Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Castle Waiting vol. II by Linda Medley

This.

Yes.

This is good.

You should read it.

Okay, clearly I loved this. But actually I must as a provision to that recommendation. If you read Castle Waiting (vol 1), then yes, you should definitely read this.

The premise is this: After Sleeping Beauty was awakened by her Prince, she left to go be his wife in his kingdom. But who was supposed to rule her old land? And what happened to the castle she left behind? This graphic novel set attempts to answer those questions, filling the castle with a unique and wonderful mix of new characters, some giving us glimpses into a fairy tale world we are familiar with, but generally enriching it with new stories.

It's fabulous. It's funny: I laughed out loud often while reading this (vol 2), causing my attempting-to-nap husband to give me dark looks. If you aren't very into graphic novels, this is a good one to try. It's not terrible cartoony: the artwork is simple, elegant, and clear.

I suppose I should say that it's also powerfully a women's story, but to me that seems kind of silly. There are strong and well-rounded male and female characters, and isn't that how the best stories should be? I think this is one of the best stories, and I do hope Ms. Medley will continue.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Cat's Tale by Bettie Sharpe

Okay. So. I have a confession. My husband recently bought me a Kindle, and I've been going a little crazy, checking the amazon.com daily deals for ebooks, and browsing through amazon.com for cheap books. However, I had heard of this one, Cat's Tale by Bettie Sharpe, some time before I got my Kindle, and when I remembered it I went back to see how much it cost. At $3.03 it was irresistible, especially as there aren't that many Puss in Boots retellings out there.

This is the story of Lady Catriona, a selfish woman who becomes the king's concert. But when he dies and the line to succession is left in question, Cat finds herself caught trying to make alliances with both the princess and the king's magician. When the magician learns of her deceit, he turns her into a cat and tries to drown her in the miller's pond....

And naturally she hooks up with the miller's youngest son, and the pieces of the familiar story fall into place.

I'm not a big reader of romance novels, so I don't know how this compares in terms of that. There are a few sex scenes and they seemed enjoyable enough. As far as the fairy tale goes, I thought it was a creatively done rewrite, giving the characters some depth as well as putting some twists on the old story, while still sticking to the bones of it.

It's a quick read, really a novella more than a novel. Unfortunately it's only available in digital format, but you can get it through amazon or audible and of course there is a kindle app for computers, so that's an option too.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

As you may recall, when I reviewed The Secret of Moonacre, I said I would try to find and review the book that it was based on, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I was able to get it fairly quickly through the Interlibrary Loan function of my local library.

It's a dear little book, written in a style similar to George MacDonald and other older writers for children; not watered down by any means, but definitely with the suggestion that good things come to good little girls and boys, and bad things come to naughty children.

I liked the story itself; the pacing was better than the movie, which sometimes felt abrupt or rushed. In the book, though, I often felt like things were falling into place TOO neatly, which is fair enough for a children's book but I guess I wanted things to be a little more complex or messy--or at least for the heroine not to triumph on her first try every time. (The one time that things did not go according to plan, she still discovered several important pieces of information which led to her eventually success.)

I hesitate to say that this might be one of the rare times when I like the movie better than the book... but it's definitely a close call, in spite of the many changes that were made to the movie. Perhaps because I saw the movie first?

The book is worth reading, especially if you like this somewhat older style of children's book. If you'd rather read a dark story with a lot of twists, you might want to give this one a pass. (Although I guess you could say there are twists in this one; to me they seemed more like things that had been subtly set up, falling into place, than surprises.)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Voyage of the Basset by James C. Christensen

I have always loved James C. Christensen's artwork, so one day while I was waxing poetic to my friend Sheila about his art, she said, "Wait a minute, I know that name sounded familiar. TELL ME you've read The Voyage of the Basset?"

Well I HADN'T. So naturally I immediately sought it out...

And let me tell you: this book is gorgeous. I knew it would be, of course; every page is illustrated by Christensen.

As I read, at first I worried that it would be more of a mythology review than an actual story. Mr. Aisling and his two daughters go for a walk one night and find a ship awaiting them: The Basset. They set out on a voyage of discovery, visiting royal fairies and other legendary creatures. But as they continue on their way, and I continued through the book, there are dangers both obvious and subtle in store for them.

I really liked the way the story was woven and the resolution. And the reminder that "By believing, one sees." Pretty apt for those of us who love fairy tales and mythology, isn't it?

This is definitely a little heavier than your typical picture book, but it's well worth checking out, both for the story and OF COURSE for the artwork. It's a bit pricey, used on amazon, but you can probably get it through your library. And if you can't, you tell them to get a copy!


Monday, November 14, 2011

NBC's Grimm (Pilot)

I was a little slower to catch Grimm (thank goodness for hulu, where I don't have to be on time!), but I finally saw the pilot of this show, too.

I think it shows some promise, although is much more aimed toward people who like a gritty police procedural than those who are looking for a fantasy story. The set up is that Nick is a police detective and one day he starts seeing creepy monster faces on passing people. His aunt shows up and tells him bits and pieces about his family legacy: he's a Grimm, one of the few people who can see what no one else can. Which starts him down a spiral of fairy tale mysteries, beginning with a predator hunting and killing girls wearing red....

I'm a bit worried at the show's early tendency to only have women as victims. So far all the interesting characters are male, except for the aunt who is clearly, from the beginning, slated to not be around for very long. (Which I can understand, as she'd be able to explain everything, and that would make it Too Easy. Still, so far I'd rather the show had been about her--what's HER story?! She kicks ass! Ah, well.)

I'm willing to give this one a little time to get its feet under it, because hey, I'll take my fairy tales how I can get 'em. The special effects aren't bad, so far--not big budget Hollywood great but certainly passable. The actors... ehh, nothing outstanding so far but give them some time to figure out who their characters are.

