{Guest Post} Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? By Hester Velmans, author of 'Slipper'

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Fairy tales can be some of the earliest stories we are exposed to, helping children learn about the age-old battle between good and evil, and overcoming a quest to reach that happy ending. But how can we still relate to these messages as we get older? For today's post, Hester Velmans, the author of 'Slipper', a Cinderella retelling, has stopped by to share her thoughts!

Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? 
By Hester Velmans, author of SLIPPER 



Fairy tales have never really gone out of style, of course, but it wasn’t until I’d finished writing Slipper that I realized a whole industry in fairytale retellings of one sort or another has sprung up in the world of YA and adult literature. I can’t say it’s all that surprising, given that these familiar stories set off some deep-buried recognition in the reader; they ring the bell of our most primal emotions.

For a tale to ring that bell, it has to have the elements that drive the best stories. One is the presence of obstacles that have to be overcome by the hero or heroine. Once the dragon has been slain, the impossible task fulfilled, or the evil stepmother outwitted, it is the resulting relief and triumph that make for the most satisfying kind of conclusion any story can give you.

Then there is wish fulfillment. There’s something wonderfully appealing about putting yourself into the shoes of someone who has been put through the wringer, but still manages to attain great wealth, gorgeous clothes, the love of a lifetime, or fame beyond her wildest dreams.

But the question that nagged at me as I was adapting the story of Cinderella was: in our cynical, unsentimental age, are happy endings still necessary? Can fairy tales be given a modern feminist twist, considering that they were first conceived many centuries ago, when a girl’s place was to be quiet, passive and obedient, and the only way out of your hopeless situation was to have a convenient fairy godmother? Given, of course, that you also possessed a sufficient dose of modesty, dazzling beauty, and unusually small feet. Really! Can that kind of simplistic story fly today? 

That’s when you have to start digging into the story to extract the core nuggets of truth — the universal messages that resonate even today. In the case of Slipper, I found that many of the most classic fairytales can be recast to fit real, present day concerns. Who, for instance, hasn’t hoped and wished the boyfriend-frog will turn into a prince if we humor him enough? Who hasn’t gone to a dance bubbling with high expectations, only to go home with her hopes smashed like a pumpkin in the mud? Who hasn’t felt like the family underdog, scorned by mean siblings or neglectful parents, and secretly hoped it wasn’t her real family? 

The reason that I chose the story of Cinderella as the starting point for my historical novel is that it is the most archetypal, and I think the most satisfying, of all the fairytales. It addresses the universal desire to be recognized for your “true”, or better, self. You may be misunderstood, exploited, despised; but in the end, all those sneering naysayers will be forced to admit that secretly you really were the bravest of heroes all along, or the most beautiful girl in the world… or just the coolest kid in school. Won’t they be sorry for the way they treated you, once your true identity is revealed!

Come to think of it, this Cinderella theme comes up in all the most popular stories of our time. It's there in Pride and Prejudice, in Harry Potter, in Jane Eyre, in Superman, Spiderman, Mean Girls, and Grease. It’s in every story where the wallflower, the loser or the nerd wins the prize in the end. It’s about getting through adolescence and coming out OK in the end. It’s about facing adversity, and finding your inner strength or your true worth. If that isn’t relevant today, what is? 


PRAISE FOR SLIPPER 

"Slipper is the most engaging novel I have read in a long time. Part romantic love story, part fairy tale, part feminist commentary, this is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel to be savored. It is as if a graduate student had stumbled upon a handwritten, 19th century manuscript in the British Library, read it, and declared, 'There was a fourth Bronte sister -- and she was the most talented of the brood!'"

-- Daniel Klein, best-selling author of Travels with Epicurus and Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar
"An unexpectedly honest modern novel clothed in the traditional tropes of historical romance. Despite thematically re-imagining the origins of several popular fairy tales, as a bildungsroman the story is refreshingly authentic in the growth of the heroine from an unfettered idealist to a nearly-perfected realist. ...The charm of the protagonist is more than potent enough to draw the reader along through a story that both pointedly charges us with taking command of our own fate, and tasks us with deciding for ourselves what the moral of our own story should be."

-- Thomas A. Peters, Readers' Favorite
"Although this novel mainly pays specific homage to Cinderella, Velmans laces the book with references to the other tales. The author builds this network with remarkable care, and although the resulting novel is a complex web of influences, it's never a confounding one. Furthermore, she writes in a delicate, ornate prose style that has a transporting effect, bringing readers back to Perrault's time and nestling them in a thoroughly alluring narrative. A satisfying blend of history and myth that breathes new life into Cinderella." 
-- Kirkus


Watch the book trailer on Youtube
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Indiebound.org
More info at Hestervelmans.com

Hester Velmans is a novelist and translator of literary fiction. Born in Amsterdam, she had a nomadic childhood, moving from Holland to Paris, Geneva, London and New York. After a hectic career in international TV news, she moved to the hills of Western Massachusetts to devote herself to writing.

Hester’s first book for middle-grade readers, ‘Isabel of the Whales,’ was a national bestseller, and she wrote a follow up, ‘Jessaloup’s Song,’ at the urging of her fans. She is a recipient of the Vondel Prize for Translation and a National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship. 

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