The first panel to kick of Lytherus’s book coverage of San Diego Comic Con 2014 was the Fairy Tale panel. MC’ed by Shannon Hale (Ever After High series) it featured Cornelia Funke (Mirrorworld series), Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles series), Ben Tripp (The Accidental Highwayman), John Peck (Charming series), Danielle Page (Dorothy Must Die), Tony DiTerlizzi (WondLa), and Katherine Harbour (Thorn Jack).
First off, let me say that Shannon Hale is an absolute riot. This was my first time experiencing her, and wow, she’s a character. Hilarious, witty, and goofy, she made this one of the most animated and engaging panels I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a single lull and the panel authors really fed off of both her and each other.
First question asked if the authors read fairy tales in their youth and their thoughts on them. Ben grew up on them, and said he discovered at a young age the idea of metaphor and how everything is a metaphor in these stories. Marissa started on Disney’s The Little Mermaid movie, which she loved, and so her family bought her the Hans Christian Anderson version, which is a lot darker. This made her wonder what else Disney wasn’t telling us (ha!). John thought the Grimm stories were boring, but he loved how creepy the Anderson ones are. But what brought the biggest laugh during this question was definitely Cornelia’s reply: “I’m German. Enough said.” She actually hated fairy tales, but they got stuck in her head. This lead Shannon right into commenting that hate is a powerful motivator, and she then regaled the audience in a hilarious description of why Rapunzel is dumb. Danielle followed this up, saying that her frustration with stories is also what motivated her. “Why does Dorothy have to remain in Kansas?” Tony agreed, saying that’s the exact same idea with his WondLa series.
The next question reflected on the fact that these tales are old, and Hale asked what the authors add to make it feel new. John immediately said character, and that old stories lack the depth of character that readers connect to. They want to know who these people are and what their motivations are. Marissa agreed, saying that the characters are often flat in the old tales, and that we take things for granted; that’s what they’re there for. But why? Ben likes to view it from a different angle: what do they do the rest of the time? These characters have to go home after the tales. Danielle added that it’s fun to take those characters and see where the story goes beyond the original tale. Cornelia said that authors bring their own sensitivity, and things like adding (back) in strong women (“Women weren’t always lame!”). Tony added to that idea, talking about that sensitivity regarding tropes. For example, a classic trope is that a kid’s an orphan. He said he couldn’t even imagine what that’s like, and what that does to people. Ben finished up the idea, commenting that in the 18th century being an orphan was no big deal, vs. our time where it’s become a big thing.
The third question wondered if authors have the right to re-tell. John paraphrased a quote (I can’t remember from whom), saying that no story is beautiful unless you add something new to it, and that the writers are doing that. Cornelia threw in that they’re adding heart to the stories. Shannon observed that they can also flip the stories, or can add to them, or can use satire to re-tell it. Katherine said that she loves bringing the modern into these stories. Danielle picked right up with that thought, adding that she wondered how a girl of our sensibilities would take on Oz and add in sarcasm, and also what she would feel because of today. Marissa said that the passive princess annoys her. She takes the stories and gives them heroines she can be proud of. Cornelia wants to travel the world with her stories, featuring not only Germany but Russia, China, Africa and others. She actually reads fairy tales from these places and they read like a travel guide, with all of the local details and references. Ben added that Hindu fairy tales are often the same as religious texts, which is fun because you can actually go to the places the stories take place.
For the next question Shannon asked if they are all essentially writing fan fiction. Marissa said that the characters make it different, because they have more freedom than a fan-fiction character restrained to the boundaries of the tale might. Ben added though that they are still sort of the same, and that essentially the authors need to stand the stories up and see.
At this point Shannon opened the floor up for some questions, and they were all great ones. At one point someone asked how the panelists actually define a fairy tale. Ben said intrusion of magic into someone’s problems, Tony said otherworldliness, and Cornelia said a journey, which I thought were great answers.
This was one of the best panels I’ve ever seen thanks to the humor of Shannon, the constant pace, and the thoughtful answers of the panelists. Lots of fun was had, and it was great to get some insight into the inner workings of the modern fairy tale retellings that have become so loved.