And here we are, with the first Big Idea piece of 2009. And who better to start us off than Jim C. Hines, who having already rehabbed cowardly green fantasy creatures in his Goblin trilogy, now turns his attention to rebooting the stories of three of the most popular fairly tale princesses in The Stepsister Scheme. But what motivated the reboot — and what does it have to do with a very popular Hollywood ogre? Jim lays it all out, once upon a time, that time being right now.
JIM C. HINES:
I’m putting out a hit on Shrek. No questions asked, and money is no object.
It was bad enough back in 2000 when I started writing my goblin books. “What a clever idea,” I thought. “Humorous fantasy from the monster’s point of view!” I had just finished the first book when previews for Shrek started airing.
Fast forward to November of 2004. I’m sitting with friends in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago, discussing my next series. “It’s an awesome idea,” I say. “I’m taking three princesses from the old fairy tales and putting them together in a Charlie’s Angels-type of team. Lots of fun, action-packed butt-kicking.”
Right as I finished The Stepsister Scheme, I saw the first previews for Shrek the Third. Previews which included Fiona and the fairy tale princesses in a Charlie’s Angels pose.
Remember the scene from Star Trek II when Kirk shouts “Khan!!!” with such hatred and fury that the sound carries into space? Let’s just say the astronauts probably heard my scream of “Shrek!!!”
Fortunately, Shrek the Third didn’t do much with the idea. My nemeses at Dreamworks were playing the princesses for laughs and a quick fight scene, whereas I wanted to go deeper.
The first step was to figure out the characters. Three princesses, each one bringing something special. I started with Snow White. The daughter of a powerful witch, Snow would have also inherited her mother’s mirror, making her quite the magical threat.
Talia, aka Sleeping Beauty, was princess number two. Cursed by a fairy at birth, Talia also received several potent fairy blessings, including superhuman grace and the ability to dance like an angel . . . two traits which lend themselves to hand-to-hand combat.
Finally we have Danielle, aka Cinderella. The tales tell how rats and doves would come to her aid, which was a useful trick. But she needed something more. If her mother’s spirit could grant gowns and glass slippers, why not an enchanted sword of glass? (Which is a minor spoiler, but since they painted Danielle with her sword on the cover, I’m not going to sweat it.)
It wasn’t enough. I knew what my princesses could do, but I still didn’t know who they were.
These women had been through a lot. Talia slept for a hundred years, and if you read the old tales, it was no “kiss of true love” that awakened her. (On that note, if I never read the phrase “He gathered the first fruits of her love” again, it will be too soon.) Snow’s mother hired a man to cut out Snow’s heart. Danielle spent most of her life a slave, though thanks to her mother’s spirit residing in the hazel tree in her garden, Danielle was never truly alone.
This was a start, but I didn’t want my characters to be defined by their traumas. Many people have survived horrible things. It may help shape the people we become, but it doesn’t define us. I needed to look beyond, to the choices my characters made. What would Talia do to the prince who “rescued” her? Would Snow fight her mother or try to flee? Once Danielle married her prince, would she use her newfound power to take revenge on her stepmother or would she try to forgive her? Who would they choose to become after the tales ended? This was where I finally started to know and love my characters.
Danielle, Snow, and Talia all feel real to me, each one not a symbol or a message, but her own person, with her own gifts and flaws. And I’ll match my princesses against that swamp-dwelling ogre and his friends any day of the week.