Shelf Love

Cinderella & Beauty and the Beast: Retellings, Reversions, Subversions

Short Description

Classic fairy tales Cinderella & Beauty and the Beast may have gotten their Disney-fication, but there are many ways to slide your feet into these glass (or are they fur?) slippers, and romance novels love to play with these tropes. Writer Renee Dahlia and podcaster Philippa Borland join the podcast to discuss fairytale retellings, reversions, and subversions in romance novels.


queer romance, scifi and fantasy romance, fairy tales

Show Notes

Classic fairy tales Cinderella & Beauty and the Beast may have gotten their Disney-fication, but there are many ways to slide your feet into these glass (or are they fur?) slippers, and romance novels love to play with these tropes. Writer Renee Dahlia and podcaster Philippa Borland join the podcast to discuss fairytale retellings, reversions, and subversions in romance novels.


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Renee Dahlia

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Philippa Borland

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Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by writer, Renee Dahlia and podcaster Philippa Borland to discuss Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and fairytale retellings and reversions in romance novels. Thank you so much for being here, Philippa and Renee!

Philippa Borland: Thank you.

Andrea Martucci: Before we jump into today's topic. Can you both share a little bit about yourselves and Philippa? Let's start with you.

Philippa Borland: I've had a lifelong love for tales and I'll talk about a bit later, but I discovered retelling of fairytales as adult stories when I was actually studying literature at university, I'm like, wow, blew my mind. And I just fell in love with retellings of fairytales and how it can reflect a lot of what's going on in society.

I have a degree in literature. I am a gamer and I've combined those things quite a bit. And as you mentioned, I'm a podcaster. I am the host of Pod Culture Oz, and we look at genre fiction and we, did an episode last year on fairytales. And our most recent episode at the time of recording is also on fantasy and sort of the fairytale trope came up a bit.

And we also looked at alternatives to the hero's journey in that. So there's a bit of a hook in there as well.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. And we are gonna talk more about Pod Culture Oz in a moment because I listened to the episode with Renee and I was like, boom, they gotta get on here. Renee, why don't you introduce yourself?

Renee Dahlia: Hi, I'm Renee Dahlia. I'm a Sydney based writer of romance. I write contemporary and historical romance across the range of pairings. My upcoming series is contemporary romance set in the world of Formula One because my kids are super into Formula One and they were like mom write about cars.

Okay, fine. But it's gonna be gay.

And I've got couple of sapphic series. One is set just after World War I. I read a book about women doctors in World War I, and I was sort of fascinated cuz it was very early on in women qualifying to be doctors. And they had to fight to be allowed to go to war and help.

And so I was interested in that. And then at the time in the news, there was like a whole spate of domestic violence murders and all these ideas just infused into these books. I think, stuff just comes from everywhere. And I think that's the interesting thing about, I guess coming back to fairy tales is that you've got these core stories that we grow up with and they kind of form a basis for how you communicate ideas. Yeah, I think that's what I find interesting about them.

Andrea Martucci: And Renee, you just got an award at the Romance Writers of Australia conference.

Renee Dahlia: So my book, His Lord's Soldier, which is a mm romance set in 1920, came second in the novella category. First time a queer book had ever finaled.

Philippa Borland: So yay.

Andrea Martucci: congratulations.

Renee Dahlia: and I didn't wanna be the first because it's 2022.

Like why is this taking so long? But anyway, it's nice.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, you can [00:03:00] take the success, you can take the milestone and also wish that it happened sooner. Because it is a shame that it 2022.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. I don't wanna be first. Like this should have happened a long time ago, but I guess if someone has to be it's nice that it's me.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, exactly. That's a great way to think about it

Renee Dahlia: It's a good book. I like the book and it's a nice story and it's a friends to lovers. Two friends who grew up together and then one went to war and one was a farmer so he couldn't and they wrote letters during the war and then it's postwar, the soldier comes back to the farm and

Andrea Martucci: and things happen.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah.

Philippa Borland: And I think Renee didn't mention how many books she's got published. So I'm gonna prompt her on that.

Renee Dahlia: Uh, 31,

Andrea Martucci: 31. Oh my gosh.

Philippa Borland: She cranks them out. It's unbelievable.

Renee Dahlia: A lot of novellas.

Andrea Martucci: I mean,

Renee Dahlia: I don't know why I'm embarrassed by this it's a tricky thing because I think romance as a genre, expects authors to write quickly.

And so look at this and go, well, I, yes. Okay. I've published 31 books in six years and that's a lot in the context of literary fiction, but in the context of romance, you look at someone like Masey Yates, who's doing 10 books a year, or Claire Connolly who does 10 books a year. You say, it's not that much.

Like why is everybody so woo. I'm just sitting here writing in my little house.

Cuz It doesn't feel like a lot to me because I'm always thinking of the next one.

Andrea Martucci: Well, and I think that, when you're comparing to other genres in the literary world, it's like, a re romance writers writing so much because they can, or because the expectation is that they have to, and the commercial pressures to release a lot of material are greater slash different from other genres.

Renee Dahlia: I think it's both. I think when you think about romance readers, romance readers read a lot. And I think there's something about romance as a genre that draws you in. And it's the same for readers and authors. Like we write a lot because we love it. And it pours out through your fingers or your dictation or whatever method you use.

And it's the same for readers. They read a lot. It's the same sort of, I hate to use the word addiction, but something in that element that is special to romance that isn't in other genres.

Andrea Martucci: So you both worked on a presentation a long time ago, and then you did a reprise for the podcast, right?

Philippa Borland: We did the Australian fairytale Society.

Renee Dahlia: I think that's where it all started because I'm not a fairytale expert. I have a degree in physics and my day job is in horse racing and I've just been wrapped into this. And I have an academic curiosity as a personality.

When Philippa was like, Hey, there's this fairy tale conference. Let's write a thing about romance.

Philippa Borland: No, actually Renee said to me, Hey, there's this fairytale conference.

Renee Dahlia: See, I don't even remember. I'm like, I dunno, what's happening?

Philippa Borland: She said, she said, there's this fairytale conference. Do you think we [00:06:00] could do a thing on romance?

I'm like, have you come to the right

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Philippa Borland: Here are my shelves of books on fairytale, collections and retellings of fairy tales and what do you wanna do? And she just looked at me. She said, I just thought we could talk about fairy tales and romance. I'm like, okay, then we'll do that. And so

Renee Dahlia: I, hang on, let me just go and read 800 books and learn about this topic that I've randomly brought up

Philippa Borland: and we wanted to, because it was the Australian Fairy Tale Society, obviously we wanted to promote Australian romance authors who write books that have fairytale tropes in them. And I think from memory, one of the themes was also indigenous authors who used fairytale tropes. So we did a lot of research on that at the time as well.

That was a little bit harder. There weren't as many, but we did include some. So I did the initial I guess quasi-academic framing and Renee did the

Renee Dahlia: slides, the clever stuff, and I just went, Hey, here's some romancey bits.

Philippa Borland: well, no, cause I've read a lot of that too, but we just, and, but Renee did the work of compiling the list, which is on her website, which we are still updating.

If anyone says, Hey, I've read a romance book, that's inspired by Red Riding Hood or Cinderella, we keep compiling this list and it's not exhaustive. It's got about, I know, 300 books on it or something by fairytale trope. So if you know of any others, let us know, cuz we want this to be a growing list of romance novels, not just Australian authors, but by, a wide list.

So that people who say I really enjoyed this book that was inspired by Cinderella. What other romance books are there and they can go to and look at this list.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think that this is a really valuable resource and I have one for you. I was looking at the ugly duckling list and I was like, oh, they don't have The Charm School by Susan Wiggs on here. and, Susan Wiggs, actually that series that she did, I think every book in that series had a fairytale tie in.

So The Firebrand was the Beauty and the Beast. So anyways, after this, I'm gonna follow up with some books that that I would add because I have read them and know about them, but this list the way you have it organized by the fairy tales.

