Uniting a band of fairy-tale misfits
Many young adult authors have taken to re-imagining fairy tales, but not many have done it with the creativity and fresh voice of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. Mixing futuristic and steampunk themes with the story of Cinderella, Cinder introduced a teenage android who discovers she's really a princess exiled by an evil queen. In Scarlet, the second book in the quartet, we meet Scarlet, who's searching for her grandmother and wonders whether to trust a strange young man called Wolf. When she crosses paths with Cinder, both their journeys expand, and they realize they must work together to save their world.
BookPage spoke with Meyer about adapting fairy tales and building a new world through her books.
Scarlet introduces a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” but also continues the story of Cinder, our cyborg Cinderella. Why did you decide to entwine the two fairy tales? How difficult was it to create one seamless story out of two very different ones?
When I was first planning this series, I’d expected each book to act as a stand-alone story—set in the same world, but with entirely different characters. However, as I plotted and brainstormed, the stories started to converge. Characters started having unexpected ties to each other, and the evil queen began tormenting everyone in the whole series. So I just let it happen, and pretty soon the stories had merged together into one continuous plotline oriented around Cinderella and a band of fairy-tale misfits as they all joined forces against the evil queen. It seemed to work, so I went with it!
Writing Scarlet definitely posed some problems, though, particularly when it came to balancing the multiple storylines. I wanted readers to feel invested in both Cinder’s and Scarlet’s stories, and to feel that they both came to an inevitable conclusion. It took quite a bit of finagling to get it to work out just how I wanted.
There isn't much mention of Little Red Riding Hood's parents in the original story. What made you want to include so much about Scarlet's parents?
Scarlet has been raised by her grandmother since she was a child, but I knew I couldn’t just leave it at that. Readers would be curious—where were her parents? And I wanted to know, too! So I started exploring more of Scarlet’s background and figuring out what had happened to bring her to her grandmother’s farm. I didn’t expect that we would ever meet Scarlet’s parents, but by the third draft her father had developed a small but important role in the story.
There’s a fascinating mix of high tech (cyborgs) and low tech (a pillowcase marking a diseased house) bumping up against each other in Scarlet. How do these elements find themselves in the same world?
Something about this dichotomy really appeals to me—you see it in a lot of great science fiction, such as Star Wars and “Firefly.” I can’t envision a world in which everything is high tech and fancy and shiny. I think we’ll always have places that are rundown, beat-up, gritty, broken . . . so I wanted my futuristic world to have those elements too. I also believe that, just because we are capable of great technology, doesn’t mean it’s always the best or most practical route. Sure, my futuristic farmers could probably put up invisible laser fences to keep trespassers away from the diseased house, but a black pillowcase on the porch is a lot cheaper and does essentially the same job.
If you lived in Cinder and Scarlet’s world, what piece of technology would you be most excited about?
The hovercars—not because they hover (although that’s cool too), but because they drive themselves! I would love to be able to just plug in my desired coordinates and take a nap or read a book while the hover takes me there.
Cinder is set in futuristic China, and Scarlet is set in France. How did you come up with your ideas for the future of these countries? Were you able to travel to either one?
I chose China for Cinder’s setting to pay homage to what many people believe is the oldest recorded Cinderella tale—“Ye Xian,” which was written in 9th-century China. (Many scholars think there’s a direct connection between this idea of the slipper fitting the smallest foot and the Chinese tradition of footbinding. I think that’s fascinating!)
For Scarlet, I wanted a location that had a history of werewolves, but werewolf mythologies are found all over the world. Then I watched a documentary on the Beast of Gévaudan. There was a slew of killings in 18th-century rural France, which many villagers believed were the result of a real werewolf. The beast was supposedly killed by a silver bullet, which is where our myth of werewolves and silver bullets comes from. That story had the perfect mix of truth and myth, fear and superstition, hence how Scarlet ended up in France.
I have been to China, but it was when I was a teenager, so I wasn’t able to go while I was researching for these books. I had to rely on books, the Internet and (lucky for me) my French editor for many setting details. I’d love to go to both China and France, though!
Who has been your favorite character to write?
In Cinder it was Iko, Cinder’s android sidekick who has a penchant for fashion and a big crush on the prince. In Scarletit was probably Captain Thorne—the handsome, overconfident thief that Cinder crosses paths with as she’s attempting to escape from prison. He’s both charming and slightly ridiculous, which is a very fun combination.
Do you read a lot of different versions of the fairy tales while writing the series? What elements of the original tales do you find most inspiring?
Mostly I stuck to reading the common Brothers Grimm tales, although I did read a book on the history of “Little Red Riding Hood” that contained a few different versions. It’s fascinating how much the story has changed from its original roots. It’s a very dark and eerie story! When I’m choosing which elements to include in the Lunar Chronicles, though, I try to balance those things that are most iconic (the glass slipper, the red hood) in order to keep a fairy-tale feel throughout the books, along with the things that I think would be fun to give a science-fiction spin. Why have Little Red trotting through the forest when you can put her on a high-speed maglev train?
The Lunar Chronicles grew out of your participation in NaNoWriMo. What was that process like? Have you continued to take part in the annual event?
I’m really fond of NaNoWriMo—it’s a wonderful program for writers who want to make writing a priority for just 30 days, and surround themselves with a fantastic, supportive community at the same time. Cinder was the third NaNo novel I ever attempted, and I went the crazy route that year and also knocked out the first drafts of Scarletand the third book, Cress. (Total word count on November 30: 150,011.) I took a couple years off from NaNo after that, as I worked through revisions, but I did complete a brand new novel this past November that I’m very excited about.
What has been your most rewarding experience talking with fans of the books?
I’ve heard from readers who say they’ve never enjoyed reading, but that they loved the concept for Cinder so thought they’d give it a try, and ended up loving it. Often these readers are now looking for other books that they’re going to enjoy too. That’s such an amazing compliment—to think my book could have introduced readers to a new world of books and reading. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.
The Lunar Chronicles quartet continues with Cress and Winter. Will Cinder and Scarlet return in the upcoming books? Can you give us any other hints?
Yes, every book builds on the last, so that Cinder, Scarlet, Cress (Rapunzel) and Winter (Snow White) will all be together by the fourth book, and by that point they’ll have realized they have a common enemy—evil Queen Levana. To defeat her and save the world, they’ll have to work together, but it’s not going to be easy.