Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cinderhazel by Deborah Nourse Lattimore

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Cinderhazel: The Cinderella of Halloween by Deborah Nourse Lattimore is a witchy version of Cinderella, very appropriate for Halloween. (Obviously.) Although displaced from more typical stepsisters into a family of witches, Cinderhazel also gets criticized for being too dirty. However, unlike her Ella counterpart, Cinderhazel loves dirt and being messy. She's a fan of dust and grime and not too keen on brooms.

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Still, she has to face her share of snark and unkindness. Even so, as these things are wont to unfold, she manages to get herself to the ball in spite of the best efforts of her stepsisters. Only to discover that the prince hasn't made an appearance all night.

As it turns out, Cinderhazel and the prince have an uncommon interest--which leads them to shoo the other witches out of the party and get to know each other.

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This is a cute Dustily Ever After story with some wonderful artwork. Definitely recommended if you want a picturebook version of Cinderella which is unique for more than just the artwork.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu


Although this looks like it should be a version of Hansel and Gretel, it's actually a retelling of The Snow Queen.  (Although it does have some Hansel and Gretel-esque moments.)  In fact, the story borrows from several other traditional folktales, but mostly is about Hazel battling through to free her friend, both from capture and from the emotional danger he is in.

I loved this one.  Considering that the story starts in a modern setting and manages to find it's way into the Dark Forest of fairy tale lore (and back again), I found it all to be believable by the time Ursu worked her magic.

In addition to the story, there are several inset art pieces, and they are just lovely:


Although the bits and pieces of stories that cross Hazel's path aren't as predominant as in some mashups, they were essential to the mood and atmosphere of the book.  These aren't princess stories or happily ever after stories, and they lend the sense of danger to her quest.  There is also the danger that she herself will lose her way, and simply take up residence in the imaginative forest without bothering to save her friend or return to her real life.  (And I really appreciate that the symbolism of this is purely symbolic, not implied to be the "true" version of events.  She's not dreaming or pretending!)

This is a quick read for adults and perhaps a somewhat challenging book for middle grade students, who won't necessarily recognize the folklore than Ursu is drawing on.  Even so it's a very satisfying challenge/success story, and may be a good introduction to the width and depth of folklore.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dewitched: The Untold Story of the Evil Queen by E. L. Sarnoff


Here's a fun mashup of fairy tales: E. L. Sarnoff's Dewitched.  The premise of this one is a lot of fun -- after the evil queen's plans to kill Snow White are thwarted, she's entered into a rehab program, by none other than the Huntsman she had trusted to help her with her wicked plan.  With a steady barrage of familiar fairy tale characters, and lively writing, this one is a page turner.

The only real problem I had with this was the constant use of sexuality and ugliness equating to wickedness among the female characters.  This was all from the viewpoint of the rehabilitated queen, whose thoughts and attitudes don't change so much as she learns to progress from her initial impulses of anger and jealousy.  So I suppose it's a matter of the character, but I felt uncomfortable with the constant uses of the words "skank" and "whore" as derogatory terms.  There is also a whole can of worms about body image here and I didn't feel like the writing handled that in a fully responsible way -- in spite of the premise that the queen must overcome her inability to see inner beauty, there is a consistent use through the book of ugliness or ugly terminology to depict evilness.  So if that is a hot button for you, I would avoid this one.

However, it is a fun romp with a lot of clever writing in terms of the use of fairy tales and sly puns about them.  Some of the throw-away mentions of other tales startled laughter out of me and there are good chuckles throughout the book, both in the fairy tale references and the characters themselves.

It's a light and funny read, with a cute premise and a lot of great cameos.  The book didn't go quite where I was hoping it would, but with some surprising twists near the end it was enough to keep me guessing.  It's only available as an ebook now, and for the low price it's a fun afternoon read.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

This isn't, in the strictest sense, a fairy tale, or retelling.  But it does hit strongly on the otherworldly, the underhill, or in this case, the undersea.

I admit I was turned off by the premise at first: on the tiny island of Thisby, at the beginning of every November, the islanders get together to race their water horses -- capaill uisce -- deadly creatures that would more often than not turn on their riders if given the chance.