It's already amazing how many books you have on here. You just said 300 something like that. It's amazing. And and I know it took a lot of work. It sounded like you were getting community input to compile this. The link will definitely be in the show notes to Renee's website.

I put something out about fairy tales on Twitter and Renee, I think you responded and said, oh, Hey, we did a presentation. And and I was like, where can I find it? And then you were like, you should listen to this Pod Culture Oz episode. And I was like, I will do that. And then I did that.

And then I listened to almost all the other episodes too, because I was having such a great time and I was doing house projects. I just was like cranking through them. But first of all, everybody should go listen to that episode of Pod Culture, Oz. This is not gonna be a direct repeat of that conversation.

There's gonna be lots of other great stuff in that episode that you won't hear here including you have two other regular, co-hosts Philippa on that pod.

And and they're bringing in a little bit of the [00:09:00] outsider to romance perspective, although they are genre fans

Philippa Borland: And one of my cohosts was a lapse academic. So he has a very he writes notes throughout the whole episode and sums up. comes up and and talks about the the emergent themes of the episode. And he actually takes notes while we're going, which is great because he ties things back together. And he also makes sure he has a Hannah Arendt or a Foucault quote every episode. So I've gotta write all the show notes of all the stuff he throws in.

So some of our show notes run to over a hundred links. But, that's part of why it takes so long to get the episodes out. We have a lot of fun. And for those who haven't listened, which is probably everyone, cuz we don't have a big audience, we do really deep dive.

So they're long form episodes and we pick a genre trope, every episode, some sci-fi some fantasy, some horror, whatever. And we look at it across multiple formats. So literature, TV, film gaming, and how a trope has been explored across different media. So the fairy tale one was a lot of fun.

Cause I had the fun thing to say and now we're gonna talk about musicals and everyone laughed and I'm like, I don't get to say that in my podcast very often.

Andrea Martucci: yes, but with fairy tales, there are lots of musicals. It's great. Yeah, it was a great episode and made me a fan of the podcast.

Philippa Borland: This goes for romance and everything is, I think popular culture is something that deserves to be taken seriously and treated as something that's worth research and deep discussion. It's

Renee Dahlia: popular, right? Yeah. People are interested in it. People engage with it. That's the point.

Philippa Borland: And we can have fun while we do that, but we can talk about it in a way that's meaningful and respectful and show that, these people who've put a lot of work like Renee who's written 31 novels or whatever, that takes time and effort. And people who make games or who make a TV show, it's like, well, we've, acknowledged that you've taken the time to write these characters and write these tropes. And that might be similar to not exactly the same story, but similar tropes have come up in other ways. And we wanna look at how all these people have treated that

And explore those ideas.

Renee Dahlia: I do find it's a fascinating thing how humanity is like, well, if it's fun and enjoyable, then it's not worth investigation, but actually it is. Fun is a human thing. We should be putting attention into that and working out what people enjoy and why.

At the latest RWA conference in Perth, Masey Yates said something interesting.

She said it's easy to hurt a character, but it's really hard to heal them. And I think romance in particular does that very well because you are working towards a happy ending where you've dealt with trauma, hopefully, or you've found a way to, find joy. And I think that's what actually makes it really difficult and challenging and interesting, and also dismissed because yeah, it's easy to write boring, sad, traumatic stuff.

It's hard to find joy.

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Renee Dahlia: create happiness.

Andrea Martucci: and I think that this is really what I found interesting about the conversation that you had on Pod Culture Oz about this was, because this is a romance novel podcast we're not gonna talk as much obviously [00:12:00] about well, what is a romance novel? And isn't that interesting how romance readers wanna do X, Y, Z.

But what I really appreciated about that conversation was that you all had a fantastic conversation that also was trying to get into what actually is a fairytale and like defining it and parsing it apart from other similar ideas, or like, how is it in relationship to those ideas?

And as you noted in that episode, it's messy. But I think that there is a lot of value in really getting down into the taxonomy of these things and what is the difference between a retelling and a reversion and what is the appeal of using these stories? Is it a trope? Is it an archetype?

Is it cliche to use these things over and over again? Or how are they not cliched? And Renee, as you were talking about, it's easy to hurt a character, but it's much harder to heal a character, that idea reminded me a lot of, you know how the story ends: what's interesting about that?

And it's that's, what's interesting about romance is, it's the journey, it's the healing process. It doesn't matter if you've read a million Cinderella stories. It's how is this one going to use that architecture to tell this story, what characters are we gonna get to know?

And how is their story unique within this framework? And how is that going to bring out emotions in me? And it is very human. It's not these grand sweeping hero narratives, right? It's personal individual unique stories where, we all have our own stories and they're all interesting and affective.

That's what romance is, it's just believing that that matters.

Renee Dahlia: So there's a security in the framework and there's a comfort in knowing that doesn't matter what happens to these characters. It's gonna work out in the end and I will get that satisfying emotion that comes with the happy ending.

And obviously the craft of getting there as an author is difficult, but as a reader, that's why you're willing to go on that journey with those characters, because you know that in the end they'll find that healing and they'll find that happiness.

Andrea Martucci: And Renee, in that episode, you were talking about how readers will say, oh, I really enjoyed this story. And I'd like to find others like it, because like what you were just saying where they're trying to feel that same thing again.

And I think that's really interesting in relationship to fairytales, because you have these like Aarne-Thompson Uther index numbers, where it's basically like trying to drill down into what is the common element of these stories that make them the same kind of story. When you think about that in relation to romance, it's well, when somebody says, I wanna read an enemies to lovers or friends to lovers or grumpy sunshine or whatever, what people are trying to do is distill down into what are the commonalities of these stories that make me feel a certain way, and they're using the shorthand of that trope or [00:15:00] archetype or whatever to then say, well, that trope archetype makes me feel this way and I wanna feel this way.

So therefore, I'm gonna describe what I'm looking for using this shorthand, because it's easier to say that. It's almost impossible for most of us to articulate the like, what is it that feels good about this in particular? What is the emotion I'm trying to find here, but it's like, you kind of know it when you see it.

Philippa Borland: Yeah. And this is something that Renee made the point to my cohost that when someone talks about, I love a sleeping beauty story they're actually talking about the power dynamics and how that play out in a story and the way that resolved satisfactorily, it gave them emotional satisfaction.

And then looking for stories that talk about the politics and the power dynamics and another story that it may be a different setting and it may be fantasy rather than contemporary or sci-fi or whatever, but it has similar power structures and character dynamics. And I thought that was really insightful.

And Renee probably forgot she said that. So that's why I'm mentioning it.

Renee Dahlia: Probably apparently I'm much more insightful other places.

Andrea Martucci: what we're doing is we're whetting people's appetite to go listen to that.

Philippa Borland: Absolutely. and also prepping this

Andrea Martucci: and prepping this conversation. Okay. We're gonna talk about Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast specifically. And when we get there, I think that I really wanna get into what is the core kernel of those stories that people continue wanting to see resolution about that thing, or they wanna see that dynamic play out over and over.

Before we get there. Retellings and reversions. What's the difference between a retelling and a reversion?

Philippa Borland: A retelling is when you take the basic story structure and you give your version of that. So the classic example is Walt Disney films. They are retellings of a well known fairy tale and Walt Disney picked those films. He's very first one was snow white. His film was snow white.

He picked it because it without a copyright. People knew the story. So all those dwarves names that, you know, they're the copyrighted Walt Disney names are dwarves. They were not named in the original. They were just the seven dwarves. And there are other versions like plays and things like that, which have different names for the seven dwarves, or there might be eight dwarves or whatever, but that is a retelling. It keeps all the basic elements, but it's just got your little tweaks on it. And the color of the dress might be different or whatever.

