Leanna's Reviews > Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
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's review
May 20, 2009

really liked it
Read in September, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Ah, the Reworked Fairy Tale.

I must admit, the Grimm Rapunzel first struck me as choppy and disjointed. I had trouble picking out, “the journey itself, rather than the ending” (Elgoff). Enter Napoli with her expertly crafted first person narrative and behold: Zel explicitly filled in the gaps that Grimm implicitly implied.

An exposition of gender analysis, I felt that I am now honing in on a keen sense of fantasy critique. No more will I hide behind the ohs and ahs of poetic adjectives describing scenery or passion between lovers. I am now focusing more on, “why is that scenery that way?”

Developing a fresh vision can certainly be a dangerous task. How do you know your vision is developed on a solid foundation? Having always been the type to read a book, literally, cover-to-cover, I was first baffled at Naopli’s remark in her Acknowledgements section of Zel that states, “Thanks also go to the American Association of University Women for giving me a summer fellowship in 1995 to visit Switzerland and complete the research for this story”. Research for a fantasy novel?

After finishing Zel, I fell further into a spiraling confusion regarding this enigma of research for fantasy? How does one research what one makes up in one’s own mind? Thanks to an article by Yolen, Naopli’s comment is now not only crystal clear, but firm in its relevance to my growing appreciation of fantasy. When Yolen stated, “All the fantasy authors I know own research volumes on wildlife, wildflowers, insects, birds” (p. 165) makes total sense, especially since she also claims, “do your research and believe in your monstrosities—at least as long as you are writing them” (p. 165).

The fact that Napoli chose a believable marketplace, a believable goose, and the believable family dynamic of Konrad’s house, it allowed me to take the leap of faith necessary to make sense out of the fantastical witch’s reign over plants, the rearrangement of an entire forest, and the ability to grow braids a toe-length every evening, just to name a few.

But the leap of faith isn’t over. My final thought–fantasy is about the moral of the story… which moral, is of your choosing. As Yolen states, “Look hard at the real world and then look slightly askance… As Emily Dickinson advised in one wise little poem, ‘Tell all the truth/but tell it slant.’ Zel calls us to look at the world through a critical eye, an eye of critical consciousness, where reader is in constant search for the answer to “but why?”.

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