The Queen of Hearts She made some tarts, All on a summer's day; The Knave of Hearts He stole those tarts, And took them clean away. The King of Hearts Called for the tarts, And beat the knave full sore; The Knave of Hearts Brought back the tarts, And vowed he'd steal no more.
If you’re like me at all, the words to this rhyme started falling from your lips like the crumbs of the Red Queen’s strawberry-topped lemon custard tarts. In fact, I’m sure that some of you may have even recited them with the same certainty of voice that some of us of a certain age can recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
I grew up reciting the pledge every morning in grade school, so I know this to be true: I can say it without thinking about it. (Don’t worry. This isn’t actually a post about the Pledge. The Pledge is just an analogy.)
Anyway, I bring up the Queen of Hearts and her tarts because I’ve had a lot of occasion to think about her of late and about how writers get inspired to write what they write.
And part of being a writer sometimes is to take expectations - literary tropes if you will - and turn them on their heads. Anyone who has read my book “The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky” knows that I do this. And do so intentionally.
But I’m not the only rewriter of fairy tales who does this. Take Marissa Meyer for instance. Her “Lunar Chronicles” series retells “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” among other things. Meyer “breaks’ the rules of fairy tales in her retelling. She moves plots around and arranges for characters like Cinderella and Rapunzel to meet even though that’s not what happened in the original Grimms.
And of course, one of her latest books, “Heartless” retells “Alice in Wonderland,” sort of, through the Red Queen’s eyes. Apparently, the story takes place before the Queen was the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” and just a lowly princess who liked to make lemon cream tarts. It seems she really wanted to be a baker and not a princess and certainly not a queen.
Foodie aside: Why be a queen when you can spend your days baking up a simple lemon tart recipe? Sounds like a simpler, a lot more delicious life to me.
But I digress.
I bring all of this up because fairy tales are a source of inspiration for Meyer as they are for me. They’re also only a starting point for her as they are for me. Other elements that make up a good story get thrown in throughout the process.
Let’s take the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” (Real name: Catherine in Meyer’s retelling.)
Download a sample of the coloring pages from the "Forever Hatter" cookbook here on DropBox. You don't have to have a membership to DropBox. Just click on the "X"to get rid of the pop-up and download as usual.
How A Simple Lemon Custard Tart Recipe Actually Launched an Empire…
Here I can imagine that Meyer took the Red Queen’s love of a good lemon custard tart and the sing-songy verses of the nursery rhyme that start this post and went to work. Both of these elements start the chapter out.
Here’s the opening paragraphs of Meyer’s novel “Heartless.”
Three luscious lemon tarts glistened up at Catherine. She reached her towel-wrapped hands into the oven, ignoring the heat that enveloped her arms and pressed against her cheeks, and lifted the tray from the hearth. The tarts’ sunshine filling quivered, as if glad to be freed from the stone chamber.
Cath held the tray with the same reverence one might reserve for the King’s crown. She refused to take her eyes from the tarts as she padded across the kitchen floor until the tray’s edge landed on the baker’s table with a satisfying thump. The tarts trembled for a moment before falling still, flawless and gleaming.
So how did Meyer take the Red Queen from lemon tarts to “Off with her head??” When did Catherine simply become known as the Red Queen and not as Catherine? What caused this?
Inspiration. The magic “What if?” caused this.
Meyer’s story trajectory was even more pronounced in the “Lunar Chronicles” series, where that version of Cinderella is a cyborg living in New Beijing. Her shoe foot is a robot foot that’s now too small. Oh, and Cinderella is a mechanic.
Again, none of those elements appear in the original story. But to me, that’s the real beauty of fairy tales. And food. Both provide a jumping off point for our further inspirations.
To be sure, purists hate this…when a writer completely changes a fairy tale. The Grimms wouldn’t do this, they think. That’s not really a retelling, but rather an “inspired by” story, they insist.
Except that the Grimms did do it. And retellings have existed as long as fairy tales have existed.
Don’t believe me? As the Mental Floss website pointed out, at least five elements of the Grimms’ fairy tales changed from the first printing to the second.
Wicked stepmothers? In the old version, they were the birth mothers, but the society and the Grimms couldn’t handle the thought that mothers could actually be wicked.
The short “bedtime” stories. Yeah, they got longer in the retellings.
Rapunzel. Yeah, that story changed, too. That original prince and Rapunzel? They had a thing - namely a baby - in the first edition that was cut out of the second edition of the book. Societal norms and all were probably at work here. And said baby certainly doesn’t exist in the Disney version, but she or they do in earlier versions of the story ‘cuz sometimes the story involves Rapunzel, Prince Charming, and their twins.