A reversion is where you might make quite substantial differences to a story. And Shakespeare is good for this. As an example people might modernize or Baz Luhrmann's Romeo x Juliet. That is a reversion of Romeo and Juliet.

It has all the core essence, but it's quite a different visually different.

Renee Dahlia: Set in a different era,

Philippa Borland: set in a different era. Also the Richard the Third movie with Ian McKellen, which is just mind blowing, but is an amazing reversion of that play set in a British 1930s, fascist state.

If you haven't seen it, highly recommend it. It's just stunning.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So is there also a subversion category?

Renee Dahlia: [00:18:00] Fractured fairy tales. I think

Philippa Borland: Oxford companion to fairy tales defines fractured fairytales as traditional fairytales, which are rearranged to create new plots with fundamentally different meanings or messages. So a lot of modern retellings of fairy tales are fractured fairytale.

So that might fit into the romance. I would say maybe Katee Robert with her villain series would be probably subversions and fractured fairy tales

Renee Dahlia: because a lot of original fairytales are warning stories, they don't absolutely necessarily have a happy ending, whereas romances have a happy ending.

So you've already changed the ending to suit the genre.

Philippa Borland: Yeah.

Romance picks and chooses the fairy tales that they use. I had like huge books of, picture books of fairytales when I was a kid that had not just Grimms but others, but they had hundreds of stories collected. Most of those don't get used in romance.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I mean, I was gonna say, it's like you, scroll through the list here. It's like Hansel and Gretel has two you know, and meanwhile, Cinderella you probably could go on the Cinderella list forever.

Renee Dahlia: every rags to riches, rich poor story, right?

Andrea Martucci: So let's start talking about Cinderella and as you start talking about Cinderella, this one feels like one where I feel like there's a lot of room for subversion. And I think a lot of authors take that opportunity to challenge some aspects of it.

For example, it has all the setup of the Cinderella story, but the prince is a real cad. And so she doesn't end up with the prince. She ends up with somebody else. I feel like there's a lot of things like that where it's commentary on the original tale. I was thinking of Jennifer Crusie because she did work in fairy tales too. And a lot of her books had Cinderella esque elements that she was playing with. And I feel like she was really big on being like, but why do I want this? And why do I wanna be saved?

Philippa Borland: Hmm.

Andrea Martucci: I don't wanna be saved.

Renee Dahlia: Cinderella is a lot about power dynamics. Yeah. And Cinderella is Dead does that really well. Because the fairytale prince is the villain and then it's a sapphic romance underneath that and it twists the whole fairytale around. It's great.

Andrea Martucci: right. Okay. So Philippa you wanted to talk about Cinderella. Why did you choose Cinderella? Is there something about it in particular that you really enjoy?

Philippa Borland: So I had to put out there, Cinderella's not my favorite. I picked it I thought it was a really good starting point to talk about fairy tales, as you've already indicated, it is by far the most used fairytale in romance. It's just an informal survey based on the list that we've got, it takes up almost 50% of the titles that we've got.

It's certainly number one in the top five. The others in the top five are Beauty in the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood.

And I think it's also universal. So I mentioned that I did literature university and I actually studied fairytales a bit. So I had a wonderful lecturer and I did a lot of children's literature courses. My lecturer, John Stephens, he did a course w ith Robin Mac Callum and I'm mentioning them, cuz I've actually got a book that I'm referencing.

So the book is called Retelling Stories, Framing culture: Traditional Story, and Meta Narratives in Children's Literature. And they were actually [00:21:00] working on this at the time. So it's now published and they actually go through different meta narrative.

So they've got like Bible stories, myth stories, hero stories, Robin hood stories, which is its own category folk tales and that kind of stuff. And doing the lectures, as they were preparing this textbook they were talking about Cinderella and how it's a universal story that's found in just about every culture in the world.

And it's in ancient China, it's in its ancient Greece. And the details vary, sometimes it's birds who warn the prince sometimes if the bells chiming out that warn the prince, sometimes the sisters who try to deceive the prince, get killed. Sometimes they redeem themselves, whatever.

But there is a version of this where it is a stepdaughter who is oppressed by her father's second wife. Sometimes the father's alive sometimes he's not who ends up getting found by a prince and marries him after the stepmother and her daughters oppress her and try to prevent that marriage. And I find that really interesting.

So there's, an oppressive family, there's rags to riches. There's a happily ever after. There's a change in power dynamic. So from being oppressed and displaced in her own home to being the wife of the prince and the future queen consort.

So I just find that really interesting. It's got happily ever after, it ties in really well to romance.

And it's just so universally told, not just culturally around the world, which ties in with what we were talking about earlier. It's a way that marginalized authors can use it as a hook because it's familiar. So it gives them a way, whether it's a queer romance or whether it's a person of color or, something like that.

They can use these tropes to one of those audiences who loves Cinderella stories. And then that's a way that they can find a way in to find an audience. And that's a way that you can build up a profile, but it's not my favorite fairytale.

Renee Dahlia: And I think the power dynamic of rich/ poor and cuz you've basically got the step family who have power over the Cinderella person. And then you also have the prince who has power as well. You've got a lot of power dynamics and a lot of aspirational wealth and concepts that are familiar in all society like through history.

You can put them into any kind of time and space and they work because humans are forever interested in wealth and power and who has it and who doesn't.

Philippa Borland: Yeah, but it's interesting cuz she's not marrying a king, it's a prince. So he's not at the top yet.

Whereas a lot of fairytale are about marrying a king so there's, room to mold him into a decent person

Andrea Martucci: Oh, I like that. Yeah. So I looked up the ATU number on this and, the way you just described it, I was like, yes, that's like hitting all of my expectations for Cinderella. The official ATU five 10 a, which is like kind of Cinderella stories.

"One whose attributes were unrecognized, one who unexpectedly achieved recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect." And there was something in here about like the "persecuted heroin e finally triumphs over oppressed circumstances through her virtue and the assistance of a magical helper."

I found this really interesting Native American Cinderella story from the land we now call [00:24:00] Canada. And what I thought was really interesting about that version was that instead of a glass slipper or something, essentially the thing that made her worthy for the awesome guy in the village was that she was honest.

So I think that there's also this element of what makes her worthy or what makes it obvious that she stands apart from others is like what the story uses to choose as that element, I think says a lot about what values, the story has.

Philippa Borland: So the glass slipper was introduced by Charles Perrault who's, the French fairytale- ographer. For people who aren't familiar with him, his story is the one that's known universally in the Western canon, but he and his friends used to have a salon in Paris and they used to like throwout a theme and then they'd all write a version.

They were not writing original stories. They were doing retellings themselves. He collected stuff into a book, but they're not necessarily all his stories. They are from the Perrault salon.

Now, I've heard that it was a mistranslation of "fur slippers" cuz fur slippers in other cultures. I dunno if that's true. I've since seen that debunked. Someone just wrote glass.

I've also seen in Terry Pratchett in Witches Abroad, which Terry Pratchett is just a joy to read. And we talked about him on my podcast, in our fantasy episode, but he did fairy tales. All his witches books are about Shakespeare and fairy tales.

But in Witches Abroad, he does touch on the Cinderella tale and they're mirrored slippers. And two mirrors are images, reflecting backwards and forwards, and that's got magic and power in his setting. It's a fantasy setting. So I just thought that was an interesting alternative to glass slippers.

And I've mentioned before Jane Yolen, who's a folklorist has a poem called Women's Stories and it's in a collection called Sisters in Fantasy. And it's amazing. It's just beautiful. One of the lines is, " do not try to climb my hair, do not encircle me in a garden of thorns. Whoever invented glass slippers never tried to dance." To me, that's very powerful imagery and it's also an indication that the stories that are collected, that we know as the Perrault, or the Grimm stories, they were not men's stories. They were just written down by men. These were women's stories told by older women, grandmothers, nurses, aunties, whatever, to children about warnings, about how to navigate life.

