Fairytale Fantasy Post #8

Valentine’s Day Gone. . .

. . . but not fairytale-inspired fantasy!

Here’s the 8th and final post in my series about fairy tale-inspired fantasy novels.

TO REPEAT from fairytale fantasy post #1: the term “fairy tale” is misleading. What we typically call “fairy tales” are more accurately described as “folk tales,” or “traditional tales,” especially those originating in the oral tradition. I’m also not necessarily posting about the fae, although one of the books in this series of posts does have a strong fae presence. “Fairy”—“Fae”—They are synonyms (of a sort), and tales of the fae are an important fantasy subgenre, but again, I’m not using “fairy” necessarily in that sense. AND I’m not dealing with anything Disney (although I guess I kind of lied about that, because a few of the posts do mention Disney, including this one). So why no major discussions of Disney fairytale fantasy? There’s so much of it! It would require posts of its own. No–an entire book of its own. Maybe an entire series of books. That said, the Disney presence is almost impossible to avoid, so from time to time I have referenced a Disney animated or live-action film that connects to my topic, including (sigh, can’t help myself) in this post.

The fairytale fantasy novels

My top picks:

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. Inspired by the Grimm Bros. fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. Reviewed in the first post of this series.

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord. Inspired by the Senegalese folk tale Ansige the Glutton. Reviewed in the second post of this series.

Other fairytale fantasy novels:

She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan. Influenced by Chinese ghost lore. Reviewed in the third post of this series.

Alice, by Christina Henry. Horror-fantasy based on Alice in Wonderland. Reviewed in the fourth post of this series.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Based on the French fairy tale Cinderella. Reviewed in the fifth post of this series.

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse. Influenced by the mythology and folklore of Mesoamerica. Reviewed in the sixth post of this series.

Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa. Influenced by the folklore of Japan. Reviewed in the seventh post of this series.

For the Wolf, by Hannah Whitten. Based on Little Red Riding Hood? Or maybe Beauty and the Beast. REVIEWED IN THIS POST, the eighth and last of the series.

Today’s fairytale fantasy review:
For the Wolf, by Hannah Whitten

Buy at amazon.com.

Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf (Orbit, 2021) has been marketed as YA fantasy modeled on the Charles Perrault fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, from the 17th century, and the cover shows why. It seems to me the novel has much more in common with another fairy tale entirely, Beauty and the Beast, a French fairy tale, too, but not by Perrault. This one was written in the 18th century by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

Folkloric basis of the novel:

Little Red Riding Hood was first popularized by Charles Perrault in one of his collections of folk tales, but it has many antecedents and shares similarities with other folk tales, especially one collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany much later (19th century), Little Redcap. The big puzzle with Whitten’s novel is why its publisher and marketers connected For the Wolf so closely with Little Red Riding Hood. True, the monster of Whitten’s novel is a wolf of sorts, and true, the heroine’s name is Redarys. “Red” for short. But past that, I don’t see much resemblance. That cover, though. It’s great. So maybe that’s the big reason.

The novel itself is much, much more like Beauty and the Beast. In Barbot de Villeneuve’s tale, a young woman gets sent off as more or less a sacrifice to the appetites of a ferocious and mysterious beast living in a magical castle. Instead of devouring her, the beast comes to depend on her, and then fall in love with her. When the young woman, Beauty (Belle), extracts a promise from him that she can visit her family, he is bereft. Circumstances delay her return, he thinks she has abandoned him, and he starts to pine away. In the nick of time, Beauty comes back to him, saving his life. In compassion and true love for the person underneath the hideous hide of the beast, she kisses him. Instantly, an enchantment drops away from him, he returns to his true form–handsome prince, what else?–and they all live happily ever etc. etc. etc. It’s a fable about true beauty vs. mere appearance. Even though Beauty and the Beast is not a folk tale, it has more or less achieved the status of one–similar to the way Alice in Wonderland has entered popular lore even though it too isn’t a folk tale. Beauty and the Beast does have a lot in common with similar stories across the ages and cultures (see the TV Tropes discussion), and it has been told and re-told ever since its first publication.

