A disembodied horse head—one that still speaks. A princess who doesn’t lift a finger to stop her identity being stolen, and then never tries to end the nightmare and go back home. A queen who sends her daughter away for an arranged marriage, and then makes no effort to contact her again.
These were only some of the massive plot holes I had to fill when I looked at retelling the Brothers Grimm tale, The Goose Girl.
In addition to ensuring that the narrative makes sense to modern readers, one of the challenges of a retelling is that it needs to bear some striking similarities to the original tale. Yet at the same time, it also needs to bring something new, some insight concerning character or setting that hasn’t been tried in the framework of this particular narrative.
For my story, I decided to center both of these issues on the character, Falada, who in the original tale is a severed horse head that’s been nailed up near the gate to a castle. The steadfast loyalty of the original Grimm Falada touched me, but having that character immobilized in that fashion imposed crippling limits on the narrative. So I waved my magic story wand and made Falada instead into a living kelpie. Still horse-shaped when she wants to be, but she’s no longer stuck in one place. It brought something new to the tale while still preserving the idea of a faithful equine companion—one who remained steadfast when all others were gone.
The next change was to give the princess in my story—Jentelle—more agency. The princess in the Grimm tale was merely carried by the narrative. We empathize with the original character—that her life has been stolen by her scheming lady-in-waiting—but I wanted my princess to do more than simply endure.
So I made my princess half-siren. That gave Jentelle and Falada something in common—a love of the aquatic life of the river—and it bound them together with the strength of their secret lives. From that I could build a believable friendship, which became the emotional heart of my tale.
That sort of connection is important to me as a writer. It’s not enough to create a believable plot from an improbable scenario. For some reason, to make a story work in my head it needs an emotional hook, some theme that has been of real importance in my life. And in one way I’m a very typical woman—family relationships and friendships have formed an integral part of my life. Just knowing I can pick up the phone or type out an email, and someone who cares will get back to me—that’s a huge comfort. I might spend a great deal of my time working by myself, but I’m not alone.
Not only was this element something I could use to really throw my heart into telling this tale, but friendships between female characters are strangely underutilized in fantasy. Frodo and Sam have been iconic for decades, but we have no female companions of similar stature, which I think is a shame.
Despite this, however, the story’s not really a feminist statement—other than the whole “we are here” bit, which is as didactic as I care to get. Stolen Legacy has numerous action sequences, betrayal, and a love story, but the friendship remains at the heart of the tale.
I hope it’s something that anyone who’s ever had a close friend can relate to.
If you’re interested in getting a free copy of Stolen Legacy, the link is on the sidebar of every post. 🙂