Renee Dahlia: And isn't the glass slipper itself an allegory for fragility

Philippa Borland: It's an allegory for a lot of things. Really.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah but definitely pure, clear unadulterated, femininity and delicacy, right? If we're talking about romance novels, that are contemporary in the sense that like the last 50 years are contemporary compared to like millennia-old fairytales and fables and stuff, what are some examples of romance novels that are using that Cinderella framework, but are either retelling it, they're basically doing an almost faithful [00:27:00] retelling or they're doing reversions or they're doing the fractured fairytale like Renee, I know you already mentioned Cinderella is Dead.

What are some of the specific stories that you have read and what are the different things that they're doing with that story?

Philippa Borland: I'm gonna throw out one that probably everyone knows, and it's Alyssa Cole and it's A Princess in Theory.

Renee Dahlia: That's the nigerian prince one.

Philippa Borland: It's the Nigerian prince one.

Andrea Martucci: That's fab.

Philippa Borland: It's. It is a Cinderella story. It's a woman in STEM living in America. And she starts getting emails saying you're a princess, you're an African princess. And she just thinks it's a take on the Nigerian scam. And it's a retelling of a Cinderella story and the way she does it is great. And I just think anyone who hasn't read it should. There's heartbreak and there's a mystery and all kinds of stuff going on, but it's just a great contemporary version of how Cinderella works, in the internet age.

Andrea Martucci: So it's definitely like taking the story and putting it in a modern setting. And then, what made her the oppressed heroine and then what was it about her that made her worthy in the Prince's eyes eventually that made her rise above all the other contenders for his heart?

Renee Dahlia: Didn't she solve some medical mystery?

Philippa Borland: Yeah. Yeah. So she'd been, I think orphaned and her family had fled the country because of like intrigue, cuz they'd been close to the King's family and she'd been promised to him at birth, which is why they were getting the emails and then they died when they got to America.

And so I think she'd grown up in an orphanage or in foster homes or something. So that's kind of part of her oppression. She's got no family, she's got no ties. She put herself through medical school. She's finishing off her biomedical research. But once she gets back to the country in Africa, I've forgotten the name of, she actually helps solve a mystery. She solves why her parents had to flee the country and also. The reason why a lot of people are dying from a mystery illness.

So she overcomes poverty and displacement and being alone and not that she makes herself worthy. She proves that she is worthy of being the partner of the ruler.

And he's a bit of a jerk. Initially. He lies about who he is. And so she doesn't trust him when she finds out that he is like the heir to the kingdom. And yeah, she was promised him at birth kind of thing. And he has to make himself worthy of her because she doesn't need him actually.

She's got a life without him. She can go back to America and finish her degree and get a job in her chosen career. And she doesn't need him.

Andrea Martucci: right.

Philippa Borland: She may not be as wealthy, but she doesn't need him. And he's gotta make sure that he is worthy of her.

Andrea Martucci: So it sounds like this is a reversion and it sounds like in the place and time that it takes place in what it is valuing- and I'm gonna compare to the Disney Cinderella, which I know is not the real but I think that the cultural imagination, the Disney Cinderella looms large here.

So let's just acknowledge that the, yeah. In Disney Cinderella, what makes her worthy is that she's like real pretty and very self sacrificing and very good.

Philippa Borland: a small foot.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And has a small foot apparently. Yeah. [00:30:00] And is a nice dancer but like we get no sense of conversation between her and or that she'll be like a good benevolent queen. Like we don't know any of this.

What it sounds like you laid out with A Princess in Theory is that the oppression is mostly economic and not having a family support system. And then she uses her intelligence and hard work. So instead of like in the domestic sphere, she is excelling in intellectual pursuits and helping humans, which then she shows that she would be a good person as a leader because she cares about not just using her intelligence to enrich herself, but also helping other people and the thing that she's demonstrating doesn't just make her a match for the prince, but also for the country.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Philippa Borland: Yeah. So she's not just interested in the people of wealth in the court. She's interested in the people of the countryside. And can I also say the other thing this story has, which I like is found families, which are like totally my jam. She doesn't have her parents anymore. She grew up in foster homes, but she's got her circle of friends.

Renee Dahlia: And they text each other all the time. It's the best.

Philippa Borland: They've got their own like Slack channel or something called Girls With Glasses. I think it is. But I love that so much, and each of them get their own story in the series, but like I just found families are just so my thing, and it's such a romance thing and used in other genres as well, but it's such a romance thing.

And it just makes me so happy. And this is the first book in a series. It kicked it off and I'm like, oh, I hope they all get their own stories. And of course they did. So that's really important to me as well as a reader, that there's a support network. It's women supporting women.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think what Alyssa Cole does so well, particularly in the Reluctant Royal series is she has Royals who understand the obligations of being a ruler and they're reluctant, but also they're taking responsibility and really they're not all about just the wealth and the privilege they're actually taking on the responsibility. And so I think that really addressing that in the Cinderella fairy tale is quite different from the way again, like the Disney fied version of the Cinderella tale where it's just well, who doesn't want to be a princess?

Renee Dahlia: it's just wealth aspiration.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, exactly. You don't wanna sweep anymore.

Philippa Borland: the Disney version is just about an escape. Can I just say Cinderella also is like the benchmark for a lot of tropes. It's the life will revert at midnight So there's a time limit on Cinderella at the ball.

The reason the shoe is such a fixation point is cuz he doesn't see her face. She's masked in a lot of the stories, you know?

So that's why he knows that she have her foot fits in a small shoe, in many of the versions and certainly in, in the original fairy tale, in the Disney version, cuz he never saw her face it's masked,

Renee Dahlia: Wouldn't it be cool to, to, I dunno if this exists, it probably does because everything exists.

It would be cool to have a Cinderella version with a trans woman just thinking Cinderella with giant feet.

Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah.

Renee Dahlia: would be cool.

Andrea Martucci: I have thought about the giant feet thing before and okay. I hate that the whole idea of like [00:33:00] feminine little feet, that is problematic for me. However, from a very practical standpoint, it is much harder to fit a bigger foot into a smaller shoe than the other way around.

So it's kind of like, does it fit perfectly or can you put your foot into the shoe? different questions?

Philippa Borland: well, see culturally and like it's a long time since I've read the translation of the Chinese version, you've got foot binding and things going on in that. So it's like really not great, the foot thing is definitely in the Chinese version as well. But there was no magical godmother in a lot of versions, it was animal friends or helping.

So like the fairy godmother's very much a Western element that's part of the story. But yeah, it's there's no foot thing that I can remember in A Princess in Theory, which thank goodness. She has a STEM degree and her biomedical science

and I love that.

Andrea Martucci: Maybe she was putting herself through medical school with an Only Fans foot fetish.

Philippa Borland: no, she works as she works at a rest at a banquet hall.

Renee Dahlia: And that feels like it should be a Katrina Jackson story.

Andrea Martucci: yes, that's the Katrina Jackson version.

Philippa Borland: she works at a banquet hall and the prince lies about who he is and takes a job there too, and messes it all up. So yeah, like he lies about who he is and they hook up when he's pretending to be someone he isn't and that's trust issues.


Andrea Martucci: Okay. So what's another Cinderella romance novel?

Philippa Borland: I just had the title and I can't remember it's Laurie LeClair's one has a series of fairy tales and it's the first one in the series.

Andrea Martucci: Is it If The Shoe Fits?

Philippa Borland: Yes, that's it. It's a contemporary and it's lighter, but I actually just enjoyed this whole series.

It's a stepdaughter, the father has died. She doesn't get on with a stepmother, but the family owns a department store.

And, she ends up becoming CEO or something, but she has actually has a good relationship with the stepsisters and the stepsisters get a book each and then all the other um,

Renee Dahlia: oh, that's cute

Philippa Borland: staff in the department store get their own books.

