Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Awesome, amazing, captivating book.

I just wanted to start with that.

I have trouble sitting through books of short stories. Usually I read one story, enjoy it, and go away to think about it and savor it. There's no impetus to find out what happens, as with a full length novel, so I'll set it aside for a few days... or weeks... Basically what I'm saying is that it normally takes me a long time to finish a book of short stories.

Not so with Kissing the Witch. I read the entire thing in one sitting. While it is technically a book of short stories, all the stories are connected, and so lead from one to the other, backwards through time, tying together the women of 13 fairy tales--witches and princesses, fairy godmothers and servant girls. Each woman tells a story, each story a unique reinterpretation, drawing the reader deeper into Donoghue's fascinating world.

In case I haven't made myself clear: Read this.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors

Mimi has a life a lot of girls would envy: a famous theatre family and the starring role in a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet. What she wants to do, though, is go to college and study medicine--a point on which she and her mother could not more strongly disagree. Then, in a quill and magical ink incident, Mimi finds herself transported back to Shakespeare's Verona, watching the actions of the tragedy play out before her. She has to learn how to take things into her own hands, and not accept fate, before it's too late for the famous tragic pair.

I found that this started slow--oh, poor Mimi, stuck on Broadway--but when she gets to Verona the story and the humor pick right up. Selfors doesn't hesitate to play with conventions from our time or Shakespeare's, and altogether, this book is a compelling, satisfying read.

(While Shakespeare isn't strictly Fairy Tale, Folklore, or Mythology, I think that it's taken on the same status and retell-ability. Don't you?)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

This is newly one of my favorite picture books. Not only a retelling of a classic tale, this is also a meta-fiction piece about stories and creativity. Honestly, I have never seen anything like this--although there are a few books that go for similar concepts, this one is so perfectly illustrated.

The pigs decide to escape their fate by escaping their story, and that is when the real adventure begins.

Weisner uses different illustration styles and even fonts to indicate the multi-storybook journey the pigs take in their attempt to alter their fates. Do they succeed? I can't give away the ending...

Whether you've got kids or just want to collect some picture books among your fairy tale collections, I highly recommend this one. It's unusual and fascinating.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

This is hardly one of those obscure pieces that I'm blurbing about, for your surprise edification, but I thought I'd say a few words about The Looking Glass Wars.

This draws on the history of Alice in Wonderland, and it's creation, rather than just reinterpreting the story. The premise being that Alice Liddell, the inspiration behind Wonderland's Alice, really was Princess Alyss, from Wonderland, and had been chased out when her Aunt took the crown. Trapped in our world, she is mocked for her believe in another world, until she finds the way back and returns to reclaim her throne.

I did enjoy this book, although I found the pacing to be a little slow. Things that I would have liked to know more about (her time in our world, possible ways that things crossed over) were sometimes skimmed over. Some of Alyss's "Woe is me" moments seemed to drag on a bit. I wouldn't call it perfect, but it was an interesting invention, drawing both from our world and Wonderland.

There are two sequels now, which are somewhere in the midst of my t0-be-read list. (It's a really, really, REALLY big list.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Now, I grew up reading C. S. Lewis's Narnia books, and I think there was a part of me that just associated him with children's books (as wonderful as they are, and even though I know he also wrote for adults). Lucky for me, this book came up in my book club, so I had the opportunity to have it forced upon me.

This is now one of my favorite retellings. Lewis offers a stunningly complex characterization; the story of Psyche and Eros, told from the point of view of one of the "ugly sisters." And, honestly, I was blown away by this. I have a tendency to get caught up with the newest releases and think of everything published before 1960 (sorry!) as "old fashioned, heavy prose." This book is one of the best books I've ever read--being both in my favorite category of story and amazingly, beautifully written.

I cannot recommend this enough. Whether or not you like the Narnia books, if you love mythology and retellings, you need to read this book.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire

I have found, in the books of his that I've read, that Gregory Maguire's writing style is a bit... hmm, heavy and slow. That's not to say I don't enjoy his work, and in fact I quite liked Mirror, Mirror. It does take a little more patience than some more accessible stories, so if you haven't read any of his stuff, be prepared for that if you pick something up.

