Prince Charming Is Really the Heroine: Sacred Marriage in Fairy Tales, This Kind of Makes My Brain Hurt

I’ve spent another week being Really Good — as in, not reading Voyager, the third Outlander book, and working on my sci-fi novel instead.

I’m doing one big, massive edit on the entire novel, which is around 733 pages long, and tonight I reached page 482.

So I have roughly 250 more pages to go, but I’m hopeful I’ll be finished before Thanksgiving. This sounds crazy incredibly optimistic and definitely fits with the NaNoWriMo theme for November, National Novel Writing Month, wherein people crank out entire novels in one month and Tweet/FB post/blog like crazy about the joy/insanity of such an endeavor.

First drafts are work, yes, but writing is all in the rewriting. Which means editing — transformative editing — can be more of a beast than any first draft. But people might not be as excited to sign up for NaNoWriMo if they found out they might have to rewrite their book ten more times… because that is tedious, to say the least.

But enough with the Debbie Downer stuff! If anyone reading this post signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, I commend you!! I love the inspiration people find in this event! And for extra kudos: the best NaNoWriMo novel I’ve ever read was the thriller Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes, published in 2010. It’s being made into a movie now and I will be watching that movie on opening night because I spent a whole Friday night when that book came out reading the entire novel in one sitting — 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. — cause I could not stop till I finished. That book is a whole lot of scary and a whole lot of feels. The beginning is super slow, but after the slow start — Look. Out.

I’ve never signed up for NaNoWriMo, unless you count the last ten years of my life. Cause every day is a NaNoWriMo day in my world.

When I’m not working on Mark of the Pterren, walking the river, or engaging in that super-time-consuming task known as adulting (paying bills, doing probate chores, and other joys of the world), I’ve been reading a book about grammar usage by Mignon Fogarty called Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

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I’m hosting a library event in December and I decided to do a presentation about grammar, because one of my friends in town is always like, “Melissa!! Do a grammar workshop!!” even though I am most certainly not a grammar pro. But Blake Crouch was too busy to come and give a talk about the TV show based on his novels, so a grammar event sounded like fun.

I went to the library looking for The Elements of Style and found Mignon Fogarty instead. (God, I love libraries so much, they are better than ice cream, chocolate, and pomegranate sanpellegrino, I mean for reals.)

Mignon Fogarty has a Grammar Girl website full of all kinds of free podcasts. She’s also been on Oprah and she is pretty much just da bomb.

On the same shelf as Fogarty’s book was another craft book called How to Writer Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat.

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A lot of this book is full of the technicalities of what makes a mystery different from a suspense novel, and how to craft a plot to specifically fit either category. I read parts of it on a sunny day in October, walking from the library to Starbucks, where I bought some pumpkin bread and came across this quote that left me scratching my head and feeling like a dummie.

The quote involves fairy tales, because the author has a chapter called Myths and Dreams: Basic Ingredients of Suspense Fiction.

“All fairy tales are rites of passage, mystical handbooks teaching us how to change and grow, how to travel to a new place in life, how to prevail over the forces of darkness within and without. They all have certain elements in common, no matter what cultural background they come from.”

I was nodding along to this, like, yes, yes, I’m on board with this.

Skimming, I read, “The middle of the story involves tasks and tests, lessons and learning.” Yup, that’s fine. “Death is confronted directly.” Sure, I got it.

And then I read this quote (from p.98 in the paperback copy):

In fairy tales, all confrontations with death “are symbolic of the death of the immature being and the rebirth of the new, mature, tested hero who has traveled to a new state in life. The marriage at the end of so many fairy tales is described by scholars as a Sacred Marriage of the masculine and feminine within a single human being. Looked at this way, the Prince Charmings are more than door prizes, they represent the state of readiness for adulthood and the new strength the heroine gained by undergoing the tests.”

I was like, whoa, when did I miss the news flash? When did “scholars” decide Prince Charming was not, you know, a dude with a penis, and was actually the masculine energy inside the heroine?

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Because that is just not what I’m thinking when I watch Cinderella. Or Snow White. Or Sleeping Beauty.

And those are the examples the author is using — especially Snow White, which she references a lot.

I don’t get to the scene at the end of Snow White and think, “Wow! Snow’s finally embraced her inherent testosterone and become a true badass! I’m so happy she’s merged her feminine and masculine energies together to become a true adult!”