And I thought it's a great way to kick off a series. And then eventually she makes school with the stepmother. And I think, I can't remember if the stepmother gets her own book, but she has a relationship going on in the background as well. And I thought it's actually nice not to have Cinderella and the stepsisters pitted against each other.

So I wanted to call that one out because whether you talk about Bechdel's Test or something like that I really dislike having women pitted against each other just for the sake of having (inaudible) . I wanted to mention that series. It's fun. It's not looking at issues as deep as A Princess in Theory, but as a series and as the start of a series, I think there's about 10 books. I just thought that was a fun series that looks at Cinderella in a slightly different way.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I appreciate, what you called out there about the stepsisters, how in the whole idea of evil stepsisters that women are in competition with each other

Renee Dahlia: It's the sense that there's not enough goodness to go around. So you're always in competition with each other to grab it, be that wealth or nice men or whatever. And it's nice that's you know, counted by a story where that's not true and you don't have to compete with other women.

Philippa Borland: That's right.

Andrea Martucci: And that they get their own HEAs.

Philippa Borland: yeah. Yeah. In separate books. And they all worked together in the department store, in different roles. I can't remember, it's a couple years since I read it, but like one's a creative director and one's the fashion designer and with own fashion line.

[00:36:00] And they worked together to build this little world where they bring their friends in and that kind of stuff and make the store a success pre pandemic. I just thought that's a really nice little world and they're not antagonistic to each other. There was issues with the mother. But that gets resolved along the way as well.

Andrea Martucci: So do you think that would fall into fractured fairytales because it's disrupting a core part of the dynamic?

Philippa Borland: I think it probably would. A lot of the core elements are there, but there's some significant changes in the relationships. And it goes past that happily ever after, because you've got other family members continuing the story and that's why I think, yeah, I think it would be a fractured fairy tale.

Andrea Martucci: Cool. Okay. How about one more Cinderella?

Renee Dahlia: You have to talk about Cinderella is Dead

Andrea Martucci: oh yeah. Talk about Cinderella's Dead.

Renee Dahlia: Because it's a sapphic story for a start.

Philippa Borland: Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: Which is interesting. And it has the, the big wealthy prince as the bad guy and

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: twist on that is really fascinating.

Andrea Martucci: And so Cinderella is Dead. Who is the author of

Renee Dahlia: Kalynn Bayron and I enjoy it because it's essentially not the Cinderella story. It's the opposite story. So you've got the prince is the villain and it's a sapphic story. So you've got a young woman who lives in the town, beneath the castle, and all of the children in the town are told the Cinderella story as they grow up.

And they have to go to the castle at a coming of age ceremony, all the women, and be married off to whoever they're told to. And like the king slash prince villain guy uses the Cinderella story to control the population and to create this perception that he is the prince in the story.

And then the other heroine is a descendant of Cinderella. And they're trying to figure out what's the truth behind the Cinderella story that's being told to the village. It's just really fascinating look at the use of mythology by a villain.

Andrea Martucci: Okay to control people and it sounds like take away choice from individuals.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah, absolutely. And the men in the village as well. It's just different for the men because they have an advantage by buying into the mythology, but ultimately they're controlled by it as well.

Andrea Martucci: So wait, is it patriarchy?

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. Essentially.

Philippa Borland: shocked.

Andrea Martucci: the patriarchy once again is the villain.

Philippa Borland: Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: Yes.

Philippa Borland: I did have another example I wanted to mention and it's probably don't think of it as a romance, but it is, and that is Crazy Rich Asians.

And, it's definitely a Cinderella story and there's a romance there and I hated it.

Renee Dahlia: Um, It's funny. Like I remember watching the movie and then I rang my sister up and I said, oh, have you watched this movie?

It's really cool. She's like, yeah, but it's just a Cinderella story.

Philippa Borland: And I'm conflicted about it because I loved everything about it, except the romance.

Renee Dahlia: Oh, the

Philippa Borland: hero was the worst.

the hero trash. She deserved better than him. He set her up from failure from start to finish and she should have just walked,

Renee Dahlia: and it's visually beautiful.

Philippa Borland: And the movie's visually beautiful. And my partner grew up in Southeast [00:39:00] Asia and he loved seeing elements of his cultural identity there it was really nice to see a non-Western Cinderella story onscreen.

But I just thought that the hero was terrible.

Renee Dahlia: Could've just been solved with communication and he just set her up for failure by not communicating, which is an antithesis to how you want your heroes to behave or how you want your main characters to behave in romance. I think.

Philippa Borland: And it's all very well saying, I want you to love me for who I am, but the minute he knew he was going to take her to his family, to a family wedding on a wealth, beyond a scale that he, she couldn't even imagine he deliberately set her up for failure.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. And I think it's the big criticism that readers have of badly written romances. That if you can solve this miscommunication early

Philippa Borland: by talking

Renee Dahlia: by just talking to each other, then it's a trash book with hardly any conflict.

And I always find this an interesting choice from authors. Cause I'm like, actually, if you talk about the miscommunication, it leads you into deeper conflicts and a much more interesting story in the end and books that do that, I find far more fascinating,

Whereas books that just draw out a basic miscommunication, it's okay, blah, blah, blah. Here we go. Can you guys just sit in the same room and talk?

Philippa Borland: Yeah.

So I do wanna mention that one because it had the potential to be really good and wasn't.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. From a relationship and romantic aspect, not super successful, but I think what it does draw out quite a bit is but does the escape fantasy actually look like what we think it looks like? Isn't it everyone's dream to go from struggling to this world of massive wealth, but oh, guess what? It's not that simple and it's not like you just step between those two worlds so easily.

Renee Dahlia: There's learning that comes with it, right? Because you, you're stepping into a world where you don't have the upbringing and you don't have the knowledge and you don't have the understanding of the interpersonal politics. And you're being thrown into that without any preparation.

Philippa Borland: And if she hadn't had her friend there Aquafina's character whose name, I forget, she would've just been publicly humiliated on a scale that we can't imagine. But imagine if she'd turned up to that society wedding in her little red dress that she bought at a thrift store, and he knew she had that dress because she talked about it and he didn't say no, he could have paid for her to have a makeover in a shopping day.

And he didn't. So he knew what she was gonna wear. Didn't prep her for it didn't even care.

Andrea Martucci: yeah.

Philippa Borland: he was trash.

Andrea Martucci: Trash. Well, and also, once again, the patriarchy, he knows these things and he should know better if he wants to set her up to succeed. But he's like, well, I like her no matter what. So he's just like absolving himself of responsibility.

Philippa Borland: And he knows that the newspapers are gonna have this wedding in the papers. Like it's gonna be on the internet and he doesn't care of the ramifications for her.

Andrea Martucci: Throw the whole man away

Philippa Borland: Absolutely.

Renee Dahlia: That's why you should reads sapphic books?

Philippa Borland: she was a successful lawyer in America. She should have just gone back [00:42:00] without him and gone back to her life and her friends and just walked away.

And I don't say that about romance very often, but like the bar was on the ground and he couldn't step over it.

Renee Dahlia: was a beautiful movie though.

Andrea Martucci: The movie was great. Was it a romance? No,

Philippa Borland: But it was pitched to romance and it had a happily ever after. And I object to that happily ever after

Andrea Martucci: it was a romance for people who are not romance novel readers.

Renee Dahlia: But isn't that the thing like you do see that in reviews that, I didn't believe this happily ever after it's something that comes up in genre quite a lot.

And it's an important thing to respect that's what readers want. They want it to be deserved and they want it to be earned. And you do have to do the work to get those characters there, like one of my books. I feel like this is one of those awkward political moments where you kind of, as an author, can't talk about reviews, but I do have a review on one of my books that it probably was meant to be an insult, but I find it just adorable.

On my book Show Up, which is a kind of rich girl in secret, who works as a bartender and one of the dancers at the burlesque club one of the reviewers wrote, "oh, these two are just such disaster lesbians. They're gonna be on and off again forever." And I was like, that's probably fair.

