Alethea Kontis talks about her debut novel, Enchanted
Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm really just a little kid. When I was seven and saw Peter Pan on stage, the "I Won't Grow Up" lyrics really spoke to me. The outside of me keeps getting older, and I have all those responsibilities that grown ups have, but don't be fooled. My favorite things are bubbles and rainbows and my teddy bear named Charlie. I like drawing on myself and waving to strangers. And telling stories, of course.
Were you influenced to begin writing by any writers/books in particular?
In hindsight, I think I was influenced by 1.) my anglophile Nana (my Greek grandmother) and all the English nursery songs she used to sing to my little sister and me by 2.) the Goops books by Gelett Burgess, and 3.) the giant tome of unexpurgated Grimm and Andersen tales gifted to me by my Memere (the French grandmother).
What was the idea behind your debut novel Enchanted?
The idea for Enchanted began as a contest challenge in my writers group (Codex Writers). Our stories had to be inspired by at least one of four "seeds": "Fundevogel," "The Princess and the Pea," the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme "There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." I couldn't choose between them, so I chose them all...as well as all every other fairy tale and nursery rhyme that was suggested. I liked the idea that every fairy tale we know (and some we don't) originated from only one family (The Woodcutters) a very long time ago.
You have included many folktales and fairytales in Enchanted; which one was your personal favorite when you were a kid and why?
I had two favorite fairy tales as a child: "The Goose Girl" and "Snow White and Rose Red." I loved Conrad and the clever king in "The Goose Girl" and the karmic justice dispensed to the evil maid (she was asked what she would do to a traitor to the crown...and then the king made that her fate). I loved the Bear Prince in "Snow White and Rose Red." I also enjoyed the sister dynamic in that one--so often two sisters are Good and Evil. Snow White and Rose Red worked together in a far more healthy relationship.
Where did you get the awesome idea for seven sisters named after seven days of the week?
That particular tidbit came from the "Monday's Child is Fair of Face" nursery rhyme. As a Sabbath Day child myself, I've always been slightly disappointed in my generically optimistic lot in life as prophesied by that poem, so I instantly had a great deal of empathy for Sunday. The reason anyone would have so many children in the first place (like the old woman in the shoe) would surely be the goal of a "seventh child of a seventh child" legend. This also dovetailed perfectly into the old rhyme of counting magpies ("One for sorrow, two for joy"). Sevens and threes are very powerful numbers in fairy tales.
What do you make of the resurgence in popularity for fairy tales? (Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsmen, all within a very short time)? Do you see it as a trend that will sort of peter out, or is it just getting started?
J. R. R. Tolkien once said (and fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes agrees) that fairy tales were 100% guaranteed moneymakers. In these times of extreme economic crisis, doesn't it make sense to bet on a Sure Thing? Even Mama wouldn't disagree with that. J
I believe this is a trend that started once upon a time in sixteenth-century Italy. We're definitely on the crest of a fairy tale tidal wave right now. I hope that wave continues for a very, very long time...or until we all live happily ever after. Whichever comes first.
When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress or--if that fell through--a writer. As I already was both an actress and a writer by the time I was eight, this felt like a very practical and attainable goal, complete with back-up plan. (I was a very cerebral child.) My parents were not initially supportive of my childhood career path. Silly parents.
Amusingly enough, I never had any desire to be a princess. I thought all that stuff was stupid. Because of that, I did not claim my princesshood until right around the age of thirty.
How would you finish this sentence: Kissing a frog...
Kissing a frog...is not how the Grimm story ended. The princess in "The Frog Prince" was a brat and, fed up with her needy guest, threw him against a wall in an effort to rid herself of him. I do not recommend this path as a way of finding true love, but it's possibly less deceptive than kissing.