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Uh, no.

I’m thinking, “Good thing the hot homeboy showed up, cause Snow was in major trubs, that was a bad scene with the Queen and the apple. That witch should have read some self-help books before she went off the cliff with the boulders and stuff.”

I mean, Snow White is in a coma while the climax of the story takes place — both the witch’s death, brought about with the help of her dwarf friends, and her own resurrection, when Prince Charming kisses her.

How can a woman embrace her masculinity if she’s passed out while it happens? (Or, in the case of Cinderella, locked upstairs in her attic bedroom while her animal buds come to the rescue? Or, for Sleeping Beauty, lying asleep while the hot guy slays the dragon and then shows up to kiss her?)

Don’t get me wrong — I love that friendship and love saves the day in these stories. I’m all for friendship, teamwork, and the transformative power of love.

It’s just this interpretation of what the marriage at the end symbolizes for the audience.

I finished my pumpkin bread, skimmed a few more pages of the book, walked home and took out my copy of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Which is all about the girl-power in fairy tales. I tried to find a place in the book where this author might have made a similar statement about Sacred Marriage, but I just…. couldn’t read more than a few pages. I’ve outgrown this book since I was a 22-year-old right out of college, trying to empower myself and not be pathetic. So if I missed a chapter/paragraph/sentence in Women Who Run with the Wolves that talks about the Sacred Marriage in fairy tales being a merging of masculine/feminine energies inside the heroine — forgive me.

I mean, I like this interpretation of marriage. It’s just not at all what I feel or think about when I watch Disney movies or read the original fairy tales. I do not look at Prince Charming and think, “oh, he’s the objectified aspect of the masculine energy in Snow.”

I don’t look at Prince Charming and think he is really the heroine. Any part of the heroine. This pretty much makes my brain hurt.

If this scholarly interpretation of Sacred Marriage existed in my brain before I picked up How to Write Killer Fiction — well, that knowledge has since disappeared. Gone the way of the sine/cosine/tangent equations I memorized to solve calculus problems in high school and college.

But it reminded me of something a beta-reader told me after she finished reading my final draft of The Etiquette of Wolves. “You did something really different in that story.” I said, “How’s that?” She said, “You had Jimmy seated at the computer, cracking the Pack’s security codes, rather than give that role to the male lead. Most stories have men do the computer work at the end, or any computer work, really. Same thing for saving him later. Jimmy makes sure Alistair gets out of the tunnels, and then finds her own way out. She has help from her friends getting out, and gets rescued in turn, but it’s a group effort all the way, and I liked that.”

I was like, “hmmm, I never thought of that before.”

Then I thought of these fairy tale heroines and their supposed masculine-energy. Which they find, apparently, only in marriage. In union with Prince Charming.

Um, yeah. I guess that works for some people.

But me?

I’d love to see Sleeping Beauty wake up from her coma, pick up her own sword, and help Phillip fight the dragon, you know? Wouldn’t that be a cool fairy tale? To watch Beauty and Phillip being badasses together with swords?

Then I’m like, oh, wait. That is exactly the story I’m writing right now. The one with Beauty and Phillip both fighting with swords.

Now if I could just finish editing these last 250 pages…

2 thoughts on “Prince Charming Is Really the Heroine: Sacred Marriage in Fairy Tales, This Kind of Makes My Brain Hurt

  1. I never interpreted it that way either. And what if the princess was a lesbian or something? But you hardly ever get that, which reminds me. I ought to finish that little story I was writing on Goodreads.

    But, yeah, I want to see the princess with the sword like in Enchanted when she was all like, yeah, I’m going to FIGHT THIS DRAGON and I was like YOU GO GIRL FIGHTING THAT DRAGON. And I liked that Alistair was strong without being a complete asshole. It’s rare in popular books to see a male character be strong and confident and masculine without acting like a complete dick.

  2. Thanks for that! I had to pull up the end of Enchanted, and watch that fight scene with the dragon again. The heroine takes a weak swing at the dragon with her sword, and her animal friend actually sends the dragon falling. Then the heroine throws her sword to catch Prince Charming’s sleeve so he doesn’t fall to his death. So yeah, that movie bends the fairy tale, but the heroine is not much of a warrior. It’s rare to see women be strong and manly without turning them into wusses later, like Trinity in The Matrix.

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