If you haven’t heard about the After Happily Ever After anthology,this interview series is a front row seat into the creative minds of the authors who have re-envisioned the fairy tale world beyond the final credits. Daniel Kimmel brings to bear his background in law and film criticism and how difficult it is for witches to eat children these days without running afoul of the law.
I’m fascinated by authors who have backgrounds in other disciplines and professions. You’re also a film critic and a graduate of Boston University School of Law. What attracts a law school graduate — an experience filled with many hours of reading briefs, no doubt — to the fiction world? How does the world of law and the world of storytelling collide for you?
I only practiced law for a few years after graduating, and shifted into writing and teaching. I found people were surprised and said I had too much of a sense of humor for an attorney. So I decided they were right.
My legal education has been mostly useful in my non-fiction, in news stories and in my book on FOX Broadcasting (The Fourth Network) where my understanding of contracts and court proceedings gave me a handle on some complicated matters. I briefly did a humor column for a lawyer’s paper. In one column about covering trials like sporting events I did an interview with the jury foreman as a personality feature. I made up a name which turned out to be the name of a sitting judge. He called to complain, thinking I was making fun of him, and I explained it was inadvertent. I could run a retraction, I added, but wouldn’t that just call more attention to it? He grumbled that I was probably right.
In my story for After Happily Ever After I hit on the idea of a lawsuit developing out of the Hansel and Gretel story, with the witch appealing a decision against her. They story is written very much in the style of an appellate ruling, complete with citations. All of the citations but one, by the way, are totally made up.
How did you start writing?
I was writing and making up stories almost from the time I was learning to read and write. By high school I did humor columns and film reviews for the school paper, the columns very much influenced by Art Buchwald and Russell Baker, two of the premiere political humorists of the day. I couldn’t not write. When I took the English Regents (statewide final exams), it included a list of ten topics from which we were to select on to write an essay. I chose the last one, “Searching.” My essay was about searching through a list of essay topics to decide which one I should do. I then proceeded to make fun of each of the topics on the list. When I got to “Searching” my take was perhaps I could do an essay on searching through a list of possible essay topics. And I concluded, “Nah, that’ll never work.”
Can you tell us what the creative process is like for you?
I imagine that you had an array of fairy tales to choose from which must have many legal implications. Tell us why the Hansel and Gretel story drew your interest, and why not, say, a defamation suit against Cinderella by the ugly stepsisters?
I start with an idea. I need to know where I’m going with a story, even if the details change along the way. For my new novel due out in early 2017, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, the idea was to skewer every cliché of the time travel story that I could think of, from meeting your parents before they were married to going into the future to trying to stop an assassination to a love story spanning decades.
For “Witch v. Hansel, Gretal, et. al.” I wondered what might lead the witch to challenge a finding that she shouldn’t have tried to bake and eat the children And I thought of the real life Hobby Lobby case, where the Supreme Court decided that a corporation had religious rights that overrode the individual rights of its employees. Along with many I think it was an outrageous and wrongly decided case. And so I set up a situation where the witch had incorporated and had the religious belief that baking and eating miscreant children was a good thing. Once I had that, it was a matter of following the model of a court decision: laying out the facts, defining the issues, examining the precedents, and then ruling on the matter.
As a film critic, you must notice trends in the storytelling medium — fantasy and fairy tales have been ascendant in the culture for the past fifteen years or so. Do you have any thoughts on these trends? Do you suppose the love of fantasy is slowing down any time soon?
I think the success of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” movies, among others, indicate that we’ll continue to see fantasy on screen. The old Hollywood joke is that it’s a town where everyone wants to be first in line to be second. If something’s a hit, the knockoffs, copycats, and – yes – original films will soon be in the pipeline.
As for my thoughts, they’re mixed. I’ve enjoyed the “Potter” films, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” and the dark fantasies of director Guillermo del Toro. On the other hand I’m thrilled that the Tolkien estate is not inclined to sell any more film rights because I found “Lord of the Rings” to be as tiresome as the books. With the bloated three film series of “The Hobbit,” I was surprised to find a character I actually found interesting. It turns out she was a character invented for the movies and didn’t derive from the original novel.
One of my favorite fantasy films of recent times was the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” which – in its imaginative look at what happens after the story ends, is the perfect companion to After Happily Ever After.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a film critic and graduate of Boston University School of Law. He writes on science fiction films for Space and Time Magazine. He was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies. His first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My misadventures in time travel will be out in early 2017.
A first look at Witch v. Hansel, Gretel, et. al.
In the instant case, Appellant Witch is a Delaware corporation formed in 1993. Under its articles of incorporation, the purposes of the corporation include the promulgation of its religious beliefs, including the baking and eating of “bad children.” Such children are defined as, but are not limited to, those who eat, in whole or part, the houses belonging to or maintained by members of said corporation. Under this reading, argues Appellant, punishing Witch for her actions is an act that is impermissible due to its infringement on her right to the “free exercise of religion.” Appellant argues that if said verdict is permitted to stand the courts will have embarked upon the slippery slope where placing curses, creating magical potions, or burying the heart of an enemy at the crossroads at midnight might be similarly questioned or prohibited.