Saturday, December 25, 2010

Susan Jeffers' Snow Queen

Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Winter Holidays and such!

I'm taking a week off. I'll see you in 2011!

For now, something cold and frosty yet also quite delightful, an illustration from Amy Ehrlich's Snow Queen, drawn by Susan Jeffers:

May the rest of your year be a happy ever after.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

ACCORDING TO MY DAD, this is the best movie version ever of A Christmas Carol. Every year, the debate rages on: Muppets, or Magoo?

And, to be fair, I randomly throughout the year find myself singing the chorus of this song:

(But come on, it's not better than the Muppet Christmas Carol....)

This is a fun version, and at only 53 minutes, I find it a great one to watch after Christmas eve services, when I need something to wind down to and knock myself out (omg tomorrow is Christmas omg omg squeeeeee!---yeah, you know what I'm talking about). It's one of the sillier adaptations, more focused on Mr. Magoo's eyesight than the particular lessons that may be found within the tale. And for some reason, the ghosts show up in the wrong order.

For all that, if you haven't seen it, well, it's a CLASSIC! Check it out!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Muppet Christmas Carol

This is the best movie version ever made of A Christmas Carol.

Okay, so having said that... there are a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol, and I like an awful lot of them. This is the only version that I watch every year, though, and it has my wholehearted endorsement. Although, I suppose if you don't like the Muppets, you won't like this version. (Are... are there people who don't like the Muppets???)

My one quibble here is with the DVD version released in 2005. It features both the complete full screen version, and a widescreen theatrical release with a scene cut. (The scene where, in the past, Scrooge's fiancée bids him farewell for the final time.) The movie makes sense without it, but the scene loses almost all of its impact (yes I'm talking about a Muppet movie) without the farewell song.

So you can watch the movie with that scene in full screen, or without that scene in widescreen. I hope they'll do better and include it on a bluray release in the near future. In the meantime, if you want this and you haven't bought it, it might be worth waiting to see if another release is around the corner. (Or you might not have the same little quibble that I do!)

(Also, I will never get tired of Michael Caine saying, "It's Fozziewig's old Rubber Chicken factory!" with a straight face.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Claus: The Movie

The first 15 minutes of Santa Claus the Movie feature the Santa origin story I believed in for most of my young life. An old toymaker and his wife travel from house to house on Christmas eve delivering toys, but when, one year, a blizzard gets to be too much, they find themselves far from home--at the north pole, in fact, of course. And then the man becomes Santa Claus, with special powers, so that he can continue his toy giving tradition for children all over the world.

Then, of course, complications arise, and it's up to Santa to save the day. Will he succeed? It's a Christmas movie, what do you think?

I still have a fond spot in my heart for the opening scenes, the storytelling and the carved wooden toys. I'm less able to sit through the 80s stylings of the Elf (Dudley Moore) and corporate toymaker (John Lithgow) and their Christmas 2 plot... But it is still the first thing I think of when I think of John Lithgow.

This is a fun one for the kids, and if you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out or borrowing, at least, for the beginning, still one of my favorite Santa stories. And David Huddleston is still the ultimate Santa, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Marly's Ghost by David Levithan

The title caught my attention. "Marly's Ghost? Sounds like a reference to A Christmas Carol." It surely is. Marly's Ghost, by David Levithan, is A Christmas Carol reimagined for Valentine's Day. Sometimes directly from the original text, and sometimes morphed into modern language patterns, this poignant story tells of a heartbroken teen rediscovering the meaning of love on a special Valentine Eve.

Marly's Ghost

I can't say it was the best story adaptation I ever read, but it was a fresh and interesting take on a story that's been done many times around the Christmas holiday. At times the classic writing style and the modernizations seemed to clash. It's worth checking out if you like the original tale or if you love Valentine's Day. Or hate Valentine's Day. Have strong feelings about Valentine's Day, either way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke

Tired of a fat, old Santa pulled by eight reindeer? Of one man making the rounds of the entire earth in a single night? Of jolly elves making toys at the north pole? Well, who really gets TIRED of that?

BUT if you would like a variation on the Santa Claus mythology, perhaps you might enjoy When Santa Fell to Earth, by Cornelia Funke, a fresh take on how Santa gets to everyone in one night.

When Santa Fell to Earth

I read through this in one delightful sitting, so I'd recommend it as a quick read for a holiday afternoon, or as something to share with children as a chapter-a-day read through the holiday season. It's imaginative, fresh, funny, and sweet, and a perfect Christmas treat.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Charlotte Miller is stubborn, a family trait. So when the mill is left to her, instead of giving it up, she continues to run it, in spite of the doubts of her family and neighbors, in spite of the fact that she's a woman.

Fighting debt and a strangely unlucky mill, a sweet, subtle love story, and a family bond weave together in this skillful reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin (or Jack Spinner, here). This is one of my favorite retellings, rich and deeply layered, with more nuance than many of the books aimed at the same age group.

It won a number of awards, and having read it, I can see why. If you haven't read this one yet, you're in for a treat.

Also check out Ms. Bunce's website for more information on this and her newest book, Star-Crossed.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey

From the "Once Upon a Time" series comes another retelling by Cameron Dokey, this one following the young storyteller Sharhazad as she steps forward to save the lives of the women of her kingdom from a grieving, rage-filled king who has vowed to kill each of his brides before they can dishonor him.

Dokey lightens the tale by making Sharhazad the first of the king's wives--thus he hasn't had scores of women executed by the time she marries him. She begins telling him a tale which weaves through the rest of Dokey's narrative, offsetting the main action. This book focuses on Sharazad rather than the stories, with only one main story continued night after night. In fact I found the story Sharazad told more memorable than her own story--at least that is the imagery which sticks with me the best.

