nicole's Reviews > The Sea Fairies

The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum
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's review
May 25, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: 2009, 7up, fairytales, fantastical
Read in May, 2009

After working at Books of Wonder for two and a half years, it was interesting for me to finally read some Baum. I can understand why so many people are charmed by these books (especially this one, I mean, mermaids, man), but I can also understand why so many people have gone on to write continuations of Baum's stories. That part isn't exactly a compliment. His writing style feels rather amateur at times, and I can see people thinking "hey, I could do this!" (to be fair, though, "Christmas in Oz"? Pretty sure that one doesn't measure up) When Baum would spew cliches I was irked. Not so much by his use of the phrases, but by his use of quotations:

Cap'n Bill was a big sailorman, hardened by age and many adventures; but even he felt a "lump in his throat" that he could not swallow, try as hard as he might. Cap'n Bill was glad. He was mostly glad on Trot's account, for he loved his sweet, childish companion very dearly, and did not want any harm to befall her.
They were now in the wide, open sea, with liberty to go whenever the wished, and if Cap'n Bill could have "had his way" he would have gone straight home and carried Trot to her mother...

Maybe this is just a thing of the times, but damn it's irritating.

Anyway, that's just a minor complaint. A BIGGER complaint would be about how the sea fairies explained away all of the changes they had put on the humans. Why bring up all the unbelievable aspects of how the humans could survive underwater only to say "Oh, fairy magic fixed that. And that. And that." I mean, I can buy the whole magic thing. I wouldn't have picked up a book on mermaids if I couldn't. Don't keep reminding me how unreal the whole thing is if y'ain't found a good way to justify it.

Didn't much enjoy the tour of the sea either. I started to get bored and feared that the whole book would be about talking fish in top hats. Not my thing. But then, once Aqueriene, Clia, Trot, and Cap'n Bill were captured by Zog, things really picked up and I was genuinely excited for the ending. I was surprised how easily everything in this book is killed off, though. And how often the word "killed" is used. Even little Trot talks about "killing yourself", and lightly! Maybe that's another sign of the times? I don't know, but it was a bit jarring, and I have no problems with darkness in children's books. I guess it was just strange that it wasn't handled as a dark thing. Sort of like in a video game. Anyway, I appreciated that the mermaids eventually did find themselves in real danger, and the ice block trick was a good one. One the humans, anyway. I actually felt a chill reading it. But above all, Sacho, Zog's assistant, was great. Smart guy (well, aside from that whole "lets make the guy who sews buttons king!" idea of his) Definitely my favorite character. His idea that anger and revenge were a waste of time, and that he could make himself happy despite his situation (and dude was a slave) was not just inspiring stuff, but well written. Trot, though, rather than being the brave and feisty heroine Baum no doubt hoped for her to be, was frequently just rude. Interrupting to say everything that pops into your head, particularly when it's a reprimand, doesn't make you a firecracker, it usually makes you an ass. Maybe Sacho should've told her that.

Overall a good adventure story and I can see how reading it as a kid would really stick with you (like reading Roald Dahl's The Witches and learning how to spot REAL WITCHES IRL!). It's worth reading as an adult for all the mermaid whimsy and nostalgia, if you can get past all of the weaker parts without too much annoyance. And it's also a beautiful work of art nouveau, both for Neill's illustration (though on that note, it was funny to me how Neill went from beautiful, classical drawings to utterly stupid/silly depictions of monsters. Some of them just didn't make SENSE.) and Baum's descriptions of all the ornate details of the underwater palaces. They certainly make it a place you'd want to visit.

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Reading Progress

05/26/2009 page 134
55.83% "Hm. I dunno. Somehow part of me is charmed while the other part of me is terribly bored. Fish in hats. Talking. Can't quite go there."

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