A Feminist Adaptation Of 'Snow White'
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Snow White is a fairy tale that traffics in some tropes that we might now roll our eyes at - feminine jealousy, unrealistic expectations of beauty, a woman cleaning up after seven ungrateful men. Now Snow White has gotten a feminist adaptation, a dark and chilly fantasy which even has a touch of "Frozen" thrown in. It's called "Girls Made of Snow And Glass." And author Melissa Bashardoust joins me now from member station KCLU in California. Hello.
MELISSA BASHARDOUST: Hi. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When I said chilly, I meant it. Your story is set in a...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Kingdom cursed with an eternal winter. Winter is here. It's not coming.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But can you set up the two women we're following, Lynet, who is the daughter of the king, and Mina, who is her stepmother?
BASHARDOUST: Yes. So Mina was ill as a child. And so her father, who was a magician, cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. And he keeps her original sort of dying heart in a jar now just to torment her with. Meanwhile, Lynet, who was born up north in the snowy part of the kingdom - her father commissioned that same magician to make him a daughter out of snow and blood in the shape of her dead mother so that he would have sort of a piece of her even after she's dead. And he keeps telling her how much like her mother she is. So she's growing up with that shadow over her.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm the mother of a 4-year-old girl. And I have to say one of the things that infuriates me, infuriates me in fairytales is exactly this aging woman trope...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...That is so prevalent in fairy tales, where you always see sort of aging woman trying to take away the beauty and youth and power of a younger woman. But what's interesting about this book is that you really focus on the roles of the fathers and how both Mina and Lynet's fathers sort of remove their ability to define themselves on their own terms. And they actually have a lot in common.
BASHARDOUST: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I planned it that way a little bit just so that they would have those parallels that draw them together even as they're being forced apart. For me, I used a sort of very literal metaphor in making the father sort of represent patriarchal institution - patriarchal society - where you have one father who is very directly trying to put down his daughter and tell her that she's not worthy. And, meanwhile, you have the other father who is trying to place his daughter on a pedestal and sort of idealize her in a way that doesn't feel right to her, either.
So in both cases, they're projecting these images on them and not letting them define themselves. And I wanted to address that because I think there are so many evil or negative maternal figures in fairy tales. And we don't really hold the fathers accountable as often or even considering the forces behind, perhaps, some of those negative maternal figures.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you started to write this book, why did you, first of all, choose Snow White? There are so many fairytales to choose from. And did you start by thinking that you'd have sort of seven dwarves and a poisoned apple? Or did you think that you wanted to do something completely different?
BASHARDOUST: Well, it's interesting. OK. So actually, it starts with Vincent Price - where I was watching the Snow White episode of Faerie Tale Theater, which I loved when I was younger, because Vincent Price is the magic mirror. And I was going through, like, a phase.
BASHARDOUST: So I watched that episode. And what really sort of caught my imagination was this idea that the mirror doesn't really need to be magic, that even if the mirror didn't talk, when we look in the mirror ourselves, we hear that same voice telling us that we're not pretty enough or comparing us to someone else and just highlighting all of our insecurities. And so that - my very first thought was to write just a psychological retelling of Snow White just as a character study of the evil queen with no magic. And then, eventually, I, you know, sprinkled some magic back in because it's more fun that way for me. And then it expanded into being about a stepmother's relationship with her stepdaughter, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So there's another thing that makes this not-your-typical-Disney plot. There's a subplot with Lynet and her feelings towards Nadia, a surgeon in the castle. We have no prince in this retelling.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have something else. Can you talk about that relationship?
BASHARDOUST: Yeah. I didn't want to do a prince from the beginning because I usually am bored by the prince in any given fairy tale. So I didn't - I kind of knew...
BASHARDOUST: ...That wasn't going to be part of it. So, originally, that character wasn't female. Originally, that character was male just because I was going with default, I guess. But every draft, that character never worked. And as soon as I changed that character to female, everything made so much more sense. Not that I even needed a reason to do it, necessarily. But I was so happy that it created this extra layer with the story because Lynet's story is about self-discovery. And so for her to want something other than what she's been told she should want her whole life - it just flowed really beautifully into that, I think.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This book has been marketed as young adult, though it is a great read for older folks too. Is it, though, something that is important for young women to read about and sort of understand in a more complicated way?
BASHARDOUST: I hope so (laughter). I spent a lot of time talking about self-determination, I think, in the book. And I think that's something teenagers, especially, are struggling with because we're still with our parents at this point or with our families. And so there's a lot of negotiation in terms of trying to figure out who we are, even as there are other people in our lives who'd want us to be something differently. And also just - there are so many mixed messages from media telling you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong and how pretty you are and how pretty you aren't and who you should be friends with. And it just - it gets confusing. And I hope that my book can kind of cut through some of that, maybe, a little bit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any other fairy tales that you're wanting to tackle?
BASHARDOUST: Yeah. I want to do Sleeping Beauty. I want to (laughter) take...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, really?
BASHARDOUST: ...On Sleeping Beauty so much. Yeah. I'm, like, obsessed with Sleeping Beauty, actually, which is kind of surprising in that it seems like the antifeminist one. But I really just want to, like, flip it out. Like, I love the idea of there being this quiet girl who seems passive. But she's surrounded by thorns. And anyone who tries to get her is just, like, murdered, basically, on the way there. Like, there's something really interesting to me about that contrast. And I want to play with it a little bit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Melissa Bashardoust's novel is "Girls Made of Snow And Glass." Thank you so very much.
BASHARDOUST: Thank you so much for having me.
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