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.