Check it out, and leave Renee and Sophie some love in the comments!
Sophie Masson is a French-Australian fantasy and children's author who has written 40 books, for children, young adults and adults, as well as many short stories, essays, articles and reviews published, in books, magazines, newspapers and internet journals. Her young adult novel of 2012, Moonlight and Ashes, had a strong Cinderella flavour and her upcoming Scarlet in the Snow is set to continue this fairy tale focus.
Firstly, thank you so much, Sophie, for taking the time to answer some questions!
Hi Renee; no worries. I’m happy to answer these interesting questions!
1. You've spoken of your interest in Russian fairy tales in particular. A friend of mine is also passionate about them, and has listed The Firebird and Vasilissa The Beautiful as some of her favourites. Do you have any favourite tales, and what is the appeal of these Russian stories for you?
Like your friend, I love those two stories you mention, and in fact they've inspired my books: in the case of The Firebird, I wrote a novel with the same title, based directly on that fairytale(published in 2001 by Hodder Australia); and in the case of Vasilissa the Fair, it's one of the elements in my forthcoming novel, Scarlet in the Snow, which is inspired also by two of my great Russian favourites: The Scarlet Flower(the Russian version of Beauty and the Beast) and Fenist the Falcon, one of the most beautiful, romantic stories ever. I have many other favourites, such as The Frog Princess, The Snow Maiden, the story of the sorcerer Koschei, and lots more. I also love the folk tales such as Masha and the Bear, the Rooster with the Golden Crest(am working on a picture book with two illustrator friends, featuring those last two) , Ivan the Bear's Son, and lots more. Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian writer also wrote several of his own original tales inspired by the folk fairytales, and they are gorgeous too as you might expect from such a great writer(they are in verse incidentally in the Russian original)--some of those include The Tale of Tsar Demyan, The Tale of the Golden Fish, and more.
I love these stories because first of all they are such wonderful stories--gripping, vivid, full of colour and magic(but no actual fairies--magic in Russian stories is performed by witches and sorcerers, and most of all talking, shapeshifting animals--perhaps a relic from the shamanist traditions that are still there under the surface? And they have an atmosphere which is hard to describe but which is both magnificent and earthy--full of sly humour and great tragedy, intense romance and great terror. They live large in fact, just like Russians themselves!
I first got to know these stories as a kid--like many French people, my father has a great fascination for Russian culture, and he would buy us lovely fairytale books and records of the Red Army Choir singing traditional Russian folk songs from a little Russian(or rather Soviet!) bookshop that used to exist in the seventies, in Sydney, in Pitt St. (I might add my parents are very much anti-Communist but they just loved Russian culture--they also had some beautiful icons.)I read lots of Russian novels as a teenager and adored them too and recently I've discovered the beautiful work of great classic Russian animators from the 1960's like Lev Atamanov who did beautiful, touching versions of classic Russian fairytales like The Scarlet Flower, and also others from other cultures, such as Andersen's The Snow Queen. He is regarded as the Russian Walt Disney--but has his own very distinctive style.
Eventually, in 2010, I finally got to visit Russia--and went back in 2012. Both experiences were totally wonderful, and so inspirational! I'm quite addicted to that place--intending to go back there in the not too distant future.
2. Are there any French fairy tales that you especially like? Any from your childhood that you treasure?
Absolutely! My favourites are firstly, La Belle et la Bête--Beauty and the Beast, which was created in the early 18th cent by the French writer Athenais Leprince de Beaumont(known as Madame Leprince de Beaumont), from elements of traditional stories: one of my great treasures is a late 18th century edition of the volume of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's stories in which this tale appears--I found it on the Internet, in an antiquarian bookshop in Italy, and it was such a thrill! I also love Perrault's stories--they are so sparkling, sardonic, magical yet very worldly, unflinching in their understanding of human foibles yet with plenty of hope--some of my favourites are La Belle au Bois Dormant (Beauty in the sleeping Wood, or Sleeping Beauty),Riquet a la Houpe (Ricky of the Tuft, not very well known in English but a lovely story about the different kinds of beauty); Peau d'Ane or Donkey Skin, La Barbe Bleue or Blue Beard, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge--red Riding Hood(and Perrault's moral is VERY worldly--young ladies should realise, he says, that wolves don't always go about on four legs!) And Le Petit Poucet, or Tom Thumb--which in the French original is a fairly full-on, even savage story. I also love some of Madame d'Aulnoy's stories, such as Le Nain Jaune--The Yellow Drawf--and Le Chat Blanc--The White Cat. Full of intrigue! And I was also very much exposed to traditional French stories that aren't so well known, for example, Le Prince Vert (The Green Prince) which comers from Southern France and has echoes both of Beauty and the Beast and the Frog Prince--but it's all set underwater. it was my inspiration for my 2000 novel, also called The Green Prince(which is also influenced by Celtic and English stories of water-spirits).
