When Fandom Invades Your Fiction

Cinder by Marisa Meyer is marketed as a “sci-fi retelling of Cinderella,” complete with its cover of a cyborg foot dressed in a bright red pump. As a big sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, I was really excited to get my face all into those glorious pages, seeing how the author would retell this classic story in a futuristic age. Little did I know that this story isn’t as much about Cinderella as it is about Sailor Moon.

This novel is the first of a four-book young adult series entitled “The Lunar Chronicles.” Generally, when I start a new book series, I try not to look up too much information on it. I thought the series title was sorta weird and not really “fairy-tale appropriate,” but sure, I’m willing to run with it. So anyway, Cinder, our heroine, is a cyborg mechanic living in a city named New Beijing. She was adopted into a family after her parents were killed in an accident, the same accident that destroyed one of her hands and her feet and which condemned her to a cyborg existence. She has only a couple of friends: her foster sister Peony and the house android Iko. This novel actually makes a lot of cute parallels to keep the spirit of the original fairy tale: instead of a pumpkin that turns into a coach, Cinder goes to the ball in a pumpkin-colored car, etc. I’m okay with those parts — it’s really the Sailor Moon fanfic part that I didn’t care for.

Obviously, spoilers from here on. The big twist that author Meyer adds to her sci-fi Cinderella story comes in the form of the Lunars, inhabitants of the moon with a supernatural power to hypnotize or “glamour” people with illusions. The Lunars are ruled by Queen Levana, a power-hungry monarch with ambitions to conquer Earth by first marrying into the monarchy of the Eastern Commonwealth (where New Beijing is located). Everyone’s afraid of Queen Levana, but she’s only afraid of one person — the missing Lunar princess, her niece, who may be the only person to end her tyrannic rule.

And the princess’ name is… wait for it… Princess Selene.

Now, any Sailor Moon fan worth his/her salt would just smirk right about now. The author, according to her website and acknowledgments, is very much an admitted Moonie. Before you misunderstand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a fan and writing original fiction with a hattip to your fandom. I’m sure authors of various fandoms do it all the time, we just don’t notice or care. What irks me about certain trends in (young adult) fiction is how I feel I’m being manipulated into reading fanfic and how I have to find out about it long after I’m well into the book.

Cinder‘s Princess Selene is similar to Princess Serenity of Sailor Moon in that she doesn’t remember her past life. In coming to Earth, Selene’s memory of her life and her responsibilities as Moon Princess were erased, possibly for her safety and her sanity. Until she’s ready, it was best to hide her from Queen Levana, who wants to destroy her sister’s daughter and thus keep the rule of the Lunar Kingdom fully for herself.

In writing this post, I had to think about why I even enjoy reading fairy-tale retellings in the first place; aren’t they also “glorified fanfic?” Abso-freakin-lutely. But what I look for in good retellings are the extra dimensions that weren’t explored or touched on in the original story. For instance, how did the Prince feel when Cinderella ran away? What did the Prince feel about the whole insistence of a ball to find his wife? Was he a nice, pleasant guy who was generally polite to all the ladies, or was he a royal douchebag enjoying the spotlight? Those sorts of things are what keep me reading. Obviously, if you pitch a story saying that the fairy-tale is being told in a modern or futuristic setting, then I, as the reader, would expect the characters to have contemporary ways of thought. I wouldn’t expect the 30th Century Cinderella to be such a doormat, but at the same time, kindness and humility are intrinsic to the persona of this well-beloved character. Meyer’s Cinder, in my opinion, doesn’t have many of the personality traits that I’ve come to associate with the Cinderella character. She’s similar in name only.

Yeah, as you can well guess, I’m not a big fan of Cinder. I genuinely wanted to like it, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

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2 thoughts on “When Fandom Invades Your Fiction

  1. It’s a shame when the references are so obvious like that. Like you, I quite enjoy books that are inspired by older stories or give one or two fandom hattips, but there’s a difference between this and clubbing the reader over the head with it. A little subtlety goes a long way. (I’m a long-time fan of Juliet Marillier, for example, particularly her Sevenwaters Trilogy and Whistling Tor series respectively, and I also really like a couple of Gail Carson Levine’s works.)

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