Having said that, he does spin a good story.

This is both the tale of the fair and innocent Bianca de Nevada, and the woman who becomes her guardian, Lucrezia Borgia. Not precisely a stepmother, but something of a mother figure, Borgia is an actual historical figure, whom Maguire has bent a little for the sake of his story. However, the Borgia family was known for poisoning their rivals and being absolutely cutthroat to get what they wanted--so it's not so much a stretch to imagine her as the villain in a Snow White variant.

Maguire's fascination with her comes through, and the story focuses on Lucrezia almost more than Bianca. She comes across as both ruthless and sympathic; it is an excellent character study.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Fire Stealers: A Hopi Story by Ekkehart Malotki

My dad brought me this book after a trip to Arizona. "Because you like retold stories, right?" Indeed!

This one is very cool, with artwork by Ken Gary that's meant to evoke the Hopi art that can be found all over Arizona. The story is the Native American origin of fire story, and how the animals assisted the Hopi, bringing them fire. Of course the animals that help all bear the marks of their attempts (blackened fur or clouded eyes, etc).

It's worth it for the art alone. The story is also a great one to have in your collection.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trickster Archetypes

Just to mix things up a bit, I thought that, instead of a recommendation today, I'd run through some Trickster Archetype characters. I think knowing about these iconic characters gives an interesting perspective on some of the animals you find in adaptations. There are lots of ravens/crows in today's novelizations, but I've also seen wolves, horses, spiders, rabbits, and foxes.... And when you put them in terms of old Trickster tales, it can add another layer of meaning to the story you're reading. (And I do like layers.)

The Trickster is a motif that reaches storytelling throughout the ages. There are some types of storytelling that have a more clearly defined trickster than others, but there is usually a recognizable character. There are similarities and contrasts in these characters, but it is a fascinating study to see such a familiar character arise from diverse cultures throughout the ages.

One of the greatest Tricksters of fable history is the Coyote in the Native American tales. Coyote is cunning and smart, with insight that seems to come from out of the blue or the gods themselves. He is also one of the goofiest characters in history, letting his guard down so often that it’s a wonder his creator didn’t just throw up his hands in disgust. Coyote has the luck of being revived every time he dies, which is fortunate since he dies so frequently.

The Spider, Anansi, has that same sharp insight, and always manages to get the best of any deal. However, he doesn'tt usually seek anyone else’s downfall for the sake of making them miserable. He has no problem with causing grief to other creatures, but he doesn't go out of his way to achieve it. Rather, if there is some reason that he must make someone unhappy in order to get what he wants, he feels no regret.

For centuries, the Fox was seen as the Trickster character (think Aesop's Fables). There was a sudden shift in this idea when the Uncle Remus fables came along. Suddenly Brer Rabbit is the one fooling Brer Fox, who may seem, in these stories, to momentarily have the upper hand, but loses it quickly when Brer Rabbit outfoxes the Fox. Now the fox is not the trickster, and the focus has turned to the rabbit, who succeeds by sneaking and hiding in his Briar patch, and still gets away with tormenting the suddenly uncunning fox.

In these different fables, the Trickster motif runs true, in spite of the change of name. Often the character seems silly a great deal of the time. Sometimes he even tricks himself, or gets tricked by others when he gets overly cocky. (Although the rooster is not generally considered a Trickster.)

Brer Rabbit has a clear antagonist in the fox. Coyote and Anansi, on the other hand, run into a variety of characters ranging from gods to frogs. Brer Rabbit isn’t out to get anyone and doesn’t really seem to be trying to further any ends of his own, but he continually harasses Brer Fox. Perhaps this is simply animosity or just storytelling.

Anansi and Coyote have more of a religious influence. Both story types seek a way to understand the world and why things work the way they do. Through their various antics, they reveal the world of the gods and their respective creation stories. Though entertainment and jokes, these stories are a culture’s way of figuring out how the world got to be the way it is, from the Sun and Moon and Night to why the rivers flow in a certain direction.

