The final book in the Lunar Chronicles is coming out in a few short days, so I’m in one of my periodic states of agony. To cope, let’s talk about the first 3.5 books, and what Marissa Meyer is and isn’t doing that makes those books successful.
It doesn’t take a fanatic to notice that there are some heavy Sailor Moon references in these books. In fact, I had seen exactly two episodes before reading these books and I still noticed it. There’s a princess from the moon named Selene, and she’s here to save us all from an evil queen with monstrous minions. Her allies are a cadre of young women, and her love is a handsome prince. Yep.
And yet, it works. It works to the tune of 3.5 books (Fairest is more of a novella, and it’s a prequel, but it’s the penultimate book in publishing order, so it’s a bit of an odd duck), a legion of fans, and a movie deal. Why?
First off, mashing up Sailor Moon with fairy tales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White)is pretty ingenious. They’re peanut butter and chocolate (or if you’re me, hazelnut and chocolate); you just want to keep eating. Er, reading. Second, the stories are spot-on, chock-full of action and revelations and creative twists. Third, the writing is solidly satisfying, with just the right hint of pathos.
(Fourth, I should not write while I’m hungry.
In a nutshell (damnit), they’re ideal homages. Which means what, exactly?
- Homages only work when you love the source material. Otherwise they’re satires, or worse, just mean-spirited rip-offs. Meyer obviously loves both fairy tales and Sailor Moon, otherwise the two wouldn’t mesh so seamlessly into her own style. Speaking of which–
- Homages must be sufficiently distinct from the material that inspired them. The author has to put her own unique voice into the material or it will sound flat and sad as wet cardboard. The story as a whole also has to stand on its own merits. Even if they’re better when you know the source material, they can’t use it as a crutch. Otherwise it’s just an unauthorized sequel, a bad fanfic. Like I said, I knew almost nothing about Sailor Moon–but I immediately loved these books
- Homages must be about a new world. It’s no good mimicking the original setting or even the original time period. That gets into slavish imitation territory, and besides, there really isn’t a way to truly and faithfully recreate the zeitgeist of any successful work(s). That time, that place–it’s gone. It’s passed. This is part of why [Sailor Moon Crystal] fails so thoroughly–it relies on stories about floppy discs and video rental places without realizing that that world is long gone. It’s inaccessible to us now, even those of us who lived through it. You can either make a period piece or you can do an homage, but you can’t do both. Meyer doesn’t try to pretend that we’re in 90’s Japan–or medieval Bavaria, for that matter, since we also have the fairy tale elements to contend with. She doesn’t try to shoehorn schoolgirl uniforms or high towers into places they don’t make sense, and she doesn’t rely on our nostalgia for certain places or stories–she remakes them and then makes us care about them all over again.
- Homages must identify one or more things that made the original material successful in the first place, and use those things. It’s no good just loving something; if you don’t understand it, you’ll never do it justice. Sailor Moon isn’t reallyabout fighting the Negaverse and hair dumplings. It’s about very different young women being friends, standing up for themselves and each other, and navigating the confusion and excitement of falling in love. Meyer clearly understand this, since her romance is delightfully starry-eyed, but also well-tempered with girl power. Also the moon. It’s not all themes and metaphors: you can’t do this particular homage without the moon.
On November 10th, with any luck, Marissa Meyer’s going to bring us the moon. Time to stock up on the mochi and settle in for a great homage.