Tor.com content by

Rachel Ayers

Neither Princess Nor Bride: Why Buttercup Is the Hero of Her Own Story

The Princess Bride is a damn near perfect movie, and contains one of the greatest sword fights of all time, some of the best onscreen chemistry of any love story, and a stellar blend of comedy, action, and romance that is hard to find anywhere else. But… let’s talk about Buttercup. The world’s most beautiful woman. But also so much more. Although she is the titular character (even though most of the action centers on stopping the marriage that would make her an actual Princess Bride—more on that in a bit), she’s often overlooked in discussions about the movie; she rarely gets the recognition she deserves for being a well-crafted female character in a male-dominated story.

Consider: here’s a woman who has no training at all when it comes to weapons, fighting, or self-defense. Yes, a giant rat is going to terrify her, at least momentarily. On the other hand, every chance she has to be defiant, stand her ground, and get in a good insult, she takes. She’s not intimidated by Vizzini, or the Dread Pirate Roberts, or even the prince who could have her murdered as soon as marry her.

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Where to Begin Reading the Work of Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier’s work first came to my attention through my obsession with fairy tales. In particular, the tale popularized by Hans Christian Andersen as “The Wild Swans” has always captivated me, so when I heard about Marillier’s novel-length reimagining of the story, Daughter of the Forest, I had to track it down. (To give you an idea of my excitement, this was back in the days when “track it down” was more complicated than buying an instantly delivered eBook.)

It’s rare to find a writer whose work feels like it was created entirely for you, and Marillier is one of those authors for me. She has gained well-deserved recognition amongst fantasy fans over the last couple of decades, but her fiction still does not seem to be as widely known as it could be. But her fans are fervent, and finding another Marillier lover means I have found another book soulmate, someone with whom I will always be able to talk to about, if nothing else, stories I love. With her delicious prose and an impressive catalog of fairy tale-influenced series and standalone to choose from, any Marillier book is a treat.

[But where to begin?]

Finding Comfort in the (Fictional) Apocalypse

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about end-of-the-world stories over the last few years (please, feel free to laugh, if need be!). I’ve been thinking about the kinds of hopes and anxieties that we’re expressing when we create and share narratives built around an apocalypse. So I wanted to take a look at a few examples—some relatively conventional, some less so—that may shed some light on why we’re drawn to these types of stories, and how they might help us through difficult times.

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Grimmer Than Most Fairy Tales: Five Intriguing Retellings of “Bluebeard”

“Bluebeard” might not be the goriest fairy tale ever told… or, well, it might be. There aren’t many stories that match it in terms of sheer bloody-mindedness. And, although it might not be as widely embraced by modern audiences as other, more family-friendly fairy tales, there are a number of retellings that explore and reexamine the power dynamics in play in the story.

If you aren’t familiar, the tale is about a woman who goes to marry a rich man. Bluebeard is a widower; he’s wealthy and handsome and the woman is in a financial fix, so it seems a good match. Sometimes his previous brides are the woman’s sisters, and sometimes they are only rumors—whispers about women who have mysteriously vanished. Bluebeard gives his wife the keys to his castle, shows her all the splendor she’s welcome to enjoy and explore, but cautions her never to use the smallest key to open the door in the basement/attic/out-of-the-way corner of the house.

Then he leaves.

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A Night in the Lonesome October Is a Perfectly Tricky Halloween Treat

A Night in the Lonesome October is Roger Zelazny’s last novel and still stands as both my favorite Zelazny and my favorite book to open when it’s time for a fall reread, leading up to Halloween. It’s broken into chapters for each day of the month of October—which not only makes it eminently rereadable, but also means it’s the perfect autumnal treat to go along with my pumpkin spice latte.  In fact, I encourage everyone I know to read or reread it along with me every Halloween—won’t you join me?

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Finding Comfort in Apocalyptic Stories

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about end-of-the-world stories over the last year (please, feel free to laugh, if need be!). I’ve been thinking about the kinds of hopes and anxieties that we’re expressing when we create and share narratives built around an apocalypse. So I wanted to take a look at a few examples—some relatively conventional, some less so—that may shed some light on why we’re drawn to these types of stories, and how they might help us through difficult times.