The Tricksters are bad news for anyone that gets in their way, but on the flip side can be generous and surprising in their attitudes and goals. They are usually looking out for themselves first and foremost, and any favor they grant will require repayment. This theme runs through trickster tales from all cultures. Regardless of how kind they may seem to be, they are called troublemakers—Tricksters—for a reason.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

Let me just start with: Awesome.

This is the first book in Jim C. Hines' Princess series, featuring a Cinderelle, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty who will have you completely rethinking your Disney versions. These ladies are based on their original prototypes--that is to say, Cinderella (Danielle) can talk to birds, and Snow White's (Snow!--don't ask her if you can call her by her real name!) nemesis is her own mother, not a stepmother. And you probably know what happened to Sleeping Beauty (Talia).

I was beyond impressed with this. It's fast-paced, funny, and interesting, without losing sight of the characters and giving all three of these girls a lot more depth that they usually get. If you haven't read it, please give yourself the opportunity to enjoy it!

Jim C. Hines also has a blog that's great reading.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Rainbow Kingdom by Paul Tracey

This album is the essence of my childhood nostalgia. While there are not strictly any fairy tale retellings, there are a few common tropes that make me feel like it fits, categorically.

The title track, "The Rainbow Kingdom," is about a land with the best colors, until they get blown away by the wind. Teaching us, early on, not to always expect a happy ending. (Although they get a reprise, later, which suggests that they figure out how to get the colors back.)

"I Found It In A Book" is a song to make any librarian take up her flag and sing. (At least, if there was an official Library flag.)

And "Fairy Godfather" turns the three wishes concept on its head for a fun song.

The whole album is clever and creative, and I recommend it if you've got little ones who you need to introduce to the storytelling world.

You can listen to some decent samples at CDBaby. It's available for purchase or download at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fitcher's Brides by Gregory Frost

Fitcher's Brides (The Fairy Tale Series) is based on a particularly Grimm variant of Bluebeard. This rendition fills in the details with a religious cult and obscure mountain settlement, which makes a rather logical backdrop for the story.

The magical elements are very sparse, and although it's not precisely a happy ending, it's satisfying in the same way as Fitcher's Birds. I was genuinely spooked a few times -- I had to lock my doors and turn some lights on as I was reading. For the most part the writing was excellent, though a bit on the flowery side for my tastes. There was only one sentence that reminded me of a bad romance novel ("He devoured her with his eyes"), but I have to admit even so that it wasn't used quite as I would have expected.

My overall impressions were favorable. Although this is not a happy-princess-fairytale, it's worth reading if you like the darker stories.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fitcher's Bird by Grimm/Cindy Sherman

This is a straight up rendition of Fitcher's Bird, from the brothers Grimm, but illustrated with photographs by Cindy Sherman. Now, I have to say right from the beginning, dolls are creepy enough as it is. Juxtaposed with this Bluebeard variant, this book hits my goosebumps button.

Fitcher's Bird

There's nothing inherently gory, here, so I'm not saying that it couldn't be a kids' book... if you're okay with telling your kids the gruesome story in the first place. The art is all quite beautiful, if, as I have said, completely macabre.

Fitcher's Bird

Fitcher's Bird

Fitcher's Bird

This is very worthwhile, if you're a fairy tale collector.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

I have to say: Wow, I really loved this one.

First of all, I love the story, Toads and Diamonds. (It's also sometimes just called "The Fairy," you might be familiar with it under that title.) Although I have seen a few picture book version of it, this is the first novelization I am aware of.

As you can see from the cover, Tomlinson has added the spice of India to her mix of the story. Although it doesn't take place in India, she's borrowed clothing, food, and religion from the culture to create a rich fantasy world where a Snake Goddess can bless two sisters in very different ways.

Unlike the original tale, both sisters are sympathetic in this version. Although young and beautiful Diribani (in the place of the protagonist of the original tale) has lost her father, she considers her stepmother and stepsister to be her closest family. Now they are struggling to survive without their merchant father, so when Diribani goes to the well and is blessed by the Goddess with beauty--flowers and gems--her sister Tana also goes for water, but her blessing (toads and snakes) is of a much different nature.

