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Harvard Grad Chainani Discusses Fantasy Book Series

New York Times bestselling author Soman S. Chainani ’01 shared his experiences as a writer and discussed his children’s fantasy trilogy “The School For Good and Evil” on Tuesday during Folklore and Mythology 128: “Fairy Tale, Myth, and Fantasy Literature” in Harvard Hall.

Maria Tatar, the chair of the Committee on Degrees in Folklore and Mythology, spoke of her relationship with Chainani during her introduction.

Soman Chainani
Soman S. Chainani ’01, author of the children’s fantasy trilogy “The School for Good and Evil,” spoke during Folklore and Mythology 128: “Fairy Tale, Myth, and Fantasy Literature” on Tuesday afternoon. He discussed his inspiration, which stems from using Disney conventions as a backdrop against which to build a new set of sensibilities in his fairytale-inspired novels.

“Back in 1997, Soman was in my freshman seminar, and as you can imagine he was precocious, passionate, and irreverent,” Tatar said. “I knew he was destined for greatness, so I was not surprised when a few years ago I received a typed script of his book which was going to be published.”

Chainani spoke about how his childhood, and Disney movies in particular, influenced his interest in fairy tales.

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“I think it was that jarring gap between the Disney movies I grew up with and the original stories they were based on that ultimately made me start to question what kids in the U.S. grow up with,” Chainani said. “This gap is what drove me to see if there was a way that I could spin a new kind of fairy tale that isn’t a retelling of an older one.”

Chainani, a former Crimson editor, said he always wanted to tell stories, but started out as a pharmaceutical consultant after graduating from Harvard. He then enrolled in a film program at Columbia before writing scripts full time in Hollywood.

“I ended up writing the treatment for a movie that then became a novel, that then became a screenplay,” Chainani said.

He believes that often, heroes and villains are essentially the same character, a concept he tried to highlight in his books.

“If you ever read a fairy tale quite closely, you’ll realize that neither are happy in their current condition, and both are looking for an identity outside of themselves,” Chainani said.

Prerna C. Bhat ’16, who attended the discussion, said that Chainani’s experiences were reassuring to students who are exploring unconventional career paths.

“As students who are trying to figure out what we want to do, hearing about a life path that wasn’t necessarily straightforward was really cool to have,” Bhat said.

Each book in the series debuted on the NYT Bestseller List, and the series has been translated into 26 languages. Universal Studios is expected to release a film adaptation of the first book in 2017.

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