Alix E. Harrow is an award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award, and Locus Award, and in 2019 she won a Hugo Award for her story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”. Last month, her new novel “A Spindle Splintered” hit the shelves.
A ”Spindle Splintered” is a new version of the classic “Sleeping Beauty” story. This time, it’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. Not much is known about her illness, just that no-one has lived past twenty-one. Her best friend is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, but when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange happens. She finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
Especially for QBD Books, Alix talks about what attracted Alix to fairy-tale retellings and her new book:
Before I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I was expecting it to be just another superhero retelling. with maybe a few gestures at changing social mores. I had a mental checklist, the way you do when you’ve heard so many versions of the same narrative that it becomes a set of symbols rather than a story: radioactive spider, awkward teen glow-up, dead uncle, etc. And I got all those things, but I also got way more. Instead of the one-and-only Spider-Man, I got a whole team of Spider-Men ricocheting through time and space, representing all the ways their story has been told or could be told again. Instead of a retelling, I got what Bethany C. Morrow calls a remix.
But when I walked out of the theater, I wasn’t thinking about comic books or heroes. I was thinking about my own personal mythology, a set of story-symbols that I’ve consumed again and again in a dozen different iterations and still, somehow, wasn’t done with.
I was thinking about fairy tales.
I grew up on fairy tale retellings. Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, Disney, even the Grimms, Lang, Perrault. I’d never been tempted to try my own retelling—but what about a remix?
And so: A Spindle Splintered. A Sleeping Beauty retelling, but also a retelling of retellings, a slight, self-aware, hopefully funny conversation with the idea of the Princess.
Princesses, as it turns out, aren’t that dissimilar to superheroes in the collective imagination. Until recently, they’ve both been white, conventionally hot, straight (at least according to their copyright holders), and either wealthy or destined to become so. And they’re both, generally speaking, pretty lonely. Picture the girl in the tower, staring wistfully out the window. Picture the man on the building, cape flowing. One of them exists only to be rescued, one of them exists only to rescue. Both profoundly alone.
But Miles Morales wasn’t alone. And neither is Zinnia Gray. I mean, sure, she’s a little lonely, due to a combination of terminal illness and rampant ableism, messy early-adulthood-drama, and the kind of deliberately-unexamined queerness that comes from growing up bi in rural America. But she has her best friend, and her parents.
And (spoiler!) she has all the other versions of Sleeping Beauty who are out there in the multiverse. A bunch of cursed girls who didn’t get to choose their stories—none of us do—and who can’t escape them.
But maybe, with luck and grit and some interdimensional texting, they can change them. Not because they have superpowers or grand destinies or fairy godmothers, but because they aren’t alone.