Where ever I go fairy tales always follow me. Although, particularly I’ve been scavenging for fairy tales of the queer variety lately, which means I’ve picked up quite a bit of Sarah Diemer’s work, and I’ve done some reviews on some older ones like Kissing the Witch. But I wanted to try something more recent and from a different author (as much as I do love Sarah’s work). So I’ve picked up a collection of fairy tales re-written by Rene von Bonaparte to make them modern and lesbian.
The collection got titled Fairy Tales for Princesses who love Dames and I really love the introduction that the author started with, essentially telling a story before the fairy tales about why they wanted to re-invent some fairy tales to be focused toward lesbians. Other than that though, I’ve run across a lot of digital copies of books lately that haven’t formatted the book very well, and this one runs into a few issues, but makes up for it with having really amazing opening titles for each of the stories and a little quote to go with each of them.
To kick things off, the first story was a re-design of the “Princess and the Pea”, this one being “The Princess and the USB” instead. Personally, I’ve always had issues with this story, considering it set the belief that only certain people could become important (like a princess) and that it all depended on genetics. This re-telling, unfortunately didn’t work around or change that issue. Instead it had a business woman who wanted a very specific person as their lover, and the staff of her home end up testing this one poor girl by sticking a USB under the mattress, this undoubtedly caused the girl to not be able to sleep. In the end, you can imagine, she passed the test and everyone was happy and the two got married.
It wasn’t a terrible story, it was just bogged down by a lot of the original fairy tale, as well as some cliché lines that I see repeated in some of the other stories. The worst of all was the use of ‘a dark and stormy night’. Still, the ending was poetic and amusing.
The next story in the line was a re-telling of a story I actually don’t know, though if I had to place it, it would be “Swan Lake” (yes the ballet) or the “Swan Wife”. The cool thing about this one is it brought in racially diverse characters, especially for the white and beautiful swan, who happened to be Oki, and her evil sister Oni (ogre/demon in Japanese). This one was a bit heart-breaking with its ending, but overall a really well done story compared to the previous one.
It follows a ranger who falls in love with the swan-woman, and the ranger wants to break the curse placed on the swan-woman, so she goes to profess her love, and accidentally professes to the evil twin sister. As you can probably imagine, it doesn’t end well.
The third story was a re-design of “Cinderella”, which is quite honestly probably one of the most retold fairy tales around. Regardless, this one was amazing. Ella, is essentially the only house keeper for an entire five star hotel and she ends up meeting a Lesbian rock star at a concert and dances with her, after she received help from her ‘fairy godbrother’ which is a brand of a fashion store and the owner of it gives her an outfit to wear. It goes along the lines of “Cinderella” really well, while also being its own little story, it changed things up in the right areas to keep it modern and that made it more fun to read too.
Compared to the first story, this one was so much better for following the lines of the fairy tale so close, plus it showed a lot of creativity that wasn’t always there in the other previous stories.
Our fourth story is a re-imagining of “Beauty and the Beast”, which is another story I was never incredibly fond of, because of the ideal that if you kidnap someone and force them to live in your home, eventually they will come to love you. This version called “Baker and the Beast”, somewhat escapes that ideal, but at the same time loses some of the flair of the original story. It follows Baker, both her name and occupation as far as I could tell and her delivery to a castle that results in her staying the night (and then multiple nights since she can’t leave).
This story didn’t manage to show much in the way of the romance with the two characters, except when the Baker made some cupcakes for the duchess (the beast). At the same time, the beast realizes what she is doing to this woman, and lets her go, even though the curse over the castle will cause everyone in it to die when the baker leaves (not explained just like the original). This difference is about the only thing I could mark toward the story, besides it being about a female beast.
It may have just been my slanted view of not liking “Beauty and the Beast” already, but this one was a bit boring unfortunately, though the author showed enough description that I could also picture the story well enough.
The fifth and sixth stories focused on retellings of “Sleeping Beauty” (which thankfully was nothing like the original), and “The Frog Prince”. And strangely enough these two were actually my first and third favorites of the collection. Not only was sleeping beauty completely in the opposite direction of the original, but it had some dream elements in it that were awesome and way better than just a bunch of thorns growing around “Sleeping Beauty”. I also enjoyed the girl who risked her life to save her friend, as she realized she also wanted to kiss her friend. For once, sleeping beauty actually felt like a romantic story and modern too, and it still makes me smile thinking of it.