You can (as I mentioned) watch this on hulu if you don't have the network or the time to watch it when it's scheduled:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ABC's Once Upon a Time (Pilot)

If you are a fairy tale enthusiast like me (does anyone other than that read this blog??) then you have also been looking forward to ABC's new fairy tale mashup, Once Upon a Time. The pilot aired last Sunday, and those of us who are hulu-inclined may or may not have caught up since then.

I watched the first episode yesterday with my husband. There was a bit of cheese involved, some definite hamming, at least in the fairy tale backstory--but not as much as I feared. The early scene that was released as a promotional bit was probably the worst as far as that went, and it was literally the second scene in the episode (where the evil queen comes in and warns everyone that she's going to take away their happy endings).

The show has gotten some mixed reviews, especially as far as mainstream reviewers are concerned, but all of the feedback I've heard from the fairy tale communities has been positive. I'll add my own to that--it's a lot of fun to look for the fairy tale references and see how the characters are spun to be recognizable but modern in the Storybrook, Maine, setting.

Even my husband, who politely indulges my fairy tale obsessions, got to the end of the episode and said, "Wait... so... is the next one out yet?" Which I think is very promising in terms of layman fans of the show.

Here is the trailer, in case you somehow have missed it:


Also it's available on hulu; I'm not sure if they'll have an expiration date with it now--I don't see one at the moment but they do tend to roll five episodes at a time for current network TV.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, is not a picture book, to be clear before we start. It is in fact a big fat novel, but the color illustrations are really lovely. I think there were 8 or 10 set throughout the book.

As far as the story itself, I think it calls to mind Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak or Labyrinth--another story of an older sister going to rescue a young sibling, kidnapped by otherworldly creatures. Although in this case, the young brother is kidnapped by crows. Still, there is plenty of magic and enchantment once Prue, the elder sister, follows her brother into the Impassable Wilderness, the magical forest of so many fairy tales.

Her not-quite-friend Curtis follows along and has adventures of his own. The two soon discover that there is much more happening in the Wildwood than one missing little boy, and find themselves placed where they can effect events.

Honestly I found this book a struggle to get through. It was way too wordy and there was not nearly the depth I was hoping for in a book over 500 pages long. Meloy doesn't have the gift of description that some children's writers do, and even as an adult I found myself rushing past the lengthy descriptions of everywhere the children ended up.

Even so, the plot was entertaining enough that I wanted to finish the book (even if I did speed-read through quite a bit of it).

My main problem with this book was the parents. It's tricky to have a child protagonist if there are adults in the picture; I think that is why there are so many orphans in children's literature. But the parents in Wildwood are alive and well, and, it turns out they know more about what's going on that they're letting on. Prue eventually discovers, after she returns home (in the middle of the book), that her parents made a bargain: they couldn't have children, so they made a deal with a woman from the Wildwood, that if they ever had a second child, that child would belong to her.

Now, in fiction, I can see a bargain like that being struck. After all, they don't even have ONE child, how likely are they to have two? What I could not get past was the parents' attitude, when they discover that the reason their children are missing was that the daughter went to find the baby, and found out that he'd been taken by the women they struck the bargain with.

And they shrug their shoulders and give up. And Prue says she's going to get him back, and they discourage her, saying that the three of them can be a happy family. I find that utterly beyond the realm of believability. Whatever other charms Wildwood may hold, that section in the middle ruined the book for me.

That may not be a factor for other people. Overall, I can't really recommend this book unless you are a hardcore Decemberist fan (the author is one of the band members) or if you... hate parents or something. The illustrations are gorgeous, and I hope we'll see more of Carson Ellis's work in children's literature. If you see the book at the store, I'd encourage you to pick it up and flip through for the lovely inserts.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thumbelina of Toulaba by Daniel Picouly, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

This is a rather odd little retelling of Thumbelina. It follows the basic plot of Anderson's Thumbelina, but with enough variation to offer a reader some surprise.

The real delight is the gorgeous pictures, vivid and bright and eccentric. At 36 pages, it's a quick read but not so fast that you can't get into the fantastically illustrated world of this particular Thumbelina.

There's not much more to say about it, although--especially--at only $6.78 from amazon.com's bargain books, it's a worthwhile addition to a fairy tale collection.


Friday, September 30, 2011

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

The Amaranth Enchantment is Julie Berry's refreshing take on Cinderella--although the heroine, Lucinda, never quite makes it to the ball. She does manage to dance with the prince a few times along the way, though.

Lucinda's parents died when she was only five years old, leaving her penniless and in the care of her aunt and uncle. Her aunt is a miserable woman who makes both their lives terrible, and when Lucinda's uncle dies, her aunt casts her out onto the street. Lucinda casts her fate with that of a strange woman, Beryl, a beneficent creature from another world; the two of them, lonely, find friendship with each other.

With the help of Beryl and a street thief named Peter, Lucinda has a chance to win true love... and save the kingdom, while she's at it.

The story was pretty good. I loved seeing the elements of Cinderella crop up without actually reading the same old story of Cinderella again. Overall, there were elements that didn't hang together, and too much crying and random coincidence for my personal taste. But this is a quick, fun read with a creative premise. It's worth checking out if you want something light to read.


October 1st Edit: It's currently $2.99 for the kindle, which is pretty reasonable if you want a chance to check it out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Secret of Moonacre

Have you guys HEARD about this MOVIE? It is AMAZING.

I spotted it at the library and thought it looked like it might be worth a go... although I was afraid it might also be really cheesy. I think it was the holographic cover that had me worried. But never fear! It turned out to be AWESOME.

I'll compare it to Stardust or The Golden Compass as far as quality/special effects/fantasy movie, though the plot is not anything like either of them. This is about a newly orphaned girl, Maria Merryweather, who goes to live with her uncle at Moonacre Manor. Her only legacy from her deceased father is a book which tells the ancient story of the Merryweathers and the De Noirs, two families that have been feuding for years.

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Naturally, she, a Merryweather, has continuous run-ins with this scoundrel, Robin De Noir.

As she spends time at Moonacre Manor, she quickly comes to discover that all is not as simple and mundane as the life she is used to. The stars on her ceiling move, strange creatures appear and disappear, et cetera. She unravels the mystery of Moonacre, and discovers that there is very little time to save it and the people she has come to know.

The plot is solid, but this movie is worth it for the costumes alone. I had complete and utter dress lust after watching this movie. I mean, LOOK:

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There's a romantic sub-plot, a handful of fun and eccentric characters, and a typically wonderful performance by Tim Curry as the bad guy. My only real problem with this movie was the occasional feeling of things being rushed--which isn't a problem so much as it makes me want to read the book the movie was adapted from, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. (It's on my library list, so we'll see about a review in the near future....)

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Definitely check this out if you like fantasy movies; it's really well done.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

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Enchanted Glass is the story of Andrew Hope, a young professor who's just inherited more than he realizes from his grandfather, and Aidan Cain, a boy who has just lost his grandmother and his home, and is on the run though he doesn't know what he's running from.

With her customary skill, Jones draws the reader in to the story of a magical estate, a "field of care," in which the mundane meets the mythical. Creatures of fairy lore live all around Andrew's home, and it's his job to walk the boundaries and see that all is well.

This book is mostly brilliant for the setting and characters. The plot is good, too, but it's the people that really shine--like a lot of British comedy, once the situation is set up, the characters run away with it. My main issue with this was that just as I was getting into it, the plot was tied up and the book ended. Which isn't a BAD thing, per se, but perhaps it was geared more towards children and I got hooked and wanted something a bit deeper and more grown up.

In either case, I recommend it for a different twist on the Underhill type stories of fairy and folklore, or if you like a dose of British humor with your fantasy.


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Fall

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The Fall is a strange and beautiful movie. Although it's definitely its own thing, you could compare it to Pan's Labyrinth or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, or other mind-trip films with gorgeous cinematography.


I can't believe I never heard of this until a few weeks ago. As soon as I heard the premise, then saw the preview, I had to see the movie. And it's well worth it, for the imagery alone.

The story itself is of two people who meet in a hospital: a little girl, Alexandria, with a broken arm, and Roy Walker, a movie stunt man who has seriously injured himself and is now contemplating suicide. They meet incidentally, and he begins to tell her a vast fantasy story, partly to entertain her and partly to manipulate her.

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The fantasy story is the richer, less coherent part of the film, although it fits as it is mutable and involves a lot of input from Alexandria, whose expression of interest or boredom often influences the direction of the story. Roy's cruel streak is balanced by Alexandria's optimism, and the story and reality conflate toward the end of the film.

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The movie ends on a wistful, bittersweet note. The fairy tale/mythology motifs are subtle but present. And as I said, the film is worth watching for the cinematography alone.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey

This book is another entry in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey. All the books in the series feature a mage who has control of an element (fire, water, earth, or air) and borrow heavily from fairy tales for their plots.

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Unnatural Issue is the story of Suzanne, who has grown up in her household without the acknowledgement of her father. Obsessed with his grief at the death of her mother, he blames his daughter for his wife's death, and the staff has orders that he never set eyes on her.

As she comes of age, she falls into the care of The Puck (of Shakespearean fame), who, in Lackey's world, is a nature god who teaches young Suzanne all she needs to know about caring for the elemental earth. One day her father sees her--for the first time in years--and conceives a plan to use forbidden necromantic powers to bring his long-dead wife back to life.

Loosely based on the Donkeyskin story-type, and set against a background of burgeoning WWI, Lackey's story is a fairly quick, interesting read, a bit bogged down by her tendency to tell and not show, and her characters' needs to discuss, mentally or aloud, every aspect of their decisions. In spite of that, it's an engaging story, and the protagonist is certainly sympathetic. Lackey throws a hitch in her usual romantic story by having Suzanne besotted with a man who shows no return interest, even as the other main character falls for her. The wrap-up to that part of the storyline felt a bit sudden and unsatisfactory to me, but all is well and so--happily ever after.

I did like the way Donkeyskin was incorporated. It was not as straightforward as I would have thought, and is mostly in the setup of the story, which Lackey takes from there to make her own.

If you've enjoyed the other entries in this series, I recommend this one. A few characters from the other book make minor appearances (although it's been long enough since I read the others that I only had vague recollections of the stories they were in). It's about on par with the others in the series.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Snow Queen's Shadow by Jim C. Hines

The more I read of Jim Hines work, the more I love his writing. If you are a regular reader of this blog, PLEASE do yourself a favor and read his Princess series. You will not regret it!

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This is the fourth (and final) installment in the series, and it was good. Really good. Amazing. I was not expecting to laugh out loud, or to cry, and I did both. (Really my eyes just misted up for a moment... I swear.... >.>)

I don't want to tell you too much of the plot, in case you haven't read the previous books. Let me tell you a bit about the characters, instead.

Danielle (Cinderella) is the princess of Lorindar, married to prince Armand. She had a glass sword which never cuts her, the legacy gift of her mother. She knows how to use it. She has a son and the powerful love she has for her family shines through her actions. She is totally the brains of the operation. She still cleans a bit around the palace, out of habit.