This is a quick read, as most in the series are, and not overly complex. Still, it's one of my favorites from the "Once Upon a Time" set, and it's rarer to find an adaptation of the Arabian Nights than, say, Cinderella.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters: Or, Terry Pratchett's Macbeth.

Honestly, I am not sure who I'm recommending this to, other than anyone, everyone, who hasn't read it. While it is a retelling of a famous story, it's a retelling in the loosest terms. Yet as I reread it recently, I couldn't help but notice how much fairy tale tropery Pratchett uses--and turns on his head.

For lovers of fantasy and folklore, you could do a lot worse than to pick up a Discworld novel, and this is a great starting place. If you're not familiar with the series, the first book is The Colour of Magic. However, the series is made of subseries, and Wyrd Sisters is the first one featuring my favorite character, Granny Weatherwax, an extraordinary witch and headologist.

Plus: Macbeth! Shakespeare! And other fairy tale references.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Nightingale

Mick Jagger? Whaaat! But it's true. Mick Jagger stars as the emperor in Faerie Tale Theatre's version of The Nightingale. So I guess we know what he's talking about when he has a musical preference.

This episode is a little weird, and I mean that in a good way. Although not always successful, this is the first time you see Faerie Tale theatre branch out from the staple, common fairy tales for one that's a little less known, which I have to admire. You may have your own opinion about a bunch of white folks playing Chinese people... sigh...

The pacing on this one is pretty good, there is enough story to carry the hour-long episode. And it was nice to see the cast change up a little bit. Faerie Tale Theatre was starting to find its feet by now and it shows in the writing and directing.

(I've chosen to review all the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes separately because they vary so much and cover so many different stories. Also: reading/watching the material for this blog takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoy the slightly more in depth reviews this way.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Although everyone I know knows the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and many people in my acquaintance have even read the original book, the numbers decrease significantly when I ask who's read any beyond the first book. With that in mind, I thought I'd take a day each month to highlight one of the Oz books, giving a small summary and some general information.

With that in mind, I bring you:

The Marvelous Land of Oz -- OR -- The Gender Wars of Oz, as I've come to think of Book 2.

Marvelous Land of Oz

Magical Characters Introduced:

Jack Pumpkinhead
The Gump

Other Introductions:

Ozma of Oz
Thoroughly Educated Wogglebug

Old Friends:

Tin Woodman
Glinda the Good


General Jinjur
Mombi the Witch

Magical Treasures of Oz:

Powder of Life
Wishing Pills

Baum's first trip back to Oz revolved around a little boy named Tip who is the servant of the witch, Mombi. She falls into the bad witch category, and Tip takes a chance to scare her with his invention, Jack Pumpkinhead, as she's returning home. She isn't fooled, however, and uses the stick-and-pumpkin man to test her newly acquired Powder of Life, bringing Jack to life. Then she tells Tip that she'll turn him into a marble statue as revenge for trying to scare her, which is just crossing a line. So Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead steal the Powder of Life, that night, and run away.

In the process they bring the Saw-Horse to life for Jack to ride, since his wooden joints are wearing out with the walking.

The companions then run into General Jinjur and her All Girl Army, who are all about Girl Power and are invading the Emerald City to take over from the Scarecrow, who has ruled there since the Wizard's departure.

The Girl Power Army takes over Oz with a minimum of trouble, in spite of Tip, Jack, and the Saw-Horse joining up with the Scarecrow. They escape by creating The Gump, a hodgepodge creature made from whatever the characters can gather and the Powder of Life. (You may remember the Gump if you saw the 1985 Return to Oz film, which borrowed heavily from books 2 and 3 of the Oz books, while still being its own (Disney) movie.)

The Gump flies the companions out to the middle of nowhere, where a run-in with some Jackdaws leaves them unable to travel any further. They discover that, along with the Powder of Life, they have some Wishing Pills, which they make use of to reach Glinda.

Glinda reveals that the rightful ruler of Oz is, in fact, a girl--have you guessed it yet? Ozma of Oz. Unfortunately nobody knows where Ozma is. Glinda only knows that Ozma was hidden by the Wizard some years ago, and has discovered that Mombi was probably involved.

So the whole crew head back to the Emerald City to confront Mombi. After some rigmarole, Mombi reveals that Ozma is in fact Tip, transformed as a baby.

Well, naturally, Tip is happy as a boy and doesn't want to be transformed back (gender issues, much?), but his companions convince him to accept his destiny and he allows Glinda to turn him back into Ozma, who leads her crew in a reconquering of the Emerald City, where she sets up housekeeping, as it were.

There you have it: Girls win. Booyah.

In spite of my somewhat slightly marginally sarcastic commentary, this is another fun romp, as imaginative and adventurous as Dorothy's first sojourn into Oz. I highly recommend HarperCollin's reproduction editions, with the original John Neill illustrations throughout. It's gorgeous and exact down to the typos.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

The cover art is definitely the first thing that caught my attention here. Isn't it spectacular? After I saw it, I had to read the book right away!

And it was well worth it. I thought at first that it started a little slowly, but thinking back on it, I was thrown by the present-tense narration. Once I got used to that, the story was fast-paced and exciting.

This is the story of Scarlett and Rosie, two sisters who, at a very young age, have a run-in with a Fenris. From then on, their lives revolve around hunting the Fenris, werewolf-like creatures who run in packs and prey on young girls. The book begins with the return of their friend and fellow hunter, Silas--from a family of woodsmen. When the three hunters realize that there is a new potential (a man who can be changed into a Fenris if they can find and bite him), they decide to intensify their hunting by going to the city where the Fenris congregate.

