Thursday, March 25, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Shannon Hale

One of the more recent inheritors of the fairy tale novel tradition is Shannon Hale. Hale's first book, The Goose Girl, was released in 2003 and was a wonderfully unexpected surprise at the time. It was beautifully written and also adapted the same named lesser known fairy tale, one that wasn't as well-known to the average reader. The book started the Bayern series which didn't use any more fairy tales for direct inspiration, but continue the world she created for Goose Girl with additional characters and adventurs.

From her website:

Taking inspiration from the wonderful Robin McKinley and her first book BEAUTY, Shannon decided to write a novel from her favorite fairy tale, "The Goose Girl."

In her own words: "When I was a kid, my sisters and I spent many hours with my mom’s mammoth book of fairytales. 'Cinderella' was the initial favorite on the basis of ball gowns. (There were 3 ball gowns in this version, plus a wedding dress! Pure little girl bliss.) But despite lack of fancy gowns, 'The Goose Girl,' by the Brothers Grimm, soon moved into the lead. We were completely captivated by the story alone. Even though it was my favorite, its strangeness and brevity always left me wanting more. Why did the princess let her lady-in-waiting steal her identity? How did she learn to command the wind? And what about the prince? I thought the story fairly begged to be written into a longer work. I'm thrilled that now, some three years later, it is."

"I love fantasy. I love all those possibilities, and the cultural profundity of the tale, and the kind of book you can’t put down. I think reading fantasy, for all ages, has gained a new acceptance and popularity. I wanted the goose girl to be a book that both non-fantasy readers could pick up and not feel alienated because they didn’t know the world of the genre, and one that fantasy readers could enjoy by encountering both the familiar and the new."

A few years later, The Princess Academy received a Newbery Honor Medal, helping to solidify Hale's popularity and visibility. The Princess Academy uses fairy tale and fantasy tropes in a story about a school for princesses although no one tale provides inspiration for this novel.

Perhaps my favorite of Hale's books so far, although that's not an easy pick, is Book of a Thousand Days, a novel inspired by Maid Maleen, a maiden in the tower tale quite different from Rapunzel. At the time it was announced, I was thrilled and quickly annotated a version of it for SurLaLune since it has been on my consideration list for a while.

Once again from her website:

One night in the spring of 2003, I lay in bed reading the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I was drafting my second book, enna burning, and wanted to seek inspiration from the old tales. That was the first time I discovered “Maid Maleen.” It’s the story of a noble lady who refuses to marry a rich king because she’s in love with a prince. In anger, her father locks his daughter and her maid in a tower for seven years.

It was a fairly interesting tale, had nice story movement and other fairy tale curiosities that caught my interest. I might have just enjoyed it and moved on, never thinking much of it again, if not for one thing—the maid. What did she do to deserve such punishment? How did she feel about being locked away? What was the relationship between her and her mistress during all that time they spent in the tower? The Brothers Grimm drop her from the story about half way through, and I got pretty irritated with them about that. I wanted to hear more about her, what happened next, and if she ever found a happily-ever-after. So I kept mulling over the tale, asking myself questions, taking notes. The more I thought, the more frustrated I felt. That’s how I know when I’ve got a story worth pursuing—if the story is satisfying, there’s nothing more for me to say, but if it frustrates me, the storyteller part of my brain starts to work to resolve it, and slowly I find myself with another novel to write.

Fall of 2005, I began writing what I then called Diary of a Lady’s Maid, telling the story in diary format from the maid’s point-of-view. While I took great inspiration from “Maid Maleen,” I deviated dramatically from the original tale in order to find the maid’s story. It was a wonderful exercise for me, to explore a new landscape, write in a new format, pull on an ancient tale but find a new one inside it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so attached to any character as I was to Dashti the lady’s maid. This was an incredibly rewarding book to create.

Hale's most recent adventures in fairy tales have been graphic novels cowritten with her husband featuring Rapunzel and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk fame. The books are steampunk flavored westerns with Nathan Hale's illustrations adding to the stories.

I've had the opportunity to meet Shannon and listen to her present a few times. If you ever have the chance, attend one of her author events. She is funny! She's a great writer, but she is also a skilled public speaker and does well with groups of all ages, whether discussing her adult books or young adult novels. She is candid and entertaining and inspires young readers to read and write. She's a great pick for an author visit.

Visit Shannon Hale's website to read more about all of her titles as well as her entertaining blog. I also have a SurLaLune Bookstore page for her featuring her fairy tale oriented titles and a few others.


  1. I've met Shannon a few times and she's as sweet in person as she seems in print. And I have to agree, Book of a Thousand Days is my favorite too! I think it takes everything wonderful about Shannon's writing and puts it into one amazing story.

  2. My mom loved Goose Girl and Enna Burning. They're on my list, and those graphic novels look way cool. I'll have to pick them up next time I'm at the comic book store. Love the blog. What a great idea: recognizing modern authors who are keeping folktales in circulation. That reminds me of a great topic for discussion--how folklore becomes popular culture, then high culture (if it makes it), then folk culture again. Once it's in print, is it still folklore? Or does it become pop culture? We'll have to discuss. :)