Twisted fairy tales are becoming almost a genre of their own instead of a sub-genre of fantasy. A twisted fairy tale is one that has been modified in some way from the original. One of my favourite authors, Mercedes Lackey, currently has two series out that are based around fairy tales: Elemental Masters and Five Hundred Kingdoms. The Elemental Masters series explores the lives of mages who control the elements and is set in Edwardian England, though more recent editions to the series have moved into Germany. The series draws from such classic tales as Cinderella (Phoenix and Ashes, 2004). In Phoenix and Ashes Elanor Robinson with the ability to be a fire master is bond through black magic to the hearth of her family home by her stepmother Alison. The townspeople forget her existence and she despairs of ever escaping. Then she meets an air master at the edge of his estate. Reginald Fenyx and his mother teach her about her power and she is eventually able to free herself from her stepmother’s evil spell using her new found knowledge.
Five Hundred Kingdoms is a much less subtle series than Elemental Masters. In that realm, people are ruled by The Tradition. The Tradition is a force that creates and enforces stories. So it forces peoples’ lives down “traditional” paths such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. This series begins with a woman who should have been Cinderella, but her prince was too young. Ella is, instead, rescued from her evil stepmother by her kingdom’s fairy godmother and taught how to use The Tradition to become a godmother herself (The Fairy Godmother, 2004). As a fairy godmother Ella looks after her kingdom and meets Alexander when he fails a quest. Later Alexander and Ella must rescue his brother when a Koschei invades the kingdom. Alex becomes a champion and Ella may have found her prince.
The common theme in both these books is that the female protagonist discovers her own power and saves the day herself. While they are both romance novels the men in the novels are the women’s partners. The women actually end up saving the men. Elanor must rescue Reggie from Alison’s plot and Ella must reform Alexander. This is often the case with twisted fairy tales. They are used to forward ideals. In this case Lackey has used them as a vehicle for feminism. Their popularity makes them the perfect medium for messages of female empowerment. At the same time the author is able to show what was wrong with the original story.
Elizabeth Ramsay is an editor and education writer.