Netflix Is Adapting The School for Good and Evil, So I Read the First Book!

The School for Good and Evil is a middle grade book series released in 2013 with a similar plot to Ever After High and Descendants and with all the ambition of Harry Potter. Considering how popular this fairy tale-inspired series seems to be, I'm surprised I never heard of it until a little over a week ago when I learned that Netflix is turning it into a movie. Perhaps one of the reasons it was so overlooked is its super generic title, which sounds like it could be about literally anything. Most fictional stories are about the battle between good and evil. A better title would have been The School for Princesses and Witches, which would have been more eye-catching to lovers of fairy tales. Maybe the vagueness is good, though, since this book contains many horror elements that could scare off young fairy tale aficionados or particularly sensitive older ones like myself.

The School for Good and Evil cover

When I began reading The School for Good and Evil, I had many questions that were mostly resolved by the end, but not entirely. The author threw around so many contradictory ideas that the school that made no sense, even for a fantasy world. Ever After High, which came out the same year as this book, did a better job of creating a school for fairy tale characters because the classes weren't separated based on who is a "royal" or a "rebel," meaning students could study whatever they wanted just like a real school. The characters were all descendants of the famous ones from storybooks, which eliminated the issue of altering their childhoods. Here, students are kidnapped and forced to attend whichever school is chosen for them whether they want to or not, particularly in the case of Sophie, who spent her entire life dreaming of becoming a princess and is essentially thrown into a prison with a bunch of monsters who debate whether they should kill her or not upon meeting her. This school is also allegedly where every famous fairy tale character got their start including ones like Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, who all spent their childhoods in isolation and abuse. Attending a school where they were supported by friends and teachers should have changed the outcomes of their stories, but that is never addressed here.


Questionable world-building aside, the plot is a mash-up of Wicked and Descendents 3. It focuses on Sophie and Agatha, two girls who are the best of friends but could not be more different. Sophie wears fancy dresses and walks around in glass slippers on a daily basis (ouch), dreaming of the day she'll get kidnapped and begin her fairy tale, while Agatha is a goth recluse who lives in a graveyard and carries around dead animals to remind everyone about the value of life. When Agatha is sent to the "good" school filled with other wannabe princesses and valiant princes while Sophie is sent to the "evil" school and forced to take classes about how to make herself more ugly, Sophie flies into a jealous rampage that leads her down a path befitting of her new school. The book raises many questions about what "good" and "evil" really are by making the good characters shallow and superficial, while the evil characters have an honor system and prefer to be ugly so they can be appreciated for their talents rather than their looks. This makes the mix-up between Sophie and Agatha particularly confusing because Sophie is no different from any of the other girls at the "good" school who probably would have reacted the same way she did if they had been in her place. Meanwhile, Agatha, who is supposed to be "good," refuses to let Sophie live out her dream because of her selfish desire to have her all to herself. While the ambiguity of human nature was the whole point that the author was driving at, it could have been done better if everyone wasn't so fixated on their appearances. If all the villains who attended the school were taught to value ugliness over beauty, how would they explain the jealousy of wicked stepmothers?


I can understand why someone might read this book and think it would make for a good movie. There are a lot of cinematic elements and horror movie imagery reminiscent of the Harry Potter series. Parts of it would need to be toned down if the movie has a similar target audience as the books, 9-12 years old, which I personally think is too young for this series. There were several things that I felt were inappropriate for middle-grade readers, including forced dressing and undressing that I would equate to a minor form of assault. I hate to admit it, but I could tell this book was written by a man due to the gratuitous nudity of young girls as a result of magical transformations as well as the way he viewed girls as being obsessed with their appearances and finding boyfriends and pretty much nothing else. Still, if done right, this story would make for a compelling film. Sophie and Agatha are great characters with equally interesting strengths and weaknesses. Agatha puts up with Sophie's abuse out of her desire to always be with her, while Sophie suffers in a school she never asked to attend and is willing to take down everyone and everything in it to get what she wants. As someone who also dreamed of being a princess, I was a little triggered by the accusations the book threw at her about how wanting to be the heroine of a fairy tale doesn't necessarily make you a good person. The book really got under my skin and made me think even when I wasn't reading it, so I give the author props for that.