What makes this story work is -- well, everything.  Stiefvater tackles the subject skillfully, building the lives of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick with care and detail, filling the world with tactile details, and creating a strangely bizarre but believable island.  Puck and Sean both have real stakes and their romance is savory and slow.  With ties to fairy magic (bells and iron to control the water horses) and a respect for Celtic-lore, the book is thoroughly enjoyable.

Also, the audio version is extremely well narrated, with a voice for Puck and a voice for Sean.  If you're an audiobook fan, I definitely recommend this one.



Friday, July 13, 2012

The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle

The Silver Bough was a recent treasure I found, thanks to the recommendation of a friend -- I'd never even heard of it.  Featuring an ancient and mysterious library, a strange blessing/curse tied up with apple trees, and a misty island that is half in and half out of this world: it was just my cup of tea.

Kathleen leaves her big-city library job to take over a position in tiny, declining Appleton, which was once famous for its apples (go figure) but no longer seems to have much of a crop or anything else to offer tourists.      Ashley visits her distant relatives and learns the story of how her grandmother left the town and rejected the blessing that kept Appleton prosperous.  And Nell has come to find peace and solace after the death of her husband, and her work toward restoring the apple orchard at the estate she purchased sets a chain of events in motion that will change the fate of the town.

The three women's lives weave in and out of each other's, and that of the town itself.  When Appleton gets cut off from the rest of the world after a mudslide, blocking the only access road, strange events start to affect all the locals and visitors....

This was a real gem, and definitely recommended if you want something that touches on the otherworldly and mythy.  It's not a straightforward folktale retelling but draws on many of the familiar elements and creates it's own fantastically atmospheric setting.  I think this one will appeal to fans of Charles de Lint or Juliet Marillier.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

White Cat, Red Glove, Black Heart by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black is the first book of the Curseworkers trilogy, which also includes Red Glove and Black Heart. All three books tie in pretty closely together to tell one story, but it's the first book in the story that I'm going to focus on, because it's based on the fairy tale The White Cat. (Surprise surprise!)

 The basis for the story is fairly loose, although it does pull the essential elements out of the original tale. (Girl is imprisoned in the form of a cat and needs rescued by handy local hero.) It's not a commonly retold fairy tale, so it's hard to say "Wow, this is a really fresh new take on this story!" because there simply aren't that many versions. It is refreshing just because there aren't that many versions. In spite of hedging on that matter, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed these books. 

Cassel and Lila are well-rounded, engaging characters. Cassel manages to be a bad-boy without coming across as a total jerk (perhaps because the story is told from his perspective). The secondary characters felt fully formed as well, not just props for the main characters to move around. And I appreciated the lack of love-triangle-as-drama.

The fairy tale eventually falls into the background, and the story of the Curseworkers, the politics and ramifications of a world where a portion of the population can curse other people with a touch, and the family life of Cassel and his mother and brothers span all three books.  It's a captivating story and a quick read; I could barely put them down.

And it's nice to have a completed trilogy to read while we wait for some of the many sequels that are popular right now to come out!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Brave

I got my first inkling of worry about Brave when I went to buy postage stamps and picked the Pixar stamps. Take a look, here is the first set that was designed:
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And here is the 2012 set:

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 That was the first time I noticed it, but it hit me then: every one of those movies is about guys. Although some argument can be made that Wall-E is ungendered, I think we are meant to recognize "him" as masculine. And there is some sense of The Incredibles as an ensemble, but I think it's really about Mr. Incredible, with his family as strong secondary characters.

That's not to say that there aren't wonderful female characters. In fact I think Pixar does an excellent job of representing females as fully-developed characters (when they HAVE female characters in their movies). But as it has been pointed out, this IS Pixar's first movie with a female lead. And as such, the spotlight is on: how are women represented in THIS movie?

Those postage stamps were what did it for me, though. That's when I winced and thought, "Oh no. What if Pixar is just doing a movie about a princess who doesn't want to get married?"

