Skip to main content

Guest Post Claire Bartlett: Unpacking Fairytales



This week I want to welcome author Claire Bartlett to the blog to talk about the fascinating history of fairy tales throughout culture and how they play a role in her new book, The Winter Duke (out March 3). I've been a huge fan of fairy tales my entire life (I even wrote a giant paper on the Brothers Grimm for a school project once), so it was so much fun to read about the history of a couple tales that Claire uncovered in her research. If you missed the last time Claire was on the blog to promote her debut, you can find that post here.


I always wanted to write a fairy tale retelling, and it only makes sense to me now that I'd combine fairy tale, history and fantasy to create The Winter Duke. Fairy tales have long been intertwined with history, and in fact it's now estimated that fairy tale tropes go back thousands of years, being retold and reworked to fit audiences. Many of them were somewhat cemented in the public mind after being written down by the Grimms, among others, and these are often the fairy tales we treat as canon when we decide to adapt them for modern novels and retellings.

Fairy tales have long been evolving constructs, and while a number of them are certainly fiction, others may be rooted in, or allude to, fact (there's a lot of debate here, of course, but that's half the fun). For example, the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, a story I particularly love (and that served as a very vague jumping-off point for The Winter Duke). Some people claim that the tale originates in a real historical event. And honestly, the event seems more ridiculous than the fairy tale: The dancing plague.

Yes. This plague was all about people dancing. It took place in Strasbourg, now in France. According to chroniclers at the time, the plague began with Frau Troffea, who began dancing uncontrollably and was soon joined by dozens of others. They didn't stop to eat or work. People collapsed, bloodied their feet, suffered stroke and exhaustion, and even died. The plague went on for a month, and though there are many theories (accidentally ingested hallucinogens, mass hysteria), no one has a real answer as to why. But we do know it happened. And it didn't just happen once - there are other documented cases in Germany and Switzerland.

Some people theorize that this spurred not just The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but another fairy tale: The Pied Piper of HamelinOthers say The Pied Piper has much more grisly origins.

Several accounts say that in 1284, 130 children disappeared from the town of Hamelin. Some claim their disappearance is a reference to the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, which swept through Europe in the 1300s. It could also have been a euphamism for the senseless and awful Children's Crusade, in which children were encouraged to go from all over Europe to Jerusalem to convert the Muslims with their youthful innocence. As many as 30,000 children left for the Crusade, and most of them died from famine, exposure or disease along the way. A little less horrid is the theory that a recruiter, known as a lokator, used to go from town to town in Germany and convince people to move to less populated places. Scholars have found surprising name similarities between the family names of Hamelin and other towns around the same time - towns in places like Poland, which is not known for its Germanic surnames.

(Did I mention I wrote a take on the Pied Piper? It's just a few hundred words and you can read it here: https://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/sf-fantasy/claire-bartlett/we-do-not-know-what-happened-to-the-children)

Fairy tales have also changed over time. For example, The Pied Piper didn't always start off with a plague of rats. The rats were added later (perhaps they are the reference to the Black Death). As people absorb and retell them, they add their own details to fit the fairy tale to life as they know it. Oftentimes, they use the fairy tale as a kind of social or politlcal commentary. Take the lovely tale Rumpelstiltskin. I read somewhere (and sadly I haven't found it again!) that many more modern takes on the fairy tale (i.e., the Grimm era in the 1800s) referenced the way weaving was changing from a man's job to an industrial, machine-led job.

When I was writing The Winter Duke, I considered using the dancing plague as the curse that strikes Ekata's family. In the end, I decided to use some history that lay outside the may-have-inspired-a-fairy-tale realm. I couldn't help it. This story blew my mind.

Picture this: I was reading a history of the Romanov dynasty. I come to the late 1700s, where the slimiest creature ever to walk this earth waltzed onto my page. His name? Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen. His crime? Committing regicide. But he didn't just kill the Tsar, Paul. No, he connived his way into a coup. Von der Pahlen was a nobleman who ended up in the trusted circles of both Tsar Paul and his son, Alexander. Von der Pahlen played father and son against each other, convincing each of them that a coup drew ever nearer, and that one of them would perish at the hands of the other. Eventually, things came to a head and the old Tsar Paul was dispatched by his son, all through von der Pahlen's slippery manipulations. And the worst thing? He got away with it. Even when he was discovered as the double-crosser he was, he slithered out of an execution and got himself exiled for life instead. I read this story and I couldn't fathom how someone could get away with doing everything Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen did. Obviously, I had to make a novel out of it. The story changed a lot, but he was the catalyst for the political plot of The Winter Duke.

