The Story behind The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney

Posted On 1 November 2014

Filed under Book Reviews

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Today I’m very pleased to welcome Cheryl Mahoney to my blog.  I recently read The Storyteller and Her Sisters which is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (my review here).  Cheryl has a lovely story telling voice and a great sense of humour so of course I was really pleased that she was prepared to write a piece for my blog!!  Thanks Cheryl.  This is a great piece that shares with us the inspiration behind the Storyteller.  I hope you all enjoy this – I certainly did.

The Idea Behind The Storyteller and Her Sisters

I’ve found that one of the most frequent questions I get as a writer is “where do you get your ideas?” Since I write fairy tale retellings for my current series, part of my idea usually comes from the Brothers Grimm! I find the key question in retelling fairy tales is, “what doesn’t make sense?” And when you read the originals (or even watch the Disney movies!) there’s plenty that doesn’t make sense—like why Cinderella’s prince is searching for her by shoe size, instead of asking for her by name. From that point, I either point up the absurdity for humor, or start to explore a story that will explain those parts that don’t add up.

My most recent book, The Storyteller and Her Sisters, is based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (or, “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces”). This was a fairy tale I got attached to later on in life—I don’t remember noticing it particularly until about five years ago. Then there seemed to be an explosion of retellings, some I found by chance and some I started seeking out.

The original story is about twelve princesses who are mysteriously wearing out their dancing slippers every night, even though they’re locked in their bedroom. Their father sends out a call for champions to come and solve the mystery. Eventually we learn that the princesses are using a trapdoor in their bedroom to pass through a magical forest, cross a lake, and enter a castle where they’re dancing with twelve princes.

Every retelling I’ve been able to find shares some common features—the king is well-meaning, and the princes are monsters carrying off the princesses. But then I was rereading the original Grimm story and I got absolutely stuck on one line: “each prince danced with the princess he loved best.”

I started reading the story again, and for the first time it dawned on me that Grimm never says the princes are monsters, nor is there any indication they’re harming the princesses or anyone else. But there is a king in here who’s locking his daughters in their bedroom every night and, just by the way, is also chopping heads off of unsuccessful champions! So I ask you: who’s really the villain in the story?

At that point I had my idea about doing a twist compared to other retellings, with sympathetic princes and a villainous king. There was still a fundamental “why is it happening this way?” question to address—namely, if the princesses aren’t forced to go dancing, why are they doing it? I’m always in favor of stories that give heroines more power and choice than in the original fairy tales, so I knew I wanted an answer to that question that made my princesses active participants in the story and not helpless victims. So I came up with an answer that does involve a curse, but it isn’t the princesses who are under it.

At the time I was first thinking of all of this, I was working on my first published novel, The Wanderers, and so I turned this idea into a chapter of that book. It ended up the longest chapter, and the one most consistently cited as a favorite! I still felt like there was more to the story…so for National Novel Writing Month in 2012, I wrote 50,000 words about my dancing princesses—and another 26,000 in December to finish a first draft. A couple of years and several revised drafts later, I published my particular twist on “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” But the idea all started with the line, “each prince danced with the princess he loved best,” and a lot of questions about the parts that just didn’t make sense.

Cheryl Mahoney is a book blogger at Tales of the Marvelous, and the author of two books based on fairy tales. The Wanderers, published in 2013, follows the journeys of a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter. Her new novel, The Storyteller and Her Sisters, retells “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,” with twelve trapped princesses who decided to take control of their story.

One Response to “The Story behind The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney”

  1. Blog Waltz: Guest Post on Lynn’s Book Blog | Tales of the Marvelous

    […] today, check out my guest post about Storyteller!  (And I’m pretty delighted by a very nice review Lynn posted […]

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