Marissa Meyer burst upon the YA Lit scene with her wonderful retelling of popular fairytale, Cinderella. Cinder, the first in the Lunar Chronicles quartet, stars a Cyborg reincarnation of Cinderella and is inspired in part by Sailor Moon. Cinder and Scarlet are available at all good bookstores everywhere. The third in the series, Cress, is scheduled for an early 2014 release. A little known fact about Marissa is that she minored in children’s lit at University. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us about writing, The Lunar Chronicles and fairytales. You can find Marissa Meyer at her website.
1. As an author and someone who has studied children’s literature, what do you attribute to the success of fairy tales among not just children but adults in contemporary society?
It’s been a popular theory in the past few years that the rise of fairy tales in popular culture is because we’re all looking for that happily ever after right now, due to our current economic climate. Maybe there’s a little truth to that, but I think that explanation ignores generations of popular fairy tale spin-offs. After all, Disney has been remaking these stories with success and consistency since 1937! So I think the reason for their popularity comes more from the inherent themes in the stories and how they relate to our basic human needs and desires. Cinderella is an excellent example. The archetypal “rags to riches” tale is something every person understands and can relate to—we all want to improve our standing in society, we all want to believe that by working hard we can achieve happiness and comfort. Or Little Red Riding Hood: we all know better than to trust a wolf. Or Rapunzel: We all learn for some amount of freedom, but also belonging. The stories make sense to us on a visceral level.
2. When writing Cinder, did you consciously make a decision on which elements of the “original” tale by Perrault you would keep and which ones you wouldn’t? Did you read any other versions of “Cinderella” and if so, do you have a favourite amongst the ones you have read?
Absolutely—I thought a lot about which of the story’s iconic elements I wanted to keep, and how I would twist them to fit my own world and story. On top of that, elements from Cinder really ended up being drawn from many different versions of the story. The China setting was inspired by “Ye Xian” (what some believe to be the original Cinderella tale); the pumpkin carriage from Perrault; the motherly ghost from Grimm (the role now shared with Cinder’s stepsister); even the mice from Disney, which was what first gave me the idea for Cinder to have helpful android friends. I wanted readers to have a sense of familiarity, to think that yes—this is the story I remember from childhood! Except . . . it’s also completely different.That said, I don’t really have a favorite version of the Cinderella tale. I do adore Ella Enchanted though, the quirky YA retelling by Gail Carson Levine.
3. According to a number of critical theorists, such as Bruno Bettelheim, fairy tales teach children to assimilate culture. As such, children learn to perform gender and differentiate between each other through these stories. How (if you do so) do you subvert traditional expressions of gender in your stories?
As much as I love, and have always loved, fairy tales, as a writer I was never interested in writing your typical damsel-in-distress protagonists. So it felt natural to me to give my “princesses” useful skills and intelligence, courage, and goals that went beyond simply catching a prince and getting married. I love a happily ever after story as much as anyone, but I want to feel that the hero and heroine have both earned that happiness, not fallen into it, so it was important to me to write characters who brought their own strengths—and weaknesses—to the table, and who had to work together to bring about their happy endings. My decision to make Cinder a mechanic (a stereotypical male occupation), was less about subverting gender roles and more about giving her skills that would come in handy throughout the story, and also that Prince Kai would find admirable. He’s frequently impressed by her resourcefulness—as he, himself, has skills more suited for politics and diplomacy. It’s a fun relationship to play around with, and we get to see the two characters rescuing each other in different ways throughout the books.
4. What most excites me about The Lunar Chronicles is the gradual coherence of a sisterhood between the “princesses.” Female friendship is a sticky subject in YA novels and almost entirely absent in tales written down by the Grimm brothers and Perrault. If you could have Cinder be friends with any other female protagonist of a contemporary YA novel, who would it be? And why?
Thank you! This is a big theme for me, and we definitely have my teenage obsession with “Sailor Moon” to thank for it. I was so enamored with that anime because it focused more on the friendships between the female heroines than it did on the romance aspects (although there was plenty of that too, of course). I would really love it if we started seeing strong female friendships as a growing trend in YA.All that said, to actually answer your question (ha!), I think it would be fun to see Cinder paired with someone who has magic. Real magic, not the Lunar glamour. Because she’s so mechanically-minded and analytical, and it would be fun to see her working with someone whose powers can’t easily be explained. Maybe Cate Cahill (Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood) or Daisy Goodnight (Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore) or even the ever-loved Hermione (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling).
5. What should we most look forward to in your upcoming novel, the third in The Lunar Chronicles series? Apart from the fact that Cress is a hacker and the novel is set in the Sahara, that is.
Isn’t that enough to look forward to? 😀
Cress is my Rapunzel retelling, and yes, she is a computer hacker. Unfortunately she’s being forced to work for the evil queen to spy on the leaders of Earth and report back. She’s also stuck in a satellite orbiting Earth, as opposed to a tower, and attempting to find a way to escape. An assignment from the queen to find Cinder eventually leads to a daring escape attempt, in which everything goes wrong and all hell breaks loose. (Dun dun dun!)The first chapter has been posted, for anyone who wants an early preview: http://www.scribd.com/doc/149892070/CRESS-Chapter-One-by-Marissa-Meyer.