Built into the culture is a regard for snakes (with a snake goddess, after all) and respect for nature. I was impressed at how much Tomlinson altered the story while still keeping the fundamentals the same. I would not hesitate to recommend this book, it's a delightful read and I loved the adaptation of the fairy tale.

Check out Heather Tomlinson's other fairy tale stories at her website.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tam Lin by Tricky Pixie

I can listen to SJ Tucker for days on end without tiring of her mystical voice. So although I generally stay away from musical media, I can't pass up the opportunity to point out a bit of her work.

Together with Alexander James Adams and Betsy Tinney (Tricky Pixie), she's tackled the ballad of Tam Lin in, as they put it, their attempt to "bring sexy back to this Scottish ballad."

I was previously aware of the story, and although I haven't read many adaptations, I know they're out there. This deep, dark, haunting song brought it to the forefront of my attention. The steady rhythm, threatening tone, and beautiful blend of voices has completely captivated me--I can listen to this one song over and over.

Please, for your own sake, check out this song -- and if you like it, check out the rest of SJ Tucker's work, which is as full of mythology and folklore as any artist you'll find.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

The latest addition to the Peter and the Starcatches trilogy, making it officially more than a trilogy, is Peter and the Sword of Mercy.

This continuation of the adventures of Peter Pan is the first in the series that actively contradicts J.M. Barrie's story, while still sticking close enough to give it the sense that, "Oh, Mr. Barrie overheard part of THIS story, and that's where he got the idea for HIS story."

Which can be very effective, and I think my recommendation runs this way:

If you like anything at all to do with Peter Pan, and you love all the variations, then I definitely recommend this whole set. If you like additional material as long as it doesn't contradict the original story, then I'd suggest reading the original trilogy here, and skipping the latest one. If you're deeply devoted to Barrie's rendition of Peter, then I would probably not recommend this series.

In tone, it's a lot lighter than Peter Pan. While there is a strange sense of menace in Peter's forgetfulness and unpredictability, Barry and Pearson have made Peter into a more... human character, I think is how I want to put it. Barrie's Peter is always playing, even when it puts others in danger. Barry and Pearson's Peter has a stronger sense of responsibility and devotion to his friends. So if those aspects of the original story bothered you, this is definitely an interesting adaptation that you would probably enjoy.

My problem with this latest book was that there were too many characters. I think if I had read the other three more recently, that wouldn't have been a problem, but the authors leaned on their previous characterizations to make them familiar to me. The last fifth of the book, or so, is divided into at least six viewpoints of the action, and that's about when I started to struggle to get through it, although it wraps up nicely at the end. So, ehh, I hesitate to call that a bad thing, because if you've recently read the first three books, I don't think this would be such a problem.

Overall, I would say that if you liked the first three in this series, give this one a shot, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Godmother by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

I was pretty impressed by how well the fairy tales fit into modern Seattle, and I enjoyed the themes the main character, Rose, pulled out of the book of fairy tales. I won't go into details, but I will say that Cinderella, Snow White, Hanzel and Gretel, Bluebeard, and Puss in Boots all make appearances of various kinds.

I felt like the book wrapped up a little too quickly, something like, "My, this is quite a word count I have! Time to end things!" However, upon consideration, I felt that kind of fit with the rush the characters themselves felt they were in, and to be fair, I did read the second half of the book in one big chunk, after taking several... weeks? to get through the first part. (I'm one of those people who is always reading about 20 books at once.)

In any case, I feel that if you enjoy fairy tales, you'd like this book.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

I came across Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli, incidentally at the library. I've enjoyed her work in the past, so I picked it up.

Napoli has taken some of the oldest known versions of the Cinderella story, from China, and spun them into a beautiful narrative. I don't know why it never occurred to me before, but of course where else would you find that small feet would be such a strong factor in how beautiful a woman is? Now that it's been pointed out, it makes perfect sense to me.

This is one of my favorite's by Napoli: quick pacing and interesting characters keep the story moving right along for a quick read and great variation on Cinderella (even with as many versions as there are out there).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jim Henson's Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story

I just happened upon this DVD being returned to the library, and decided to snag it before anyone else could check it out. What a delightful surprise--this retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk from the Jim Henson Creature Shop was made for TV in 2001. The special effects are right up to par and the acting and story blend in this twisted take on an old tale. It gives some balanced perspective, which is certainly a trend lately, with telling the other side of the story, as well as continuing so that we get to know what happens after the ending of the original tale.