There are some great articles already delving into this, so I'm not going to go into it, except to point out Mary Pols's article (again, from above), and in particular:

This wouldn’t feel so vaguely unsatisfying if Brave were just one of many Pixar movies that featured a strong female lead. It’s the absence of others that turns the spotlight on Brave. And having a princess protagonist isn’t inherently bad. It’s just that she is so chapter one of what girls can be — and so many other Pixar movies skipped most known chapters and moved on to whole new volumes.

And Once Upon a Blog challenges the notion that Brave is doing anything original with the princess concept.

Much with the SPOILERS ahead:

All that aside, I thought the relationship between Merida and Queen Elinor was well done. The motives of both were complex but clear to the audience even if they weren't clear to each other. Both women were sympathetic -- I don't buy the idea that Elinor was the primary antagonist, which would be a huge throwback to cliched storytelling. I liked the witch, as well, who I think was far more interesting and unstereotyped than I've seen credited anywhere -- she's not the "bad guy" per se although she causes more problems than she solves.

The main problem with Brave is the constant and significant suggestion that the characters choose/make their own fate/destiny, and then are lead around by the nose throughout the movie. The Will o the Wisps lead them to every significant plot point; the two women are left with very little agency outside of their cultural roles.

Now, how they end up, with a slightly modified lifestyle (they are "choosing" to fall in love instead of having an arranged marriage -- and I do like to think that Young Macintosh and Young MacGuffin eventually hook up) really has hardly "changed fate" at all. Merida will still probably get married, she'll just take a little more time about it and marry someone who catches her fancy, rather than being stuck picking from the three overly-buffoonish choices she had before. She'll still have babies who grow up to drive her batty, and grow old among her clan and die. She's not doing anything out of the realm of her expected life.

I'm willing to accept that. I think the main misfortune of Brave is that it claims to be something beyond the beautiful story of a mother and daughter coming to understand each other. Which I felt was very well-done (although, this being a Pixar film, I wish there had been more, successfully). I believed in the simultaneous frustration with and love for each other that Merida and Elinor felt. I thought it was wonderfully appropriate that to win the day, if you will, Merida had to sew and Elinor had to fight. The meal that Merida and Elinor shared, post-transformation, made me grin and tear up at the same time.

So why couldn't they be their own agents?

Why couldn't Merida have sought out a witch to change her mother, instead of just going with the first solution to fall into her lap?

Why couldn't Elinor, who is studied in the lore of their culture, have taken her daughter to the ruins and showed her the consequences of ill-considered magic?

Why couldn't Merida remember the way to the ruins, having found them twice before?

Why the damn will o' the wisps, anyway?

And that leads me to my next point, which I think "fixes" the story enough for me that I still love the movie -- although I'm not sure it's what the creators intended at all.

Merida and Elinor both suggest that the will o the wisps are lucky and will lead you to your destiny. (In contrast with the concept that they desire to make their own destiny.) And aren't they cute? Don't they just look helpful and appealing?

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NO. They look EVIL. And I have no idea who got the idea that they should be our little handy helper buddies. After all, in traditional folklore, they're anything but helpful:

A will-o'-the-wisp /ˌwɪl ə ðə ˈwɪsp/ or ignis fatuus ( /ˌɪɡnɨs ˈfætʃuːəs/; Medieval Latin: "foolish fire") is a ghostly light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers from the safe paths. A folk belief well attested in English folklore and in much of European folklore, the phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o'-lantern, hinkypunk, hobby lantern in English. (From Wikipedia

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In fact, nowhere in British (and therefore Scottish, the culture Merida's world is drawn from) folklore does it suggest that Will o the Wisps bear any kindness toward humanity:

The will-o'-the-wisp can be found in numerous folk tales around the United Kingdom, and is often a malicious character in the stories. In Welsh folklore, it is said that the light is "fairy fire" held in the hand of a púca, or pwca, a small goblin-like fairy that mischievously leads lone travelers off the beaten path at night. As the traveler follows the púca through the marsh or bog, the fire is extinguished, leaving the man lost. The púca is said to be one of the Tylwyth Teg, or fairy family. In Wales the light predicts a funeral that will take place soon in the locality. Wirt Sikes in his book British Goblins mentions the following Welsh tale about púca.

