By Lucia Stein
The authors of a new fairtyale book about two men falling in love are hoping to shift cultural attitudes towards the LGBTI community and prevent teens from being bullied to death.
Promised Land was released on Valentine’s Day and tells the story of a prince named Leo and a farm boy named Jack who meet in an enchanted forest, become friends and fall in love.
“We were sick of reading stories of teenagers killing themselves after being bullied about being gay,” co-author Chaz Harris told the ABC.
Mr Harris, who is based in New Zealand, said the tragic loss of Australian teenager Tyrone Unsworth last year as a result of homophobic bullying was something that the pair hoped to prevent in the future with their book.
“What happened to Tyrone could happen to any gay teen,” he said, adding that he himself was severely bullied in high school for his sexuality.
“Any LGBTI teen who has experienced bullying in school looks at what happened [to Tyrone] and thinks that could have been me.
“If you don’t have that support around you, if you don’t have those positive messages coming through, it makes it hard.
“So my initial reaction was that you identify with it, you think that could have been me, and that’s what we’re trying to change with our book. We’re hoping to show that love is love, so that things like this don’t happen.”
Mr Harris and co-author Adam Reynolds turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund the illustration, design and printing of the book last year.
After raising well over the required $NZ25,000 ($22,500), the pair set about making their book into reality, using the additional funds to create an audiobook.
"We weren't really represented in the types of stories you usually read growing up. So it was something I became passionate about," Mr Harris said.
'Where was this when I was a kid?'
Most of the scenes for the fairytale had been outlined before production, but the pair were forced to delay the release of the book from the original October date due to a death in the family.
The move made the pair nervous about how it would be received but Mr Harris says the reaction so far has been "great".
"To have people you don't know read it and take something away from it or tell you that they thought it was wonderful — it's a great feeling," he said.
"People have come out and said this is what we needed. This guy in the US told his friend who is gay about the book and after the friend read it he told him to thank us for writing this.
"I heard another story of a man in the UK commenting 'where was this when I was a kid?' … hearing things like that are really powerful."
Mr Harris admits there are always detractors and some have criticised the book for being "sexual".
"Some people have come out with some really odd ideas about what the book is about. They say it is sexual … but there is no sex in the book," he said.
"It is about the love between two men. The boys meet as adolescents and become best friends … it isn't until they are older that they realise that their friendship might be something more.
"In that way it promotes a much healthier relationship rather than the 'love at first sight' storylines that are common in other fairytales."
More than one meaning
Mr Harris also said the book has inspired debate over other issues.
"We found that with things that weren't meant to be politically-charged [in the fairytale] became politically-charged," he said.
"Things like land ownership, having empowered female characters in the book sparked some debate as well."
The female characters in particular have been recognised for breaking traditional gender roles.
"There are no damsels in distress in our book," he said.
"In fact its quite the opposite — one woman is a sword-wielding bad ass."
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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