Go forth, friends. Read fairy tales and don't scoff too much at their outrageousness. They might have some grain of truth to them! And if you want to indulge in a queer frozen fairy tale, check out The Winter Duke,coming your way March 3rd.

Links:

website: authorclaire.com

I hope you enjoyed today's post! If you're a blogger on an author who wants to do a guest post, don't be afraid to reach out by emailing readingwritingandme@gmail.com

Other Posts by Claire...

Links of Interest:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Top Reads of 2018

This year's best of 2018 list has tons of new categories to fit all of the amazing books I read this year. I've had the chance to read so many advanced books and recent releases, so most of what I read were books that came out in 2018. I mostly choose contemporary, so I've started with my favorite debut as well as the best books in other genres I've ventured into. After that, I have smaller categories in the contemporary genre. I hope you find new books to love and give to your friends and family for the holidays. If you're interested in learning more about the books on the list, click their titles to go to my reviews. Let me know if these are some of your favorites in the comments, and tell me your favorite books!
Best In Genre Top Debut
Nothing Left To Burn by Heather Ezell Nothing Left To Burn gave me the craziest book hangover. I was so immersed in the story, and I couldn't stop reading to do anything that I actually needed to be doing. There is a toxic relat…

Weekly Book Reviews and Recommendations: Week 5

This week has been a bit crazy. With a four day weekend because of Easter, I thought I'd get some extra reading done. Lo and behold, that's not exactly what happened. I was way busier than I thought I'd be, but better late than never, I guess. Anyway, I read three great books this week that were all very different but also very good in their own rights.


1) Girl In Pieces  by Kathleen Glasgow (406 pages) 
This book was so beautiful and amazing that I had to write a Standout Review for it. I published that earlier in the week, and you can check it out here: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/04/standout-book-girl-in-pieces.html


P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (337 pages)
Overview:P.S. I Still Love You is the second installment of Jenny Han's YA series. (You can check out my review of the first book To All The Boys I've Loved Before here: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/2017/03/reading-reviews-and-recommendations.html ) In this book, we catch up with Laura Je…

What If It's Us

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (448 pages)
Overview: Ben and Arthur meet at the post office during a flashmob. Well, Arthur followed Ben into the post office because he thought he was and, and, just as they started talking, in true form with Arthur's New York fantasy, a flash mob erupted. When the boys and split up, Arthur loses his chance at connecting with Ben, but when he can't stop thinking about him, he explores ways to reconnect even in a city of a million empty faces like New York. Even if they can find each other, with Arthur going back to Georgia at the end of the summer, will it even be worth it? Overall: 4/5

Characters: 4.5 I'm not sure what to say about the characters. I liked them enough, but I didn't feel any real attachment to any of them. I liked the cast of friends, but they all lacked a certain weight that would give them a stronger sense of reality. My favorite relationship in the book was the friendship between Dylan and Ben.…

Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett (April 16) To Buy From Your Local Bookstore
Overview: There's a mystery to be solved. Actually, quite a few. There's the mystery of the boy from Moonlight Diner and the subject of a random hook up Birdie still doesn't understand. And then there's the mysterious author, Raymond Darke who comes into the hotel where she works the graveyard shift. Birdie loves mystery books, movies, and television shows, and they're her escape from her overly sheltered life. But, now, Birdie is eighteen, finished homeschooling, and braving Seattle for herself. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 Birdie is a lot of fun. She's quiet, mixed up, curious, and open. Originally, she lived with her young mom and her Aunt Mona, but, after her mom's untimely death, she moved in with her grandparents on Bainbridge Island. Her grandmother was overly sheltering after her conflict with Birdie's mother, and she homeschooled her to keep her confined. Since her grandmot…