A peasant traveling home at dusk spots a bright light traveling along ahead of him. Looking closer, he sees that the light is a lantern held by a "dusky little figure", which he follows for several miles. All of a sudden he finds himself standing on the edge of a vast chasm with a roaring torrent of water rushing below him. At that precise moment the lantern-carrier leaps across the gap, lifts the light high over its head, lets out a malicious laugh and blows out the light, leaving the poor peasant a long way from home, standing in pitch darkness at the edge of a precipice. This is a fairly common cautionary tale concerning the phenomenon; however, the ignis fatuus was not always considered dangerous. There are some tales told about the will-o'-the-wisp being guardians of treasure, much like the Irish leprechaun leading those brave enough to follow them to sure riches. Other stories tell of travelers getting lost in the woodland and coming upon a will-o'-the-wisp, and depending on how they treated the will-o'-the-wisp, the spirit would either get them lost further in the woods or guide them out.

Also related, the Pixy-light from Devon and Cornwall is most often associated with the Pixie who often has "pixie-led" travelers away from the safe and reliable route, and into the bogs with glowing lights.

"Like Poltergeist they can generate uncanny sounds. They were less serious than their German Weisse Frauen kin, frequently blowing out candles on unsuspecting courting couples or producing obscene kissing sounds, which were always misinterpreted by parents." Pixy-Light was also associated with "lambent light" which the "Old Norse" might have seen guarding their tombs.

In Cornish folklore, Pixy-Light also has associations with the Colt Pixy. "A colt pixie is a pixie that has taken the shape of a horse and enjoys playing tricks such as neighing at the other horses to lead them astray". It may well be said that the wild colt pixy would sometimes bedevil regular horses on a ride and cause them to lead their human masters into a predicament or hazard, and might have yielded the pixy - horse name variation.

In Guernsey, the light is known as the faeu boulanger (rolling fire), and is believed to be a lost soul. On being confronted with the spectre, tradition prescribes two remedies. The first is to turn one's cap or coat inside out. This has the effect of stopping the faeu boulanger in its tracks. The other solution is to stick a knife into the ground, blade up. The faeu, in an attempt to kill itself, will attack the blade.


So all right. The creators of Brave have tweaked the mythology, and made the Will o the Wisp a helper. But if that was their intention, they didn't do a very good job. Every time the Will o the Wisp appears, it leads to mischief or further problems. Consider:

They first appear when Merida is a little girl. This one instance I might be stretching a bit, but think about it. The instant she gets back to her family, they are ready to leave. One could theorize that the Wisps have, in fact, delayed the departure -- just long enough for Mor'du to find them, and attack, potentially killing the whole family. The quickness of Elinor and the bravery and fighting skill of Fergus save the family (minus one leg). We don't know if any of Fergus's men are killed or maimed as well. MISCHIEF MANAGED.

The second time they appear, they lead Merida to the witch. Now the witch isn't all bad, and in fact discourages Merida from trying to solve her problems with magic. But she certainly can't be argued to be straightforward or even particularly helpful. She is, however, willing to be bribed, and when Merida sets her up for a nice retirement, she takes the opportunity. And Merida is handed a solution that will cause far more problems than it solves. MISCHIEF MANAGED.

The third time they appear, they lead Merida and Elinor to the ancient ruins, where they discover what happened to the last prince in Elinor's story, and the last known instance of the witch using her magic to "help" someone. So it might be argued that the Wisps are trying to help Merida and Elinor figure out what's going on. But then, on the other hand, they get attacked and nearly killed by Mor'du. Only by working together do they escape. And from what the wisps have seen of Merida, she would be disinclined to work with her mother. FURTHER DEATH OR MAIMING NEARLY MANAGED.

