Thursday, March 5, 2009

Faye Stories Part 1: Extending Fairy Tales

Donna Jo Napoli has a gift. She is an accomplished youth writer who specializes in a very unique genre. Napoli writes fairy tales. However, do not expect the old school Grimm or Anderson. Napoli takes stories, some that are familiar and some that aren't, and expends them into full novels that answer all of the questions that short stories leave.

Donna Jo Napoli's possibly most famous piece is "Zel", a retelling of Repunzel. Instead of a story about a girl locked in a tower, we get a story of a girl. Zel, who like the original tale is raised in a tower by a witch who owned a garden, is a strong willed girl who is curious. It is not the story of a witch stealing a child, but a witch holding onto childhood. Zel is not trapped in the tower until she shows signs of maturing into a woman. Her "mother" so appalled by puberty and Zel's growing desire for men, that she is locked away. The witch stole a child, and then stole that child's ascent into womanhood. Napoli took a simple love story, and made it a deeply personal tale.

My favorite Napoli story is "Beast," a Beauty and the Beast story where Beauty only shows up in the last two chapters. How did the Beast fall from manhood? Where is he from? How long was he a Beast? Napoli answers all those tales, giving the man under the animal skin a real story. Additionally, "Bound" takes Cinderella into China drawing on ancient forms of the story from the Middle Kingdom. She spins a story about a girl not with fairy feet, but with large unbound feet. "Breath" makes the piped-piper story about those in the village. About their descent into madness and fear. "Sirena" gives us a look into the ancient Greek tale of Philotectes from the Trojan War and the Sirens from the Odyssey. The sirens have a turn to tell their story through Napoli.

Napoli takes stories that we have heard and expands them into epic tales about characters we might have overlooked. She has a gift to give voices to those long forgotten. If you get a chance pick up some of her work.

Rereading stories from her childhood,
J.R. West the Raccoon

1 comment:

Purple Butterflies said...

Sound like fun little tales. I always wondered how the beast ended up a beast.

DW Golden
Soar with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies