The desire to be considered superior and above the crowd exists in most people. We try to ignore the fact that the majority of us are commoners. From time immemorial stories arise with the promise of reaching status by marrying into a royal family (or the case of Greek legends, marrying a god). The goal is to become the next ruler. This is the draw of mythology and fairy tales that made them so popular with ancient audiences. It is still reflected in innumerable fantasy stories from the twenty-first century.
However acceptance by the royal family (or pantheon) is not easy. The conflict occurs when some vicious person (often related to the royal family) gives the commoner an impossible task. The only way to accomplish this is by magic. So, it helps to make friends with wizards. Similar devices are used in the proliferation of dystopian stories with a happy ending.
What is the difference between fairy tales and dystopian literature? The most recognizable one is fairy tales are set in the past and dystopias are set in the future. However, the government in both cases are ruled by a select few possessing far more power than any humans should have. There are basically no more absolute monarchs in the world, but we have a number of politicians with hopes to become absolute dictators. Dystopian writers draw on past and present dictatorships for their inspiration.
Fairy tales were traditionally read to children. However, the versions that most people know today have been sanitized. They are now lacking the gore and are more appropriate for a young audience. If you are familiar with the original stories collected by the Grimm brothers, you know they were quite grotesque. Perhaps fairy-tales were created for adults, the same audience for which most dystopian novels used to be written.
If you’ve read both of these genres widely enough, you will find the number of vicious despots ruling over kingdoms is similar to the insidious people ruling over dystopian lands. Sometimes, the dystopian rulers mistakenly believe they are providing some benefit to humanity. So, their intentions are not as corrupt as Snow White’s stepmother.
In the modern dystopia aimed at adolescents, we know the commoners will be successful at overthrowing the oppressive government in the end. Often it is a modern technology that resembles sorcery that provides the upper hand in this battle. Sometimes the protagonist simply possesses multiple forms of giftedness. The hero in a dystopian novel almost never marries the heir to the throne, because the future country is ruled by a dictator and not by a wicked king or queen. But, the young hero often ends up in a similar position once the evil power is defeated–being groomed for leadership in the new order.