Did anyone else read all those fairy tale books edited by Andrew Lang? You know, THE GREEN FAIRY BOOK, THE MAGENTA FAIRY BOOK… I owned a lot of these, and read them a lot of times, even though once you’ve read about ten stories you’ve pretty much covered the plot and thematic elements that will be endlessly permuted throughout the rest.
My sophomore year of college, a German teacher assigned us to write a fairy tale (auf Deutsch, natuerlich). I’m pretty sure this was just a throw-away assignment for him, but I took it very, very seriously, incorporating as many genre tropes as I could — the series of three trials, the less virtuous and worthy trial-undergoers whose quests must be disappointed before our seemingly humble hero can advance… Keep in mind, I studied German for seven years and can barely introduce myself, so spending a lot of time on my German assignments clearly wasn’t my usual practice.
Point being, I know my fairy tale conventions. And since I’ve been reading what the book pros call “paranormal romance” these past few years*, I know those conventions too.
And that is why I love WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr. Because it also knows these conventions, and breaks them very smartly.
You know how in fairy tales and paranormal romance, you often have a couple that is destined to be together by some centuries-old unyielding mystical fate? Especially if there’s some sort of royalty involved and a kingdom to be ruled before it is destroyed, or used to destroy the world? WICKED LOVELY starts there, and goes somewhere awesome that I won’t spoil (except a little bit in the third footnote). Someplace a thousand times cooler than TWILIGHT’s “I was destined to love yooooouuuu.”**
In general I love anything that subverts a genre very well.*** (footnote includes more WICKED LOVELY plot detail)
There are a lot of valid complaints about the pilot episode of ANGEL, but I will always love it for the way it totally gets the superhero genre, and messes with it. The best scene: the obligatory car chase as the female victim is being kidnapped; Angel leaps into his black convertible in slow-mo, black leather duster billowing… and we pull up short into real time: the key won’t turn in the ignition. Swivel camera two cars over, and there’s Angel’s car… the other black convertible in the lot. Awesome.
Someday, when I am a sociology professor, I hope I will teach a class called “Writing for Sociologists,” and we will discuss what unfathomable rules comprise the genre of “sociological writing,” and we will look at ways that clever sociologists try to muck around with them. And if my students are lucky, they will get to watch that scene from ANGEL. I probably can’t make them read WICKED LOVELY, though.
* because I’ve been reading young adult and that’s been about half of young adult, and can I just say that I’d tried to explain the preponderance of vampires to my boyfriend, but he didn’t really get it, so I made him stroll through Barnes and Noble’s teen section with me, and now he totally does get it and is mildly disturbed?
** While we’re on the subject of genuinely romantic fairy tales, as WICKED LOVELY is in its own non-traditional way, I would be remiss if I did not mention the best fairy tale song I know, “Fake Empire” by the National. I don’t even really understand what the hell it’s about, but it’s full of all this fairy tale imagery, from Disney mostly, which is very incongruous coming from the singer’s extremely deep voice, and I love it.
***Those “politically correct bedtime stories,” which I thought were fun for about ten minutes back in 1994, don’t count; partly because they’re kind of right-wing, but mostly because they’re not really that well done. …As opposed to the NANCY CLUE books (a gay Nancy Drew parody), which were utterly spot-on. It was the attention to the clothes, pitch-perfect to the original series, that really did it.
That’s the thing, though; WICKED LOVELY isn’t a parody… it’s a genuine fairy tale, except it asks what a smart, clever girl with a sense of her own worth would do when suddenly thrust into this fairy tale world, and the answer has her busting through the conventions of the genre. Like, maybe she wouldn’t fall in love with the prince, just because he told her she was destined to; and maybe her initial resistance wouldn’t just be for show. So then how would she make that work?
I don’t know if Marr started from there or from the book’s basic premise (which is that Aislynn, our hero, has gone through life seeing a world filled with troublemaking fairies invisible to everyone else), but that’s what makes the book really work for me.