I really enjoyed Ms. Pearce's play on werewolf mythology--because her Fenris are not quite werewolves, and are altogether creepy. And--this is not so much a retelling as a derivative of Little Red Riding Hood. Skillfully told, this exciting tale manages to be a strong message against rape culture without ever getting on a soap box. The sisters are both powerful characters, and the romance side-story is delicious. And frankly, the visual descriptions were fantastic--it made me want to see the movie version.

Jackson Pearce has a website with blog and info.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is based on one of my all-time favorite fairy tales. If you guessed East of the Sun, West of the Moon, you are correct. I mention that it's my favorite because it takes very little for an author to draw me into this tale in a retelling, so take my exuberant praise with a grain of salt if you're not fond of the Norwegian tale.

Ms. George starts her story with a fairly traditional Norwegian family. Her first variant is that the main character has no name, as the mother is so tired of having children she can't be bothered to name her youngest daughter. So the girl -- or pika, or lass -- is mostly left to her own devices, growing up.

When she finds and frees a lucky white reindeer, she is gifted not only with a name, but with the ability to understand animals. Through this skill she is able to make something of herself and for her family, helping those with problem animals. And she gains her best friend, a wolf-pup named Rollo. As you can imagine, when a polar bear comes to call on her family, understanding animals comes in handy.

This one was really a gimme for me. I enjoyed the Lass's exploration of the ice palace, and her curiosity and endless questions drew out my curiosity and endless questions. Ms. George's variations served the story, which still had all the elements of the tale that I love. If you're a fan of this tale, be sure to pick this one up.

Also check out the author's website for her other fairy tale related books.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Strange Brew

If you thought Strange Brew, starring and directed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, was just a buddy comedy about two Canadian brothers in an endless quest for beer and donuts--you weren't paying attention. Because it's also HAMLET.

My husband picked this up and watched me watching with eager anticipation, until the first mention of Elsinore Castle made me say, "How Gothic." Then he burst out: "IT'S HAMLET!"

And it's true. This beer comedy is a ... subtle?... retelling of the Bard's story. Pam, heiress to Elsinore Brewery, is trying to figure out how to run a business and to figure out what REALLY happened to her father, when along come two bumbling hosers to help her out and, if they can manage it, get some free beer. Looney and with just a little bit of a love story, this is one of the few comedies that is still funny years after its release. And we know that's because they picked a good story as their basis, right?

If you haven't seen this, and you like Shakespeare adaptations, check out this forerunner of all the other strange buddy comedies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Rapunzel

Let me follow up yesterday's Tangled post with a much older, more traditional retelling of Rapunzel.

The Faerie Tale Theatre version follows the original story quite closely, from the stolen veggies to the restorative tears in the desert. This is also one of the first ones where I noticed that Rapunzel's parents were played by the same actors that played Rapunzel and her prince--although I may not have noticed that the first time I watched it, as that was long, long ago....

This is a pretty good story, for Faerie Tale Theatre, because it's not too dependent on special effects, and it's an involved, longer story. The pacing is much better in this one than some of the others I've commented on. Still, it's not my favorite, partly because it feels more like the Shelley Duvall's Shelley Duvall theatre and partly because it fails to address any of the problems with the original story. (Not, as I've said, that we should change things JUST because they bother us....)

Even so, if you haven't seen it, and you like Rapunzel, you should watch this one--particularly if you're a big fan of the early versions of the story.

(I've chosen to review all the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes separately because they vary so much and cover so many different stories. Also: reading/watching the material for this blog takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoy the slightly more in depth reviews this way.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Disney's Tangled

Oh my goodness, so much hair.

I didn't get to see Tangled on opening weekend, due to my penchant for avoiding opening weekends at all costs. However, I did get over to watch it the other evening, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it.

There's a lot I could say about Disney and Disney versions, but you can find that all over the internet, so I'll just say: My husband said this is his favorite Disney fairy tale. Now I shall return to looking at this in terms of fairy tale adaptations, because, well, that's the point, isn't it?

I liked the element of the flower (although you'd think they might have just called it Rapunzel, otherwise what's the point of her being named Rapunzel?) and having the witch straight-up kidnap the baby. The deal the father makes in the traditional story has always bothered me, and while I'm not saying we should take out everything that ever bothers us in a story, the reasoning here worked for me.

I was impressed that Rapunzel wasn't as much of a "I'm feisty! That makes me original and well rounded!" character as she appeared in the previews. I LOVED the bit where she goes back and forth feeling guilty and exhilarated about leaving the tower.

Overall, I would say this is one of Disney's better adaptations, and I am obviously okay with retellings/rewritings, or we wouldn't be here, so I can't hold their modifications against them. There is some beautiful art involved in this movie, too. Whether you catch it in theaters or wait to watch it at home, I think that you'll like this version of the story.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler is a variant of The Twelve Dancing Princesses in which Zita is the thirteenth born daughter of a king who longed for a son to be his heir. All the other princesses are cosseted in a lofty tower room, but Zita is sent at her birth down to the servants quarters where she lives until she finds out that she, too, is a princess.

I found this book to push my suspension of disbelief, as Zita is acknowledged as a princess by everyone in the castle, but still banished from her family. It's a strange dynamic and I'm not sure the story is successful at conveying it. However, the strong narrative pulled me through the book, and hints of other tales and shades of George McDonald--such as a godmother-esque witch in the woods, whom only the children can find--gave the text enough richness that overall it worked.

