Beasts and Beauty Author Soman Chainani Deconstructs Fairytales with Modern Lessons in New Book
The Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales author, 42, tells PEOPLE about what inspired the collection of classic fairytales, which navigates some of today's most relevant themes like racial trauma, sexual assault, and immigration.
He explains that some of the most common versions of fairytales lead readers to "believe in this very black-and-white version of good or evil. Either you're the good guy or the bad guy, and you're one or the other. And there's no nuance. And I think it affects our politics. I think it affects the way we treat each other. I think it just doesn't leave that understanding that we are everything, and there's a balance and there's an exchange."
Chainani previously debuted in 2013 with the first in his six-book series The School for Good and Evil, all of which have made the New York Times Bestseller List. He prides himself on building a magical fictional world that exists with "no labels."
As a gay man, an Indian-American, and a self-proclaimed lover of fairytales, he decided to use his next book to explore that familiar genre. The finished product includes 11 fables for women, BIPOC, LGBTQ folk, immigrants, and those who didn't feel "represented" in the original tales.
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In Beasts and Beauty, he deconstructs such stories as Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood "as if they were set in those times, but had an eye to the future."
"I think it was just about going back to the original Grimm stories and seeing why they were written in the first place. Not looking at the Disney stories, but the actual original tales," Chainani explains. "What were these survival guides to life we were teaching?"
In his version of Snow White, Chainani also mines his personal experience as an Indian-American, who was one of the few kids of color at his Florida grade school. His adaptation is about the only Black girl in her kingdom "being such an outsider and having to find your own self-worth."
"You really feel like an alien. You have nothing to fit into. You just feel like you don't belong, and it's very difficult to accept yourself. And I think fairytales is where I kept going back to because something about them is comforting," Chainani explains. "But I think there always was this longing to, as an outsider, find the rules of the world I lived in. And as I got older, I started to realize, well, I need to rewrite those roles."
Chainani's new book comes as The School for Good and Evil is being adapted for Netflix in a movie starring Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Michelle Yeoh, and Laurence Fishburne, helmed by director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favor, Last Christmas).
"I just think the experience has been incredible because Paul's been so collaborative. I spent a lot of time on set, and it really is just a very faithful, intense, huge fantasy adaptations of these books," Chainani says. "We're hoping it gives Netflix the franchise it deserves. But I think it's one of the biggest movies they've ever made, and it certainly looks it. I think people are going to be quite taken away by it."
Soman Chainani's new book Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales is now available through HarperCollins Publishing.
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