From The Writers' Room Featuring Bookburners

Andrea Phillips on writing Bookburners S3E10: “Into the Woods”

The original concept for this episode as proposed (…by me) during the summit was “Spooky Forest.”

Now, I’ve always loved fairy tales. The books I remember loving and re-reading ferociously as a small child were collections of fairy stories and folk tales, and my favorites were rarely the ones everybody seems to know about. (If you’re unfamiliar, look up Clever Gretel the cook, with a weakness for crispy chicken wings, which is that rare and delightful thing for children: a story with absolutely no moral and where bad behavior is rewarded.) Later, I moved on from Grimm’s tales to the collected myths of other nations: the Ancient Greeks, of course, but also Russia, Japan, India, even folksy Americana.

This is a little-known True Andrea Fact: I LOVE writing a fractured fairytale. “Spooky Forest” seemed like the perfect time for me to indulge myself. And it was even new-ish terrain! Surprisingly, while the Bookburners have run across werewolves, golems, succubi and other creatures from mythology before, Into the Woods is the first time we’ve done anything much like a traditional European fairy tale.

But while I love the lesser-known fairy tales (like the one where princesses crack a magical walnut and pull a ball gown and dancing slippers from inside it) that seemed like a poor fit for Bookburners. I figured I was better off sticking to one of the more popular stories, and I needed to be able to work within the elements that exist in the story world already. So this one is very obviously Hansel and Gretel, princesses being a little few and far between these days. (Though come to think of it, there might be something to a dancing curse we could use in another season…)

To make Hansel and Gretel more Bookburners-ish and surprising, though, I had to take a number of liberties. For starters, uh, there are no Bookburners in the classic fairy tale. And if they were added into the story, they needed to drive the action, too. That i turn meant that I couldn’t make the breadcrumbs make sense, so I lost them entirely.

And I added, too: the canny reader will observe Baba Yaga’s hut, though I had some trepidation about mixing together Russian and German tales. You may also notice that the stepmother isn’t as villainous as the classic fairy tale would have, either; it’s the magic working, and she feels awful about it afterward. Hey, step-parents can be pretty great and I don’t want to promote anti-step-parent sentiments!

The end result is probably the closest retelling of a fairy tale I’ll ever get away with in my career, and I am tickled that the team let me do even this much. Though who knows, maybe in a future season we’ll meet some princesses who like to dance a little too much. Don’t you want to see Liam dance all night?

P.S.: There’s some graphic and bloody imagery toward the end of this episode, as our attention turns to Hannah’s activities. It may amuse you to know that I don’t consider myself a horror writer and I’m much too squeamish to read horror myself. Given the reactions I usually get to my Bookburners episodes, though? Maybe I’m a born horror writer after all!

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