Jack and the Beanstalk


Here's a snippet from the end of the show so you can get an idea of some of the special effects, etc:

Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story -- worth checking out for all fairy tale fans!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean

So, I'm sure that most of the people here are aware of the "authorized sequel" to Peter Pan. It all began when the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London called for, basically, a contest, and found Geraldine McCaughrean to write Peter Pan in Scarlet.

I admit that I ordered it and began to read it with great trepedition. I didn't see how it could possibly live up to J.M. Barrie's work. However, I was pleased to find it to be quite a lot of fun, in a very close approximation to Barrie's style.

It's a good story, but I'm not sure I care one way or the other about it being an "authorized sequel," as all the hype would have us believe is so important. I don't think that it's necessarily better than some of the other adaptations, prequels, and sequels that are out there by now.

Still, I think it's worth a read, if you like the Peter Pan mythology at all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups by Jennifer Rowe

I received Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups as a surprise gift, and was delighted to read through it in an afternoon.

These seven short tales aren't adaptations so much as new whimsies, but they do represent the familiar elements of fairy tales we are more familiar with, from a little bit of magic to a journey of discovery. Frogs, trolls, and dragons populate the pages, along with some modern day archetypes of princesses and fools.

There's not a lot of depth to the stories, as they are all VERY short, but for a quick, enjoyable read, I'd recommend this book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse ed. by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones

Although I'm not a huge poetry fan -- I tend to like my prose, and stick with my prose, and be happy with my prose -- I do want to recommend this delightfully disgusting book:

Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse, edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones.

It's set up much like a Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky book of verses, but the reading material is definitely oriented toward the child inside of the adult. From the ghoulish to the gorey, there are giggles aplenty throughout. At 108 pages (of verse), it's a quick and enjoyable read.

Why am I posting about it here? While it's certainly not a fairy tale, the writers have drawn on that substance from which the best stories are made -- fear of things that go bump in the night, and the dark side of humanity that feeds those very bumpers. With nods to other authors, like Lewis Carrol ("You're Deceased, Father William," etc), this book is definitely one you want to get your hands on.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happily N'Ever After

Although it got hit hard by critics, I would recommend Happily N'Ever After for fairy tale fans.

Essentially, Cinderella's step mother takes over the wizard's tower, where she is able to overbalance the scales of good and evil and thereby take over the kingdom. Cinderella and friends have to save the day.

I think the main problem with the movie was that they really aimed too low. This is primarily a children's movie, and there isn't a lot of depth to really capture an adult audience. Of course, being who I am, I enjoyed the mixture of traditional fairy tales and the twists involved in all the bad guys suddenly being the winners. The voice acting was well cast, and the animation was more consistent than exceptional. (Possibly I am so used to the stylization of anime that American stylization just looks strange to me.)

I did think it was cute, and it got a few laughs out of me -- although I'm not sure that ALL of them were places I was "supposed" to be laughing! In the end, I would recommend it, at least if you're reading this, but keep in mind if you do watch it, it's really pretty fluffy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Betsy Who Cried Wolf by Gail Carson Levine

Can I just say... I love everything Gail Carson Levine writes? I've never read anything by her that disappointed me. And that's always just nice to find an author like that.

Betsy Who Cried Wolf is one of her picture books, illustrated by Scott Nash, who captures the warmth and humor of the story perfectly.

My favorite part of this variant was that Betsy knows the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, giving her some clues as to how to act. She gets tricked by the wolf, not just causing mischief. Fortunately, she comes up with her own solution.

If you enjoy picture books, this is a great one for a fairy tale/folklore collection.

Also, Levine has a wonderful blog where she answers questions about writing every Wednesday.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Two More Trickster Tales by Neil Gaiman

I can't imagine that there are many people reading this who aren't at least familiar with the work of Neil Gaiman, but while we're on the topic of Tricksters and all their mischief, I thought I would point out two of my favorites of his. (Although I don't think I have such a thing as an un-favorite, when it comes to Gaiman.)