3. Your novel Moonlight and Ashes has a very distinct Cinderella flavour to it, but it notably adopts plot elements from the German Aschenputtel tale much more than from the more commercialised Perrault version (absent are a fairy godmother etc.) Do you prefer the German version? And do you think it a shame that Cinderella as a tale and a figure is perhaps more immediately associated with her Disney counterpart, which borrowed heavily from Perrault's telling?
Not really- as a story, -I love the Perrault version too. (And by the way I think the Disney Cinderella is just beautiful--touching, sparkling, such delicate artistry--the classic Disneys are truly works of art--not so enamoured of the later ones.) It's just that i think the Grimm version is much more interesting in terms of character, intrigue and potentiality for a novelist--Aschenputtel herself is a much more interesting and well-drawn character than Cendrillon in Perrault's story, and because she has more of a hand in her own fate, she's someone you can really build on. And there's so much there that you can follow up--for instance, why did Aschenputtel's mother know about rthe magic of the hazel twig? That was what started me off, really.
4. Moonlight and Ashes makes the very interesting and dynamic connection between witchcraft and fairy tales, afford the heroine magic control as opposed to any third, omnipotent party. In your research, did you come across any historical connection between the supposed practice of 'witchcraft' and the origins of fairy tales? Does it all link back in some way to oral narratives as told by women?
Most definitely there are connections: and in some kinds of fairy tales, for instance in the Russian ones, that connection is fairly explicit--there it's magic as practised by both women and men, incidentally, as the Russian tradition has both male and female practitioners of magic, often shape-shifters (and by the way there were no witch-hunts in Russia--the Orthodox Church does not have a strong stricture against the practice of magic, and indeed you can even get a curse organised by a priest!) but even in other traditions, there are strong hints of a connection between witchcraft/sorcery and fairy tales--Fairies themselves are ambiguous creatures too: they are not the same as witches, not being human--but they have some of the same elements. And again in Russian fairy tales, 'witches' like Baba Yaga are in fact more like what we'd think of as a dangerous fairy--she's an immortal, not a human. Yes, I'm sure it does link back to oral narratives told by women--many were either collected from women storytellers--as the Grimms and Perrault did--or actually told by women, especially in France where the tradition of female fairy tale writers is very strong.
5. Fairy tales are certainly influencing your next work, I believe. What might readers look forward to in Scarlet in the Snow?
A gripping story; a powerful romance, an intriguing mystery; a strong and spirited heroine (who's a writer herself!), a troubled and mysterious hero and a rich, lively background inspired by the stories and culture of Russia. Scarlet in the Snow is set in the same world as Moonlight and Ashes, but in a different country (or actually, in two different countries!)—Ruvenya (inspired by Russia) and Champaine (inspired by France.) I just love that world, it feels so natural--like the fairy tale world itself which is so much an intoxicating yet refreshing mixture of magic and earthiness! I'm certainly intending to write more set within it.
6. Your fairy tale weapon of choice:
- poisoned/cursed object
- the power of a name
- preying on human weakness
- riddles and games
The power of a name is my favourite. It recurs again and again in stories, and goes right to the heart of indemnity, to what makes us what we are.
Thanks so much for your time, and I very much look forward to reading Scarlet in the Snow when it is released this coming May!!
Thanks Renee--hope you enjoy it! And thanks for your interest in my work.
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