Once upon a time there was a happily married couple whose only sorrow was that they did not have a child. Then one day, they learn the woman is pregnaOnce upon a time there was a happily married couple whose only sorrow was that they did not have a child. Then one day, they learn the woman is pregnant and the sorrow is replaced with joy. The wife liked to sit by the window overlooking a beautiful walled garden owned by a sorceress. One day she saw an abundant bed of the herb rapunzel, and a great need to eat some overcome her. Telling her husband she will die if she doesn't have some, he dutifully climbs down into the garden and steals some. But it's not enough, and the next day he goes back - and is caught by the sorceress.
On explaining his problem to her, she tells him he can take the rapunzel, but in exchange she will take their baby when it is born. She names the child Rapunzel, and raises her in isolation in the wilderness. When Rapunzel turns twelve, the sorceress takes her through the forest and puts her in a tall, narrow tower with no door and only one window, high up. It's a magic tower, and spacious inside, but Rapunzel is sealed off from the world. To get inside, the sorceress calls out "Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your hair", and she climbs it.
One day a prince discovers the tower and is curious; he has heard rumours of a fabled beauty trapped inside. He hides in the forest and witnesses the sorceress's method for gaining access. When the sorceress is gone, he calls out to Rapunzel to lower her hair and climbs inside, giving her the shock of her life. But he's nice and friendly and soon they become lovers and Rapunzel falls pregnant. The sorceress, on discovering that Rapunzel has betrayed her, cuts off her hair and sends her out into the wilderness to perish. Instead, Rapunzel survives and has not one baby but twins, a boy and a girl.
Meanwhile, when the prince returns to the tower and calls out to Rapunzel to lower her hair, the sorceress hooks the shorn hair to the window and confronts him at the top of the tower. She tells him Rapunzel is lost to him forever, and in shock and despair he falls. He doesn't die, but he is blinded and weak, and stumbles for months through the wilderness until, lo! he hears Rapunzel's voice and finds her. Her tears of joy fall onto his face and his blindness is cured. Together with their two children they return to the town and the king's palace, where they live happily ever after.
"Rapunzel" wasn't a story I really read as a kid - I didn't have my own copy, or a beloved version. I knew the story in a vague way, but I don't know if that's because Rapunzel tropes and distinctive symbols crop up so much in our society and culture (like a lot of other fairy tales and Shakespeare plays). In short, I can't actually say with any certainty whether I read the story as a child or not. As an adult with a young child of my own, I suddenly became interested in collecting really good editions of fairy tales and other classic stories - hence my lovely Robert Ingpen-illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and others.
Finding a good edition of fairy tales is a harder task, though. Ideally, I wanted to browse through book shops and check out the version quality (text) and the illustrations, before committing to buying any. Sadly, the bookshops only had rather trite and silly, or Disneyfied, editions, collections of heavily abridged stories in "bedtime" volumes. So I took a gamble on Paul O Zelinsky's beautifully illustrated retelling, buying it without being able to check it out first.
And it is a beautiful rendering of the story of Rapunzel. I wanted a version that hadn't been made cutesy or had the darkness removed from it - fairy tales should be dark stories, they were originally moralistic, cautionary warning tales, after all. Zelinsky's illustrations are vivid and richly detailed, colourful and patterned yet still broody and full of atmosphere. (I do find the prince's mullet to be a bit off-putting, though!) The story reads well, though in typical fairy tale fashion, plot holes abound. You just have to take those in stride; realism was never the point of a fairy tale, though Zelinsky (whose is "the son of a mathematics professor and a medical illustrator" according to his Goodreads page) provides a lot of precision in his illustrations, which also have the feel of classic Italian paintings. The illustrations are both real and romantic; as an adult I feel that they don't really capture the human emotions or fill in any gaps in the story, but I also feel that as a child I would have been drawn to this style of illustration (I liked the precise and finely detailed, like intricate mazes and Where's Wally? pictures).
Not having anything to compare it to, though, I can't offer an opinion on this retelling over others. I've given you an abridged run-down of Zelinsky's retelling above, and I'd love to hear how it compares to other versions that you've read. This is just the kind of edition I was looking for, and it has a three-page "note" at the back about the history of the story and its history, and the alterations its undergone over the centuries, which is by far the more fascinating part of the story for me! My young son, however, is quite interested in the story itself, and I hope it will be one he (and any sibling he may have) can enjoy for years to come....more
Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loviMonday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living, But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day Is blithe and bonny and good and gay.
Sunday is the youngest of the Woodcutter children, with six older sisters and two brothers, plus an adopted Fey brother, crammed into a house that resembles a boot. The eldest son, Jack, had, long ago, gone to work at the palace where, so the story goes, he had been cursed in punishment for kicking Prince Rumbold's dog. Sunday doesn't really know what happened after that, only that there is a deep animosity for the royal family from her parents.
