When I was ten, I wrote a story called ‘Petrolella’, inspired by ‘Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes’. I found this story recently, and while it made me cringe, I’m glad I never threw it out. Childish as ‘Petrolella’ looks to me now, it was my first step on a road that led to my Rapunzel adaptation ‘Let Down Your Hair’ being published (http://momentumbooks.com.au/books/let-down-your-hair/).
As I muse on which fairytale I want to do next, I’m finding not all tales are equal, especially for retelling in the present-day real world. Some are quite easy, because the plot revolves around characters doing things real people do. Some are much harder, because the plot depends on magical trinkets and unlikely events.
At the Easy Street end of the scale, we have Cinderella. Winner of the Most Adapted Fairytale Award, because the story is just so accessible. Put-upon girl triumphs over nasty step-family and lands herself rich, handsome husband. It’s your basic rags-to-riches, with a side-serve of revenge. The only tricky bit is the business with the shoe, which doesn’t turn up until the end. Work around that, and you can set Cinderella just about anywhere in any time you like. Difficulty rating: 2/10.
At the School of Hard Knocks end is Snow White, which is jam-packed with tricky magic trinkets. That mirror, for a start. It’s central to the story, and quite a challenge to adapt. Not long afterwards is the first of four attempts on Snow White’s life, all of which she survives. Four attempted murders. Setting up motives and escapes for one attempted murder is enough to make a whole novel! Some Snow White versions wriggle out of this by paring down to two: the huntsman and the apple. But if you want to go the whole hog with the lace and comb as well, you really need to get creative. And that’s before you even start to think about how to fit in seven dwarves. Difficulty rating: 9/10.
Rapunzel falls somewhere in the middle. It only has five characters—Rapunzel, her parents, the Wicked Witch and the Handsome Prince—and the tower is easy enough. The most challenging part is finding some way to make the plot hinge on Rapunzel’s long hair. Once that’s sorted out, the writer also needs a way around the Prince going blind then having his sight restored by her tears. Difficulty rating: 5/10.
In ‘Let Down Your Hair’, I found ways to meet all these challenges, which I might tell you more about later. For the moment, though, I’m giving the fairytales a rest, and working on a fantasy trilogy. When I’ve finished Book I of the trilogy, though, I plan to switch into ninth gear and tackle Snow White and the Seven Dwarves…