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

Books I'm Looking Forward To: April

Everything feels extremely uncertain right now, and authors are rightfully concerned about their books that are debuting in the coming months. Right now, Amazon is delaying book shipments, bookstores are being forced to close, and libraries are not providing in person services. While none of that this good news, it doesn't mean that books will be forgotten during this time. If anything, we need books and the arts in general more than ever. We've all turned to Netflix and reading and music to take our minds off of the situation, and these artists need our support too.
Luckily, there are tons of ways to do this. While authors aren't getting to hold traditional book launches, many are transitioning them to places like Instagram Live, so make sure you follow the authors you love on social media. Continuing on the social media theme, it's now more important than ever to talk about the books you enjoy online and leave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon to spread the word.
Anoth…

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out by Kate McGovern 
Overview: Astrid has a form of brain cancer called astrocytoma that causes a star shaped tumor to form near her brainstem. Though she was in remission, two years later, the cancer comes back, and Astrid becomes convinced that she won't beat the disease. She starts to pursue options that will allow her to have a life in the future, namely, cryopreservation. After essentially freezing her body, she hopes to wake up when there's a cure for her cancer so she can rejoin the world and see some of the milestones she fears missing.
On the road trip to tour the Arizona facility, though, Astrid makes other realizations about her life and eventual death that alters how she sees her original plan. Overall: 4 

Characters: 4 Astrid is relatable. She has a touch of dry, witty humor that makes her relatable. She loves her friends and family deeply, but she also has a conviction to follow what feels best for her. I appreciated how she always tried to stay ho…

Soooo... The World Is More Than a Little Scary

I'm not sure what exactly I want to say with this post. It feels like there's nothing left to say in a way. Over the last few days, the United States has come to realize just how serious COVID-19 is. It's a reality that people in Europe and Asia grasped long before most Americans. I think that we're all starting to realize just how much our lives are fundamentally changing. How long this will actually impact us.
I've seen a lot of different reactions on Twitter. Understandably, there's a lot of heartbreak over lost vacations, concerts, and book tours. A lot of us were using things like this to keep motivated. It's entirely understandable why these choices have been made, but it doesn't make it any less hard. So, I guess what I wanted to say first is don't feel bad for feeling bad. Yes, there are people losing much more from this, and we should be doing everything we can to help them through this time, but beating yourself up for being disappointed …

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.…

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…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner Lianne Oelke (420 pages)
Overview: Jane wants to forget the past. Forget the high school that expelled her. Forget the people that watched her fall from grace. Forget her family who thinks that prayer is the answer to everything. Facing community college at Elbow River as a last resort graduation option, she signs up to be on House of Orange, a new web reality show, to solve her housing problem. Though she knows to expect the unexpected, House of Orange and its inhabitants test Jane in ways she never imagined. Maybe the year won't be as bad as she imagined. Overall: 5

Characters: 5 I LOVE Jane. There are very few main characters I can say that I appreciated more. Her sarcasm, dry humor, and outlook on life echoed my own thoughts, and I loved how she was so introspective. It is fascinating to listen to Jane work through her own thoughts and recognize her behaviors as masks for other feelings. I also thought that Oelke did a wonderful job with her depiction of Ja…

Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett (417 pages)
Overview: Glamping should not include getting stranded in the middle of the woods with your ex-best friend. But life doesn't always go as it's supposed to. When Zorie agrees to go with her friend Regan and her crew on a summer camping trip, she doesn't know Lennon will be there, and she's certainly not expecting the group to abandon the two of them in the middle of the California wilderness, forced to complete a multi day track back to civilization. It turns out, though, that an adventure in the woods might be just what they need. Overall: 4.5

Characters: 5 I thought that all of the characters, including the adults, were given dimension. I loved the parental dynamic between Lennon and his moms as well as Zorie's relationship with her step mom who never considered Zorie less than her own daughter.
Lennon and Zorie are also awesome characters. Zorie has to battle her intense anxiety and relinquish control while she's stuck in…

March 2020: A Month In Review

Congratulations everyone! We have made it to the last day of the longest month any of us have ever experienced. We've all been through a lot in the last couple weeks. Everyone's world looks totally different now than it did in that first week, and that's really hard to process. We're not only dealing with the weight of living through a global pandemic, but it's also uncertain how long our lives will be on lockdown. The only thing that is clear is that social isolation is the only way that we'll get through this any time soon. Regardless of what your official local guidelines are, please follow self isolation protocols and only go outside for the most essential needs if you are not a required worker. This is a global group project, and the only way to get results is for everyone to strictly adhere to the guidelines. Do it for your health, your future, your grandparents health, your parents, health care workers, or anyone you love.
While I know we all want a lit…