Fairy Tales Overturned: Strong, Complex Female Characters–by R.M. Hamrick

R.M. Hamrick is the author of the zombie-filled dystopian Chasing trilogy and the wacky Atalan Adventures space opera. You can find her books on Amazon and many other online retailers. Her next appearance will be at Con Carolinas May 31-June 2, 2019.

Rebekah Headshot

I’ve never understood my fellow 90’s Disney sisters’ obsession with Cinderella.

Cinderella wants to go to the ball. She needs a dress but she’s too busy singing and doing her step-family’s bidding to sew it. Her mice friends finish the dress for her, but her stepsisters make short work of it. When all seems lost, her fairy godmother whips up a new dress and sends her to the ball. There she meets Prince Charming who is being forced to marry. It’s Love at First Sight. After, Prince Charming sends someone to find the mysterious maiden (Am I right that he doesn’t even go himself?), and she’s brought to the Prince for her Happily Ever After, presumably where she never has to do housework or see her step-family again.

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I seriously wikipedia’d the movie for my synopsis, because I felt for sure there had to be something else in the middle there. But no.

Side note:

Of the princess movies, I preferred Beauty and the Beast. Even as I write this, my ancient dachshund Belle is doing a fantastic impression of Princess and the Pea on the couch. If we ignore the disturbing imprisonment and Stockholm Syndrome, Belle at least pissed off villagers with her reading, sought adventure, refused to marry Gaston to elevate her status, and saved her father and the beast.

But yeah, still. Stockholm Syndrome.

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However, there is one Cinderella tale I find enthralling – a magic-filled fantasy with ogres, gnomes, stepsisters, fairy godmothers, and even a Prince Charming. And nowhere to be found is the subservient goody-two-shoes who wants to attend a ball.

Instead, there is Ella and her curse of obedience:

That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. ‘My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying, child.’

I stopped.

And so begins Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted.

Ella must obey any command given to her, from cleaning the house, to standing on one foot, to chopping off her own head. As she gets older, she learns to delay her obedience, but every second is tumultuous and physically painful, and in the end, she must always submit. While obedient, she’s not complicit.

Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.

Ella is funny. She is gifted in languages. She’s kind. She’s clumsy. She must bow, but she refuses to cower. And when her mother dies, leaving her very little protection, Ella goes out and seeks the fairy that cursed her. She endures evil stepsisters, escapes ogres, finds friendship, and attracts a prince she refuses to marry.

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While the ‘curse of obedience’ is a clever spin on the fairy tale, that’s not why Gail Carson Levine’s story has stuck with me all these years. Before reading this book in sixth grade, I don’t think I had ever met a female literary character so complex. She had wants, needs, opinions, flaws, weaknesses, and strengths. And with all those things, she pushed forward with a curse she should have never had to bear.

Compelling, autonomous, and multi-faceted.

They’re basic ideas, but they’re important.

And that’s what I strive for in the characters I write.

Because I don’t relate to Cinderella, but I do relate to Ella.

I don’t relate to Lois Lane, but I do relate to Carol Danvers.

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I don’t want flat main characters. I want complex ones, strong ones. I relate to them because that’s what I want to be. If you’ve ever admired a hero in text, panel, or screen, you know how that feels. Before Ella, I didn’t know that feeling even existed. And I like feeling it. So I write it and I seek it out.

Whether it’s the sister saga of Chasing a Cure, the camaraderie of the all-female Atalanta Empress, or the clumsy, kill-for-you crush of Ada for Chloe, it’s not trendy or forceful in stories. It’s representative. It exists.

Because out there, all readers want to fight gods and fate to protect their loved ones. They want to carve a place in the stars for themselves. And they want to kick some zombie butt, if needed.

I know I do.

— R.M. Hamrick
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Check out Hamrick’s newest series, Atalan Adventures, on Amazon. Show your support by leaving a review.

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