The fourth time they appear is when they SEEM to be the most helpful, on the surface, leading Merida back to the stone circle which she for some reason can't find at that moment. Now, they appear to be fully helpful, but consider; Merida comes from a culture with no apparent female fighters, and her father is about to slay her mother. To me, this looks like the Wisps taking sadistic pleasure in leading Merida to her parents just in time to witness a tragedy. The fact that Merida does in fact prevent the tragedy is a testament to her skill and determination, not to the helpfulness of the wisps.

If for some reason Merida's mythology of the Wisps is misguided, then you have the Wisps fighting to destroy Merida's family and clan. They are subtle, sneaky enemies, and Merida's bravery and skill, as well as that of her family, help them to survive.

It's a slant on the story, I admit; I think the creators' intention was simpler and more problematic. And I'm not sure how that fits into the overall portrayal of women and the culture. It makes me feel like Merida and her mother are fighting against something more that societal expectations, and that by joining forces they overcome more than a constructed convention.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie, and it was soooo worth seeing in the theater. It's stunningly beautiful, one of Pixar's best in terms of the imagery. And I really do want it to do well. For all that I think there are problems, it's by the standard of a movie company that has blown away so many conventions and set the bar considerably higher than it ever was before. If I quibble with the fact that they've told a conventional story, they've still done it well and deserve the recognition. (Plus I want them to know that a movie with a female lead can make money -- do it again!)

What did you think?

Friday, July 6, 2012

An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lender, illustrated by Whitney Martin

This is a cute picture book that naturally caught my eye, as you can imagine.  It's the story of a princess who needs to be rescued -- and it's also the story of the painters and builders and animal-wranglers that are desperately trying to get everything into place before you turn the page, and could you please come back in a week or so when they have everything finished?

But naturally, you turn the page and find things half-finished, and quick substitutions of whatever materials were on hand, and unpainted backdrops, and cast members unprepared.

The fairy tale itself spins in unpredictability, given that all the necessary props -- fire-breathing dragons, horses, and even the royal crown -- weren't ready on time.  The book itself is great for kids who are learning about the different ways to tell the same story, and is fun for those of us who study or love deconstruction of traditional tales: it just takes the concept a bit more literally than normal.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, was a fun, light read.  The story is told from the point of view of Reveka, a young and sassy herbalist apprentice.  Though she is impatient with the conventions and restrictions of her role in life, she is an excellent herbalist, and attempts to use her plant knowledge to cure the mysteriously ailing princesses, who disappear every night and return exhausted and with their slippers worn through.

Her meddling brings her to the attention of the queen, who encourages her to keep trying.  As Reveka learns more about the history of the curse and the affect it's had on the entire kingdom, her worry increases, and she's drawn more and more intimately into the princesses' lives.

The story evolves about midway through to become a more recognizably Beauty and the Beast adaptation, with a strong flavor of Persephone thrown into the mix.  I loved the blend and the reasoning and the way the two tied together to make a strange underworld for Reveka to explore.

I think I would have liked more detail about the kingdom and its neighbors, and some more of the complexity of the political situation to come through in the story -- but I do think the book is suitable for younger readers and as such, readers who are (old) like me will find it a pretty quick read.

Definitely a delightful take on two of my favorite fairy tales.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman


So the Huntsman.  Mmmm, yummy.

Oh, I'm sorry.  I meant Snow White and the Huntsman.  (But I'll be honest--The Hunstman is the highlight of this movie for me.)

Okay.  So.  Snow White is a little girl, with a father who adores her, and a sweet and loving but sickly mother.  A terrible winter comes to pass, and Mother dies.  And then Father, who is sad and in mourning, gets drawn away from the castle to fight a mysterious army that has appeared.  His soldiers fight the bizarre army (great visuals -- as they break apart you see them turn into mirror shards) and "rescue" the beautiful captive, Ravenna.


Well she doesn't take long to turn on him, poisoning and killing him on their wedding night.  So the castle and kingdom are won by treachery.  Then for some reason she locks Snow White in a tower for 8 years.

We tune back into the action and meet a dirty but just matured Snow White, playing with dolls in the fireplace.