Nothing Left To Burn

Nothing Left To Burn by Heatger Ezell (322 pages)
Overview: There's a fire burning Orange County to the ground, and Audrey knows what started it. She's woken up to an evacuation notice and then learns that her sister collapsed at her ballet audition about an hour away. Audrey is scared the cancer has come back to take her sister. She also has her firefighter boyfriend, Brooks, to worry about, though the fire seems to be the high point of his life. Throughout the day and in flashback chapters of the summer, Audrey must figure out how to piece together what's left of what the fire burnt to the ground. Overall: 5++++++++++++

Characters: 5 Wow. I think that I love and identify with Audrey more than any character I've ever read. She's a bit trapped in her own head and stuck between intensities, a devout dancer till she walked out of the audition of her ballet career at fourteen. A controlled, quiet impulsiveness courses under his skin, and, though it doesn't show ofte…

Heroine

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis (417 pages) To Purchase From Your Local Bookstore (Affiliate Link)
TW: Depiction of opioid addiction 
Overview: Mickey has it all. She's on the best softball team in the county, she has a supportive best friend, and, even though her parents have recently gone through a divorce, they both want to support her. And then she and Carolina get into a car accident on the way home to watch Netflix and eat pizza, a regular Friday night. Mickey's leg is all but torn out of her body, and her hip has to be put together with screws. Carolina, the school's near famous pitcher, nearly destroys her arm. As the girls fight to be ready in time to play their senior softball season, Mickey falls down a dangerous road, slowly upping her intake of pain pills to get through the day and to quicken her pace through physical therapy. Even as she tells herself that it's just for softball, just for her team, just for her parents, as she gets further in and her dependency i…

Past Perfect Life

Past Perfect Life  by Elizabeth Eulberg (July 9)
Overview: Ally Smith has lived for almost her entire life in Wisconsin. She briefly remembers living in Chicago, but it's always been just her and her dad. She's made a life in the town and become almost family with the Gleasons who basically own the town. Her perfect life is shattered, though, when an error with her social security number on her college applications alerts the FBI that she's actually a missing person. Overall: 4.5 

Characters: 5 Ally is an awesome main character. Her voice and handling of emotions is so relatable, and I love how articulate she is. The emotional hurdles she jumps through are so shocking, but she makes them make sense. It's almost like a reverse savior situation she finds herself in as she's taken from her "perfect" life and dropped into one that looks much more "perfect" from the outside.
The Gleasons are great additions too. They're her best friends and protect…

Waiting For Fitz

Waiting For Fitz by Spencer Hyde (March 5) Click to Purchase
Overview: Addie is in the hospital for inpatient OCD treatment. She's not thrilled, particularly because her mom might watch The Great British Bake Off without her, but, overall, she's ready to try whatever it takes to get better. And it turns out that most of the orderlies are nice and her fellow patients are great company, especially Fitz, who's been there for two years battling schizophrenia. Inside, she makes major strides toward recovery, but Fitz comes to her and asks for help breaking out. Against her better judgement, she can't refuse to help him. Overall: 4 

Characters: 5 I enjoyed reading from Addie's prospective. I thought that Hyde did an awesome job portraying OCD and the compulsions and obsessions that come with it. Addie is sarcastic and sensible. She has a wonderful, supportive mom and a team behind her that's determined to help. I love how she is both reasonable, and takes time to quest…

One of Us Is Next Review

One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
Overview: Bayview was rocked by Simon's death and his gossip app, but everyone thinks that things might be going back to normal until Truth or Dare gets texted to everyone's phones. The game offers players two choices- pick truth and have a secret of yours texted to the entire school or pick dare and be told what prank you have to pull. Pick dare because none of them are worse than the truths the anonymous texter possesses. He also seems to be targeting specific people at Bayview, Phoebe who is kind of a golden girl and is hooking up with the star football player on the down low, Brandon, that football player, Jules, Phoebe's best friend, Sean, Brandon's best friend, and Maeve, Bronwyn's younger sister who was involved in cracking the Simon case. When the game starts to move from extremely annoying to actually threatening, everyone involved is locked in a stand-still about how to confront the issue. And when Phoebe ends up with …