She never expects to meet anyone from the royal family, of course. Life is full and busy enough as it is at home. She snatches moments of peace to go with her notebook to the pond to write in solitude. Sunday loves to write stories, but she long ago discovered that whatever she writes has a tendency to come true, so now she's careful to only write of things that have already happened. Still, she feels she has a boring life, and as the child named for Sunday, she is graced with cheerfulness - another trait she feels make her less interesting, especially compared to her colourful sisters.
Monday married a handsome prince after spending a night on a pile of mattresses through which she could feel a pea; Tuesday danced herself to death in a pair of enchanted slippers; Wednesday is strange and distracted and spends most of her time gazing at the moon and thinking; Thursday left to join her pirate husband as captain of a ship, sailing around the world and periodically sending back marvellous gifts; Friday is full of generosity and selfless deeds, making clothes for orphaned children; and Saturday works hard on the farm with her father and other brother, wielding an axe.
It is a magical family - more so than Sunday ever realised, when her fairy godmother, Aunt Joy, arrives to present them with gifts, and train Sunday. Prince Rumbold has announced three consecutive nights of balls, to which every single young woman in the land has been invited, and so the unmarried Woodcutter sisters must all attend. At the palace, all is not right for the prince. Still recovering from having been turned into a frog, and anxious over whether Sunday will recognise him or love him still, he is haunted by the shade of his deceased mother. His unnaturally youthful-looking father, the king whose name has been forgotten, has decided the balls present an excellent opportunity for him to find a new wife. When, on the night of the first ball, the king sets his sights on one of the Woodcutter girls, Rumbold becomes increasingly aware that there is something very wrong with his father, and hence the kingdom.
This is a retelling of not just one fairy tale, but several, all seamlessly and excitingly meshed together. Sunday lives in fairytale world, a fantasy land not unlike Neil Gaiman's Stardust or Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, but unlike other, similar-style Fantasy stories, Kontis has borrowed straight from classic fairy tales rather than invent something new. And for the most part, it works. Some other reviewers have remarked that it can feel too crowded, and I have to agree that towards the end there was a bit of this. But what really made Enchanted stand out was what Kontis does with these fairy tales.
There isn't really one definitive version of each tale, they were always being altered by the teller and that's part of the fairy tale genre, so you can't really bastardise a fairy tale (though we could argue that Disney has come extremely close, with its saccharine versions). Kontis has taken elements from several different tales and woven them into her plot in imaginative ways, so you never feel like it's a predictable story. Far from it: you never quite know where the story's going to take you next.
Sunday is a lovely character. I was afraid she'd be too 'good' or happy, in that dull way (but Friday takes that role, in this book at least). She has plenty of positive traits, such as patience, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and loyalty. But she's still young - fifteen, going on sixteen - and a bit self-absorbed (the world revolves around me kind of thing). Not to an irritating extent, more of a means of making her a realistic, and relateable, teenager. She carries most of the story but is by no means the heavy lifter.
That role lies with Rumbold. If Sunday's world is one of sunshine and life and laughter, Rumbold's is a dark, oppressive one of secrets, mysteries and betrayal. That's classic approach: associate the positives with the open, natural countryside, and associate the evils of the world with stone, politics, greed (humanity, in other words, versus the natural world). This is by no means the only dichotomy - the opposite can also be true, wherein the natural world takes on a supernatural quality and becomes dark, mysterious, unpredictable, menacing even. Here, it is the nature of greed and power (the greed for power) that lies at the heart of the kingdom's troubles - coupled with the means to achieve power: Rumbold's fairy godmother (and Aunt Joy's sister), Sorrow, who enables the king. The temptation is there, and he took it.
Rumbold is not a Disney hero. He is quiet, troubled, thoughtful and a bit anxious. He is recovering slowly from his time as a frog - he's lost weight and is always exhausted - though this, it turns out, has another root cause. He's uncomplicated and honourable, so there's never any uncertainty on the part of the reader that he would be good enough for Sunday. He's worthy, and he's tested. He can also be a bit slow on the uptake for someone who lives in an enchanted land, surrounded by magic and curses. We'll have to excuse him though: he did, after all, spend several months as a frog, forgetting who he really was.
There are different kinds, or forms, of love, and the way Kontis writes the early relationship between Sunday and the frog (which doesn't bear much resemblance to the common versions of the fairy tale as you would know it, it simply features a girl, a frog, a golden ball and a kiss of love) made it quite easy for me to believe in their kind of love, a love of friends that went as deep as the recognition of kindred spirits. A simple love, but a true one. It is merely the start, and when they meet again at the ball it is that recognition of spirits that persists, and leads to something stronger, more human.
