Ellen Byron

Are cozy mysteries modern fairy tales?

For my sixteen-year-old daughter and me, the TV show Once Upon a Time is appointment viewing. (To be honest, we both have a crush on Hook, aka Guyliner. He’s so cute!!!!)

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As we watched the show a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that cozy mysteries have a lot in common with fairy tales. In both, the hero or heroine’s mission is to  identify and triumph over evil, usually aided by quirky sidekicks. The locations are often beautiful and appealing – a kingdom for a fairy tale, a pastoral village in the case of many cozies. (See below for another picture of Hook for absolutely no reason whatsoever…)

abae35cbd5287041fa774fcfbae5b308.jpgEven when the setting is a real location, in a cozy it’s imbued with a gloss you won’t find in a suspense or noir novel. The gritty Manhattan of Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper is a 180 from Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy. Yes, Rhy’s series is historical, but I don’t think it would be any grittier had she used a contemporary setting.

I began thinking about the hero’s journey, the broad template for fairy tales and mythology as espoused  by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). Here’s how he defined it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2]

If you take this definition at its most basic level, I think it applies to a lot of cozies. Take my Cajun Country Mystery series. My protagonist, Maggie, is an amateur sleuth who summons the power within herself to solve murders that threaten to ruin her family. In each book, she overcomes all obstacles and wins “decisive” victories.

So there you have it – the subject of my Masters thesis, should I ever get my act together and go for an advanced degree. In the meantime, one last look at Hook. Sigh…

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Readers, what do you think about my theory that cozies are modern day fairy tales?

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10 thoughts on “Are cozy mysteries modern fairy tales?

  1. Ellen, I think part of the reason cozies are so popular is seeing that ordinary people can play the hero. And the bad guy always gets caught — which doesn’t necessarily happen in real life. Heroes and happy endings? Sounds like a fairy tale to me!
    How had I missed handsome actor Colin O’Donaghue? (Yes, I was intrigued enough to look up his name — and I’m generally lazy 😉

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  2. I hadn’t really given this much thought before, but your argument makes a lot of sense. Especially to this huge DisNerd.

    And I think I’ve told you, but I am also a huge Oncer. Have been since episode 1, which means it wasn’t Hook that grabbed me. Last night’s episode? Didn’t end the way I feared, but the writers are brilliant and I can’t wait to see how they resolve it.

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  3. Mark, we’re two episodes behind. (Thanks a lot, Eliza’s homework!) We just finished the one where Hook doesn’t get rid of the scissors that end Emma being the savior. (Duh. Like he was ever going to throw out those scissors.) You’ll appreciate this. We have to make sure we don’t watch the episodes too late, because Eliza gets so amped up by them she can’t sleep!!

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  4. In the book, “Girl Sleuth on the Couch: the mystery of Nancy Drew,” the author shows how Nancy’s mysteries fit the hero’s journey to a T. The author’s right! My cozies follow this same template, although I’m sure it’s not too obvious.

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