Andrea Martucci: and?

Renee Dahlia: And it just stuck with me because it hadn't been in my head when I was writing it. Cuz I was just writing about the two characters and what different elements they brought together. But then reading that review, I was like, huh? Yeah, that probably is happening there. That's interesting.

Philippa Borland: maybe can I set up on new subcategory of disaster lesbians

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Number one in disaster lesbians on Amazon.

Renee Dahlia: I find it fascinating how what you write as an author there's a lot of subconscious elements that go into it that you don't necessarily see because you end up too close to the story or whatever, and then readers read it and they see it in a different way and you're like, huh, okay.

I hadn't intended to go there, but it's sort of interesting how it's their perspective rather than intent. And it's so fascinating. That's

Philippa Borland: moving into death of the author.

Renee Dahlia: I just think it's interesting how you write something that you think is a certain way and then other people interpret it a different way and it's all what your own perspective is that you bring as a reader or an or author or a reviewer or reader or whatever.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It's totally off topic, but I've never understood people who like won't read reviews. Like I read reviews on my podcast. I'll read anything anybody writes about my podcast. And sometimes I'm like, okay, that person just wants to hate it. Whatever this doesn't happen that often it's not like many people are out there writing romance podcast reviews, but anyways, you get some feedback and you're like, okay, I get it. You just don't wanna like this, or it's not for you or whatever. Okay, I can whatever. But then somebody will say something you're like, whoa, that's fair. And it helps you learn and grow. And I don't know, I personally see it as insight. Like what you're talking about, Renee, where it's like, oh, well I never saw that before, now that you've said it cool. I can see that.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah, it's just something I was thinking about while I was driving out here to [00:45:00] Philippa's. But I find the whole interpretation of anything very fascinating. Cuz everyone brings their own viewpoint into everything.

Andrea Martucci: And I think that we saw this as we were talking about the Cinderella stories where you can see, how different authors are emphasizing certain bits or changing the bits that they're like, well, I don't want my character to be interested in this. I want them to be interested in that or I want this story to be about class differences, or I want this story to be about control and the patriarchy or, or whatever it is.

And so let's get into Beauty and the Beast. So Renee you're gonna take Beauty and the Beast. And I think we're gonna see this with beauty and the beast too, right? Where like how do different authors conceive of what a beast is or what they think that relationship is about?

What is the core beauty and the beast story?

Renee Dahlia: I guess there's that sense of the perfect girl. saves the imperfect hero by being good enough and teaching him that he can be good enough too.

I guess I wanted to talk about beauty and the beast, because I think during the pandemic, there's been a rise in monster fucking stories and I find the allegory to the pandemic in that interesting and way that, that sense of the monster or the beast as a representation of potential disability. All that stuff in the pandemic is I think that's an interesting timing of a trend.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, the literalizing of the monster versus I feel like- I'm just spitballing here. I feel like up until the early two thousands, it was the scarred hero. There was some sort of physical manifestation it into...

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. He'd been to war and he had a cut on his face and the duke didn't wanna show his face in society. And then she comes in all kind of, but I love you anyway. It doesn't matter that you've only got one eye.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. And then I feel like it went very internal where it was like the beastliness was their behavior or their attitude, or it was much more like

Renee Dahlia: which I guess is like bully romance,

Andrea Martucci: yeah, yes. Or, well, and like the rise of the alpha hole, not that all of them are, beasts, but yeah.

It's like the surly

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. But it's an internal kind of beastliness because it's power on steroids and all the consequences of that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And then we get the pandemic and we get literal monsters, literal monsters. And so it feels like the classic construction, the beast is almost always a masculine figure? The beauty is always the feminine?

Renee Dahlia: Oh my God. I hate that the most, the whole giant mega beast manliness and the tinsy tiney cutesy woman. That's the bit of this that I find very difficult to process.

I think he tends to be like a duke or a prince type character who has power and is originally quite a pretty kind of man or handsome or whatever, and then becomes cursed. And it's not until he resolves his [00:48:00] internal issues with power or dominance or negativity and finds the ability to love himself as he is that he then reverts to his more handsome version.

So the curse is about him solving his own assholeness

Andrea Martucci: And aren't some of the Perrault versions, like, yeah, you should be pretty, but also you should be clever and you should like try to be a good conversationalist.

Which, I guess there is an element of that in the Disney version of she's not like other girls, yeah, she's beautiful. But he sees her for her clever self.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah, sum it up in the, not like other girls,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: She's certainly held out as being a bit of a pariah in the village because she doesn't have friends because she's a bit unattainable. She's too pretty. She's bookish. She doesn't belong.

Philippa Borland: I think that's kind of more the Disney version, cuz most, most of the older versions are they all, they're just, she's just at home with her family and her father's a trader and he makes a promise to get a gift for the two sisters.

And all she wanted was a flower.

Renee Dahlia: Maybe that sense of p erfection and not like other girls comes from the sense of the Disnification of it. Disney did do that a lot with women and made them this kind of idealness that you had to be to get the happy ever after.

Philippa Borland: And the Disney version's terrible in, on so many levels, it's actually used in domestic violence courses on not quite Stockholm Syndrome. But basically if you abuse someone long enough, that'll accept it. And her only other option was

Andrea Martucci: Yeah,

Philippa Borland: who was equally abusive in other ways.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. There was no like nice farmer over there that she

Philippa Borland: No, but he took food away from her. He locked her up. He didn't let her see a family and eventually she agreed to stay, that's the shorthand vision, but like the Disney version is terrible and shouldn't really, should not be used as anything.

Renee Dahlia: But I wonder if a lot of the romances that have come out of Beauty and the Beast are using the Disney version then, because that's kind of,

Philippa Borland: I think they are.,

Renee Dahlia: That feels a lot more familiar in the ones that I've read

Philippa Borland: quite possibly.

But it is one of the more modern Disney movies, like in the, Disney Renaissance, post nineties. anything written before that would be based on say the Grimm's tale or Perrault tale or whatever, rather than.

Renee Dahlia: Because the way you talk about the original version is much more of a cautionary tale.

Philippa Borland: Absolutely. Don't go stealing flowers from strangers,

Renee Dahlia: Cause they'll lock you up and abuse you.

Philippa Borland: Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: Hard to roll that into a romance

Philippa Borland: except that she does forgive him and goes back to him in that story. But he isn't abusive in the same way. He basically ignores her for most of the time and they get to know each other, but I find the Disney version's terrible.

And I get concerned when I had a friend who said, oh, my daughter loves the Disney version, we watch Beauty and the Beast every single day. And like, couldn't you find something else to show her like Ariel ripping out her tongue or something?

Andrea Martucci: that would be better.

Philippa Borland: Yeah. It's an improvement.

Andrea Martucci: Or have a long conversation about the themes of Beauty and the Beast Disney version and really talk about it.

Okay. So Renee, what are some romance novel examples of [00:51:00] beauty and the beast?

Renee Dahlia: So I wanted to talk about A Thorn in the Saddle, by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I'm pretty sure it's the last one that has the demisexual hero

And it wasn't my favorite in the series, but I did like the way that the demisexual hero was taken on this journey of discovery and there's certainly a separation or a conversation that he has between him as the leader of the family and everyone looking up to him as this kind of grumpy kind of leader who tells everyone what to do and knows what's best for everyone.

And then his internal journey of actually, I don't have any of my shit sorted and I need this person to help me figure out the dichotomy between the two of my selves I suppose..

Andrea Martucci: And so the heroine still plays the role of helping the beast to get more in touch with his softer, emotional squishy bits.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. And to say, actually, it's okay that you're like that. You're not the only one in the world.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. Yes. And so it's a contemporary book. It takes place on a ranch. Let's see, would this fall under reversion territory?

