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Side by Side: Snow White

Side by Side

Side by Side: Snow White

We all know the story: a jealous queen, a magic mirror, a girl with skin as white as snow and a collection of amusing but caring dwarves. However, authors Alex Flinn and Donna Jo Napoli both spin the traditional Snow White tale on its head. Set in modern-day Miami, Flinn’s MIRRORED follows the beautiful Celine, her evil stepmother Violet and her best friend, Goose, who she eventually moves in with to get away from the family drama. Napoli’s DARK SHIMMER, on the other hand, takes place in ancient Venice and follows a mirror-maker named Dolce who has no idea that quicksilver has the power to drive her mad.

Below, we ask these two talented authors about their research, their characters and what they’d do with their own magic mirror. Read below to find out, and be sure to check out their books! Why did you decide to base your book off of Snow White, rather than another fairytale?

Alex Flinn: I've adapted some other fairy tales already, but what fascinated me about Snow White was that no one had really ever explored the characters of the dwarves, with whom Snow White spends her time. In traditional versions, they take her in and help her out, but we really know nothing about them. In many versions, they seem to speak in unison (The notation will say, "The dwarves said, '__________.'"). In the Disney version, they do have individual personalities and two songs, so that's a bit of an improvement, but we still know little. How did they all come to be living there? Are they brothers or just friends? Were they especially suited for mining work because of their statures, and did they meet at the mine? Why did they put themselves out for Snow White, who clearly has a price on her head? And what happens to them after Snow White takes her leave? Does she send them a thank you note? Do they ever see her again? How do they feel about that?

My version of Snow White is in three viewpoints, Snow White's, the stepmother's, and that of her friend, Goose Guzman, an aspiring actor who takes Celine (Snow White) in to live with his family. Since Goose is a viewpoint character, I hope he is a realistic person with a soul, someone who is not defined by one physical characteristic.  Goose has been, along with Nick in BREATHING UNDERWATER and Kyle in BEASTLY, one of my very favorite characters to write.

Donna Jo Napoli :My editor, Wendy Lamb, suggested a Snow White tale years ago.  I thought about it, but I couldn't get a handle on it.  Then somehow Wendy and I started talking about mirrors and Venice and the ideas just started coming together in my head.  I read and read about the history of glass blowing and mirror-making in Venice.  And then I learned that the island of Torcello had been nearly abandoned for a several year period because of malaria... and somehow the character of Dolce just belonged there.

TRC: What's the most interesting thing you learned while researching your book?

AF: This book had quite a number of research issues. One of the most interesting was one character's fear of heights. I have what I would define as a reasonable fear of heights, by which I mean that I'm not a complete daredevil, so when I'm in a very high place (for example, this summer, I climbed a fire tower in the Adirondacks), particularly someplace steep, or, occasionally, when driving on an overpass, I'm a little nervous. But I can generally push ahead with enough peer pressure. The character in my book has a more debilitating fear of heights and, of course, he has to face that fear in order to reach his goal. To write the book, I spoke with several people who fear heights about their experiences and what they feel, both physically and emotionally, when in a high place. 

DJN: The history of mirrors in general.  We buy mirrors all the time.  We have them in several rooms of our homes.  We carry them in our purses.  But there was a time when a mirror was an enormous luxury.  Most people never saw their reflections before modern times, except in a pool of water or in the underside of a metal plate or pan.  Rich people used fine metals, like silver, for mirrors.  But when glass mirrors were first made, that changed everything.  The reflection was so clear that some people considered mirrors dangerous --- things that could lure you away from God --- but most people loved them.  These beautifully clear mirrors, however, were fabulously expensive.  A good mirror of a reasonable size could cost as much as a home.  I had had no idea.  Venice was the first place to make fully transparent glass, and then the first place to make crystal clear mirrors... and that was a gigantic part of the country's wealth through the 1500s and 1600s.  All this was new to me.

TRC: What quality do you most envy in other people?

AF: I envy the ability to be nonchalant about things. I tend to take things very seriously and, often, very hard.  That can be a good quality, in some cases, but it's stressful.

DJN: Oh my, I don't think any interview has ever included that question or any question close to it.

I think I envy people who can fully relax.... who can set aside whatever worries they have and just enjoy the moment.  I believe very much that it is good for us to relax.  But I cannot do it easily.  I have to lose myself in work in order to be free of worry.  Or in some other activity --- like gardening or chopping vegetables.  These things are types of meditation for me.  But I have not learned how to simply say, okay, this is a moment to just shut everything else out and love the moment. In fact, I tell my college students to take the time to "do nothing" over their fall break or spring break for at least a little while, because I would love to see them know how to relax.  I want them to be better than me.

TRC: If you could hang out with a character from your book, who would you pick and what would you say to them?

AF: Kendra, who has appeared in several of my books, including MIRRORED, is a 300-year-old teenage witch. She often messes up but her heart's in the right place . . . usually. I'd be kind of curious if she saw any witch abilities in me or could teach me magic.

DJN: I love Agnola.  I'd want to just spend time with her, maybe sewing side-by-side as we talked about things. And I shouldn't be coy... what I'd talk with her about is love itself.  She seems a master at love.  She loves her brother and her sister-in-law and her niece and Pietro.  She is strong in her ability to give herself wholly to those she loves.  She doesn't care one bit about who else loves or doesn't love those people and she doesn't care one bit about what they think of her loving those people.  

TRC: You’re invited to inhabit the world of any fairytale for a day. Which do you choose, and why?

AF: Hmm, that's a hard question because most fairy tale worlds are pretty awful, especially for female characters. Fairy tale worlds are practically dystopian when you think about it. Women in fairy tales are often trapped, either physically (Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast) or emotionally (Cinderella, Snow White) so they feel like they can't escape from a situation. They are forced into arranged marriage. Of course, male characters are often called upon to complete impossible tasks, so that's not that much better. And there's usually no indoor plumbing! One of the best is probably Sleeping Beauty, because she's already a princess and, also, she probably feels safe, even though she's not. When she touches the spindle, she is blissfully unaware of the spell, just catches up on her beauty sleep.

DJN: Magic fascinates me.  I'd love to explore a world where surreal things happen... maybe Jack's world of Jack and the Beanstalk, which I wrote about in CRAZY JACK.  The idea of multiple worlds co-existing -- a giant's world up high at the top of the beanstalk and an ordinary world at the bottom of the beanstalk --- that's exciting.  And, actually, the world at the bottom isn't that ordinary, since it has fairies that give a boy a bag of beans from which an enormous beanstalk grows.  I am not much of a believer in magic.  I believe in hard work, which can help if one has any decent amount of luck in life.  But, oh, wouldn't magic be lovely.

TRC: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” --- if you’d had a magic mirror in high school, what question would you have asked it?

AF: I probably would have consulted with it about a college major!

DJN: High school was not a happy time for me.  My family was a wreck.  I had no sense of what might come next.  So I might well have asked, "Will we survive?"  On the other hand, in many ways all I wanted was the most ordinary of things, so I might well have asked, "Will I ever love someone who will love me?"  You know, high school was a long time ago... I really can't say which I would have asked.