Talia (Sleeping Beauty) is gifted with fairy beauty, grace, and charm. And she despises the fairies for it--after all, those gifts lead to the downfall of her family, her 100 years of sleep, and her rape by the prince who "rescued" her. Now she's a fighter, fiercely loyal to her friends, and stubbornly resistant to the use of magic. And she's lost her heart to someone who can't return her love.

Snow (Snow White!) is a powerful sorceress who uses her mirror magic to light their way, see far away places, and more, though the toll of her magic is more than she admits. She is sensual and sexy and sassy, by far the most glib of the three. She has a more serious side, and the effects of her broken heart (her mother killed the one man she really loved) follow her through her more carefree years with Danielle and Talia.

The three of them together form a sort of kick-ass/Charlie's Angels-esque secret agency for Queen Beatrice, and they stop the truly awful magic and political attacks on the Kingdom of Lorindar. Though these books are funny, I would hesitate to call them lighthearted: Hines gives the princesses real stakes, and the consequences for their failures follow them through the series. There is no "and everything went back to normal" at the end of each installation. And because of that, they are more powerful, and will get to you, more than you expect!

As much as I love the cover art (and I do!) I think the covers are a little misleading. You might look at them and think: "Here are some hard-core chicks! All right!" And that's true... but there is a lot of depth to the stories as well, and I'm not sure the covers quite nail just how... good!... these books are.


Unlike perpetual series (which Hines admitted on his blog was his original conception for the Princess novels) which can drag on in a state of limbo, each book in the series gets better. I loved his use in this one, not only of The Snow Queen, but also of Snow White and Rose Red, in a most unexpected manner. The character development and plot were perfect, making the quartet of books one of my all-time favorite fairy tale adaptations. These aren't retellings, per se--most of Hines's books deal with the aftermath of the stories we know. Just what does "Happily Ever After" mean? More trouble, usually--and I think that's part of what makes them more enjoyable that the average retelling.

Please read these! You'll be glad you did, and if you ever have a little girl who is obsessed with Disney Princesses, here are three amazing, charming, and fabulous princesses you can introduce her to, as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Three Little Pigs

I was not looking forward to watching this. The Three Little Pigs is not a favorite story of mine, and I am often perplexed as to how it gets lumped in with "fairy tales" when obviously it is just an overtold children's story.

However, as often happens when there's not a lot of tale to work with, Fairie Tale Theater does a surprisingly good job of filling in the time slot.

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This is the story of three brothers: Peter, Paul, and Larry. All three are on their own agenda; all three think they have the best idea about how things should be done. Peter is scheming to make it big through real estate fraud, Paul is looking out for the ladies, and Larry is an artist, musician, and architect who has a lot of big ideas. When the three brothers are sent by their mother, they are all determined to make it in the world, though with very different ideas about how to do so.

With Billy Crystal as Larry and Jeff Goldblum as the Big Bad Wolf, I did get a few laughs out of this episode. It MAY be my favorite telling of the Three Little Pigs, though I am not sure I'm ready to admit that.

Definitely a strong entry in the FTT collection, with enough humor to keep the adults in the room engaged.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Narnia Week: The Magicians and The Magician King

"You HAVE to read this book," Nathan said, and he put The Magicians in my hands. "It's like Harry Potter for grown-ups. But better."

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Actually, I think it's more like Harry Potter meets Narnia meets The Phantom Tollbooth, for grownups. I don't even want to tell you anything about the plot, because it's so amazing, you'll want that "reading for the first time" feeling to be completely unspoiled. But to start, you have a young man, Quentin, who is about to graduate high school, and feels there is something missing, at some deep, fundamental level, from his life. When he is whisked away to take a test for a very special academy, Brakebills, his life changes in more ways than he could have imagined.

Somehow these books manage to cram in allusions and references, and never once be derivative. Lev Grossman's writing is biting, bitter but funny, and completely captivating.

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Even better--in a rare trick for a sequel--is The Magician King, which continues the story of Quentin with his desire to go on a quest. This is to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader what the first book is to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe--again, very much the grown-up version. Interspersed with that quest is the harrowing story of Julie, Quentin's childhood friend who missed out on the magic of Brakebills college, but found it again on her own, darker path.

I cannot rave about these books enough. Please read them. They are darkly beautiful, captivating, frightening--everything Narnia for grown-ups should be.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Narnia Week: Till We Have Faces

Til We Have Faces is C. S. Lewis's take on the myth of Eros and Psyche. It has nothing at all to do with Narnia, but I feel leaving it out this week would be denying you the chance to know about Lewis's greatest work. Well, he is noted as considering it his most mature and masterly work of fiction, which I agree with, out of what I've read. It is my favorite.


This is one of my favorite retellings, ever, as well. 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. This book is one of the best books I've ever read--being both in my favorite category of story and amazingly, beautifully written.

This book makes me long for more mythology and fairy tale retellings from Lewis... I guess I will just have to read the rest of his books, instead!

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.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Narnia Week: The Life and Faith of C.S. Lewis

The Life and Faith of C.S. Lewis: The Magic Never Ends is another one I spotted incidentally at the library, and as I have been going through a bit of a Lewis phase lately, reading his work more widely than I have in the page, I thought I'd check it out. Also it's only an hour and twenty minutes, so I didn't think it could be that much of a waste of time.

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Well, it wasn't THAT much of a waste of time, though frankly, I was pretty disappointed. This movie is like... for Christians who have never heard of C.S. Lewis? I guess? I'm not really sure what they were going for here, although maybe they weren't sure, either, and that's why the video was so generally disorganized. It skipped around through time AND theme, not really settling on anything long enough to be interesting. The interviews with people who flinched away from the details of Lewis's life were actually embarrassing after Laura Miller's direct and respectful analysis of how his personal life influenced his fiction.

