What first comes to mind when you hear the term, “fairy tale romance?” The answer may not be as simple as it might seem at first glance.
Let’s face it, everybody’s answer to the question above is going to be different, and they are all correct. For some, a fairy tale romance is going to mean something quite literal – a retelling, anything from historical to contemporary to paranormal and/or erotic retelling of a known fairy tale. Cinderella in Regency England? Sure. Beauty and the Beast in small town Texas? You got it. Little Red Riding Hood, all grown up, of course, frees grandma from the big bad werewolf? A classic in the making. Sleeping Beauty gets awakened by true love’s more than kiss? Few of us would be at all surprised, and several of us may be thinking, right now, of specific titles that fit that bill.
For others, it’s more of a metaphor. That Cinderella in Regency England may be a housekeeper or seamstress when the book begins, but she’ll be a duchess by the time she takes her final bow, her road to her happily ever after paved with love and laughter, light and sweet as a delicious meringue. Same goes for her contemporary and paranormal counterparts,. Words like “fun” or “fluffy” or “feel-good” may apply here, and this kind of story has widespread appeal. There may not be any singing animals in these stories, but kids who grow up on Disney versions of fairy tales of old may find some familiar ground here.
Then there’s the other kind of fairy tale, those versions not made family friendly by Walt Disney or the Brothers Grimm. When I was but a wee princess myself, I spent countless hours in the local library’s children’s room, working my way through every single volume of Andrew Lang’s fairy tale books, each book named after a color. There was The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc. I may have had the first surge of book fangirling in my entire young life when I found out that there was, indeed, a Pink Fairy Book, as pink was my favorite color.
Do I remember which volume of these books, published long before either of my parents were born, held which particular story? Not a chance. Do I remember the utter thrill of diving into these stories, passed down orally for generations before anybody put pen to paper, and the way I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen, knowing that nobody but our hero and/or heroine was safe? You bet.
These kinds of fairy tales are told with the gloves off. Know that old joke about how it’s not a fairy tale wedding until somebody is forced to dance to their death, in red-hot iron shoes? Yeah. That kind. Luring small children into candy houses, to turn them into dinner, rather than dinner guests, is only the tip of the iceberg. Other interpretations may have left out things like Cinderella’s stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit into the slipper and trick the prince into marrying one of them instead (spoiler: it doesn’t work) and villains getting their eyes pecked out by ravens may not fall into the category of family friendly (well, that might depend on the family) but it has made interesting storytelling for literally hundreds of years.
Now. We’re a romance site, so the romance angle has to come into this somewhere, right? I remember, back in those color titled fairy tale book days, that I naturally gravitated to the stories that ended with the hero and/or heroine being rewarded with their true love’s hand in marriage. When the unnamed prince (and he was often unnamed) in Rapunzel wandered around, blinded, in heartbreak, until Rapunzel finally found him (depending on which version of the tale, she might have their twin toddlers with her,) wept on him, and his sight was restored? Have to admit, I still remember reading that with a lump in my throat and thinking that was the most romantic thing ever.
Of course, I was under eight at the time, so my opinions on romance may not have been the most finely honed. Even so, that feeling has stuck with me, as an adult, as a reader and writer of romance fiction. Now, as then, I tend toward some of the lesser known fairy tales, like “Lord Eaglebeak” and “Donkeyskin,” but a good Cinderella, Snow White (have to admit it was a banner day when I first discovered “Snow White and Rose Red,” because Snow White had a sister? Two HEAs at the end of that one? Where do I sign?) or my fav-o-rite better known fairy tale, Rapunzel, retelling? Oh baby. Give. Me. That.
Because a romance novel is, well, a romance novel, we know, going in, that the two lovers are going to end up together and happy about it, so anything can happen between once upon a time, and the start of their happily ever after Because many of us grew up on fairy tales, folk tales, myths, or legends, the framework of the story is familiar. Yeah, yeah, wcket stepmother, dumps kiddos in the forest, makes stepdaughter be unpaid housekeeper, etc so that’s familiar, buuuuuut…it’s all in the execution. The same as a chocolate cake is going to taste different when it’s made by different bakers, it’s like that with fairy tale based romance novels. Are there going to be nuts? If so, what kidn? Cherry filling? Coconut frosting? Gorgeous decoration, or the timeless simple perfection of a brownie dusted with confectioner’s sugar? Sure we’ve had chocolate cake before, and we know what it’s meant to taste like, but every new version is a whole new adventure on its own.
Really, here, the only question is, what’s your pleasure?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What’s your definition of a fairy tale romance? Do you prefer light and sweet, or dark and lush, or somewhere in between? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.