If you know anything about me, then you know that I have a long-standing love affair with the words (and works!) of Gail Carson Levine. She was my first favorite author, starting when I stole my older sister’s copy of The Fairy’s Mistake. (I’ve told that story so many times that I’m no longer sure if it’s true.) One of my earliest memories of writing is of me, a child of nine or ten, in the basement clutching a notebook, scribbling words about princesses (named for my sisters and I) and fairies. So when I say that Gail Carson Levine is the reason I became a writer, it’s not an exaggeration.
As such, I had only one childhood dream: To Meet Gail Carson Levine. Whatever else happened in my life was negotiable.
Well, friends: I finally did it.
Levine is on tour promoting her most recent title, The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, a prequel to her much-loved Two Princesses of Bamarre. When I heard that this tour was bringing her to a Barnes and Noble in Rockville, Maryland, I decided that I would be there, come Hell or high water.
Lost Kingdom takes place hundreds of years before Two Princesses–so, obviously, those of us who have read Two Princesses have one question: Is the story of Drualt true? According to Levine, “Nobody knows if [it’s] mythology or history… I wanted to find out.” So she turned to Rapunzel.
“I am a writer who is very interested in plot,” says Levine, “and I am very bad at plot. And that is why I turn to fairytales.” Where Lost Kingdom is concerned, Levine says that Rapunzel “kind of gave me a scaffold to hang my story on.”
That being said, Levine feels that “the Rapunzel story peters out a s soon as the prince flops off the tower.” So, what’s an author to do? “I bring in the Exodus part of Moses’ story… My elevator pitch for this book is ‘Rapunzel meets Moses.'”
This isn’t the first time that Levine has turned to the Bible for inspiration: in Ever, she lifts the framework from the story of Jephthah (found in Judges), who returns from war and promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees as an offering to God. Of course, the first thing he sees turns out to be his daughter. Kezi’s story runs much the same course.
(I would be lying if I told you that I have not been wondering about this since Ever came out.)
When asked how she encountered the Bible and its manifold inspirations, Levine said she was not raised religious. “We’re Jewish, but in a secular sort of way. My father was a Sephardic Jew… and I’ve wanted to write about that for a long time. But without any religious education, I didn’t feel like I could. I read the Bible like a savage–meaning that I read it without any religious background, and without anyone else interpreting it for me. I had only the words of the Bible itself–and I often wasn’t sure I understood them.”
“In Ever, I really thought [Kezi] was going to be sacrificed, but I temperamentally couldn’t do it.”
Now, Levine is hoping to write a children’s book about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. When she polled the audience for who would read such a thing, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “You’ll follow me wherever I go,” quipped Levine. “Good to know.”
When asked about her favorite books from her childhood, Levine cited such titles as Peter Pan, Anne of Green Gables, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. “You guys are in a golden age of children’s literature,” she said, “and I lived in a desert age of children’s literature.” That being said, her love of fairy tales began very young, with an illustrated collection of stories and verse. Nowadays, however, her favorite fairytales can be found in Andrew Lang’s color-coded series of Fairy Books. “They are the tales stripped down; they’re not interpreted,” and, according to Levine, they’re excellent for inspiration.Can we hope to see any new releases from her in the near future? Our Barnes and Noble host mentioned a forthcoming Levine-authored musical, Spacenapped–although the rest of us forgot to ask for more information. Look for the Playbill on Broadway for me?
Levine says that she’s in edits for a prequel to her most widely loved novel, Ella Enchanted. “I was trying to name Lost Kingdom, and they [the staff at HarperCollins, Levine’s publisher] wanted the title to have the word ‘enchanted’ or the word ‘princess’–and neither of those words fit this book. So I said, ‘You know what? You want a book with enchanted? I’ll give it to you!’ So it’s called Ogre Enchanted.” Levine predicts at least two years before publication–a small price to pay for a genderbent Beauty and the Beast tale.