I wouldn't recommend this unless you are a huge Lewis fan, and if you are a huge Lewis fan, this video doesn't have anything new. There are interviews with both his stepsons, which was interesting for a moment. But every time they started to get past the basic plot of one of his book, or talk about a little more detail of his life, the video veered away into the next topic, and I'm sorry, but I just don't need you to tell me the plot of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I say this AS a Lewis fan, but honestly, the best parts of this video were the harp music in the menu, and Ben Kingsley narrating.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Narnia Week: The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

I know a lot of fairy tale lovers don't count The Chronicles of Narnia as fairy tales. I grew up loving them--my mom read them to my sister and me every couple years, until I started reading them on my own--and as I got older and read more about them, I discovered that C.S. Lewis had a passion for mythology, and intended the Chronicles as fairy tales. With that in mind, I feel it's only fair to mention them on this blog.

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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, caught my eye one day at the library. I, personally, have gotten tired of people dismissing the Chronicles as "just a bunch of Christian symbolism." Sure, there is a good dose of that, but I don't think I enjoy them nearly so much if that were all they were.

And apparently I am not the only one who feels that way.

Laura Miller, who's agnostic, went through her rebellious teenage phase, and around that time she read an incidental citation of the Chronicles that listed them as "Christian allegory" (which, if you've looked at literary types, the chronicles are not classifiable as allegory). She felt so betrayed that she'd never seen it before that she gave them up and swore never to read them again.

Except she LOVES them. So eventually she went back and explored them for other merit.

The book isn't the most organized non-fiction I've ever read. It reads more like one of those organic, train-of-thought conversations you have with a good friend, you know what I'm talking about? Where one thing leads to another, and so you don't necessarily have an organized essay of thought, but you have a really good, enjoyable conversation. It's fairly witty, quite observant, and pulls in a lot of other fairy tales and literature, as well as giving a lot of background about Lewis, stuff like his friendship with his brother, and with Tolkien. And it talks about some of his other works as well.

The BASIC premise is: you don't have to be Christian to enjoy the Chronicles, and if you ARE Christian, you shouldn't only consider the Christian symbolism, because the books have a lot of literary merit aside from that.

So. Very interesting read, I think you'd like it.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Whew!

Well, you may or may not have noticed the blog having a great deal of downtime. But never fear! Fairy Layers is not gone, not by a long shot. There are going to be a couple little changes around here: mostly background stuff. If you are just here for the reviews and the fairy tales, you shouldn't notice too much difference. Basically, I want this to be a fun place for you to find the books you want to read, and for this not to feel like a job to me. (Hey, I already got one of those!)

I hope to have a great many old and new recommendations for you as we head into the last stretch of the year.

I am also doing away with the advertisements, due to a general annoyance at advertising as a way of making money. There may be a paypal donate button; any income from that will go toward giveaways and blog maintenance.

Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers

Taking the prize for longest title in the Faerie Tale Theatre series is "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers," which has some alternate titles like Fearnot or The Story of the Youth who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. (Personally I have always gravitated toward "Fearnot" as it's the shortest one to write.)

This is the story of a young lad who has never been scared of anything, growing up in a culture of superstition and fear. Finally his happy-go-lucky ways are too much of an embarrassment to his family, who live in proper fright, and his father sends him away. The lad, not at all discouraged, is determined to discover what the big deal is before he returns home.

He doesn't travel far (in this version) before he comes upon a haunted castle that everyone is afraid of. He agrees to spend three nights there; if he can live through all three nights he is offered a reward of money and a princess, but he is more interested in the idea of being frightened for once than he is in the reward.

Naturally the things that frighten other people have no effect on him, but he does spend three nights making friends with a range of ghouls and ghosts.

With Peter MacNicol as the titular character and Christopher Lee in a supporting role, this is one of the most enjoyable episodes of FTT. (Of course it's also one of my favorite stories, so that might have some impact on my opinion.) And the twist at the very end of the story did make me chuckle.


You can watch the episode for free on hulu.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Riding Hood, 2011



I starting watching this, not expecting much after the other reviews I have seen and heard. And, well, I can't say I entirely disagree with them. This is a pretty film, no doubt, but it had some of the most stilted dialog and wooden acting I've seen outside of a Mystery Science Theatre episode.

And a lot of Amanda Seyfried looking lost, confused, concerned, or bewildered:


As far as the story, though, I was actually okay with this retelling. It uses the elements of the old story, including some of the lesser known details like eating grandma. Well sort of. And there's lots of werewolf mythology thrown in: blood moons and silver swords and holy ground. Oh, and a weird elephant torture device from Rome.

Man, I want a weird elephant torture device from Rome.

Gary Oldman plays the slightly insane priest who lost his wife to werewolves, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons face off as the love interests, and Billy Burke reprises his role as the Dad in Twilight. (har)

I am really not sure why this movie didn't work. It really isn't good, but sometimes I can get past that, and just tell myself, "Okay, this is going to be silly, but just enjoy it!" and this was one of those cases. The elements seem like they should work: decent story, decent actors, but they don't add up to a good movie in this case.

In spite of that, I think if you're a fairy tale lover, you will find some things to like about this. The three little pigs have a moment, there are subtle and direct references to old, old versions of LRRH, and, well, it is a darn PRETTY movie:

So if you've been afraid to give this one a chance, I say go for it. It's not going to be your new favorite movie, I don't think, but it definitely has its moments and I don't feel like I need my two hours back.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Snow White

I think deep in my psyche, this is what "Snow White" means to me, more than the Disney version, which never really sank in. No wonder I always forgot about the poison comb: it's not in the FTT version, which only had time for tight ribbons and an apple. (Don't they know that fairy tales work by threes?)

