Shakespeare, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and What We Writers Can Learn from Them
I think of William Shakespeare as the Joss Whedon of the Elizabethan stage. In Shakespeare’s plays, he cussed and bantered, wrote of psychics and murder, made the queen of fairies fall for a man with an ass’s head. He gave a monster insight and gave honeymoons to teenagers. He wrote for the people, messed with the class system, and made a man fall for a woman who was disguised as a man.
As for Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he made a petite, blonde teenage girl the savior of the world, the slayer of demons, the strongest human alive. People who haven’t watched Whedon often think his series are innocuous, yet he gave the world two gay, female central characters, even though he knew he’d lose many viewers in doing so. What’s more, he writes of the pain of addiction, grief, and human trafficking with more power than any other screenwriter I’ve encountered.
Mind you, he also drops classist monsters into a town of humans, dresses them in suits and gloves, and has them commit murder with scalpels.
The thing is, both these writers resemble one another in terms of their blend of humor and magic, and their stories of social change. They both wrote/write for popular audiences.
And they also both use fairy tales. A lot.
For many of you, this may be no surprise. After all, fairy tales form the root of so many of today’s stories, be they magical realist, fantasy, romance, or non-magical literary fiction. Carl Jung went so far as to say that fairy tales are part of the collective unconscious, and can have a powerful effect on our daily lives without our even realizing. That’s how deep Rapunzel’s hair, Bluebeard’s deadly chamber, and wolves in the woods seem to go.
Well, I’m excited to offer three one-night courses this term that have their roots in fairy tale and/or…Joss Whedon! One is Forbidden Fairy Tales, another is Vulnerable Monsters, and, in August, we’ll write fiction inspired by Whedon himself. And I know to expect as many different uses of fairy tale as there are bagel types. More, in fact. There might be writers, for instance, who won’t make use of frogs and magic, but will, like Angela Carter in the Bloody Chamber, create a dark human “monster” who longs to kill his bride. Some might choose to rewrite fairy tales, using modern backdrops or fresh new settings (Sleeping Beauty falls asleep at the mall, let’s say, or a Rapunzel goes to the doctor because her hair grows incredibly fast.) We might see what happens when a princess saves a prince, or when a princess saves a princess and they live happily ever after.
But one thing’s for sure.
When our work is inspired by fairy tales, we write about humanity, in its darkness and lightness and wildness and truth. We write of what it is to save, and what it is to need saving, and what it is to feel monstrous, and what it is to wish so hard that we think our hearts might bust.
And maybe if we write hard enough and write from the very soul, we’ll speak to the world, and it will listen.
Photo credit: By Raven Underwood (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sue Williams is co-founder of Here Booky Booky (herebookybooky.com) where authors' works are made into beautiful books. With a background in psychology, education, and online marketing, she is an instructor and confidence coach at Grub Street and has published her short stories at a variety of magazines and journals including Narrative (where she also worked as an editor), Salamander, the Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. Under her pen name, Sue is agented, has published a novel and several collections, writes columns on sexuality and spirituality, and also runs an indie press. As Sue, she works as a marketing assistant for branding and marketing expert Dorie Clark, and also coaches writers who are looking to build their confidence and platforms. Find out more at www.herebookybooky.com and www.suewilliams.co.ukSee other articles by Susan Williams