After blowing my mind with his Sandman series, Neil got to work on full length novels. The first one I read, American Gods, gave me the now-familiar feeling of WOW that his work seems to inspire in his fans.

What I find impressive about the work is the use of gods of old, such as Odin, becoming tricksters in their adaption to American culture. But as for the how, and the why, and all the rest, I'll let you read it.

In a follow up to this, although not particularly a sequel, Gaiman offers us Anansi Boys, which I have to admit I liked even better than the first book, perhaps because of my longtime fondness for Anansi stories.

This book was a quicker read, a little less dense, perhaps, but more focused and intense. Familiar characters from folklore appear and are touched by Gaiman's particular style. And it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Nancy boy."

I'd love to get your thoughts on these, if you've read them. And then anyone who hasn't read them can perhaps browse through the comments and get a consensus. (In case the hundreds of reviews on amazon don't do the trick!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter, by Barry H. Lopez

For trickster tales, check out Barry H. Lopez's collection of Native American trickster tales, Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter. (By "bring" I mean "tell you about," since I can't afford to ship you all a copy....)

Who better to turn to, if you're looking for a trickster, than Coyote? This collection explores the world of Coyote and a cast of other animal-spirited being, from creation story to moral tale. As the first sentence says, "THOSE WHO ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE MYTHOLOGY AND folklore of the American Indian know already, perhaps, that Coyote was not necessarily a coyote, nor even a creature of strict physical dimensions."

Honestly, it's been a few years since I looked through this book. I bought it originally for my Fables and Fantasy class, waaaay back during freshman year of college.... At the time I was not familiar at ALL with Native American Folklore, and the stories amazed and fascinated me. This book is fun, well written, and should be in your collection right next to your Aesop's Fables.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fairy Tales for Computers

I came across this collection, recommended by a coworker when I was still working at Barnes and Noble. Since this particular coworker always recommended the most interesting things, I was intrigued, and of course the title served to pique my interest farther.

Fairy Tales for Computers

This collection includes:

The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster
The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma from Amerika by Franz Kafka
Notes On A Dream from the early diaries of Theodor Herzl
The Book of the Machines from Erewhon by Samuel Butler
On Intelligence from the essays of Paul Valéry
The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen

From the introduction:

In electronic terms the stories are prehistoric. Yet every race of beings needs a mythos of tradition: perhaps this collection may be viewed as semi-sacred prophetic writings that will help give computers a sense of religious origin and historic identity...

...Any computer confident of its own strength will not be disturbed by being treated as a possible enemy of man, or if offended should remember that gods and mortals have always been rivals, and the universe has best thrived--at least in fairy tales--when the competition is friendly...

...While this book is published primarily for machines in a world they already dominate, persons whose duty it is to tend machines, and even those persons not yet fully affiliated or enmeshed, may take pleasure in reading it for their own peripheral purposes. At least, respectfully, this possibility has not been entirely ruled out by the publishers.

Fairy Tales for Computers is a fun and thought provoking collection, and while it speaks more to science fiction than fable, it's fascinating to see how building a mythology could be similar for any type of creature. I do find it particularly interesting that all the stories predate modern computers but still seem to predict the direction that such machines are going in. I recommend it for any library that has an interest in fairy tales and the mythic element of history (and the future).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on a spindle and sleeps for 100 years. Then she's awakened by her Prince's kiss and falls madly in love with him at first sight, and is carried off to his palace to be his bride.

So what happens to the castle? The kingdom remnants have slipped away... there's nothing much left to rule, but here is this castle and the servants who were asleep with the princess for 100 years. What are they to do?

Linda Medley explores the question in her beautiful graphic novel, Castle Waiting. This collection brings together the first 12 issues of the Eisner Award-winning series. This is one of those books that you can just immerse yourself into, the drawings as compelling as the writing, the story spun slowly out so that even as the action moves on, the character's past is revealed in tantalizing tidbits. With engaging nested stories (for those who like that style), this book ends up including multiple tales, all with fairy-tale flavor, feminine empowerment in a range of forms, and some wonderful offhand references to other stories.