Renee Dahlia: Yeah, I don't think there's a lot of the original story in it, like of the three in that series. It was the one that I felt was least fairy tale-ish But I guess at the core of it, there's the sense of heroine helps hero discover his true self.

Andrea Martucci: right, okay. What's another beauty and the beast.

Renee Dahlia: I read one this morning, which I really loved

It's called Beauty's Beast by S. T. Lynn. And it's almost an exact, it's almost exactly the same as the Disney version without the nasty bits.

But you've got like the dancing furniture and so you've essentially got a trans woman. Who is accepted by her family and her village. And she's being pursued by the G dude. What's his name?

Philippa Borland: Gaston?

Renee Dahlia: Yes. Who basically wants her because she keeps saying no to him. And then she's running away from him and she stumbles on this castle and she meets the beast and he's kind of mash up of a bunch of animals, big kind of creature.

And then Gaston tries to kill her father and he runs to the castle and then they heal the father together. And, yeah, anyway, it's just very sweet and lovely.

And the interesting part for me was that in the healing process of the father being injured and healing, the trans woman, she doesn't have time to look after her own self.

So she starts growing a beard for a few days and the beast doesn't care. And that's the start of the transformation of the beast, showing that he's learning not to be an asshole and he [00:54:00] accepting and caring, and it was a sweet story.

Andrea Martucci: It sounds like it's an animal ish beast, does he transform at the end?

Renee Dahlia: No, that's fun. So they break the curse and he chooses to keep the same monstery body, but is still a nice person.

Andrea Martucci: That's really interesting. I think especially with a trans heroine. It feels like there are themes there of accepting one's body and not requiring a magical transformation to kind of accept one's self

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. That was really neat. And they communicate in sign language. So when she first turns up with the injured father, one of the servants who's like a wardrobe or whatever, gives her a sign language book, and she learns sign language. So she can communicate with him,

Andrea Martucci: oh, I love that.

I've never heard of this one, I just looked it up and so this just came out in 2022. So this is a very new one. I'm gonna check this out. Oh, it just came out July 5th, 2022

Renee Dahlia: oh, really? Well, I just read it this morning over breakfast. It was great.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So the setup of this one is reminding me of two books that came out fairly recently that, similar to what you were talking about, where it's hitting a lot of the same beats. It sounds like it's in this like kind of medievelish, like pseudo historical world like Disney's Beauty and the Beast, feels very influenced by that kind of world magical wardrobe, stuff like this, an animal beast.

So the two I'm thinking of are Bitterburn by Ann Aguirre and His Beauty by Jack Harbon and in both of them- His Beauty is definitely hitting much more of the Disney kind of story compared to Bitterburn, which is a little bit different. But what they share in common is that at the end, the beast stays a beast.

So the beast doesn't transform into that, like hideous Adam human beast, man. So it feels like there's then been this turn, what writers are gravitating towards is a lack of transformation. I think you definitely saw that in the like scarred hero version where there's no magical wand, that's transforming them into an unscarred version of themself or what, like they, don't revert back, where the Disney version required that like, and now he's a handsome man. Handsome in heavy air quotes.

Renee Dahlia: There's a sapphic one I read ages ago. And I can't actually remember at the end, whether it transforms or not, it's called The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist

Philippa Borland: title's fantastic.

Renee Dahlia: And it's, yeah, it's a lot more fantasy, but it's very cute story.

And my other favorite is Tough Guy by Rachel Reid,

it's like super massive masculine hockey player guy who's massively anxious and very musical outwardly, effemme gay dude, very pretty. And it's got no, no other kind of beauty and the beast story to it, [00:57:00] but that's really just, the pairing is big and monstrous on the outside and pretty and femme on the outside together.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, okay. And then is the anxiety the thing that the beauty helps him with?

Renee Dahlia: So the fem hero is very outwardly confident and the massive hockey dude is just an anxious mess and slowly learns that confidence in himself.

Andrea Martucci: Gotcha. Okay, cool.

All right, Philippa. What were the other ones you wanted to talk about?

Philippa Borland: There's, a sci-fi one called In the Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de Bodard. The beast is a dragon, but it's a sci-fi setting. So it's interesting. But the heroine's a Vietnamese woman in space and she's protecting her sister. I really enjoyed that and I think it was a finalist, if not a winner in the World Fantasy awards a couple years ago, and it's a female female story.

And there's an Australian author Leife Shallcross, who's written one called The Beast's Heart, which is set in 18th century France and it's told fully from the beast's point of view. And that's a very lovely historical story, a slow burn.

The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin. Now, I really like her steam punk books, but this is part of Tang dynasty series.

And that's a beauty and the beast story as well,

And if you like fairytales there's an Australian author called Demelza Carlton, and she's got a series of 20 books.

Renee Dahlia: I was gonna say, isn't there about 18 of them. Yeah. They cover a whole bunch of really unusual fairy tales.

Philippa Borland: Yeah. And they're all set in a secondary world fantasy setting, but each book, so they're interrelated in the sense that they're in the same setting, but she's got like the Brave Little Tailor and the enchanted horse and the 40 Thieves and that kind of stuff. So she's actually gone through like heaps of fairy tales in her own world setting. And if you like looking at more unusual fairy stories, check out Demelza Carlton, because done all of them.

Andrea Martucci: That's fun when you get that whole series. There were a bunch of historical romance authors who did a bunch of books in a sequence that were hitting different fairy tales. And obviously Rebekah Weatherspoon, Cowboys in California series is doing that.

Yeah. Eloise James. Yeah. I think Tessa Dare, Susan Wiggs, as I mentioned. Mary Balogh.

Renee Dahlia: She does a lot of disabled heroes. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, so I just read Simply love, which is a beauty and the beast retelling and, or I'm sorry, I'll call it a reversion. And I just found uh, Ria Cheyne wrote a scholarly article about the disability representation in that book which I haven't had a chance to read yet, but I'm really excited to read because I think that there is a really interesting discussion there about how, when you frame beastliness as a disability in these romance stories, what is that saying about disability?

and I think, going back to the monster fucking my ears perked up Renee, when you were talking about Beauty's Beast with the trans heroine being with a beast, because I was reminded of this conversation on the Bechdel Cast podcast about The [01:00:00] Shape of Water and how the heroine who is living with a disability, she is mute. She doesn't speak and she communicates using sign language, how her ending up a creature, a monster, what does that say about no human man could love this woman, right? Like she would be lonely if not for this monster.

I think monsters are really interesting cuz like, sometimes you're kind of like, Ooh, what are we saying here when, depending on how you cast the heroine. And then also I feel like monsters in some books, not all books start to kind of read like IR relationships where you're like, are you just describing a Black man because that's problematic.

Renee Dahlia: Oh, those are the worst too.

Philippa Borland: So you mentioned about disability. So Amanda Leduc is writer. And she's got a book called Disfigured: On Fairytales, Disability and Making Space. And she talks about how fairytales are a way for people to deal with harshness of the modern world. And she actually talks about how disability featured in fairytales can make space for people with disabilities. So that sort of taps into what you were just saying as well.

And we talked about that, we've talked about quite a bit about windows and mirrors and your listeners may have come across this before. A mirror is when you have a story or trope that you're familiar with reflected back at yourself.

And a window is allowing you to experience something new, looking onto someone else's experience. So everyone needs window stories and everyone needs mirror stories, but not everyone gets access to both.

Fairytale tropes are a way for marginalized authors, whether it's a person of color or someone who's from a different culture or someone who's got has disability or whatever or someone who's queer, who hasn't seen their stories told before, they can use a fairytale trope that's familiar a lot of people and use that story to tell their story.

Renee Dahlia: While I was doing some research for today, I came across an academic paper by someone called Zaira Boylan, B O Y L A N. And it's called Becoming the Monster, the Use of Monstrous Role in Queer Stories. And it talks about the history of how you couldn't have queer happy stories in literature and movies.

