Once Upon a Much Darker Time…

Books GeekMom
“Dorothy Must Die,” the new novel by Danielle Paige.

The latest re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz book, entitled Dorothy Must Die, arrived in bookstores April 1, joining an ever growing list of dark and modern stories inspired by classic stories and fairy tales.

Created by award-winning author and former television writer Danielle Paige, the hero, a present-day Kansas teen named Amy Gumm (a tribute to Judy Garland’s “real name,” Frances Gumm), is living in a trailer with her depressed mother after her father left them for another woman.  Neglected at home and bullied at school, her attitude when she hears about a tornado warning in her area is “Bring it on. There’s no place like anywhere but here.”

She soon learns to be careful what she wishes for, as her trailer is swept up by a tornado,  she “crash lands” in the slum world of Oz. There she encounters a Goth Munchkin, among other characters, and learns of the lands’ downfall under “She Who Arrived on the Wind, Slayed the Wicked, and Freed the Munchkins,” the power-hungry dictator, Dorothy Gale. Gale and her twisted allies, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Lion, have taken over the land, controlling it with fear and destruction. Gumm is reluctantly inducted into The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked–the “good guys” in this tale, to bring Oz back to its former glory. The plan involves, of course, killing Dorothy.

Expect this book to receive much attention, as Heroes creator Tim Kring is already looking at the book for a possible CW series.

It seems like more and more edgier re-tellings of the classics are popping up everywhere. Shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, movies like Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful, comics such as Bill Willingham’s Fables, and books series from Marissa Mayer’s Lunar Chronicles, Frank Beddor’s  The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, or Gregory Maguire’s best-selling The Wicked Years series just barely scratch the surface. There is also plenty to cater to different age groups from young readers to adults.

However, the “darker” fairy tale is nothing new, and anyone who has read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales or even L. Frank Baum’s Oz books know the familiar 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, and the Disney-fied fairy tales have been “lightened up” a little to make them more family-friendly.

Some of the original “dark” elements of stories such as the Oz books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and even nursery rhymes have played a part in some of the later incarnations of the stories.

Snow White illustration by Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen.
Image from wikicommons.

Here are some more disturbing standouts, bearing in mind not all of these stories were originally created as children’s tales, but rather evolved into them over the years:

• In The first Wizard of Oz story, the Tin Woodman explains how he came into being. He tells Dorothy and Scarecrow he was Munchkin named Nick Chopper, who fell in love with a widow’s servant girl. When the widow learned the girl intended to run away and marry the woodman, she went to the Wicked Witch of the East to enchant his axe. When he went to use the tool, it slipped and cut off piece of his “meat” body one limb at a time. He replaced each limb with a tin limb, but eventually his axe cut him right down the middle and took his heart.

• Speaking of woodmen, there was no woodman to save Little Red Riding Hood in the original story tale by Charles Perrault, as it was intended as a warning to never take advice from strangers. Red Riding Hood takes the wrong route to her grandmother’s, per the wolf’s request, and the wolf eats her. The End.

Tin Woodman
Image from wikicommons.

• The most familiar nursery rhyme origin rumor is that of “Ring Around The Rosie,” which refers the Great Plague in London in the 1660s. The “rosie,” is the rash covering those afflicted with the plague, and flowers, or “posies” were often kept in the pocket to mask the horrible stench. It ends in a happy, communal reminder of the fate of all plague victims “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!” Some historians and folklorists say this rhyme doesn’t actually refer to the plague at all, but was just a way for young children to create “dances” in a time when there a religious ban on dancing.

Mary I of England by Antonis Mor
Image from wikicommons.

• Another favorite nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” refers to the infamously homicidal monarch Queen Mary I or England, better known as  “Bloody Mary.” Her “garden” refers to the hundreds of Protestants she had executed under her rule, and the “pretty maids,” “silver bells,” and “cockle shells” are all references to some of her favorite torture devices.

• In Snow White, the Queen didn’t ask for the princess’s heart in a box, which is pretty gruesome in itself, but for her lungs and liver so she may eat them for dinner. The Queen did get her comeuppance not by being forced over a cliff to fall to her death, but having to “dance” herself to death in fire-hot shoes.

Sleeping Beauty by Edward Frederick Brewtnall.
Image by wikicommons

• The fate of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella includes them being so desperate to get into the glass slipper, they cut off their heels and toes to try and fit. They also paid for their selfish lifestyle, when the prince ordered birds to peck out their eyes, forcing them to live as blind beggars. This fate was shown in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into The Woods,” which Disney will release as a feature film this winter.

• Sleeping Beauty has likely been the most manipulated. She isn’t put to sleep by a curse, nor is she awoken by a prince’s kiss (Snow White, by the way, wasn’t woken by a kiss either–the price had his horse nudge her awake). Her sleeping fate was due to a prophecy. She awakens when one of her twins sucks on her finger to remove the cursed piece of flax she got from the spindle. Wait a minute…Twins? Maybe this is a good time to mention the king raped her, and she gave birth to two children, all while she was still under the sleeping spell.

There are several other origin story variations circulating, but these are some of the more frequent ones. After discovering some of these it seems storytellers have always had a dark side, but one thing is for sure, they had some imagination.

Dorothy Must Die, is now available from HarperCollinsPublishers, with the prequel novella, No Place Like Oz available on ebook only from epicreads.com.

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