[Read more]

Five Fairy Tale Mashups That Show How All Our Stories Are Connected

What could be better than a retelling of your favorite fairy tale? How about a retelling of two of your favorite fairy tales? How about a retelling that incorporates a bunch of your favorite fairy tales?

One of my favorite types of narrative is the mashup, wherein a bunch of existing characters or storylines mingle together, resulting in brand-new flavors, new adventures, and if you’re lucky, fresh nuances to explore.

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Where Fantasy Meets Reality: The Magic of Libraries

Libraries are magical. We know this, as readers: Rare is the book lover who can’t recall the moment of sheer wonder and exhilaration the first time they understood what it meant to use a library. All of these books! For free! (As a librarian, I still feel the same way—just remember to bring them back, please and thank you!)

Depictions of libraries within the fantasy genre have certainly embraced this magical feeling…and run with it. Fantasy libraries can be (almost) neatly categorized into three essential magical types: the library containing all books regardless of written-status; the library where the books speak to each other; and the library as portal to other worlds/places. But what’s truly magical about these fantasy categories is the way these magics correspond with the way libraries work in the real world.

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Five Empowering Retellings of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

I have always loved the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (and I admit I feel even more connected to it since moving to high latitude a couple of years ago). A perfect tale for the cold and snowy season, this Norse fairy tale answers the question of what comes after the happy ending, after true love has been declared.

If you aren’t familiar, the premise is quite similar to that of “Beauty and the Beast”—though usually the poor father in this tale is not (always) at fault for handing off his youngest daughter over an unfortunate horticultural theft. The “beast” in this tale (usually a white bear or other white wild creature) comes to the family home and asks respectfully to join in the evening meal. Afterwards, he promises riches and comfort to the family if one of the daughters will return to his own home with him. The youngest (or eldest) agrees, and away they go to an enchanted palace where the heroine has everything she needs, and eventually falls in love with the sweet nature of her beastly suitor, who spends every night in her room with all the lights extinguished, and extracts the heroine’s promise that she will never seek to see him at night.

[Of course, she does…]

Five Retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin” — A Very Odd Story, Indeed

“Rumpelstiltskin” is a bizarre story. Really—have you ever thought about how truly strange it is? Like many fairy tales, it’s full of unanswered questions: why would the miller claim that his daughter could spin straw in to gold? Why would the miller’s daughter want to marry someone who’d been threatening to kill her? And Rumpelstiltskin is the only named character in the story, so why is it so hard to guess his name?!

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Five Retellings of “The Wild Swans” — A Fairy Tale for Our Current Moment

“The Wild Swans” is a lesser-known (read: non-Disneyfied) fairy tale about a young woman who sacrifices years of her life toiling in silence to rescue her brothers from a sorcerous transformation.

The heroine’s six (or seven or twelve depending on the version—Hans Christian Andersen went with eleven in his well-known rendition) brothers are cursed by their stepmother and transformed into swans. The princess (or sometimes lord’s daughter, or some other personage of noble rank) is determined to rescue her siblings from their fate, and sets out to find them. Through a series of fairy-tale-esque coincidences she encounters them again, and they tell her that to break the curse; she must weave each of them a shirt out of star-flowers (or nettles, or a certain plant that grows only in the graveyard). She cannot speak or laugh until she breaks the curse, although in the meantime she marries, has two (or three) children, deals with a wicked mother-in-law, and is nearly burned to death as a witch (ahhh fairy tales—gotta love ‘em).

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The Magic of Libraries: Where Fantasy Meets Reality

Libraries are magical. We know this, as readers: Rare is the book lover who can’t recall the moment of sheer wonder and exhilaration the first time they understood what it meant to use a library. All of these books! For free! (As a librarian, I still feel the same way—just remember to bring them back, please and thank you!)

Depictions of libraries within the fantasy genre have certainly embraced this magical feeling…and run with it.  Fantasy libraries can be (almost) neatly categorized into three essential magical types: the library containing all books regardless of written-status; the library where the books speak to each other; and the library as portal to other worlds/places. But what’s truly magical about these fantasy categories is the way these magics correspond with the way libraries work in the real world.

[Read more]

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