As for the “Frog Prince”, if the frog had still been male I think I would have just been incredibly frustrated with this one, as the frog is very… give me this and let me do that. Plus, it followed a tradition in fairy tales of doing things in threes (which is my favorite fairy tale tradition). But instead the frog was not only female, but an Indian woman who had been cursed until someone does something kind for her.
Of course my only issue was that, apparently that kind thing had to be throwing the frog against the wall. Which I know one of the other “Frog Prince” versions got rid of the curse that way, but it still was really bizarre, since I think it was trying to combine both the being kind aspect to lift the curse and the throwing against the wall one, which just didn’t really fit. I don’t know about you, but if someone throws me against a wall, I don’t consider that kind.
Overall, the collection wasn’t bad. It was clear the author hasn’t done that much writing, but that means they will also grow with their own writing over time and further stories along will be way better. And even with that considered, “Sleeping Seamstress” and “Cindered Ella” were well done and fun to read, and definitely worth it for at least those. It was also clear the author knew all of these fairy tales well, with the little details they managed to add when it came to making the stories in modern times.
I hope to see more fairy tales redone for lesbians from this author later on.
Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of classic fairy tales retold in a modern setting with lesbians as the main couples. It includes adaptations of “The Princess and the Pea,” “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Frog Prince”.
The stories are set in the modern world, but the language of each one retains the “once upon a time” lyricism of classic fairy tales. I found this method of using old-fashioned language to describe modern things and concepts (such as cell phones and rock stars) charming. Each heroine met and wooed the girl of her dreams, and I appreciated that attention was not drawn to the characters’ sexual or romantic orientation as if it needed some sort of explanation. While I think stories in which a character’s status as a gender or sexual minority is discussed are very important, I also long for stories in which nobody blinks an eye when a girl kisses another girl. These were those kind of stories.
I did have some problems with this collection, though. It really could have used a more thorough editing–I was thrown out of the story countless times by misspellings, misused words, and incorrect punctuation. More importantly, I was disturbed by the standards of beauty these stories upheld. White skin was consistently used as an indicator of beauty–I felt I was supposed to understand that the heroines or their objects of affection were beautiful simply because of how white their skin was. There were women of color, but they were always the “exotic other,” the object to be obtained or saved, rather than the central character who did the saving. I really feel it’s important to avoid using language that supports white skin as the default and brown skin as something that sets a character apart. Also, while the heroines did have a variety of body types, one of the evil stepsisters in the Cinderella story was described as fat and the narration used a lot of negative fat talk (comparing her to a pig, etc.) to illustrate how ugly she was. These undertones all made me very uncomfortable.
Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of fairy tales retold with both a lesbian and a modern twist. The beast and her prisoner, the sleeping beauty and her savior, are all women, and the pea put under the princess’ mattress is a USB drive. The narrative style is simplistic in the tradition of folk tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and I can imagine one reading them aloud to a child at bedtime, or to a lover, snuggled up in bed on a rainy day. I was pleased with the stories themselves, and the collection gets points for having at least one sad ending.
Unfortunately, this collection also has a bit of an issue with race. All the women followed by the narration are described with Caucasian features, and most of the other characters are white as well. Three of the main characters, lovers of the women followed by the narration, are women of color. (One antagonist is also a woman of color, but she is the twin of one of the protagonists, essentially her reflection.) If this had been handled correctly by the author, I would stop here and deem the POC representation decent, if limited. However, these three characters are also the three characters in the collection who have been trapped in animal forms: a swan, a beast, and a frog. They eventually turn back into humans; one dies, while another retains some animal characteristics. Furthermore, one of these characters, referred to as “Indian,” is described as having “exotic beauty.” I’m not going to go into why these things are a problem, here, aside from the fact that they’re racist; if you don’t know why they are a problem, I recommend doing some google searches.
As the author has made their POC characters, and only their POC characters, animals and exotified them, I am going to have to refrain from recommending the purchase of this collection. There is no excuse for this in a book published in 2012, and the stories are not outstanding enough to recommend in spite of problematic elements.