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Author Soman Chainani spent 10 years working on his children’s book series The School of Good and Evil. He completed the sixth and final book in the series, One True King, in March 2020, and says he’s ready to take the rest of the year to relax and embark on new adventures. But the day after the manuscript was handed in, COVID-19 happened, so he spent most of 2020 roughly indoors.
What did he do during the lockdown? He wrote a new book, titled Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales, which just came out.
Much like The School of Good and Evil, which aimed to shake up the fairy tale genre, Beasts and Beauty reinvents 12 classic stories, including Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Peter Pan. There is a common thread in his approach: Chainani says he views fairy tales as “life’s survival guides” and he wants kids to view heroes and villains in a whole different way, no. Disney.
“I grew up with Disney fairy tales almost exclusively in our home… and so my whole take on good and bad is shaped by Disney, and I would honestly say I think most of my generation and above have their morality shaped by Disney, which is why I’m not surprised our politics are so polarized, ”Chainani explains in an interview for CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast.
“Because when you have a good guy and a bad guy so clear in all of our stories… that means one side has to live and one side has to die, and you’re not going to compromise on either side. “
As a student at Harvard University, Chainani re-read the original classic fairy tales and learned how “there is room for ambiguity and good and gray and in the spectrum between the good and evil”. This reflection led to The School of Good and Evil in 2013, which tells the story of 12-year-old friends Sophie and Agatha who attend a magic school where children are trained to become heroes or villains of fairy tales (Evers and Nevers).
Chainani says he wanted to overturn “this idea that we call evil kids ‘bad kids’ without understanding who they are and what they are talking about and understanding that we all have a different way of approaching life.”
“Once you start experimenting and giving people the chance to change their identities and live life from an opposite angle, all hell is going to break loose,” he laughs. “But in a way, it’s going to ultimately lead to a more positive reconstruction of the world.”
The series has sold over 2.5 million copies and Netflix is adapting The School for Good and Evil into an original film to be released in 2022. It is directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids and Spy) and stars Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Michelle Yeoh and Laurence Fishburne. “It will be a great fairytale, spectacular action,” Chainani told his fans.
With Beast and Beauty, Chainani decided to “blow up fairy tales and tell them like I was the Brothers Grimm in the 1700s and could see what the world would be like now”. This is why Snow White is the only black girl in an all-white kingdom and Red Riding Hood shares how the most beautiful girl in town is marked for sacrifice each spring to a pack of wolves / boys in what he describes. as “the ultimate # MeToo Experience.”
I also spoke with Chainani about his take on some of the other fairy tales and his current obsessions, including revisiting Netflix’s Indian matchmaking. “It’s kind of a reminder that in this ultra-modern technological world where we’re always focused on the new, new, new, sometimes the old traditions were there for a reason and we should revisit them.”
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