My daughter has been into the Monster High stuff since day one, so it's only natural that she'd also get into the fairy-tale spin-off Ever After High dealing with the teenage children of famous fables. Netflix started re-editing the webisodes and showing them as 45-minute specials recently, so it's been Raven Queen and Apple White pretty much nonstop in my home for the past several weeks.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. As shows go, it's better than Monster High, with a great voice cast, good animation and in many ways better characters. Madeline Hatter alone is worth tuning in and is probably as close as we're ever going to get to seeing Neil Gaiman's Delirium on screen.
It's also got a much stronger overarching story arc than Monster High, and because of that, I think I've finally puzzled out exactly how the whole thing works.
There are two questions that have to be answered by the show. The first is obvious; why do characters like the Cheshire Cat and the Big Bad Wolf have human children? The second is a little less obvious; why did all these famous legends have children roughly at the same time so they could go to high school together?
My theory? The didn't. No one in Ever After High is actually a child or a parent in the biological sense at all.
It goes like this: There are stories that get told over and over and over again until they become archetypes. In something like Bill Willingham's Fables, they literally take on a life of their own, living out their existence in settings determined by normal people's imaginations. We all sort of vaguely picture Snow White looking a certain way and acting a certain way hard enough that somewhere out in the multi-verse, there is a real Snow White more or less looking and acting that way as a kind of belief depository.
Virtually no main character in the show has both a mom and a dad. They're just mentioned as the offspring of one famous figure. Even a figure like Apple White, who should have been the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, is only referred to as the daughter of Snow White. Charming apparently has his own line of descendants that doesn't include any of his traditional princesses. These characters never reproduced like regular humans; they just exist both in their current form and in a nebulous possible future form simultaneously. "Parent" and "child" are just representations of "now" and "possible."
Stories change over the years in many dramatic ways. The vaguely pedophilic undertones and the inadvertent cannibalism of Red Riding Hood's grandmother by her granddaughter get left out by the Brothers Grimm, and even more aspects of the story get altered as it travels through the centuries until you get Amanda Seyfried having a half-werewolf baby with Shiloh Fernandez in 2011.
In fact, doesn't that sound a lot like Cerise Hood in Ever After High, who is terrified that someone will find out her mom and the Big Bag Wolf got together?
This story continues on the next page.
Each student is a younger incarnation that can be molded by people's imaginations to fit the coming needs of later storytelling. Their parents raise these new incarnations as their own children, eventually sending them off to school, where they can interact with other members of collective fiction and receive scholarly learning regarding the nature of stories.
The main point of conflict in the show is the concept of Royals and Rebels. Royals want to fulfill their destiny to become more or less the same story as their parents, essentially continuing unchanged to raise the next incarnation. Rebels are looking to alter their stories into a new form in order to overwrite their destiny. It's framed as teenage rebellion because nothing on Earth is a more powerful narrative tool than that, but it's actually a sign of a major perception shift in the stories as we all see them.
Raven Queen, for instance, does not want to become the one-dimensional vain villain her mother represented, and that's mirrored in the huge amount of books and other media where we consider the villain's point of view in a different, more positive light. Ashlynn Ella no longer wants to be swept away by a Prince she barely knows but instead to explore a more natural, personal love story that is much more the modern norm. The story is being rewritten by us as our attitudes change.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Whether or not these new paradigms will actively override their previous ones I don't know. You can't kill an idea, after all. If you look at the few current storybook characters that have prominent roles in the show, it seems that it's possible they can exist alongside one another more or less equally. Maddie is the Hatter that kids today need, being basically Pinkie Pie in a cute outfit, but her dad is still the Hatter of major fiction such as the upcoming Through the Looking Glass, where Johnny Depp will play him again. Father and daughter are different only in appearance, not in a fundamental way of perception, much as different versions of Prince Charming are represented in the many siblings that bear the name.
Ever After High isn't just a lighthearted show about finding your own way in a world where your destiny is supposed to be preordained; it's a commentary on the evolution of what we want in a story over the course of history. There's the old story that served a previous time and the new story that can inspire a new generation. That's what Ever After High actually is: the place where the cast of our children's creations go to learn how to be the best, most relevant story they can.