When it was originally broadcast, ‘The Tenth Kingdom’ was the first time I had ever encountered the classic fairy tales I had grown up with retold in an more modern manner. Thankfully I had grown up reading Grimm fairy tales (though I know they were watered down versions), so I wasn’t as shocked as I probably would have been if I’d only known Disney. It also came out before Lord of the Rings hit the cinema, so to be able to see fantasy on any screen was highly unusual until Peter Jackson made it cool. For those of us who had already been cool, The Tenth Kingdom was a way for our escapism to have a format beyond books and comics. It was a revelation that fantasy could be on TV and that it could be amazing to watch.
The Tenth Kingdom is a grittier retelling of the classic fairy tales, but the magical world of the Nine Kingdoms in which these stories came from have moved on two centuries in history since the original tales took place. The Kingdoms of Snow White and Red Riding Hood are now ruled over by their descendants. The trolls live in the ruins of the beanstalks and the dwarves live in their mines. The glory of the golden age is over, with only Cinderella being the surviving Queen of those good old days. The Nine Kingdoms are a dark and dangerous place for two New Yorkers to find themselves.
Virginia and her father Tony, who live a unhappy life in New York (named as the Tenth Kingdom) have their lives disrupted by the sudden arrival of Prince Wendall, who on visiting his wicked Stepmother in prison gets turned into a dog, and pursued into the Tenth Kingdom (via a magic mirror) by three children of the Troll King and Wolf, another prisoner who the evil Queen sets free herself because she has little confidence in the Trolls.
The first part of the mini series is set in New York, where the trolls get themselves locked in a magical spell cast by the powerful witch Virginia. At least that’s what they think; in truth she locks them in an elevator with a tendency to break. Her father Tony ends up under the influence of a bean that can grant him any wish he desires, though with hilarious and damming consequences. The last wish, the only one he uses without thinking greedily is for him to understand Wendall the Dog, when his storyline meets Virginia’s again.
She’s had to deal with the problem of running over a dog that seems to be more than a dog, while the trolls pursue her, but more troubling for her she has to deal with the advances of Wolf who on picking up her scent falls deeply and madly in love with her. Unfortunately for him, showing that is difficult when he ties up her grandmother and is about to roast her in the oven.
The hour set in New York is incredibly ridiculous, but it is well worth watching in order to understand where Tony and Virginia come from, because knowing that makes their character development in the rest of the series all the more heartbreaking but also beautiful. When I first watched the Tenth Kingdom as a teenager I was swept away by the romance story between Virginia and Wolf, probably because what I desired out of a relationship was for someone to be that dedicated to me as Wolf is to Virginia. He rescues her from the Troll Kingdom; he guides her through the Disenchanted Forest under the curse of a Gypsy who has turned her into the next Rapunzel. He might struggle with his wolfish instinct in the village of Bo Peep’s descendants, but while he had been originally recruited to serve the Evil Queen, his over-ridding desire is to protect Virginia, and in the sidelines Tony and Wendall.
Being older now, I do actually find Wolf a great deal more predatory, more primal and a bit more creepy. However while he doesn’t take a straight ‘leave me alone’ as a good answer, and he does carry on trying to prove himself to Virginia, in truth he doesn’t overstep boundaries he shouldn’t and he does develop as a character who does earn her respect, because he does all of the above and proves himself by being there when she needs him the most.
What actually annoys me more about the relationship is Virginia’s attitude. In the opening scene she claims she’s just waiting for a man so that she can open a restaurant with him. Why can’t she do that herself? Also apart from when she pushes Wolf out of a window, she doesn’t pull him up on his behaviour towards her. He mainly learns how to treat a women better from the therapy books he picks up while in New York. He doesn’t really learn it from her, and he should.
Her character development is about a women who lacks self-confidence finding out that she does have the courage and the guts to deal with a new world and with old demons that come back to haunt her. She does do the majority of that though with Wolf at her side, until the very end when only she can save herself. My only problem with the character is that she doesn’t really want to save herself, and it is only instinct in the end that actually manages it.
That small criticism aside, The Tenth Kingdom is a wonderfully imagined world of dark fairy tales, with lots of tension and heartbreak woven around good natured humour. I loved it as a teenager, and I still adore the imagination that went into it’s creation. It was just a shame they never made the sequel.