Yet this is a relatively short novel, and the second half felt a bit rushed. True, part of that is the build-up of tension and suspense, as the plot becomes more central. But I did have this feeling of wanting to spend more time with the characters, because they were so interesting and I didn't quite feel like I'd got to know them well enough to really invest in their story as deeply as I wanted to. This is where the traits of a fairy tale don't always translate well into a Fantasy novel. Fairy tales don't do character development: they do stereotypes, caricatures, clichés. It's how you keep them short. They don't explain things, they don't need to. At best you have connections - they're stories with beginnings, middles and ends, after all. Kontis keeps the tone of a fairy tale in places, especially with a touch of humour and irreverence, but really this is a Fantasy novel, and as such I really wanted more meat on the bones. Perhaps it's a testament to her good ideas, characters and plotting that I was getting into it so much that I wanted more: more depth, more time.
But really, it seems silly to complain about such things. Kontis set out to write a Young Adult Fantasy novel loosely based on much-loved fairy tales, and as such, she succeeds admirably. This was rollicking good fun, with little surprises tucked away here and there that sprang on you when you least expected it, and a beautiful balance of light and dark. I may have wanted more, but if that's the case, I should just read the sequel, Hero, about Saturday's adventures. For engaging, lively, vigorous and inventive Fantasy, Kontis is one to watch....more
You've just got to love the premise behind "Beauty and the Beast", don't you? Anything that shines the spotlight on our preoccupation with looks and oYou've just got to love the premise behind "Beauty and the Beast", don't you? Anything that shines the spotlight on our preoccupation with looks and other superficial qualities, right? Yes, the whole "beauty is on the inside" started sounding corny long ago, and I still think that there's something off about how you see plenty of beautiful women with, ah, less than attractive men, but you don't see gorgeous men with less than attractive women, but I'm a romantic at heart and I like seeing the guy humbled in this story.
Here we have a Young Adult, modern day re-telling, and I found it great fun. Haven't seen the movie adaptation, but looking at the movie tie-in cover of my edition, they clearly didn't stick with the hairy beast description used in the book but went with something more visually interesting. I read the book in a day - it's a quick read, and easy to get drawn into.
The story is narrated by Kyle, a popular, attractive boy who lives alone with his TV news anchor dad who has taught Kyle to only care about outward appearances and how much money someone has. When he plays a baseless, mocking trick on a girl at school, Kendra, who he considers incredibly ugly, it turns out she's a witch and - more out of pity than revenge - she casts a curse on Kyle, turning him into a beast and giving him two years to make a girl fall in love with him.
What I really liked was how understandable Kyle was. Clearly a product of his upbringing, he starts out as an arrogant snob, becomes petulant and depressed when cursed (and outraged, naturally), and eventually matures into someone utterly sympathetic and likeable. His world is to all intents and purposes completely foreign to me, but I had no problem seeing through it to the terrible loneliness at its core - loneliness is one of those basic human experiences we find so easy to identify with and feel compassion for.
Also, as Kyle was forced to live a secluded life, pretty much abandoned by his father who didn't want the embarrassment of Kyle going public, he reads classics like Jane Eyre - and for the first time I noticed the parallels between that book, one of my utter favourites, and the classic fairy tale. What was Mr Rochester if not a beast of this kind? In a dark and eery castle-like abode, he is moody, gruff, forbidding, abrupt, not handsome and, probably in his own eyes at least, cursed (with a mad wife and no chance at happiness). And despite it all he makes a plain, penniless girl, far beneath his station, fall in love with him. It was a lightbulb moment that now seems so obvious, but there you go!
The heroine of the story is Lindy, a scholarship girl whose father is a drug addict and dealer. She will probably be a bit too sweet for most people but I found that she provided such a nice counter to Kyle (who renames himself Adrian), that I quite liked her. Quite possibly I liked her because Kyle/Adrian liked her so much - and that I did believe, not matter how strangely it began.
Another aspect worth mentioning is how the novel is broken into segments that begin with an online chat kind of thing, a forum for fairy tale like creatures - there's a mermaid considering trading her life for a chance to have two legs and win the heart of the man she loves; a cursed frog bemoaning his chances of ever finding a girl who'll want to kiss him; and Grizzlyguy, who I couldn't quite work out to be honest. It added to the fairy-tale theme, broadened it into something more plausible because it connected the reader with other strange goings-on, and provided a light-hearted banter as well as a taste of what was coming, and was a good way of introducing the Beast.