There are currently six books in this series, and they are quite long, so I doubt I will be reading the rest. However, I will probably watch the Netflix movie to see how the dark imagery described in the book translates to the screen. There's an interview with the author at the end of this book about it being picked up for a film by Universal Studios back in 2013, but I doubt this is the same movie. I can understand why a well-known studio would have wanted to bring such a visual concept to the screen, so I'm not sure what happened to that version of the film. Netflix probably had to wait a few years to get the rights from Universal once the project was canceled. Considering how risqué Netflix tends to be with their content, I hope no children get traumatized by this film. Even though I was a little traumatized by the book as an adult, I found it to be a thought-provoking experience overall. I recommend The School for Good and Evil series to people who enjoy comics like Fables from Vertigo Comics or Grimm Fairy Tales from Zenescope, which mix the horror elements with well-known fairy tales. The Netflix film does not have a release date yet, but it is said to come out this fall.

Comments

I haven't read the books, but given how it's apparently intense for the 9-12 year old demographic, my guess is that the Netflix adaption (at least from this teaser) is trying to aim it for more of an older audience. While it's not the case for everything out there, a general rule of thumb for teasers and trailers is that the presentation of content can help determine what the target audience is.

If the target audience is specifically young (like say 2-7), then the trailers will usually promote positive values and general good feelings more explicitly. Think like how Nick Jr, Disney Junior, PBS Kids, and many Barbie projects (mainly the Barbie projects since the mid 2010s) advertise things like the power of friendship and all that.

If it's for older kids (like say 7-12), they'll usually highlight the more epic moments (mainly if it has heavy action or fantasy elements) with more moderated comedy (like how Tangled The Series or Glitch Techs are advertised) or really exaggerate the comedy if it's a wacky cartoon (like SpongeBob SquarePants or The Cuphead Show).

If it's for older audiences (older teenagers and adults) and it's not explicitly a comedy, they'll usually highlight the more epic moments and try to pass themselves off as more serious. Think shows like Castlevania, Supernatural Academy, or Invincible.

Based on the more serious nature of this teaser, it seems to want to be more serious and show that it's for older audiences.
Lisa Dawn said…
The target audience doesn't necessarily determine who watches it, especially on a network where anything goes like Netflix.
Lady Culturina said…
It remind me when I critiqued the book on my comment under the "Descendants 3 " article, under my secondary account of "The lady of royal manners". Then, I imagined that if "The school for good and evil" shall be adapted, it could be with modern day teenagers instead being born in Gavaldon, but it look like this aspect will be kept. Anyway...I read all the books or so. You can feel that the author actually had difficulty to keep the story going on after a definitive end.

-Second novel: a war between girls and boys
-Third novel: Everyone is compelled to be a villain (and once again you feel it could have ended here)
-Fourth novel: Wandering the world outside of the school (like in "Harry Potter", bad idea)
-Fifth novel: Same
-Sixth: Focalizes on the "tale" of the main characters (with Tedros succeeding to his father)

What disturbed me, as a princess lover, is while thrilled to be in a school like the one of good, the behaviour of students there imply that princesses are superficial and mean, and it is superficial and mean if you wish to be one. The question is, how will it be approached in the movie.
Lisa Dawn said…
Even the first book wouldn't have needed to exist if the schools were actually "good" or "evil" because then the schools wouldn't have had all those contradictions, and Sophie probably would have ended up in the right school all along. Plus, you'd think not all the girls who wound up in the "good" school would be princess types. Some would be warriors and heroines are aren't obsessed with their looks. Even Ever After High had Darling Charming.
Lady Culturina said…
Exactly! Ever After high is a good example of the royal school trope (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RoyalSchool, I wrote the entry, by the way). But Good scroll is presented as sexist (lessons are not co educational like in Evil) and women have a passive role (only boys are warriors and heroes), where being a princess is the best you can be. Soman Chainani certainly view tales as sexists, but I would not be so categorical.
Lisa Dawn said…
I love that Sofia the First is featured there. Royal Prep is probably the ideal school for future fairy tale characters because it has a positive and inclusive environment that teaches students everything they need to know to survive an attack from a wicked villain. Sophie has a similar personality to Princess Amber, so she would fit right in.
Anonymous said…
Hi! I am not sure if you will know the answer to this but I know you have published books before. I am working on writing two stories, one is a generic princess book so I am not too worried about it but the other is based on Disney Princes. How would it work getting the Disney Prince book published? I know Disney has a lot of copyrights on their characters and stories. Do you think it wouldn’t be worth it to finish writing the books? Thank you!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Anonymous,

You are correct that companies own the intellectual properties to their characters. Therefore, if you intend to write something for profit, you are only legally allowed to use your own original characters, unless, of course, Disney were to hire you to write for them under contract. If you have a work you want to publish that uses copyrighted characters, the best place to do that would be a website like fanfiction.net. Let me know if you have any other questions and have a great weekend!

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