Vanessa Redgrave plays the queen, and Elizabeth McGovern plays Snow White. I have to admit, seeing Rex Smith as the prince was a highlight for me (I am a Pirates of Penzance fan).

It was rather amusing to come straight off Thumbelina's: "Will you marry me?" "I have to think about it," to Snow White's: "Will you marry m---" "YES." Where's the message, Ms. Duvall??

There isn't a lot I can say about this as far as quality: it's standard FTT fare. But it might make a nice alternative to the Disney version if you want something new for the kids. Written with plenty of humor, especially among the dwarves, it's quick enough to keep adults entertained as well.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Thumbelina

Thumbelina is a messed up story. It has always bothered me. Also I think that's why I like it.

So I give Faerie Tale Theatre major props for their retelling of Thumbelina, for managing to cut out two of the major problems I have with the story.

Carrie Fisher stars at the title character. Golly, she is cute. And she goes through all the trials and tribulations of being Thumbelina with spunk. The writing in this episode isn't as funny as in some, but the performances gel together really well, making this overall a strong episode.

And as she goes from being kidnapped to be a bride for the frog, to rescued by the fieldmouse only to become a bride for the mole (and hello heavy patriarchic, female helplessness symbolism), out comes one of my favorite lines in all of FTT history:

"It's just that I'm... always the bride, never the bridesmaid...."

Then onto the fairy prince... err, flower angel. I don't know why the fairies were renamed for this story. It's one of the only fairy tales with actual fairies already in it... so why change the name? But we still get the idea.

And Thumbelina says she cannot marry anyone without her mother's consent, and the... flower-angel prince agrees to find her mother. Thereby neatly solving two of the bothersome issues of the story: Thumbelina and the prince actually get to know each other, making it NOT yet another forced marriage proposition, and she gets reunited with the discarded mother. (Not that the mother-figure in a fairy tale is necessarily as important as a real mother, but that has always bothered me.)


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

I really enjoy Underhill-type stories: a faerie world alongside normal earth, crossing over and through "our" world, bringing magic and strangeness into everyday life. A lot of urban fantasy seems to be going that way, and I approve. The problem has become, however, that I GET it (and I'm sure many of the readers of this particular blog are on the same page with me) and I don't need pages of explanation of what's going on to understand the concept.

So keep that in mind as you read this review.

The Iron Witch is about Donna Underwood, a 17-year-old who has been raised by her aunt since her father died ten years ago. Her mother is in a care home, not quite insane but certainly not "right." Their whole family belongs to a society of alchemists who are responsible for protecting humanity from the faery creatures who cross over to Donna's world.

Although I liked the book more than I disliked it, the pacing is slow, with long passages of exposition slowing it down even more. The characters are almost compelling; they are interesting, but there's not quite enough urgency even in the midst of kidnapping and rescue mission to really be gripping.

I think this is best as an introduction to the type of urban fantasy it represents, with enough explanation that even someone who's never picked up a fantasy book will understand everything without any problem. This is the first book in a trilogy, and the unresolved plot threads (Donna's mother's cure, and her upcoming initiation at age 18 into the alchemists' society) promise intriguing developments in books 2 and 3.

If you are looking for more mature or in-depth fantasy, I'd skip this one.


Karen Mahoney's website is here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Pinocchio

This is honestly one of my least favorite episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre, ever. Paul Reuben's laugh is just pitched to a place that screeches through my brain and soul, sending me into a spiral of despair and loathing. It's not his fault. It's just how my eardrums work.

I can't even say he does a bad job, and I'm sure at the time, the Pee-wee Hermanness of the character would have resonated with the intended audience. Watching it now, though, there's nothing enjoyable about the high-pitches shudders of laughter.

Pinocchio is one of my least-favorite fairy tales anyway, and all the problems with it are condensed in the FTT episode. The idea that you can't make a mistake even once without horrible disfigurement has always bothered me, and Pinocchio getting in such deep and lasting trouble for going a little off track on his FIRST DAY ALIVE distresses me deeply. Parents are supposed to teach their children, not let them wander off to get into trouble and then blame them for it.

But that's a separate issue than the episode itself, which is technically impressive as far as the low-budget but effective special effects. If you can get past the Pee-wee laughter and the hokey Italian accents, it's not a bad episode.


It is also still available to watch on hulu.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

Here Lies Arthur tells the story of Gwyna, a young girl cast out of her home when King Arthur's raiding party destroys her village. When she swims to safety, she's noticed by Myrddin, who enlists her to deliver the sword Caliburn to Arthur as the Lady of the Lake. Then Myrddin takes her in, but disguises her as a boy to allay suspicion.

The narrative follows the bare bones of Arthurian Legend, stripped of magic but with trickery and storytelling aplenty. Gwyna/Gwyn (her male self) is thick in the midst of the story, giving a new perspective to the characters and shedding light on the fact that the Arthur of Myrddin's stories is a far cry from the actual Arthur.

I had trouble getting into this, although it's a fairly quick read, aimed at middle schoolers. It was hard to find a sympathetic character; nobody fell into a particularly flattering light in this version of the story. However, that's also part of what made it interesting. The best thing about this book is the way it explores the birth and growth of myths and legends, and how sometimes you just can't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Overall I enjoyed this, but it was far from my favorite reimagining of the Arthurian mythos. I'm not sure how I feel about it as an introductory story for this legend; it's rather depressing although the ending is not a total downer. It's worth checking out if you want a unique perspective on the stories.


Philip Reeve's website is here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Vivian Vande Velde returns to the fun and funny type of retellings that she wrote in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, this time turning her wit upon Little Red Riding Hood and the strange illogic therein.

