we trusted hurts us. I also think the writers, perhaps without knowing it, stumbled on part of our answer.

The motivation to change can’t be external.

Our love can’t make someone change. Blackmail or threats can’t make someone change. Not really. Any appearance of change will only be temporary.

I believe in second chances. I believe that people can change. But they have to want it. For their own sake. Outside forces might act as a catalyst, but the desire to change has to rise from within us.

Rumplestiltskin claims he’d be willing to change, but when it comes down to it, his heart still values his power more than his loved ones. Yet each time he walks into an episode, I’m rooting for him to find redemption almost as hard as I’m rooting for Regina to get her just desserts. One of the reasons I still have hope for him is that we see this balance shifting. We see the struggle happening within his heart. He’s passed up every chance he’s been given so far, but some people are more stubborn than others. It takes more for them to decide to change, and it’s dangerous to give up on people too soon.

As part of his backstory, we see that, even once he loses his son through his own cowardice, Rumplestiltskin refuses to accept it. He blames the Blue Fairy for stealing his son. When he thinks his son has finally returned to his life, though, it forces him to face how it was truly his choice that separated them. He’s the one who needs forgiveness.

True and lasting change involves not only desire but also taking responsibility for how our own decisions brought us to the point we’re at.

Even with those two lampposts, the path to change is long and windy and often unclear.

Since I don’t have all the answers, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What helps you decide if someone has truly changed? How many chances do you give before drawing the line in the sand?

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Behind the Scenes: Kait Nolan and Werewolves

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Kait Nolan, author of action-packed paranormal romance, to go behind the scenes of her latest novel, Red, an urban fantasy twist on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Kait Nolan werewolvesEvery fairy tale has a dark side…

Elodie Rose has a secret. Any day, she’ll become a wolf and succumb to the violence that’s cursed her family for centuries. For seventeen years she’s hidden who and what she is. But now someone knows the truth and is determined to exterminate her family line. Living on borrowed time in the midst of this dangerous game of hide and seek, the last thing Elodie needs to do is fall in love. But Sawyer is determined to protect her, and the brooding, angry boy is more than what he seems. Can they outsmart a madman? And if they survive, will they find a way to beat the curse for good?

Welcome, Kait 🙂

The market is full of werewolf stories. Where did the idea for such a new twist come from?

I’m a big fan of fairy tale reboots, and I really wanted to do something with the Red Riding Hood legend—but something that would really turn it on its head. People have done adaptations where the wolf was a werewolf, but I wanted to go a step beyond that, to see what the consequences would be if Red fell in LOVE with the wolf. And that’s how I came up with Elodie.

How do your werewolves differ from the traditional werewolf folklore and from the werewolves in other books on the market?

No silver bullets necessary. No involuntary shifts related to the phases of the moon. It’s not transmissible; it’s a genetic condition, passed on just like blue eyes or brown hair. Oh, and they turn into full wolves, not that funky bipedal hybrid of some werewolf lore.

Readers who love a particular type of story—for example, one including werewolves—sometimes resist innovation. How did you find the balance between making your werewolves unique and meeting readers expectations when they pick up a “werewolf book”?

Well I am one of those readers who loves a good werewolf book, so I was just sure to include everything I knew I wanted. Pack dynamics, fight with the animal instincts, unshakable loyalty, and mates for life.

In Red, werewolves thrive best in stable pairs (either a home with both parents for young werewolves or a mated pair for mature werewolves). Where did you get the idea to have the key to a “safe” werewolf versus a “dangerous” werewolf be a stable pair? 

*grin* I write romance. Plus it really seemed like it would be a way to muck around and complicate things for Elodie’s family line.

An aspect of your werewolf culture that I found especially interesting was that werewolves mate for life. That’s almost counter-cultural to the rest of the world. Was this something you came up with because wild wolves actually mate for life or were you trying to send a message to teens about the value in long-term, stable relationships?

Actually that is a popular misconception. Wolves don’t always mate for life. But I am a lifelong romance lover, which means I am a fan of the One True Pairing/Soulmate concept—whether you’re talking YA or adult fiction. For Red I really wanted to try to present a love at that age that was real. Too often adults are quick to say that teens don’t really know what it is to love, really love. And I think that’s because those adults weren’t there, didn’t feel it for themselves, and they can’t believe it. But it does happen, and I think teens deserve a chance to see that.

How much did the habits of real wolves and the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale affect Red?

I did a lot of research on wolf behavior in an attempt to realistically portray how Elodie would be changing and behaving as the wolf became ascendant. The actual fairy tale was more backstory in terms of how Elodie’s family line got started.

What do you find really attractive about werewolves?

Their strength, their intelligence, and their unwavering loyalty to pack and mates.

If you found out you were a werewolf, what would your biggest fear be?

Absolutely it would be the same as Elodie’s—I would fear losing control to the beast and hurting someone.

Will you be writing more werewolf books in the future (not necessarily with Elodie and Sawyer) or do you think you’ll move on to something else?

Oh I’ll absolutely have more werewolves and wolf shifters. I love them! I have at least two other books planned in my adult paranormal romance series that features them as heroes. They’re kind of a favorite creature of mine. 😀

Thanks, Kait, for taking us behind the scenes on Red.

Kait Nolan author of paranormal romanceKait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. The work of this Mississippi native is packed with action, romance, and the kinds of imaginative paranormal creatures you’d want to sweep you off your feet…or eat your boss.  When she’s not working or writing, she’s in her kitchen, heading up a revolution to Retake Homemade from her cooking blog, Pots and Plots.

You can catch up with her at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Her debut YA paranormal, Red, is currently available from Smashwords, Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, and All Romance EBooks.