I would recommend this mostly to younger readers or those who particularly enjoy new versions of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines

If this cover art doesn't make you want to pick this book up and read it, well, I don't know what would work for you. And Jim Hines has managed, with exceptional talent, to write a sequel that is as good as the first book in his Princess series.

Following the further adventures of Danielle, Talia, and Snow (respectively Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White), the story picks up as Danielle sails with her mother-in-law on a diplomatic mission to the mermaids--which goes terribly wrong, terribly quickly. The three princesses must race to save their Queen and Kingdom in this fast-paced, exciting sequel to The Stepsister Scheme.

The series is one of the best I've seen at genuinely updating the sensibilities of the characters, making them three-dimensional and feminist, while retaining the fun and whimsy--as well as the darker sides--of the fairy tales they draw from.

I am mentioning this book in its own entry because, well, it's awesome in its own right. I suggest reading the books in order, as there is a lot of character and plot development that's consistent through the series. Hines follows this one up with Red Hood's Revenge, and I am looking forward to the fourth installment, The Snow Queen's Shadow, which should be released next July.

Also be sure to check out Hines's blog for more information on upcoming books and a number of other cool topics.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Glasgow Fairytale by Alastair D. McIver

I am especially excited to tell you about this book because the author, Mr. McIver, has been a long-time member of my fairy tale community on LiveJournal. We've had quite a few talks about fairy tales and folklore, so I am just thrilled to see his storytelling in action here.

The story starts as several fairytales begin to act upon one another, with often hilarious results--as, for example, Reggie King decides to take out Snowy White (in a nicely done gender reversal) to be the bonniest man in Glasgow--and he hires none other than Ella McCinders to get the job done.

I won't give too much away, but I will tell you that this is one of the funniest adaptations I've ever read, mixing stories and rearranging the elements to fit McIver's own Glasgow. I giggled out loud frequently, and the Cinderella ball scene is my favorite every Cinderella dance. Also: Best Frog Prince Ever.

McIver's penchant for telling stories is apparent in his prose, which is excellent for reading aloud. As an American reader, I had to sometimes slow down to read the Scottish dialect, but even then it wasn't so heavy that I had trouble understanding it.

This is only available in America through intermediates on marketplace, but it IS available, and for an excellent price for a trade paperback. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes mixed up fairy tales and funny retellings. I hope you'll check it out!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snow White: A Tale of Terror

If you ever wanted to see Sigourney Weaver get her CrAzY on, this is the movie for you. Snow White: A Tale of Terror is a pretty straightforward retelling, but with the creep-factor ratcheted up quite a bit from Disney.

It's not one of those retellings where they tried to explain a bunch of stuff. Things that don't make sense in the original story still don't make sense--that is to say, although the mirror gets briefly mentioned as being from the stepmother's mother. Why or how it's magical is still a mystery. In that sense it's very much like its fairy tale roots--the story is the important thing, the interactions of the characters, not the explanations. Although I like that angle in a lot of other retellings, this one works just as well without them.

There are a few twists, e.g. gold miners instead of dwarves, and instead of a prince, it's one of the miners (the hot one) who is the hero. Even with his help, Snow White (Lilli) manages to rescue herself in the final confrontation with her stepmother, which I appreciate in a world oversteeped with heroes rescuing princesses.

This movie holds a special place in my heart, as I believe it was one of the first non-Disney movie retellings I ever saw, and it may have been one of those little junctions in my life where I realized how much you could do with a basic fairy tale storyline.

And there is some wicked good chemistry thrown in between Lilli and her favorite miner.

Definitely one to check out if you haven't seen it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Found the Book of Lost Things!

Excuse me for the delay, I've been letting the blog run on autopilot while I dealt with some IRL things.

But now, we have a winner!

onceuponahereandnow, my husband drew your number out of the hat. :) Email me at richlayers at yahoo dot com, send me your address, and I'll send you a copy of The Book of Lost Things.

And in the meantime, happy holidays to everyone else!


The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, VHS cover

This remnant from my childhood came up recently as I was going through the old VHS tapes for the ones that simply had to be updated to a new medium. You may recall the 2005 film The Brothers Grimm going by and throwing historic relevancy to the wind (although it had its own charms). This film, while whimsical, not to mention musical, does at least try to stick to some various historical details.

A few, anyway.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

The musical tells the story of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, both of whom are determined to be taken seriously as writers. As I recall, Wilhelm is insistent that they finish the autobiographies they've been commissioned, while Jacob is easily diverted by folklore. In the end they see that both are important to the history of their people and work together the rest of their lives writing stuff down. A happy ending for all!

Also included within the frame of the Brothers' story are three fairy tales: The Dancing Princess, The Cobbler and the Elves, and The Singing Bone. These were always my favorite parts of the movie as I was growing up.

The only one I could find an exerpt from:

The VHS is now available used on, while the DVD appears to be catalogued but isn't available. You can sign up to be notified of availability, though, so I guess that's something!

If you haven't seen this, and you're part of this community, I'd recommend it just for the fairy tale shorts. Or just for the Brothers Grimm. Which means you've all now got a double recommendation. So, go, I bid thee, and inter-library loan.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Robinson Crusoe and the Ethnic Sidekick by Frederick Zackel

Today's recommendation is a little bit different, but it's a piece of writing I found quite impressive. This is an article from Bright Lights Film Journal, available online for free. It's a longer read, but I think you'll find it worthwhile if you're interested in modern mythologies.

I've certainly spent a lot of time thinking about what more recent (as in, can be traced to an author) stories can be considered myths and fairy tales, and I would have to say, Robinson Crusoe qualifies, from the number of intentional remakes to the way it seems to have sunk into our societal psyche, as argued by Mr. Zackel.

