Check it out below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
And keep an eye out for a giveaway of a signed copy of While Beauty Slept, 'cause it's coming up soon in FTF!
The “Strong Female” Fairy Tale—How Much is Too Much?
Modern readers love a kick-ass female heroine (see: Katniss in The Hunger Games; Tris in Divergent, etc. etc.). Disney’s gotten the memo, too: Merida in Brave and the sisters in Frozen are much better at determining their fates than poor, wimpy Snow White. The beauty of reinterpreting fairy tales is that you can tell a traditional story with a modern spirit, creating strong-willed heroines who challenge and rewrite their own destinies. In fantasy, you can play by whatever rules you want.
But if you take a historical-fiction slant—as I did with While Beauty Slept—there’s an additional challenge.
No reader today would sit through a story about a beautiful, perfect princess who falls asleep and waits for a prince to wake her up. (I can already imagine the furious comments on GoodReads.) But if you’re going to write about a princess within a historical setting, it must feel true to life, and that means accepting certain realities. In medieval times (the period in which I set While Beauty Slept), princesses were sheltered. They had no control over who they married or where they lived. In those pre-feminist days, they weren’t encouraged to speak their minds or be independent. They were decorative figureheads, and not much more.
What’s a writer to do? You have to create a character who is compelling to modern readers, but also true to the times in which she lives. How do you make a princess appealing without betraying what her life would have actually been like?
The solution is to find a middle ground: a princess who shows her personality not with grand, unrealistic gestures but through small declarations of independence. A princess who has opinions but shares them only in private, with a trusted confidante. While Beauty Slept’s narrator, Elise, is a royal servant and in many ways the opposite of what we think of a “strong” heroine. She doesn’t protest her role in society or lead a revolt or charge into battle. But I’ve discovered, in my own life, that there are many ways to be strong. Elise quietly subverts other’s expectations. She knows that keeping a secret can be the key to holding power. And when she is tested, she finds strength within herself that she didn’t know she had.
Being strong doesn’t always mean being tough and loud—and that goes for real life as well as literature.
Elizabeth Blackwell is the author of While Beauty Slept (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2014). Find out what else she’s up to at elizabethblackwellbooks.com or Facebook/elizabethblackwellbooks.