It’s unfortunate that many books with LGBT+ content are getting banned or censored even in the present day. Hence, it is no surprising that there are fairy tales that history forgot – or concealed. Tales in which gender is fluid and where queer stories can have a happy ending. Pete Jordi Wood sets out to do a collection that honours 10 of such stories, and Tales From Beyond the Rainbow is as important as it is beautiful. We are honoured to chat with Pete today about the inspiration and research behind this collection.
What do you think makes LGBTQ+ fairy tales more interesting than LGBTQ+ myths and legends?
LGBTQ+ fairy tales are OUR tales…. They belong to us, the ordinary “folk”, and usually have protagonists who are also ordinary people, like you and me. Myths and legends often revolve around gods and powerful figures. There’s also a lot more scholarship and books written about queer mythology and legends, whist I was drawn to researching queer fairy tales because the scholarship is so limited. Ultimately Fairy tales belong to our collective folklore and showcase the extraordinary within the lives of everyday individuals, making them so special and captivating.
Why did you decide to adapt these stories for younger readers instead of adults?
We always envisaged this as a classic collection of fairy tales that we hope will appeal to both adults and younger readers, because that goes hand in hand with fairy tales in general which have always had this magic ability to become beloved by readers young and old. But it’s such an honour to see this book published under the Puffin Classics banner…. I think younger readers who love Puffin books today are just open to diversity and different perspectives more than any other generation before them. By introducing LGBTQ+ themes in traditional fairy tales, we promote empathy and acceptance within the next generation, providing children and young adults with narratives that reflect the world’s diversity, as well as their own myriad experiences. It’s also just so hopeful and important to show LGBTQ+ characters were celebrated as heroes in historical tales. It’s a common misconception they were always vilified or seen as taboo and these tales prove otherwise. I wish I had a book like this when I was a young teenager coming to terms with my sexuality… I guess that’s why I wrote it…. It’s a gift to my younger self really.
What was your biggest worry when you first decided to create Tales from Beyond the Rainbow? And did it materialize? How did you overcome it?
My biggest worry was finding enough LGBTQ+ tales to finish the book since they are so rare! However, through research, I discovered a treasure trove of stories from diverse cultures, which reinforced the importance of seeking and amplifying these narratives. We actually had to cut a few from the anthology as we had too many and focused on our ten favourites.
Picking just 10 stories must have been difficult. How did you decide upon these 10 stories?
I really aimed for diverse cultural representation whilst at the same time reflecting different lived experiences within the LGBTQ+ community. It was impossible to represent every shade of the rainbow of LGBTQ+ experiences in just ten stories that also offered a broad representation of cultures, but I think we have curated a selection that illustrates how diverse LGBTQ+ fairy tales from history are. Emotional resonance and potential connections with younger readers also played a significant role in the final selection…. I mean, these stories had to feature some badass LGBTQ+ characters being heroes, sheroes, theyroes and queeroes, leading the way in awesome, compelling adventures…. that was the most important aspect of all when it came to choosing the final ten.
You picked stories from different corners of the world. Did you notice any interesting patterns?
Some previous scholarship documented LGBTQ+ elements in European folklore, but I also found some much lesser-known LGBTQ+ tales from Europe as well as Africa and Asia. These findings underscored the universality of queer experiences in storytelling traditions worldwide, emphasizing that LGBTQ+ characters can be heroes, wherever they are from in the world, and beyond borders. It was very moving and enlightening to learn that countries that currently do not have a very good reputation when it comes to LGBTQ+ human rights actually have folk tales in their own histories, which we highlight in our collection, that honour LGBTQ+ characters.
You worked with a huge team, from illustrators to authenticity readers. Can you share something you learned from working with them?
Collaborating with such an enormous, diverse team was just so enriching. Aside from me, about 30 illustrators, authenticity readers, editors and designers worked on this book and to be able to say we are a team that is predominantly LGBTQ+ and POC is just such a special thing to have been a part of. I learned so much from working with people from such a diverse range of backgrounds and lived experiences and it was honestly just a huge honour to work with this team, and also super fun! I really learned the power of authentic representation and also how art enhances storytelling. Our amazing team of Illustrators brought the characters in the fairy tales to life, while all of our awesome authenticity readers ensured respectful cultural and LGBTQ+ representation, making the stories more authentic and relatable and just… way better and REAL than I could have ever achieved alone. They really are a Dream Team of talented individuals, each and every one.
If you could retell a classic fairy tale with an LGBTQ+ spin, which would it be?
While my focus right now is on unearthing lost authentic fairy tale stories with diverse representation, if I were to choose a classic fairy tale to “retell”, it would be “Jack the Giant Killer” from Cornwall. Transforming it into a tale embracing diverse gender identities and same-sex love would create a powerful narrative of acceptance and self-discovery, and it’s a story close to home for me because I’m from Cornwall!