Christina Rosso is the author of She is a Beast, an illustrated collection of feminist fairy tales. Some are re-imaginings of the classic tales we know, such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, while others are completely original. This collection is about women reclaiming their stories and finding agency by embracing their beastly natures and adopting monstrous appetites deemed inappropriate by society.
In their wildness, they find freedom.
We have a chat with Christina about her journey as she reimagined the fairy tales we grew up with.
Mith Books: Your book She is a Beast draws inspiration from fairy tales and folklore. What is it about these stories that attracts you?
Christina: For many of us, fairy tales are the first stories we learn. They teach us morals and about the society we live in. What’s great about this is everyone has a reference point when you say you write fairy tales. There is a familiarity to them like you’re coming home after a trip.
However, often fairy tales are structured by oppression, where women and anyone deemed as other is seen as an object or less than. I love reworking these stories to reveal the underbelly of them, giving the typically oppressed characters agency and a chance to tell their stories.
Mith Books: In what way do you think fairy tales reflect the society in which they were created? Do you think new fairy tales need to be created to reflect the modern society we live in?
Christina: If you trace fairy tales throughout history, you can see how they directly reflect the society in which they were created. For instance, the Brothers Grimm would write multiple versions of the same tales, shifting them for various audiences. Writing these as lessons to children yielded one version for instance, and creating versions for a monarch yielded another.
I personally think modern fairy tales should reflect modern society, but I also focus on the politics of gender, sexuality, and identity in my work, so society and its restrictions are central to what I do. In many ways, our society has advanced since the earliest fairy tales, but we still aren’t living in an equal world.
Fairy tales are the perfect realm to explore societal issues, in my opinion, because there are so many stories to unpack and rework to reflect what is currently happening.
Mith Books: Which particular aspects of ‘She is a Beast’ relate to the old tradition of the folklore or fairy tales?
Christina: You could say the entire book relates to the old tradition of the fairy tale, from the settings to the high stakes to the magical quality. Taking a cue from Angela Carter, I study the earliest versions of the fairy tales I plan to re-imagine. She did this by translating them from their original language to English. I’m not talented in foreign languages so I stick to the earliest English versions of these tales.
To me, that’s the only place to start…at the beginning.
Then I look at more modern retellings, such as Carter’s revolutionary collection The Bloody Chamber before getting an idea of what I want to do with the specific tale I’m working on. I always want to make sure I’m adding something fresh or really different from what we’ve seen before.
One specific aspect of my book that reflects the old tradition of the fairy tale is the storytelling quality of some of the stories in my collection. Whether the story is told in first-person or third-person perspective, I wanted it to feel as though someone was sharing the story with someone else.
Mith Books: Your novel features completely original fairy tales. As a community of authors that support authors, we’re deeply curious to know how you went about creating these new tales. Tell us about your journey.
Christina: The original tales in the collection are very much inspired by my research on fairy tales. I didn’t draw from any one specific fairy tale or folklore for these, yet still wanted them to feel very grounded in the fairy tale world we know.
The original stories are “The Siren of Wailing Lake” and “Becoming a Beast,” which happened to be the first stories I wrote for the collection. They came to me pretty quickly and fully formed, which rarely happens. I’m very loose with my writing; I don’t usually have the whole thing mapped out before starting. Both deal with issues of societal expectations and what women have to do in order to survive their circumstances.
“The Siren of Wailing Lake” was inspired by my fascination with mermaids and sirens, and loosely based on siren creation myths.
I wrote “Becoming a Beast” while at AWP. I sat in on a panel and one of the authors read a version of Pocahontas and I felt so inspired by that piece that I wrote the entire first draft in one sitting.
Whenever I’m working in the fairy tale genre, whether I’m re-imagining or writing something original, I focus on the female character I feel most connected to. My goal is to give her a chance to tell her story and to free herself from the shackles of a patriarchal society.
Everything is rooted in her journey to empowerment.
Mith Books: Fairy tales typically feature tales of women who are damsels in distress and are saved by knights in shining armour. You have reimagined this by weaving a narrative where women embrace their wild nature. What is the defining message you want people to take from your book?
Christina: The message I would love people to take from my book is that you are bigger than the boxes society tries to shove you into. That the world isn’t black and white or good and evil. People are complicated and multi-layered.
This book is about honoring the many aspects of ourselves, even the beastly.
About the Authors
Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. She delights in gazing out at the ocean and jumping in. She sees life as one great adventure and is an ardent student of the human experience. She is the author of The Little Light and the Founder of Mith Books. She works in a top secret day job.
Sanchari Das devotes her free time to writing, painting, singing and enhancing her photography skills. The author of three books, Sanchari dreams to inspire millions through her writing. Born with a Piscean heart beaming with creativity, she is ever ready to embark upon new ventures and discover all the hidden sides to her personality.