But quite often the villains or the monsters in stories would be queer coded and how that forced queer people to resonate with monsters and villains, because that was the only part of the story they were allowed to have. And then I guess there's this sense of now you are allowed to have happy endings and how that growing up with only being the monster and only being othered, how does that then impact in you telling a story where you are deliberately the monster and you get a happy ending, like in monster fucking stories interrelated to each other?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Like the reclaiming of

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. Reclaiming is the word I'm looking for.

Andrea Martucci: right. Yeah.

Renee Dahlia: It was an interesting paper. all very academic, but it's great reading.

Because it goes through all that history.

Andrea Martucci: I love things that are all very academic.

Renee Dahlia: it's good cuz it [01:03:00] goes through all that literary history. You know, you have stories like Maurice, which was the first story with a happy ending that was written in 1910 or something, but it didn't get published until 1970. And we are so lucky now that there's just a million stories that were allowed to read and write and can have access to, but people didn't always have that.

Andrea Martucci: Do you know the, origin of the mirror versus, uh,

Philippa Borland: yes. Yes. I think her name was Rudine Sims Bishop. And she was using it about children. And specifically like children having experiences and being able to read about experiences other than their own.

I think it's a very accessible metaphor and I think it's one that a lot of people can understand, and, whose stories are getting told and whose stories aren't getting told. And do you read widely? I mean, I read widely, probably not as widely as I could, but I do read widely cuz I wanna know other experiences and other stories and other cultures

oh one book I did wanna recommend, which is actually what kind of my gateway into a lot of this is an anthology. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling were the editors. They used to do the years best fantasy and horror for about 20 years. But they also did this series. It started with Snow White, Blood Red. And that was the book I picked up that was the anthology of was by fantasy and horror authors.

And it was retailing of fairytales, but they did a romance, one called Sirens and other Demon Lovers, Magical tales of Love and Seduction.

And it's retellings of fairy tales, often very erotic. Obviously I think romance readers would enjoy that, but there are just some fantastic stories in that collection.

And I think it's probably about 20 years old now, but check it out. There's like a red riding hood retelling in which red is like a cosplayer and granny's in there and there's a guy called Wolf and all kinds of stuff going on. I was like, whoa.

So yeah, definitely worth checking out

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that with mirrors versus windows, essentially, this is dependent upon believing in cultivation theory, essentially like believing that what we consume has the ability to really like, shape how we live our lives or how we view things.

And that media impacts us essentially, which some people, I think toss aside as no, I don't believe that. And it's like, I don't know, like it really does. And

Renee Dahlia: Well, if you're only reading mirrors,

Andrea Martucci: yes. Yeah. Well, and I think that as we've been talking about all the different ways that you can retell or revert or subvert these fairy tales, I think that you can see in the range that not only are you seeing different setups with different types of characters, people embodying those roles, but then also playing with the actions or like what is valued in those situations or their characteristics.

It's not just the narrative. It's also the rhetoric around the narrative that is shaping how we view these characters in these situations, which, going back to if you're queer and you're only, up to a certain point, seeing characterizations of queer people as [01:06:00] monstrous, it's well, what does it mean to reclaim that monster for myself? Or what what does it mean to be the hero and be queer? Or what does it mean to be a monster? Is it a bad thing? Is it villainous?

And you were talking about this earlier about how fairy tales are familiar enough that they're of like a good gateway in for experimenting in that way.

Renee Dahlia: Absolutely. And I think then essentially every fairytale has their origins in a cautionary tale for women usually, or marginalized people. And then everyone who retells one or writes a reversion of them deliberately chooses where the power is. right. They may subconsciously choose where the power is, but essentially every version you have to pick where the power is. And I think that's what makes them all unique and interesting and different because every single time you've got new characters who are taking the different power structures in those base stories and saying, this is the bit that's interesting to me. This is the bit that I wanna talk about.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, in, thinking about perspective Renee, you were talking about this earlier with reviews, but different people pick up on different things and wanna focus on different things based on their perspective, their life experience. And yeah, there's, it's endlessly fascinating to see how different authors, particularly if you have publishing opportunities for people who have been traditionally marginalized from and not enabled to have those opportunities, the increasing diversity of the types of stories and the places you focus, your attention in these stories.

Philippa Borland: absolutely.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So any closing thoughts on fairy tales? Because I think we cracked this nut wide open and I'm pretty sure we have talked about everything there is to talk about on this topic and we've solved it.

Philippa Borland: Look, there's probably a lot more we could talk about, but I think we've probably done enough for one episode.

Andrea Martucci: Where can people find you both and your work online? And is there anything that you're currently working on that we can eagerly anticipate? Like you can whet our appetite for.

Renee Dahlia: So all my books are on my website, which is All my books are on there.

Philippa Borland: Our list of fairytale books is on there.

Renee Dahlia: Yes.

Philippa Borland: And we're always looking for more

input to that.

Renee Dahlia: Just email me with new ones and I'll add them to the list.

Oh, all my social media links are on my website as well. I'm on Twitter as @dekabat,

Andrea Martucci: Oh yes. And what are you working on?

Renee Dahlia: I've got two anthologies, one that released last week, which is like a Christmas anthology. It's all Regency. I think most of the other authors have written straight stories and mine is the sapphic story. And then we've got next month coming out the Sexy Secrets of Swain Cove or Scandals maybe.

And my story in that is The Lord of the Land and The Village, he goes off to war and then comes back and his [01:09:00] best friend was the boat builder in the village and they have a little romance.

And then I've got a new, series coming out in November and January after that, which is the formula one, one.

And then I'm, what I'm gonna write next, which is always the most interesting bit for me is a horse racing sapphic series that's connected to the formula one series. If you're into audio books, my burlesque series is available on audio. And so is Her Ladies Honor.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, okay. So even more books to look forward to for Renee

Renee Dahlia: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Uh, Philippa what's going on with you and where can people find you on the interwebs?

Philippa Borland: So our most recent podcast episode was our fantasy one, which was epic. It was like over three hours long. And I had took me forever to edit it down. And we've having on a little bit of a production I've moved house and my cohosts have all moved house.

So we're prepping up for our new season and we've got two episodes currently in the pipeline and one is our Halloween special. So we've previous Halloween specials were about ghosts and about zombies. So I'm not gonna tell you what our topic is, but it's gonna be fun.

And I dunno if you did this, Andrea, I have a spreadsheet of topics which are things that we filled out from the start, but every time one of my cohosts says, blah, blah, blah, blah, we should do a podcast on that, I actually put it in the spreadsheet and then I start filling out what that could be about.

And then I put in movie topics and that fit that trope and books that fit that trope and TV shows that fit that trope and games that fit that trope. And then I put it in the pipeline spreadsheet. I'm like, okay guys, it's in the spreadsheet now. And after our fantasy episode, I got contacted by the actual author who's book we referenced and she said, I hear you have a spreadsheet.

I'd love to do a podcast episode with you. Like she wants to be in my spreadsheet. That's so exciting. So

Andrea Martucci: yeah.

Philippa Borland: pipeline. I love the good spreadsheet. I know love. That's

There are things happening and potentially a big author might be on our podcast, which is yay.

You can find Pod Culture Oz on all your podcast apps. We have a website, and we're also on Twitter at @podculture_oz and come and tell us if you've got fairytale books or if you've got genre tropes that you're interested in talking about, or if you've listened to our podcast, we'd love to get a review on Apple podcast. Cause that's the only one that takes reviews and we'll give you a shout out on our podcast.

Andrea Martucci: Thanks for being here today, tonight.

Philippa Borland: Thanks for having,

Andrea Martucci: you're welcome.

Philippa Borland: it was really nice to invited.

Renee Dahlia: Yeah. Thanks for letting us chit chat about random things. It's great.

Philippa Borland: Sorry. We're a bit chaotic.

Andrea Martucci: I mean, I am too. That's what the editing is for.

Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at [01:12:00] Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

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