Fan fiction is one of those things that people either gobble up like a Thanksgiving dinner, or they think is tasteless and disgraceful. I fall somewhere in the middle; I wrote lots of it when I was in high school, and, from time to time, I go back and find new stories to enjoy. However, it’s an entirely different story when fan fiction becomes mainstream—marketable, publishable.
I’m not saying that there isn’t some quality fan fiction out there that deserves mainstream attention; I’ve read some legitimately awesome fan-written stories. But there is always a little voice in the back of my head wondering when published fan fiction is worth reading—especially Disney fan fiction.
In recent years, the Twisted Tale series have started taking off, re-imagining popular Disney characters and stories. I wasn’t interested in them until I began seeing some of my favorite characters, like the Beast, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella, on the covers. But there was something in particular about the Cinderella story that compelled me to buy a copy…and tear through it in a day.
In this version of Disney’s Cinderella, Cinderella is unable to try on the glass slipper. Her stepfamily immediately suspects that she is the mysterious princess, so, in order to protect her identity, Cinderella smashes the remaining slipper, and escapes the chateau. She eventually finds work in the royal palace as an attendant to the king’s visiting sister. But the search for the mysterious princess has begun to take a toll on the king, the prince, and even the grand duke, and the time to find a bride is growing short. Especially since someone in the palace may intend harm upon the weakening king, and the lovelorn prince….
First off, I feel the need to briefly defend Disney’s Cinderella, as a character.
She is more than the simpering dreaming damsel everyone is quick to paint her as. Sure, she is sweet and kind, but there are moments where you glimpse just how broken Cinderella feels. Even before she breaks down in the garden, you can see her struggle to hold herself together in light of her stepfamily’s cruelty. Look at how many times in the movie she straightens her back, sets her mouth in a line, or speaks in a straightforward, firm voice. Behind her kindness, there is a core of steel that she has to draw upon in order to endure her life. Cinderella is more than kind: she is strong, sarcastic, and firm in her beliefs.
There aren’t many other moments in Disney media that allow Cinderella to come to grips with the abuse she endured in her servitude. In this book, Cinderella can finally allow herself to grieve for her parents, and realize how unhappy she actually was after their deaths. It’s a dark turn from the cheery dream-is-a-wish-your-heart-makes light that Cinderella often falls under. But such emotion makes Cinderella all the more relatable, and you wonder what would have happened to her mentally had she continued to convince herself she was happy.
Something else I like about Cinderella here is how she is alone in her plight; her fairy godmother cannot come into the kingdom for fear of execution, and she left her mice friends at the chateau. She has to fight the urge to come forth about who she is, as well as protecting her fairy godmother from harm. The odds are stacked very high against her, and you’re rooting for her the whole time.
The good news is that Cinderella makes some good friends in the palace, my favorite being the king’s sister, Genevieve. She is a sourpuss with a heart of gold, basically. She makes snide remarks and is very particular about how people wait on her, but she can still be very soft.
However…there is one thing that kind of irks me about this particular iteration: who the villain is. There are no spoilers here, because it’s obvious right up front who the bad guy of this picture is: the grand duke.
Yep. The paunchy, monocle-twirling stuffed shirt who bumbled after the king at every turn, but also vouched for Cinderella so she could try on the slipper, is the villain here.
Look, in the context of Cinderella fan fiction, it makes sense that there be a political struggle, because someone could easily steal the ailing king’s power unless the prince finds the mysterious princess. But…did the villain have to be a comic relief character from the cartoon? In almost every scene the grand duke was in, I kept thinking of the moment when he brushed Lady Tremaine aside and invited Cinderella to try on the slipper. He was so funny and nice in the cartoon, albeit a little bumbling.
I suppose that, if the grand duke were not a villain, he would not have much to do in this story, and it makes sense for the villain to be someone close to Cinderella or the king. But, for the most part, this portrayal couldn’t quite gel with the character from the cartoon.
In spite of the forced villainy in the grand duke, I still liked this book a lot. I loved the tension of the prince and Cinderella searching for one another (it is SUPER cute when they finally find each other), and Cinderella’s darker emotional moments added to her character. But most of all, the fact that Disney fan fiction can stir such strong feelings in me is perhaps a good indication for the other Twisted Tales.