Fairies became mystical beings in the Grimms’ later editions. (This might be my favorite part…)
And some of the stories that appeared in the first edition were just cut out of the second edition of tales all together.
Originally, the Grimms’ tales weren’t even for kids at all. They were meant to be a repository of sorts of German cultural identity. And they were often terrifying and steeped with the mysticism of German Romanticism. You can see this influence in the books of another modern fairy tale writer, Cornelia Funke. You certainly don’t want to hear those before bedtime, especially if you’d like to sleep any.
And these tales changed over the course of time in the same way that your grandmother’s fruit tart recipe changed, depending upon the ingredients available and the budget she had.
The Queen of Hearts She Made Some Toxic Tarts…
But here’s the thing. It’s okay to change the tales to suit the story. Those tales, just like the recipes we hand down from generation to generation, belong to everyone. They always get retold. Like our favorite recipes, they vary over time, depending upon the influence of culture and history. Don’t believe me? China’s version of Little Red Riding Hood has a tiger instead of a wolf and in the Middle East, it’s a wolf plus a bunch of kids.
Even the TV show, “Arrow” borrows elements from fairy tales. Oliver Queen is a modern-day Robin Hood, who protects the Glades - a glade is an open space in a forest - and who once saved a mob boss trapped in a local florist’s shop called “Sherwood Florist…” He even eventually gets his own version of the band of Merry Men (and women in this case.)
Here’s another truth about retelling tales: Rewriting fairy tales isn’t as simple as making a lemon cream cheese tart topped with raspberries or strawberries or whatever. And they’re not meant to be simple, though on some level they’re meant to be appealing if not entirely delicious upon initial bite.
Instead, fairy tales were meant to tell us truths, sometimes unpleasant ones, about ourselves. They’re also meant to reflect who we are back to us so that we can examine our lives more closely. That’s why they always fascinated me. And partly why I chose to study German literature as an undergraduate.
Those ancient stories change as we change. They reflect who we are and what we have available to us at the time. For me that meant that eventually those original tales plus my love of all things delicious and even my love/ hate relationship with technology made their way into my book/s.
For Meyer, it meant that classic fairy tales and lemon tart filling were just the beginning of a delicious journey down the rabbit hole that ended with Alice, but started with a queen.
And Now for a Little Lemon Cream Cheese Tart
In keeping with the theme of this post, I’m including the recipe for a lemon cream cheese tart. (Pretty sure the Marissa Meyer’s version of the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland” would love this!)
You’ll find coloring pages of the tart recipe plus one dedicated to a good old-fashioned glass of lemonade. These recipes are from my upcoming Valentine’s Day book “Forever Hatter.” (More to come on that in the coming weeks!)
You’ll also find videos for some fruit tarts and other types of tarts in the videos. Use these recipes for your own enjoyment. Or whip up a batch of your own Mad Hatter’s tea party.
The Red Queen’s Lemon Tarts
• 1 c. Flour • 1/3 c. Powdered sugar • 1/2 c. Butter • 5 oz. Cream cheese • 1/2 c. sugar • 7 TBSP Lemon Juice • 4 tsp Lemon peel • 2 Eggs
• Fresh raspberries or strawberries • Vanilla sugar to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 425. 2. Prep the crust by combining flour, butter, and powdered sugar in the food processor. Put the setting on “pulse,’ and mix it until the batter forms clumps. 3. Place the dough in a 9-inch tart pan; Make sure you use the kind with removable sides. Press the dough into the pan, making sure that it goes up the sides of the pan as well. 4. Poke the crust with a fork, covering it with holes evenly, then put it into the freezer for 15 minutes. 5. Bake this until it becomes a golden brown color. This should take about 15 minutes. Allow it to cool on a rack. 6. Turn the oven down to 350. 7. To prep the filling, beat the cream cheese in a bowl until it become smooth. After that, add in the powdered sugar, mixing this thoroughly. 8. Add in the eggs, beating them into the batter one at a time. 9. Add in the lemon juice and lemon peel. If you have fresh-squeezed lemon juice, opt for that. 10. Pour the bater into the cooled crust. Bake it until it sets. This will take about a half an hour. 11. Allow it to cool on the cooling rack again. (Cool at room temperature.) 12. Put it into the fridge until it becomes well chilled.
Garnish with fresh berries and sprinkle with vanilla sugar.
*This recipe is a part of my Valentine’s Day giveaway. Win it, along with other goodies, including a copy of Marissa Meyer’s “Heartless” and a copy of my own novel “The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky.” The giveaway is open to Wonderland Cafe newsletter recipients. Sign up here.
Download a sample of the coloring pages from that cookbook here on DropBox. You don't have to have a membership to DropBox. Just click on the "X"to get rid of the pop-up and download as usual.