Last year two other authors and banded together to invent GalacticDreams—a shared sci-fi universe for novellas based on fairy tales. As I mentioned in a blog at the time I was shocked to go through the fairy tales and realize how full horrible things they really were. The shock only deepened when I learned that these were the sanitized versions. Apparently, the Grimm brothers put out a first edition and found out that they were a little too gory and horrible for even their 1800’s audiences. So they switched some of the baddies to step-parents (instead of full parents) and pulled out some of the most egregious elements and put out a new edition that is more similar to the stories we’re familiar with today. However, as the shock of cannibalism, incest, and limb removal wore off, I began to notice another strange thing about the stories: they don’t make sense.
The story I’m using this year for my sci-fi novel The Seventh Swan is based on the story of the Six Swans. The story involves at least 2 witches, 2 kings, and 3 queens and not one of them has a name. But you won’t need to worry about which is which because they never interact. The witch at the start of the story disappears after she’s set events in motion. Ditto to the evil queen witch step-mother. The doting father of the swan brother and heroine puts them in a tower to protect them from the evil queen witch step-mother, but when his daughter says “Dad your wife turned my brothers into swans.” He’s all “Nah, she wouldn’t do that.” And the story is called the Six Swans, so clearly it must be about the brothers, right? No. They show up once and disappear again until the end. And then the heroine, now sworn to silence to save her brothers (and how did they know that was what had to happen to save them?) gets married has not one, but three children, and her mother-in-law steals them and accuses her of eating them. Because… that was so common that people would buy that story? Eventually, (after the third baby) the husband’s like “I guess she’s a cannibal” and he decides to burn her at the stake. But fortunately the six years of silence is up and she saves the brothers and avoids the stake.
None of that makes sense. However, the story still makes sense. A girl must save her brothers from an evil curse by suffering in silence and setting herself to a menial task. The flow of the story works, but the actual events and characters are insane. And in fairy tale after fairy tale the same holds true. Characters pop up and then disappear. Characters contradict their own statements. Random events occur. But they all move the story toward the mandated happy ending. Fairy tales are not a lesson in how to write beautiful descriptions or develop fully fleshed out characters, but they have been an amazing lesson in how stories function and how much a reader will forgive to get to the happy ending.