Monday, April 14, 2008

Swans and Boys in Tights and Puffy Shirts

So, I went to a lovely performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre this weekend. (In case you don't know the story: the Evil Dude Rotbart has turned a bunch of Lovely Girls into swans. One night Prince Siegfried goes hunting with his buddies, sees the swans, falls for the Most Beautiful Swan, and professes his undying love. His promise of eternal love breaks Evil Dude Rotbart's spell and the Most Beautiful Swan and her friends are free to be girls again. But shortly thereafter in a moment of male forgetfulness Prince Siegfried swears his love to Random Girl [who, in his defense, does look an awful lot like the Most Beautiful Swan]. M.B. Swan's heart is broken and Evil Dude Rotbart's spell descends back upon her. Then the Prince realizes what he's done! He fights Evil Dude Rotbart! He wins, killing E.D. Rotbart and freeing M.B. Swan forever! They all live happily ever after!)

Anyway, the scene in which Prince Siegfried goes crossbow hunting with his buddies was really helpful, because now I have a visual of what it looks like when my own uncles, Salvie, Alfio, and Michael, go hunting with their bows. I knew all that stuff about boots and orange vests and flannel-lined jeans was a load of baloney. Next time they go I'll ask if I can join them, and I'll wow them with my professionalism by showing up in white tights and a ruffly shirt and pointing my bow randomly at the sky with excellent extension and a soulful expression on my face.

The performance was beautiful; the swans in particular took me into this pleasant otherwordly place. It made me think of the movie "Billy Elliot," and I remembered that at the end of that movie (don't worry, not really a spoiler), Billy is all grown up and dancing in a production of Swan Lake that has reversed the sex roles-- am I remembering it right? Isn't Billy playing the role of the Most Beautiful Swan?

And that got me thinking about how neat it would be to write a retelling of Swan Lake that reversed the genders roles. I adore retellings of traditional tales-- Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, Gregory Maguire, I'm about to start A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Dunce-- help me out, who else, do any of you have favorites? And, can any of you think of retellings where the gender roles are reversed or played with in some wonderful way?

Food for thought... maybe I can plan to rewrite Swan Lake with reversed gender roles in the year 2019.....

7 comments:

diceytillerman said...

I wildly recommend INTO THE WOODS by Lyn Gardner. (No relation to the Sondheim musical.)

kristin cashore said...

Dicey (aka eoyou), I have put it on hold at the library! :)

Tap said...

There's also Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, which although it doesn't reverse gender roles from the original does star a woman. And Sarah Beth Durst's books Into the Wild and Out of the Wild are a positive menagerie of fairy tales.

(If you haven't seen them before, Durst's retelling-and-commentaries of obscure fairy tales are also entertaining, though not book length.)

kristin cashore said...

tap, just had to thank you for those references -- I didn't know about them, and I'll totally look into them!

Tap said...

Well, now that you've got me started— (beware—if you consider knowing which tale a book is inspired by a spoiler, then there are spoilers here)

I should have mentioned Marillier's Wildwood Dancing in my last comment. Homage to the 12 Dancing Princesses (but definitely doesn't stick to the original), and other Romanian (?) folklore.

I can't believe I forgot Shannon Hale, who wrote Book of a Thousand Days (wonderful story) and also The Goose Girl, both based on fairy tales. She also recently came out with a graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge (co-written with her husband), which I think spares 1 page on the prince. (Is that a spoiler?)

Jessica Day George has written Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow (I wished she had taken it further from the original), and Edith Pattou East. George also has a 12 Dancing Princesses book coming out next year, Black Wool Chain^W^W^W Princess of the Midnight Ball. I haven't read it so I can't comment otherwise except that she wrote in her blog that it's very different from Wildwood Dancing.

Catherynne Valente wrote The Orphan's Tales in two volumes, which is narrated in a very cool way and plays with traditional stories in an extreme way. (Definitely adult in sensibility and some content.)

Patrice Kindl wrote Goose Chase (funny, sort of) and Lost in the Labyrinth (serious; about the Minotaur's sister) and also two other books that I loved for their humor even though they aren't based on fairy tales.

And that's all I've got for now.

(Footnote: ^W is a shortcut to delete the previous word, since Blogger won't let me use the strikeout tag.)

kristin cashore said...

Tap -- AWESOME -- thank you so much! You've given me a great list to work with when it's time for me to do my research...

Gwen said...

Eek! Ok, I don't mean to sound self serving but back in college I wrote a retelling of the Wife of Bath's tale (for a course on Chaucer) that I still find highly amusing and think you might enjoy.

It was published by a very small women's magazine a few years ago, but now it resides on my website. Don't worry, I'm not looking to publish it a second time (this is not a ploy to get you to read my stuff). If you're at all interested let me know and I can send you a link to my website (different from the blog linked to my name here). If you're not interested that's fine too. I promise not to take it personally.

Ah, and I always enjoyed Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, though I forget who wrote them. But you'll find retellings of everything from the Three Little Pigs to Cinderella, all highly amusing.