Whitten’s novel:

This is very much a YA novel with all the tropes: the plucky young girl, the true love interest, the false love interests, the sister who isn’t like the heroine. All it lacks is first-person narration. It definitely checks all the boxes, so if that’s the kind of read you like, you might enjoy this novel. Here‘s an amusing blog post about typical YA tropes and how writers can avoid them. I note that Whitten’s novel has several of these hackneyed devices: outsider protagonist, dead or emotionally inaccessible parents, pretty useless adults, forced romance, love triangle, the protagonist as “the chosen one.” That’s six out of the ten on the list, and I may have missed a few. On the other hand, I am a cynical and hard-hearted adult reader, so maybe not listen to me.

I felt the characterization and plotting were pretty lackluster in this one. The one thing I really did like was the idea of the sentient forest. That part grabbed me, even though at times it seemed a bit far-fetched.

But I definitely noticed the Beauty and the Beast vibe in this one, whereas the Little Red Riding Hood vibe was superficial. The Beast (Wolf) was a moody, standoffish fellow who labored under some kind of mysterious enchantment, and Red was there to save him. Red plays some kind of ritual sacrifice role–in her world, the first daughter of the king gets to become queen, while the second daughter gets sent off to the wolf. If this doesn’t happen, the kingdom is somehow imperiled. And Red has some mysterious magical powers that have only caused her trouble. And the Beast has a mysterious magical castle.

Both Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast have long had a grip on the popular imagination. Most kids, even contemporary kids, know the Little Red Riding Hood story from children’s books and schlocky cartoons. There was even a pretty bad recent movie based on the tale: Red Riding Hood (2011), a “gothic reimagining,” starring Amanda Seyfried–and tons of others, of all types, animations, live action, parody, horror.

There is one fantasy reboot of the tale that I admire more than just about anything of its type. That’s The Path, a horror-art video game from the studio Tale of Tales. The studio has some other fascinating, quirky offerings. Check it out HERE. Originally released in 2009, now available on Steam, The Path is a beauty. When you open the game, you find yourself in a room with six young women (and there’s a mysterious seventh as well), ranging from child to young adult in age, all some version of Red Riding Hood. You choose one of these characters to play and head off toward Grandmother’s House. There’s only one rule in the game: Stay on the path. However, what you don’t find out (until later) is that if you do stay on the path, you lose the game. You only win if you go wandering off. Each character represents a different phase in the life of a young girl coming of age into womanhood. Each character, to succeed, must face her “wolf.” This game is beautiful, slow, creepy (don’t play it alone at night), and psychologically true. It’s one of the most unusual and intriguing games I’ve ever played. I think I might go off and play it now. Be back later.

Here‘s where to get it.

Back. . .on to Beauty and the Beast. This story, too, has gone through too many retellings to count. Here’s a nice comprehensive list. People of a certain age might remember the really popular tv show of the ’80s based on the tale (fairly recently subject to a remake). There have been a number of pretty bad movies, too. But unlike Little Red Riding Hood, a few of the movies made from Beauty and the Beast are true gems. I’ll mention only two. The first, the cinema great Jean Costeau’s classic La Belle et la Bete (1946), is full of power, mystery, and romance. Very little can match it. The second–all right, I’ll break down and say it–is the 1991 Disney animated version. Disney released a live-action version in 2017, but for my money, the animated one is the best. That may be simple nostalgia on my part. When the movie came out, I had promised my little daughter I’d take her to see it. Just before we left for the theater (there were movie theaters in those days. . . but I digress. . .) my fifteen-year-old son had a meltdown to end all teenaged meltdowns. I settled into my theater seat still shaking. At the end, at the very last minute, when the Beast turns from a kind of beastly adolescent into a real person. . .well. I just became a puddle of awwww. Sure enough, very shortly afterward, my fifteen-year-old became a human. Now he has a son of his own. Bwahahahaha.

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