With a thorough analysis of the myth's predominance in today's media, as well as details about some of the counter-myths written as a response (A Christmas Carol, Huckleberry Finn), this article is thought-provoking, both in regards to our social conscience and in regards to our mythological studies. It is a little outdated, but only in a way that gives me hope that we're improving. :)

And it's free!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: Robert Sabuda's Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Certainly one of the most abridged versions I've ever come across, Sabuda's commemorative pop-up, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is also one of the most fantastical and fascinating.

With intricate and detailed pop-ups, Sabuda tells the story of Dorothy's journey through Oz, starting with a full tornado.

The twister actually twists as you open the page, to give you an idea of the complexity and detail.

Also, when you get to the Emerald City, you get your own green glasses:

I've become a reborn pop-up fan through Sabuda's work, which includes retellings of several of my favorite fairy tales. His balloon page, in this Oz book, though, remains one of my favorites. This is an excellent one for collectors (although I'm not sure I'd want to let the kids tear it up...).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reminder: Book of Lost Things Giveaway!

Don't forget! Tomorrow is the drawing for The Book of Lost Things giveaway. Be sure to go to the ORIGINAL POST to enter!

  • 1 entry for a link to Fairy Layers from your blog
  • 1 entry for a link to Fairy Layers from your twitter

Wizard of Oz Week: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I can hardly spend a week talking about Wizard of Oz retellings and not mention Wicked.

Both a bestselling novel and a Broadway hit, I'll probably meander back and forth through both, but I'll try to keep them distinct for the purposes of this blog.

So let's see--the book. The book is extremely dense and lyrically heavy. It's one of the harder things I've read. I don't come across many books any more that send me to the dictionary, much less more than once. And yet every time I looked up a word, it turned out to be the perfect word. I had to take a break in the middle of the book because my brain just needed to process for a while. (I think I read a couple picture books and then went back to it.)

The flow of the novel slows considerably at some points, and then picks up again so that I found myself whipping through pages, and then setting the book down to digest what I had read. It's an incredibly complex view of Oz, but it felt true in that: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a child's view of the world, as Dorothy wanders through a strange and magical (but, notably, uncivilized) land, running into characters who are caught up in the adult realities of a strange, magical, and uncivilized land. It's no surprise that a child would pick up on the danger of the land without understanding the political complexities.

Therefore, in Wicked, all those complicated adult interactions and motives and understandings are brought into the light, and Oz is still Dorothy's Oz, but with all the detail of differing factions and prejudice and policy.

I really did love it, in the end. And it's not until the last quarter of the book that Dorothy comes into the story at all, but I love. love. LOVE her scene with Elphaba.

But if you picked up the book and absolutely couldn't get through it--you still might love the musical!

I think the musical goes very well as a companion to the Judy Garland musical, as much as Wicked the book goes with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book. The musical Wicked ties the ends together much more neatly, slaps a (not unearned) happy ending into place, and alludes both musically and thematically to the 1939 musical. Characters are conglomerated for an altogether tidier story (such as Boq being the Tin Woodman, separate characters in both books).

The musical focuses much more on Elphaba's friendship with Glinda (in the book they only see each other once in the second half of the story), with more emphasis on the love triangle, which is only mentioned as a possibility in the book.

For all their differences--and I am usually one to gripe about changes in adaptations--I love both versions. There is nothing careless in the Musical treatment; the changes feel justified. The book is like a complex person, or a country: nothing simple, but absolutely worthwhile.

I hope you'll take a chance on both of them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: Tin Man

Tin Man is the SyFy (haha, that still cracks me up) retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's quite different, and yet the bare bones of the story are still there, for the most part. The characters transpose into their new parts in interesting ways.

My husband got really impatient with D.G. (Zooey Deschanel), I think mostly because we were watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time, and he kept expecting the butt-kicking to commence. (I wonder if he'd like it more now that we're Doctor Who marathoning?) The pacing is definitely slower in this one, as D.G.'s yellow brick quest is drawn out into 3 hour-and-a-half parts.

Overall, I enjoyed the reinterpretation, and learning the truth about the Wicked Witch in the slow reveal. It's worth checking out if you're an Oz fan, although I'd recommend blanking your expectations-slate as much as possible.

You can play around in the SyFy Channel's special feature zone if you're interested.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: The Muppet's Wizard of Oz

I rented The Muppet's Wizard of Oz, and I liked most of the music, although some of it was a little too much the kind of pop sound that mostly doesn't appeal to me. For some reason, this just struck me as strange:

Maybe because it was right at the beginning (the song, not the music video) and I hadn't really had a chance to get used to the way things were going. I did like most of the other music, although I didn't really feel like Ashanti was one of those singers who should try to branch out into acting.

I did like most of the casting, both the humans and the Muppets. Really, I can't think of any way they could have arranged the Muppets to be better matches. And I will say, overall, they stuck to the book better than the Judy Garland movie, aside from modernizing Dorothy's home and the non-Oz stuff. I really liked that it was never implied that she just bumped her head and had a crazy dream, which both the Judy Garland version and the Return to Oz movie do.

I think I might have missed out on something from not being younger or from expecting something, but in the end, Quentin Tarantino's cameo was my favorite part of the whole show.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Marvel Classics

Yes, the picture needs to be that big. Because that is how much I love this version of L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is simply gorgeous.

The artwork is stunning and rich. This is one of the first versions I've read that actually made me want to go to Oz, so I could see in person what I was reading about.