My rating here reflects how much fun I had reading it, with no preconceptions or expectations. It was just what I needed....more
Prince George is an only child and heir to the throne of Kendel; as a little boy he spends time with his mother with the horses in the stable, the houPrince George is an only child and heir to the throne of Kendel; as a little boy he spends time with his mother with the horses in the stable, the hounds in the kennels, or the wild animals in the forest. From her he learns the languages of animals, and slowly learns to hide his gift of animal magic as his mother does, and to live in fear of it being discovered - anyone caught using animal magic is burned.
At seventeen, many years after his mother died, George travels to a neighbouring kingdom that his own country had been at war for for many years, to meet his betrothed, Princess Beatrice. It is an arranged marriage, and he doesn't expect to feel anything for her. But the princess is not what he expected. With a wild hound always at her side, he finds himself drawn to her cold aloofness, and feels angered at the way she is treated by her father the King and his courtiers.
Yet even with his great gift of animal magic, he doesn't see the princess and her hound clearly, and the secret, when it is revealed, stuns him.
Written in the style of an old-fashioned fairy-tale but with contemporary leanings, The Princess and the Hound is supposedly loosely based on "Beauty and the Beast" - but I confess I never noticed. There is a wild quality to the story that is quite dark, with superstitions, revenge, wild beasts and daunting forests. The fairy-tale style works until the end, which drifts off lazily and seems to lose focus: it would have been more satisfying had it had a headier climax.
I loved the princess though, Beatrice, and the hound, Marit. Theirs was a mystery I worried at and almost had figured out by the time it was revealed - a book I read recently inspired my imagination to look in the right direction, so it wasn't as big a reveal as it might otherwise have been. She's a unique character, Beatrice, and well written, totally believable.
George too is well developed - the story is told from his perspective and so we get insights into his way of thinking which we don't get with anyone else. He grows and matures and is a likeable lad, but not terribly inspiring. Despite his magical gift, he's quite ordinary, more human, than you might expect of a hero. That should make me like him more but I guess I was hoping for something a bit more dramatic.
The thing I enjoyed the most was the animal magic, and the close twining of animals and people. Like fantasy stories that depict a hidden consciousness and even a single-minded cruelty in nature - a human vs. nature dichotomy - stories about the hidden talents of animals are equally as fascinating to me. While this book didn't make as great a connection as The Shape-Changer's Wife, it did quite well at bridging the gap and exploring possibilities. There's to be a sequel as well, The Princess and the Bear....more
It's a sweet, humorous book, written for a younger audience but easily enjoyed by an older one too. Based on the Cinderella story, there are a few notIt's a sweet, humorous book, written for a younger audience but easily enjoyed by an older one too. Based on the Cinderella story, there are a few notable differences, namely that Ella was "blessed" with the "gift" of obedience by the fairy Lucinda, who thinks all her gifts (such as turning you into a squirrel) are wonderful. Ella is the daughter of Lady Eleanor and a somewhat unscrupulous merchant, Sir Peter, whom she rarely sees. She grows up with her mother, who teaches her to slide down the banister, and the cook Mandy, who's not all she seems. She learns fairly early what a curse the gift is, where any command must be obeyed. The opportunities for being taken advantage of are mind-boggling (but strictly G-rated). Ella learns to be defiant even while she is forced to obey, but the trick doesn't always work.
When, at fifteen, her mother dies several things happen. Firstly, she meets Prince Char and forms a friendship with him, and secondly her father decides to send her to finishing school along with the two hideous daughters of Dame Olga, who has her sights set on Sir Peter. The daughters, Hattie and Olive, are greedy, rude and obnoxious, but things become worse when Hattie realises Ella must obey her.
Ella is desperate to find Lucinda and have her remove the curse, which leads her to run away from the finishing school and into all sorts of trouble. Unlike a lot of fantasy stories, though, this one isn't a quest story set on an endless road. Ella meets Elves and is nearly eaten by Ogres, but spends most of the story at home. Humorous escapades and a blooming friendship between her and Char balance out the cruelty dealt her by others. And the Cinderella aspect is given full due, but in a refreshing way. The similarities are there, but it never feels old and tired and same-y.
Also, Ella herself is a great heroine, smart and strong but not over-confident or perfect. She's a bit clumsy but has the gift of imitating languages and voices, and learning languages quickly. She's no defenceless damsel and she doesn't whinge, but her curse curtails who she really is. The moral of the story is fitting, but not lecturing. Levine has a much lighter hand than your average Disney movie, and there's not a saccharine moment. It reminds me a bit of the movie Ever After, so if you liked that then you'll like this book, and vice versa.
A joy to read, and very well written, Ella Enchanted took up a few hours of my time but will take up a much larger slice of my memory: for making me laugh at the end of an exhausting week, for being sweet but not cloying, wise but not preachy, and for revitalising an old fairytale....more