In her introduction, Ms. Velde points out the various flaws of the traditional story: How on earth could a little girl not realize her grandmother was actually a wolf? Why would a mother send her young daughter out into the woods alone? And so forth.

Then, with a clever eye for detail, Ms. Velde reinterprets the story eight times, all in ways that follow the traditional story, yet also which make more sense to a modern reader. Recasting all the characters in various ways--sometimes the wolf is the hero, sometimes the red riding hood itself!--this quick read is sure to delight you and make you think of LRRH in a whole new set of lights.

Very enjoyable. Although this volume is slim, it manages to flesh out LRRH in unique ways: especially impressive considering how many retellings are out there.


You can check out Vivian Vande Velde's other works on her website.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Princess and the Pea

Ahhh, Liza Minnelli. Throughout this episode, I couldn't help but hear Judy Garland in her voice. (No singing, unfortunately.) This is one of the episodes that follows the original story closely, although the writing added some character development for the queen, prince, and princess. And the jester, for some reason. (Actually, the dynamic between the prince, princess, and jester was pretty fun.)

The best part about this was the chemistry the actors bounced around; upon reflection, there wasn't much else about the episode that stood out for me. It did seem a bit thin; the character development was attempted but felt enough like Once Upon a Mattress that it wasn't original enough to make an impression.

Still, it's a solid episode, if somehow a little rushed.


You can watch it for free on hulu!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

This is one of my favorite Faerie Tale Theatres AND one of my favorite Goldilocks...es... in terms of how much was added. Goldilocks by itself isn't much of a story--well I suppose it depends on if you go for the happy or the tragic ending. There's a rich grounds for symbolism and metaphor, but the story alone is simple (which leaves a lot of room for interpretation).

Instead of the normal FTT, straight-up retelling, the actual bit about the finding the house and eating the porridge, sitting in the chairs, and sleeping in the beds is a pretty short part of the episode. Much more time is spent on Goldilocks's shenanigans and fibbing. Tatum O'Neal does an impressive job of being a bouncy little girl.

I really like this interpretation, from the Ranger's back-country narration to the bear's failing scheme to give away honey to the wild stories Goldilocks comes up with to try to get out of trouble. The writing is sharp and witty, getting more chuckles out of me than your average... bear.


It's available to watch on hulu now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

I went to see Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil last weekend. Bringing back the elements that I loved from the first one: movie and pop culture references, a kick-ass Red Riding Hood, and a lot of humor.

However... it failed to have an engaging plot. I mean I REALLY enjoyed the first one, and the sequel left me feeling a bit... hollow. I saw it in 3D because that was the only option at my theatre. Now, I don't hate 3D, but I don't think it adds several dollars worth of entertainment value per viewing. It's nice and all, but there are no instances where I think it adds so much to the film to be classified as "necessary." Good scenery will not make me love a movie.

Some of my acquaintances complained about the original movie's lack of stunning CGI quality. I stood up for Hoodwinked, defending it by right of "The STORY is awesome." I... can't say the same for the sequel. In the absence of a tight plot, the audience starts to look at the scenery. And it's not that impressive, especially with CGI technology becoming what it has.

So--problems. The writers had the characters do the thing, you know, where two characters are fighting, and we're not really sure they're that invested in what they're fighting about, and the argument is basically just a "let's move the plot along," thing. You know what I'm talking about. And it gave Red and the Wolf an almost uncomfortably sexual tension. (Which I am fine with in some interpretations, but it felt grossly out of place here.)

The first movie did a great job of taking a simple fairy tale plot, fleshing out all the characters, and letting the movie ride on their organically developed motivations. The second movie failed in every aspect of that. Also, although Hayden Panettiere did a good job, I couldn't help missing Anne Hathaway's richer and more complex voice-acting.

It had enough humor and enough references to other fairy tales to keep me chuckling: I would call it entertaining but not good. It's worth renting, popcorn for your brain.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Hansel and Gretel

Faerie Tale Theatre's version of Hansel and Gretel had me worried, because Hansel and Gretel is one of those fairy tales that I tend to think of as being so straightforward and uncomplicated that I couldn't figure out how to get a full fifty minutes out of it. However, there is enough story there to make it happen, and although the writing on this one wasn't particularly sparkling with wit, the kids are cute enough that the episode worked.

Joan Collins as both the mother and the witch was a nice touch. Although FTT doesn't take the idea anywhere, it's definitely suggestive in the story concept: the threat to the children comes from an older female. And the step-mother's unexplained death at the end of the episode certainly parallels the witch's death. Since nothing is explicitly stated, my interpretation is that FTT decided to add an extra layer to the story, for those grown-ups who may be watching. I certainly don't remember catching on that the witch and the mother were the same actress when I watched it as a child.

This is one of the few episodes where FTT really goes above and beyond to make this ending happier than the original tale. Not only do Hansel and Gretel escape, and find their father at home, but all the children who the witch had previously eaten were restored from their gingerbread forms.

The complete collection is pretty reasonably priced at this point, just about $30 new.


You can also watch the episode on hulu.

In weird juxtaposition news, as I was watching this I was in the middle of rereading Little House on the Prairie. As the step-mother complained that if father didn't sell his wood, they wouldn't have any bread to eat, I couldn't help but think: "Start a garden, woman! What are you doing all day?" (Well, eating gingerbread children, perhaps.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)


My first thought was to wonder why Alice's dress looked so much like Alice's dress in the Disney version. A quick date check revealed that this came out just over 20 years after the Disney version. So the question is... did William Sterling's version deviate in any OTHER ways from the Disney film?

Well... it's live action. And the frame story involves Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) taking three little girls out for a picnic, where he tells the story of Alice in Wonderland. Which... I have to admit, turned me off of the film right away. More for the creeping staring than the content, although in context it's not very reassuring, either.