As far as adaptations and twists go, this is not a retelling; it sticks very closely to the original story. I didn't pull out my original Oz book to check, but I don't think it's even abridged. Certainly everything I remembered reading was in the graphic novel, including the ending to the original story: the quest to read Glinda in the south of Oz, with the Hammer-Heads and the China doll village.

It's great to see the visualization of Baum's imagination (as it is often left out of movie versions; Dorothy's return from the Wicked Witch of the West is usually considered to be enough story.)

But it keeps going. That's right. And Eric Shanower and Skottie Young do the whole story justice.

I am certainly looking forward to their second installment, as they continue Baum's story with The Marvelous Land of Oz, which was released on October 30th.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Have you ever wondered about Rumpelstiltskin? What's up with that guy, anyway? Why does he WANT a baby? Why does the Miller make up such a blatant lie about his daughter? How dumb can the king be, to believe him? Why does the daughter agree to marry the king after he threatened to kill her?

Have you ever noticed how many PROBLEMS there are with this story?

Ms. Velde certainly did, and she set about to fix these problems, with six imaginative and hilarious retellings of the story.

This is an extremely quick read, and extremely entertaining. I hope you'll do yourself the favor of reading this book. My favorite versions of this story are always the ones where the Miller's Daughter runs off with Rumpelstiltskin. Velde may have a couple of those--and other fun variations, as well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Extra-Ordinary Princess by Carolyn Q. Ebbitt

The Extra-Ordinary Princess is Princess Amelia, youngest of four princesses and feeling very ordinary around her sisters' beauty and grace. However, when their parents die of the plague and her sisters are cursed by her evil uncle, it's up to Princess Amelia to find the extraordinary within herself and save her family.

This touches on themes of self-confidence and feminine empowerment, but I was really disappointed overall with this book (especially with the high reviews on The plot was all over the place, jumping around the chronology of the story to the point of distraction. The world-building felt very fluffy and anachronistic: while steampunk has proven that we don't have to have the same timeline of technology in all our stories, the umbrellas and telegraphs just felt out of place. The details seemed very American-fantasy, like the children playing jacks and hide-and-seek. The fantasy land that doesn't exist has a tutor teaching English and French.

I was bothered to the point of being unable to read through the book by the disorganization and inconsistencies in both plot and tone. While younger readers might not notice that so much, and younger girls might enjoy identifying with Amelia, a new "princess with moxie," I suppose, this one wasn't for me. I ended up skimming most of it, and then reading the last few chapters, which jumped around the chronology just as much as the beginning.

Overall... meh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly

I was really hesitant to read this when I heard about it, because I am wary of books about children that claim to be for grown-ups. Not that that's a recipe for failure, by any means, but it made me set it aside, mentally, until it popped up again in my life in the form of my friend Annamarie.

Annamarie is not a BIG reader. She loves books about horses, and fairy tales where everything comes out okay in the end. I have recommended a lot to her; she had never returned the favor--until The Book of Lost Things. Which she insisted emphatically that I read. And dragged me to a bookstore, and bought it for me, and put it in my hands, and sat me down, and forced me to read the beginning so that I would be hooked and read it right away.

Which I did, nearly in one sitting. And oh my. What an excellent recommendation.

This is the story of David, a 12-year-old boy who's just lost his mother. When his father remarries and has another son, David retreats into his books and fairy tales, but gets much more drawn in than he expected.

And, oh, the references and rewritings. With many stories twisted into new shapes (including a Beauty and the Beast where the Beast is the woman--and the Beauty does not free her from her spell--and a Sleeping Beauty where the sleeper awakens every night and is more of a danger to the princes than any thorns ever were), David explores a new land where the greatest danger will be the ones he calls from his own imagination.

Try to figure out who the villain is before the reveal at the end. (Yeah, I totally did.)

This is now one of my favorites books. (I don't say that too often, do I???) Check it out!

I do recommend the paperback edition with the red cover, as there's a section of notes at the back of the book, with Connelly's thoughts on the fairy tales he used, as well as original versions of the tales.


I know that I say "This is one of my new favorite books!" far too often, especially here where I am talking about my favorite kind of book. But I really want to back that up this time, with this exceptionally good book.



Post a link back to this blog on your blog for 1 entry, or on twitter for 1 entry. (If you have multiple blogs you can have an entry for each blog you post on, but only one entry per blog.)

Be sure to put a comment on this entry so I can see your links!

I'll draw a random winner on Friday, December 3rd, and I'll send the winner a copy of The Book of Lost Things.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Silver Shoes by Paul Miles Schneider

I really wanted to like Silver Shoes a lot more than I ended up liking it. Not to say it's terrible, but, well. I did like the premise very much: What happens to the silver shoes that Dorothy loses in her flight back to Kansas? The young adult novel starts out well enough, with Donny's mother purchasing a strange silver shoe on the return from their vacation to visit family in Kansas. It's clear right away that the shoe is not just a lovely piece of silversmithing, but also an extraordinary and strange thing.

For the first half of the novel, I was into it. The writing is not the strongest I've read but aimed at younger children, so it wasn't too distracting. I wanted to see how all the elements would tie into the Oz mythology.

Then some point around the half-way mark of the book the plot seemed less structured. Elements like Donny's mother's despair and the constant running and hiding began to bother me. The end of the book was a disappointment, as it became clear that certain parts of the story would not be explained (the identity of the strange woman who sold them the shoe) and other things would be drawn out for a possible sequel (the sorcerer being stranded in our world).

