Last week, Shana Mlawski, wrote about populating fantasy with diversity and not just sticking to Medieval England as a reference and I completely agree with her. In fact, I’m add to her argument by saying we can take diversity a step further, especially as to the current trend of taking well known folklore/fairy tales and putting a modern spin on them.
When I was a little girl, I loved the Disney princesses and fairytales in general, so when I learned about Beastly, by Alex Flinn, I was excited. And then more and more books were published that were based off of Western fairy tales. I read them, liking the modern touch, but one aspect of all of these novels rubbed me the wrong way. These stories were set in our modern times, in our modern cities, with our very techno-savvy modern lifestyles, but there wasn’t a single instance of diversity. None.
How was that possible? In my daily life I’m interacting with all sorts of people – different races, ages, sizes – my world is incredibly diverse. How come I’m not seeing this same world I live in reflected in my reading? I could have gotten angry; I could have raged at the world, but instead, I wrote. I wrote my own story, with the diversity I saw reflected in my world. I also searched. Searched for authors who chose to step out from their comfort zones and write different characters; create diverse worlds.
Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days is a re-telling of a tale by the Brother’s Grimm, but is set in central Asia. Malinda Lo’s Ash, takes Cinderella’s tale and turns it on its head. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is set in a future China and the prince is Asian. These are wonderful additions to YA literature for their diversity and their unique take on the old tales they are based on.
However, as readers we have to demand more, and as writers we have to create more. Writers need to be more open to writing characters that are different from them. Research other fairytales and folklore that exist in other countries, or even in one’s own culture. Folklore was created as a way of sharing history, teaching morality and exists in every culture on Earth. These stories have not stood the test of time because they are good, but because they are captivating stories. We can restructure these stories and place them in a modern context for the next generation, but we must be sure that our modern stories also reflect our modern lives.