The artwork is gorgeous and creative, a far cry from the "cartoony" feel of some comic books, so if you haven't read any graphic novels before, this might be a good one to try. Altogether, Medley portrays her story well, both in words and images, for a delightful exploration of Sleepy Beauty's castle. I'm looking forward to Volume 2.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead

We all know the tale of Robin Hood. Most of us here probably have some idea of the minstrel origins of the story, and that the legend has been around for so long that it's impossible to pick out the truth of the tale.

And now there are more versions than can be counted. Retellings from major fantasy authors, movie versions from the entire history of Hollywood, short stories, poems, etc.

Stephen R. Lawhead has written one more. But Hood is a little different. Sherwood Forest is gone, Nottingham is nowhere to be found. Instead, Lawhead takes the story and spins it out with Celtic mythology and mysticism.

I really enjoyed this. It did get a bit slow in the middle, mostly because I could see that it was being drawn out to be more than one book, and the story would not tie up neatly in this one. It is incredibly fun, though, to watch for familiar characters and see what faces they would take in this new story. I definitely suggest you add this to your reading list, either if you love Robin Hood or if you love to see the permutations of ancient stories.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Merlin's Harp by Ann Eliot Crompton

I read Merlin's Harp a few months ago and set it aside with a vague sense of disappointment, but find that now it's sticking with me in unexpected ways. I think the main flaw in this is that Crompton didn't develop the characters very much, she simply plucked up the characters we know so well and presented them once more, although from a different viewpoint.

Merlin's Harp

The language is beautifully poetic and it is a startlingly different viewpoint, although, as I said, it's the same story. She had a few nice twists, although more twists to THE story than to her story, as I didn't have any trouble seeing where they would lead.

I'd really only recommend this if you've already read a lot of other stories and versions of Arthurian Legend. It's a good addition, but not so in depth or well told that it stands on its own, without all the works that have come before.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week: Speak

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

Every year around BBW, it seems like there's a big outcry over some book or other. (Anybody else remember The Higher Power of Lucky getting pulled out of circulation by a librarian because of the use of the word "scrotum"?) This year all my blogs and sources are pointing out the debate over Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Speak. Since the original article (linked to in Anderson's blog entry), which scorned the book as "soft pornography," there have been very many responses from the writing community.

Naturally that made me want to read it.

I sat down with it and read it straight through, beginning to end, a rare perfect book. It moved along so smoothly and convincingly that I could not put it down. It did remind me of the worst of my middle school and high school experiences. I was utterly captivated by the main character, Melinda, and her freshman year.

So, as far as this blog is concerned, this isn't strictly (or even loosely) a fairy tale adaptation. And yet... and yet... What are fairy tales but stories to help us understand things? Which this book most certainly is. And there were enough fairy tale references to more than satisfy me--Anderson drew on the dark aspects of some well-known tales, giving her book more than a little Grimm flavor. Even so, she is true to the voice of the American high school student, writing in a fluid, contemporary voice.

I hope you'll read this book. It's a beautiful, truthful book. It's a shame that anyone would find this book offensive--it's not a comfortable read, and yet it deals with one of the harshest realities in our society with uplifting grace and eloquence.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Banned Books Week: Children's and Household Tales

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you to read that book challenges are not a recent phenomenon. Thomas Bowdler made a name for himself by editing Shakespeare into editions that would be considered more suitable for women and children. And the Brothers Grimm, from their first collection of folk tales in 1812, spent the next 7 editions of their book adding and removing stories and content in response to reviews that said that too many of their stories were inappropriate for children, in spite of the collection's name, Children's and Household Tales.

Fortunately, a lot of the editions available today include the original, bloodier and grimmer, versions of the tales.

Even recently, the collection or stories from the collection have continued to be challenged. In 1989, an illustrated edition of Little Red Riding Hood was banned from two school districts--and do you suppose it was because the story was too scary? There was too much symbolism of growing up and predatory sexual circumstances?? The wolf was gay???


It was because Little Red was depicted as carrying a bottle of wine to her grandmother.