So: for its own sake, I thought the novel was on the weaker side. As an added bit of Oz world, there are some creative and interesting ideas here--I liked the bits about L. Frank Baum. On the other hand, I didn't like the idea that the silver shoes themselves were malevolent. Some good and some bad here. Worth reading if you're very into Oz and looking for something new, but otherwise you might pass this one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thief and the Beanstalk by P. W. Catanese

Jack, of Beanstalk fame, is an old man at the beginning of this novel, which features wanna-be thief Nick. When Nick tries to steal from Jack, all he gets away with are three glowing green beans. You can guess where this story is going--until you get to the top of the beanstalk, where Nick, like his predecessor, finds a gentle giantess who is willing to help him trick her wicked sons--if he can help her.

Quick-paced and clearly written, this book is ideal for younger readers or reading aloud. I found the story to be overly-simplistic (but then I am a fairy tale connoisseur), as the driving plot tends to drive out much in the way of character development. Still, this is a fun one, definitely a quick read, and worth checking out if you're a fan of the "But what happened AFTER THAT" scenarios.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguié

Midnight Pearls is one of the books in the "Once Upon a Time..." collection by Simon & Schuster. (If you're familiar with Cameron Dokey, you're probably familiar with this series.) This is Debbie Viguié's retelling of The Little Mermaid.

I found this book kind of... ehhhh. It was a quick read, and Viguié had an imaginative twist for the story, but I got tired of Pearl's self-pity pretty quickly. The plot picked up with, not a love triangle, but a love pentagon, between Pearl, the prince, the mermaid... the mermaid's brother... and the translucently evil Sir Robert.

My favorite bit was Viguié's creative twist on mermaid-to-human magic. And it would be unfair of me to say she hasn't given the story a different angle. I certainly appreciate any version of the Little Mermaid that isn't Disney's. (Okay, it's possible that I appreciate that version, too, in some childish part of my heart.) However, this isn't one of my favorites, and unless you're a devoted fan of all variations of the story, you might pass this one up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women by Nancy Madore

I love looking at the reviews for sexy books. I always read all the one star reviews because it's fascinating to me to contrast the ones who thought the book was too sexy with the ones who thought it wasn't sexy enough....

But anyway. Nancy Madore's Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women is the first in a series of short story collections, focusing on fairy tales. The second book seems to mainly draw from nursery rhymes, the third from a more general fantasy background. The stories are gently erotic--you won't find anything harshly graphic in this collection.

The collection includes these stories:

Beauty and the Beast
Cat and Mouse
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Goldilocks and the Three Barons
Mirror on the Wall
Mrs. Fox
Snow White in the Woods
The Empress' New Clothes
The Goose Girl
The Sheep in Wolves' Clothing
The Ugly Duckling

I quite enjoyed the twists on Beauty and the Beast and The Goose Girl. The rest of the stories I found less memorable; some were more clever than others.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

Hush tells the story of Melkorka, an Irish princess who was kidnapped by Vikings and taken to Iceland, and rebelled against her captivity by becoming completely mute. Napoli draws from Icelandic folklore, namely the Laxdœla saga, in which Höskuldr purchases Melkorka, believing her to be a mute thrall, and it's not until her son is born and he overhears her speaking that he realizes she can talk.

Napoli's version follows Melkorka from before her capture with her sister Brigid, through the birth of her son in Iceland. I found the story particularly effective in that Napoli is able to portray Melkorka in difficult situations, in a fairly passive role, without making her seem weak or submissive.

It's one of her more difficult books, in that it is often harsh subject matter: kidnapping and slavery being only the beginning of the story. It's not a happy fairy story, that's for certain, and I didn't find it as enchanting as some of Napoli's other works. For all that it's a hard story, it's well told, and if you enjoy the darker side of mythology, I'd suggest this one.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories by Margaret Mahy

This is my favorite collection of short stories, ever. Partly because I love the stories, and partly because of the epic quest that was part of my life and involved this book.

First of all, let me just point out that if you haven't read anything by Margaret Mahy, you probably should. She's a wonderful children/young adult writer who draws a lot from mythology and folklore, although as far as I know she doesn't have any direct adaptations.

My favorites of hers, though, are her short stories, which snap and sparkle with magic, from girls with literal green thumbs, to giants' bathtubs, to angels and devils selling love, courage, and wisdom.


So that brings me to the tale of my Epic Book Quest, because it's a great story and you want to hear it.

When I was 6 or 7, one spring, my family moved one city away. The school district took pity on us and let us finish out the year at our current school, so Mom drove us half an hour or so every day. Naturally we filled the time with audio books, one of which was a book of short stories (you can perhaps see where this is going).

These short stories were so captivating and magical that we would sit and listen to the end of the current story in the car after we got where we were going. I think we may have listened to this particular book 2 or 3 times, narrated by a rich male voice. The story about the Griffin's tears particularly stuck with me, as did the one about the Angel and Devil at the Corner Grocer.

Fast forward about 18 years. I had thought of the stories from time to time, but I had no real recollection of the title or author or any details. Still, somehow it lingered in my mind, until I was determined to find it again.

I first contacted the Newton Centre Public Library's children's librarian, who chatted with me in a live session (what a concept back in 2004). After we consulted a bit, we thought it might have been a John Bellairs book, since they had several of his audio books in the collection, and they had the right "feel" to them. However, further research showed that he did not have any short stories in publication.

I then asked every children's librarian, librarian, forum, and community I could find, as well as chronicling the mission on my personal journal, with daily updates like, "They were definitely read by a man!" and "I'll find the darn thing if it's the last thing I do!" For some reason, my mom (Librarian Extraordinaire) got the idea that I should look into Margaret Mahy--it must have been ringing distant bells in her head already. However, none of her titles jumped out at me, and I continued to search.

