The Woods Are Just Trees; The Trees Are Just Wood: Counting Down to “Into the Woods”

Books for Into the Woods fans

True confession time: for how many of you is December 25 not just Christmas, but Into the Woods release day?! I’m so excited to see how the new Disney version compares with the old one I watched so many times on video. Before I ever took a literature class or heard the term “fractured fairytale,” I was amazed at this story which used the common theme of venturing “into the woods” to connect so many familiar stories together using a single setting. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, take a look:

Superfans have probably already heard Anna Kendrick sing Steps of the Palace and seen Johnny Depp’s Wolf interview. With so many actors that teens know and love, and the Disney name to boot, it’s a sure bet that this Sondheim musical is going to pique the curiosity of teen readers. Remember, too, that today’s teens have grown up steeped in middle-grade fairytale mashup worlds. We’ll soon need a meta-Into The Woods just so the characters from The Land of Stories, Sisters Grimm, Ever After High, and Fablehaven can meet up and commiserate about what it’s like to live in all these blended tales. Even the Dork Diaries series got in on the fun with Tales from a Not-So-Happily-Ever-After. And of course, the TV shows Grimm and Once Upon A Time (not to mention the movie version of Shrek) have only fueled the renewed interest in fairy tales.

When we talk about books for Into the Woods fans, we can step through the veritable thicket of retellings and fractured tales and look more carefully for stories that do what Sondheim’s does: make multiple familiar storylines collide. A don’t-miss list for this purpose is Emily Calkins’ February 2013 Hub post The Beanstalk, a Glass Slipper, and a Frog Prince: Fairy Tale Mash-Ups in YA Lit. Alert readers probably know that the Woodcutter Sisters series has continued (Hero, #2; Dearest, #3) and A Tale Dark & Grimm series has finished with, predictably, The Grimm Conclusion. Here are a few additional titles for mashup seekers to add to their lists:

  • Dust City, by Robert Paul Weston. Dust City is a seedy place with a black market of fairydust and a cast of downfallen fairytale characters, including Henry’s father, the Big Bad Wolf.
  • Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, by Christine Heppermann. These poems place fairytale stories side-by-side with those of contemporary teenage girls, with a message of empowerment.
  • Grim, edited by Christine Johnson. This is an anthology more than a mashup, but these short story retellings by popular YA authors may leave you guessing as to the origin of some of the more obscure tales. If you get stumped, check here.
  • Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan. This dark, vivid story for mature readers uses “Snow White and Rose Red” as its base. In looking up info for this post, I actually had to amend my thinking that another Grimm story was referenced (“The Bearskinner”), when, in fact, the bear story is Margo’s own creation. However, I’m leaving this book on the list due to its nuanced fairytale references (for instance, Lanagan has said, “Muddy Annie is a type of witch, a ‘mudwife,’ that I created for a short story based on Hansel and Gretel”). If you’re ready for something hard to forget, try Margo Lanagan.
  • Dread Locks, by Neal Shusterman. Shusterman kicks off his Dark Fusion trilogy with a blend of fairytale and Greek myth — but to say much more would give too much away.
  • Fables, by Bill Willingham (2004 YALSA Quick Picks; 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens). In this now-classic graphic novel series, fairytale creatures and characters forced into exile from their native lands live in disguise among regular New Yorkers.

What else should be on the list? What are your favorite mashups? How are you counting down the days until Into the Woods?! Do you think the Disney version will be any good? Waiting is just — sing it with me — “Agonyyyy!”

–Becky O’Neil, currently reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

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