As a fairy tale author, I have always been drawn to stories that are steeped in themes of compassion and courage. But something that often bothered me was how compassionate characters were sometimes portrayed as passive or weak. I believe it takes a lot of courage to act with compassion, but how many people think of Snow White or Cinderella as being courageous? They were the nice girls who got walked all over, right? That's part of the reason why I love writing fairy tale retellings so much. I can explore the classic elements of these timeless stories, while exploring important themes in new lights. So, let's dive into why I believe there is courage in compassion, and why I use fairy tales to write stories about optimistic rebels who change the world.
First, let's talk about compassion. To me, compassion means being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and feel empathy for them. Compassion is the perfect marriage of feeling empathy for someone and letting that motivation drive you into action. It's easy to feel sympathy, but sometimes it's terrifying to do anything about it.
Fairy tale heroes often begin as outcasts or are treated unfairly because of who they are. It's easy to feel sympathy for them, and hope they eventually get their "happily ever after" while the villains get their eyes pecked out by ravens. Right? But the element I really love is making the reader feel compassion for even the villain.
In my novel, Shattered Snow, one of the most common questions I get is "Will the evil queen get a redemption arc?" I really focused on making the queen's backstory just as sympathetic as everyone else, so that both the heroes and the villains started on equal footing with the reader. So, even as the evil queen made her descent into madness, my readers feel enough compassion for her to reach out to me and ask if she's going to be able to redeem herself.
As the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, "Empathy doesn't just extend to cute little kids or people who are like you." I couldn't agree more! And today more than ever, stories are giving voices to characters who might have been overlooked before. Reading novels helps pull us out of our own world and look at different perspectives with an open mind. It's the magic of books! We get to live more than one life by diving in with the characters.
Next up is courage. This theme is all about facing your fears and standing up for what's right. In fairy tales, we see characters who go on incredible journeys, fight evil monsters, and overcome impossible obstacles. But sometimes the smallest actions require the greatest amount of courage.
One of my favorite retellings is Marissa Meyer's "Cinder," where the main character is a cyborg mechanic who finds herself caught up in a political conspiracy. The stakes are sky high, involving the fate of the world and the moon! But Cinder's true courage lies in her ability to stand up for herself and her loved ones, even in the face of adversity. Her compassion and strength comes through in almost every bit of dialogue she has with other characters. From taking on the misfit robot Iko as a bestie, to showing patience with hot-headed Scarlett, and going out of her way to rescue Cress, Cinder is constantly focusing on relationships and supporting those around her, even when she's dealing with a killer plague and shape-shifting evil queens.
Why YOU matter
So why are these themes especially important for readers like you? Well, in today's world, you're facing all sorts of challenges and uncertainties. You might be trying to figure out who you are, navigating friendships and relationships, or worrying about the state of humanity. By reading fairy tale retellings with themes of compassion and courage, you can find hope and inspiration to overcome these challenges. You can learn that even the smallest act of kindness or the bravest act of defiance can make a difference. As the famous author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future." In my retelling of "Snow White," for example, I wanted to show that the most powerful force in the world isn't magic, time travel, or wealth... but compassion. Bianka realizes that it's not enough to just be kind. She must act on feelings of sympathy to protect the ones she loves the most. There can be kindness in standing firm for your beliefs, for confronting monsters, and fighting back. Likewise, Courage is not just about facing external threats, but also about standing up for oneself and others in the face of danger and adversity.
So, keep reading fairy tales and their beautiful retellings. Find those themes of courage in compassion and let it empower you. Take those insights into your own life. By embracing compassion and courage, we can overcome adversity, find our own inner strength, and be that optimistic rebel who can make the world a better place.