In my searching, I had found a website called Stump the Bookseller. It cost $2 to submit a stump, but they have extensive archives, so I spent some time searching through those, by keyword. At last I gave up and sent them a check.

After 21 days, I got an email, identifying my book as (you'll have figured this part out by now) Margaret Mahy's Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories. I had my doubts, as I remembered nothing about chewing gum--in fact I find that story to be one of the least memorable in the collection. I suppose it was before the children's book publishing world went nuts with the fantasy marketing.


I hope this will inspire you to check out Margaret Mahy, in general, and this collection in particular. These stories have some great sticking power.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brobdingnagian Bards: Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales

I was first introduced to the Brobdingnagian Bards with their song "Happily Ever After," in which a princess saves herself from a dragon and dismisses the vain knight who's come to rescue her, all in a lilting, jolly tune.

In days that have long since passed,
There lived a beautiful mahogany lass.
An unmarried and virtuous princess, alas,
She was brave, strong and bold.

Tra la di di hidey ho
Di hidey hey, di hidey ho
Tra la di di hidey ho
Happily ever after.

One morning while riding no guard around,
Armed with sword should trouble abound,
She heard the most horrible sound,
And her nose burned of sulfur.

The sky it darkened, gave her horse a fright.
A dragon swooped as black as night,
Grabbed the princess then out of sight.
Her horse ran frightened home.

The king cried, "All knights be sworn!
Kill the dragon with your swords.
Return me daughter for this reward,
That you may marry her."

The bravest knight in all the realm,
Young, handsome and vain as well
Declared the maid his holy grail
And rode off to rescue her.

The knight he climbed up rugged heights
Snagged a run in his pristine tights
At cavern's shaft, he saw no lights
And heard no sound inside.

The knight called the dragon out.
But only a lady's voice came back.
"I killed the dragon!," the lady shout.
And stepped into the sun.

The princess dressed in scraps of cloth,
Her mahogany hair was all burned off.
A muddy face, the vain knight scoffed,
"Can you clean be for we go?"

The princess still in clothes undone,
Told the knight, "I work alone."
The knight rode lone into the setting sun.
And the princess was happy thereafter.

The Bards note says that the song is based loosely on The Paperbag Princess. In whatever case, it's a lovely little ditty.

So when I looked into it farther, I found that it was on their collection, Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales.

The Bards feature a rather simple sound, reminiscent of what you'd find in a castle hall or tavern in days of yore. And these days, as well, as they mainly played various cons and festivals. (They are no longer together, it looks like, although their music is available as CDs or downloads on amazon and cdbaby.) With simple tunes on recorder, autoharp, and mandolin as a counterpart to Marc Gunn's rich, playful voice, this album makes me want to open an old style tavern with a big hearth, heavy wooden tables, ale, and music. I think it will transport you there, as well.

Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales features fairy tale adaptations and spoofs, along with riffs on Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other pop culture fun. I hope you'll check them out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Rumpelstiltskin

Man, this is a greedy king. Well, of course, we all know the story of Rumpelstiltskin, and Faerie Tale Theatre doesn't go out of its way to excuse that. The king is depressed because he can't find a princess rich enough to marry, when the Miller shows up and begins talking about his beautiful and talented daughter who can embroider tapestries that are like gold--that are practically gold--that in a gold-like way are very much like gold!

Which naturally leads to the tale as we know it.

Again, this episode isn't one of the best as far as pacing, although it is a quite close translation of the commonly told tale. The special effects are dated but they work pretty well for this particular tale--and I admit I do love the matte paintings of the external castle.

Also: Unicorn pony? Freakin' cute.

You can watch for free on Hulu, though, so that's a good price for a show.

(I've chosen to review all the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes separately because they vary so much and cover so many different stories. Also: reading/watching the material for this blog takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoy the slightly more in depth reviews this way.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flora's Very Windy Day by Matt Phelan

I can hardly describe my excitement when I saw that Jeanne Birdsall (of The Penderwicks
) was teamed up with Matt Phelan, one of my all time favorite illustrators. I mean, just look at this--every page is delicious:

Reading this reminded me of Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak, and Labyrinth, and other tales wherein the rescue of a sibling or significant other takes one into fairy land or some other strange place. Although that's not a "fairy tale" per se, it did get me thinking. It has the same kind of thread through mythology and literature as so many of the fairy tales that are told over and over. It seems to fit here, anyway.

In any case! Check out Flora's Very Windy Day--it's glorious!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lon Po Po by Ed Young

This was a fun discovery. Lon Po Po is, as you can see, a Chinese variant of Little Red. Three sisters are left at home when granny comes calling--except it's really Lon Po Po, the wolf, pretending to be granny in order to eat the girls. Fortunately the eldest sister, Shang, figures out the ploy, and the girls in their turn trick the wolf into a tree and kill him. (Poor wolf! Oh, wait, he was going to eat them...)

Young doesn't pull his punches in this retelling, from the dark and elegant artwork to the graphic nature of the story (much like the version we are familiar with, in the Grimm version). It's definitely one to check out, for the artwork alone. Of course the fairy tale component makes this Caldecott winner extra desirable for my library....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has taken on one of the more obscure Grimm tales in this retelling of Maid Maleen. (Ever heard of it? I mean if you haven't already read Book of a Thousand Days....)

Hale has taken some creative liberty with the original tale, all for the best if you ask me. It's a strange tale... Anyway, she's set the story in a fantasy land inspired by the Asian steppes, and gives her characters the normal rich treatment I have come to expect from her work. As is typical for Hale, the story is satisfying and unexpected.

You can read sample chapters from this and most of her books at her wonderful website, which also features her wonderful and fascinating blog.