Aside from that... call me a product of my era, but I found the pacing extremely difficult to deal with. This film sticks pretty close to the original story, which is to say--all the cruel nonsense is present. But this Alice laughs through the whole thing, so at least she's not scared....


This movie is almost more worthwhile for the antique special effects. If you enjoy that kind of thing, this is one to check out. And if you like the pure nonsense of the book, this is a respectable version. Otherwise, I'd pass it up for something else.

You CAN watch it for free, on hulu, and the bright costumes and music might appeal to children more than they appealed to me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sleeping Beauty by Cannon Movie Tales

Another entry in the Cannon Movie Tale collection, Sleeping Beauty takes a loooong look at the difficulties of giving birth to a princess. In fact, the buildup to the princess being born, and the Christening/gift-bestowing, take up the majority of the movie, leaving about 20 minutes for Rosebud, age 16, to prick her finger, fall asleep, and get rescued.

The Queen (Morgan Fairchild) is so sad that she can't have a child, until one day an troublemaking elf, determined to redeem himself, conjures up a fertility potion (which the King almost drinks because the Queen won't tell him what it's for). After much rigmarole involving the gathering of ingredients, and with a nod to Rip Van Winkle and other fairy tales, the princess is at long last born. The King and Queen invite everyone in the land to come celebrate their daughter's birth, but when the cook goes to prepare the meal, he discovers that there aren't enough golden plates for all the fairies, so they knock the Red Fairy off the list (cause nobody's ever heard of her).

Everyone gathers, as you would expect (except the wisdom fairy dawdles for some reason, which of course turns out to be for the best). I have to say--the wealth fairy? What a rip off. The King and Queen are already rich. That's the fairy they should have dissed.

So then the Red Fairy shows up, all fiery and devil-like, and curses and cackles. Then the White Fairy gives her gift, the modification of the curse, and takes off without answering any questions, in spite of the king calling after her for help. The elf who helped the queen get pregnant whispers to her to burn all the spinning wheels. Which they do, in the hope that it will help.

Fast forward 16 years (at an hour into the production) and Princess Rosebud is in the garden, singing about flowers. Her nursemaid comes and finds her and lets slip that although the kingdom is in tatters now, they used to make cloth! For some reason, nobody has the idea to trade for any kind of clothing until Rosebud suggests it. So the king and queen go off on an expedition for cloth, leaving Rosebud alone with her nursemaid and all her guards and the elf to watch over her.

She immediately gets into all kinds of trouble:


And pricks her finger, falls asleep, the White Fairy puts the castle to sleep, and a random wandering prince shows up and rescues her, 100 years later. The end.

I had, ahem, a couple issues with the pacing of this version of Sleeping Beauty: a whole lot of build-up for very little character development, particularly of Rosebud and the... prince... Prince... somebody. Even so, it's good light entertainment if you want something to watch with the kids or something that doesn't require your entire attention. It's fun to watch for the occasional reference to other fairy tales, and although none of the musical numbers are particularly strong, they aren't bad, either.

The DVD isn't currently available in Region 1 formatting, although you can get it in Region 2 formatting on amazon. However, you can watch it for free on hulu, and most things are worth watching at that price!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker

The Wide-Awake Princess is just so fun. I don't even know another word for it. Well, "good" is another word that describes it pretty well, but it doesn't really tell you anything.

Princess Gwendolyn is, as we all know, cursed to prick her finger and die on her sixteenth birthday. And of course, the curse is modified, so the story goes. But when her parents have a second child, their attempt to prevent any more curses has an unexpected result: Annie's fairy gift is that NO magic can touch her, good or bad.

So when the castle population does succumb to the curse, Annie is left, wide-awake, with the threat of 100 years of sleep not sounding too good, if she wants to spend any more time with her family. Instead of waiting around for a prince to show up and kiss her sister, Annie sets out on a quest through the neighboring kingdoms, with the help of a guard who was running errands when the fateful finger-pricking occurred.

I loved the magical-gifts-run-amok in Ms. Baker's world: all the nobility in the land was so fairy-blessed they couldn't do a thing without their magic. Annie's view of the world without magic was startling and funny, as she saw things that others had hidden by means of magic. The collection and variety of princes she collected was entertaining, as well.

This was a quick and, dare I say it again, fun read, aimed at middle-grade readers, but with enough references and humor to be amusing to fairy tale lovers of any age. I will definitely be checking out Ms. Baker's other books.


Check out E. D. Baker's site and other works here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

This might be my new favorite book by Donna Jo Napoli. (Although Crazy Jack still holds a dear place in my heart.) This is the retelling of a Sicilian version of Bearskin, which is also somewhat obscure though at least familiar to those of us who have a solid handle on The Complete Brothers Grimm.

Don Giovanni loses his home and his possessions after a massive wave destroys the city he grew up in. He wanders about for a bit before a run-in with a demon or devil, in which the dark creature offers him a wager: an endless purse, all the money he could desire, but in return, he must not bath, change clothes, or clean himself in any way, for three years, three months, and three days. At the end of his rope, Giovanni accepts, hardly understanding what he is getting himself in for.

With thought-provoking philosophy on loyalty, persistence, and the value of wealth, and a nice dose of history, I'd call this one of Napoli's most successful retellings. Well worth reading, especially if you've enjoyed her other work.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fairy Tale Mashup Week: Castle Waiting

One of my favorite formats is the fairy tale mashup: an author takes two or more favorite fairy tales and mixes them together, with unpredictable or unusual results. So this week I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite mashups, some old and some new. If you haven't read many of this format, these are the ones I would recommend starting with.



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.