The Big Idea: Brandie June
Fairytales are simple. The bad guys are wicked. We know them by their cruel sneers and ugly faces. (In later forms of media, they will twirl mustaches and sport evil goatees.) They will be punished by the end, often in an especially grisly way if you are reading the classic fairytales transcribed by the Grimm Brothers. Evil queens dance themselves to death on heated iron shoes and mysterious little men rage until they split themselves in half and die. The good are pure, innocent, and rewarded handsomely. The sweet commoner toils without complaint and marries the prince. The imprisoned princess patiently waits for true love’s freeing kiss.
But what if we reverse that?
And not even a full reversal. I never intended to make the evil queen an angelic, pious one, nor the sweet commoner a bloodsucking villain, but wanted to find the magical place where the characters met somewhere in the middle. The morally gray heroes and villains that would have readers questioning who was the ‘good guy’ versus the ‘bad guy’ and hopefully even shift allegiances throughout their read of Gold Spun.
My novel started as a short story with the single challenge of making Rumpelstiltskin the hero. I imagined this mysterious character not as a menacing force, but instead as a quiet, hidden presence that fell in love with the miller’s daughter, wanting to aid her, even if it means losing her. I had fun writing that story, but it wasn’t enough.
Instead of creating the complex, morally gray, deliciously juicy characters I love, I had only flipped the script on Rumpelstiltskin, turning him from villain to hero. I needed to pull him back from the side of good, strand him somewhere in the in-between realm. So I gave him a few more secrets, a few things that like a spool of golden thread, only unravel with time. And I focused on developing the character of the miller’s daughter. In the original tale, she is passive and pure. Sweet and almost silent, she is practically batted between irritating men, as the king demands she make good on the ridiculous claim that did not come from her, but rather her father. She doesn’t even get a name! In a story ALL about the importance of knowing a name!
So I gave her a name. Meet Nor.
And I gave her agency. Nor was now allowed to drive the action in her own story. Gone is the pompous father, replaced by Nor’s own cunning plan to trick villagers into buying straw she claims will turn into gold. Nor became a con artist I could root for, even while seeing her flaws and follies. She deceives people, but only so she could provide for her family. It’s not honest work, and we all know it will land her in a heap of trouble when word gets to the prince that a petty criminal is attempting to swindle his subjects. I knew I was on to something when I both rooted for Nor to succeed and felt it was completely justified that she winds up locked in a room full of straw with a dire warning should she fail to do the impossible.
Fairytales are simple. Real life is not. Life is a murky mess of us trying to do the best we can given our circumstances. The characters in Gold Spun really came together for me when I pulled enough of the fairytale setting to feel familiar, but created characters who were not simple, not pure good or pure evil, but a delicious, tempting, blend of both.