Books · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Fairy Tale Retellings Trope Talk

I was planning on writing a few reviews of some fairy tale retellings/reimagining’s that I’ve been getting into recently.  I read a few in the past month, and when I sat down to write the first review for one of the series’ I found myself coming up blank.  Not because I didn’t have a lot to say about the book, but because after reading a few in consecutive order, I realized what I wanted to talk about wasn’t just with that book series, and was more a fault of the fairy tale retelling genre in general.
So, for the first time, I’m going to be talking about tropes that I dislike.  With a lot of the retellings, they had a really good premise, and the synopses made them sound really interesting.  But after reading through them, there were parts of the books that just frustrated me, and permeated throughout the genre.  Out of the six that I read, there were two that I just found beautiful and a really good take on the fairy tales they retold.  They added to the lore of the original story, fleshed out certain aspects of them, and made them a true joy to read and had me thinking about them for a long time.  These retellings however, stuck very true to the originals, and simply expanded upon the source material with character work, magical lore, and world building.

 

The retellings I had more of an issue with, were the ones that were calling themselves retellings, but were really a reimagining.  Think of The Lunar Chronicles:  those books are heavily inspired by the fairy tales within them, but at the same time they stand on their own ground as an interesting series with a lot of fairy tale whimsy in them.

 

The reimagining’s I’ve read recently though, don’t hit a good balance between either of those.  They set themselves in a fantasy world, with its own lore and magic systems, but then they try and throw so much of the original fairy tale in there, while making it modern and cool, that the tropes were just so easy to pick out after a certain point.  I’m not saying tropes are bad, one executed well is always fun to see.  But if I can read a story, see a character pop up, call the trope before any hints are dropped and be right, well…that’s entirely too many tropes used to propel  your story forward, and it got pretty annoying after reading a few of these.

 

I’m not going to list these in any particular order, but I want to point out the ones I’ve noticed the most, and why they bug me so much.

 

  • The Prince is evil trope.  I blame Frozen for this honestly.  I notice it more in stories that were written after 2013.  But the whole a Prince shows up, is too good to be true, then oh snap, without any sort of hints or setup, he’s evil!  Then you find that out 3 or 4 chapters before stories end, and you’re just supposed to be on board with this.  It frustrates me especially because a lot of the time, this trope isn’t set up like in Frozen.  Instead, we see two love interests, one treats the main character like a jerk, the other like a charming, perfect gentlemen.  We see the nice guy court our heroine throughout the entire story, get invested in their romance, then without warning, bam!  He’s evil because…he has to be!  After all of the nice moments we saw throughout the book, seeing them connect and be a super cute couple, the Prince just turns out to be evil and it’s always infuriating.

 

I’ve seen it done well once.  Where the Prince turns out to be distant for a reason, and doesn’t turn out to be evil.  The relationship between him and our main character develops nicely, and while you may not be rooting for them when the story starts, you see their relationship grow into something nice.  The nicer guy turns out to be evil, but there were breadcrumbs left for us throughout the story to see this slowly shifting in the character.  I think it’s important to realize, that in Frozen, because it’s a movie, it’s fine to not see the Prince who turns out to be the bad guy in the movie.  We didn’t know much about him anyway, so him being evil wasn’t a big surprise:  We didn’t spend time with him or the main character, not long enough to be invested in their relationship, so it’s not a shocking blow when he just turns on our main characters.

 

But in a book, you have so much room to set up glimpses of a darker nature.  You can have the Prince and our main heroine connect, and have a relationship blossom, but we can have other scenes with the Princes darker side.  We don’t even need different scenes, we can just have glimpses when he’s with the MC or something.  But just having the rug pulled from under the reader is really irritating to me, and even though this isn’t a numbered list, this has to be the top thing that bothers me the most about fairy tale retellings.

 

  • The strong, independent woman trope.  Now I like strong women in stories, they’re usually my favorite characters.  But in fairy tale retellings, the MC is always the extreme of this trope.  I have a feeling it’s because of the makeup of the original fairy tale, where the women are always docile and more of a set piece  in their stories.  But there can be a nice balance between a strong, independent woman, and the more docile fair.  You can be strong in a non-sword toting, kick butt and take names kind of way and I rarely see this in fairy tale retellings.  The few exceptions I’ve seen are in Kate Stradling’s works, especially in Brine and Bone.  The Lunar Chronicles as well has a good balance of both fierce women, in masculine and feminine ways and I just wish we saw that more than the 1 type of woman.

 

  • The secondary love interest, who is a jerk to our heroine the entire story.  But for some reason, he has this sexy allure and the Prince is evil, so she winds up with him at the end!  Granted, this isn’t just a fairy tale retelling trope, it’s in a lot of books and will never become not frustrating.  But seriously, a guy being a jerk to you for the entirety  of you knowing him, him softening up not because he wants to, but because you call him out on his garbage treatment of you, then falling for him because he’s the supposed better choice?  I can’t stand it.  It’s obnoxious, and like I said earlier, it only happens when the Prince is evil!  I mean, why can’t our MC just end up with no one sometimes?  That’s ok too.  The only time this trope works is in Beauty and the Beast retellings, and for obvious reasons:  Because that’s the entire point of the story.

There are others I could point out, but they honestly aren’t as offensive as these 3.  The main character having a friend they meet that is the only one that likes them, the animal sidekick, the MC being clueless or down on herself, the MC having secret siblings and parentage they don’t know of.  All of these don’t bother me nearly as much as the ones I outlined earlier in the post.  Obviously, if my ranting isn’t an indicator, the evil Prince trope bothers me the most and it just has gotten to the point where it makes the read unenjoyable because that trope is so easy to spot.  Can we please get some more original stuff in these retellings, please?

 

All of that being said, I do thoroughly enjoy fairy tale retellings.  While they may blend together after a certain point, they do have interesting ideas in them, are major page turners, and the romances for the most part are an enjoyable ride.  The action in them is well thought out, and I really respect the author’s ability to craft a fairy tale connected universe, while having each book be a standalone.  The fantasy worlds are well thought out, as are the magic systems, and it’s always fun to spot references to the original story in their midst.

 

But the tropes…ugh, the tropes!

 

I hope you enjoyed this rather different type of post.  I enjoyed ranting about said tropes, at least.  Do you have any tropes in media you watch that you can’t stand, while still enjoying said media?  Let me know in the comments!

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