For those of you who dislike Kristen Stewart on principal, I'm not going to try to defend her acting in this movie.  There is honestly a lot of mouth-breathing that I could have lived without.  However, if you are a Kristen Stewart fan, you'll like her in this movie.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle, and I thought she did all right with the accent.  She plays the part pretty subtly, and I'm not sure how well that fits this kind of movie, which I tend to think of as more along the lines of Labyrinth than a purely dramatic piece.

My favorite part of the movie is probably the Enchanted Forest, as its own entity.  I think the lead up to it falls a bit short -- there is some suggestion of magic, like the apple tree that blooms and bears fruit at the same time -- but it's all very subtle, background world-building stuff until BAM "This is the forest where the fairies live!"

I found it a bit abrupt.

But don't get me wrong.  The forest itself is gorgeous.  And if you can shrug and say "Okay, we're in THAT kind of movie now," it works out okay.


It is a much looser interpretation of Snow White than I was expecting.  There is a "prince" character to play along Snow White (the Duke's son) and unfortunately that seems to mostly be in order to give the movie some hint of a love triangle.  (Blah, I've had enough of those.)

The movie succeeds at some of the world-building, giving some great backstory on some of the characters.  And then there are other places where I wanted more -- What has the Duke's son been doing all this time?  How did Snow White stay sane, locked up from the time she was a little girl?  WHY did the evil queen just stick her in a tower in the first place?  (If there had been any indication of Snow White and Ravenna talking during that time period, I think it would have worked.  As it is, it appeared that Ravenna stuck her up there and forgot about her.)

The ending fell totally flat.  And by ending I mean literally the last scene.  I thought about it afterwards and decided it was because they didn't bookend the narration -- Chris Hemsworth has a voiceover, setting up the story at the beginning, and at the end there's just all this staring and no narration.  The last scene was just a big ....

Overall I liked the movie much more than I disliked it.  The use of magpies was brilliant (as they are also white as snow and black as ebony).  Charlize Theron does a stunning job of being insane but strangely sympathetic (as you get glimpses of her backstory and where she came from).  Chris Hemsworth plays a fascinating character, with much more motivation than I was expecting -- he's far from a stock romantic-interest character.  I liked the secondary characters quite a lot, from the village women who scarred their faces so they wouldn't be taken from Ravenna (although that hardly made them ugly as they claimed) to the dwarves and the stories they told.

The film is visually beautiful, from the forest critters to Charlize's wardrobe.  It's certainly worth SEEING.  And I did enjoy the interpretation of the story, although I have heard that there's some confusion about how the whole kissing thing works (but not from fairy tale fans).  I think it's worth watching even if you're not a big Kristen Stewart fan.  It's a creative twist on Snow White and pulls in some other mythology and folklore in both the visuals and the storytelling itself.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

I have no hesitation on this one.  I love Gail Carson Levine's work, and A Tale of Two Castles is no exception.  Elodie heads to the city of Two Castles, where her parents believe she will apprentice herself to a weaver.  Elodie, however, has other plans: she wants to become a mansioner (actor).  Unfortunately, it's not until she's on her way that she learns that there are no more free apprenticeships, and the little bit of money she has is stolen by a cat shortly after her arrival.

Luckily for Elodie, she soon crosses paths with -- and then impresses -- Two Castle's resident dragon Meenore.  Soon the two of them are entangled in politics and plotting, and trying to protect the shape-shifting Ogre, Count Jonty Om.

Cats and ogres -- there's only one fairy tale that springs to my mind, and yes, this is Levine's retelling of Puss in Boots.  Although she follows the original tale in a way that's sketchy at best, she brings in plenty of the elements of it, and explores some of the trickier questions as well.  As she says on her website, "I'm utterly won over that a cat threatens a bunch of peasants with cutting them up as herbs for the soup and they're scared."

If you liked Ella Enchanted or Levine's other work, you'll like A Tale of Two Castles.  And if you haven't read any of her work, this is a fun one to start with.  She's definitely writing on the lighter side of fairy tales, and the book is probably aimed at middle grade readers, so the writing isn't overly complex.  It's a quick and enjoyable read.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Although Extraordinary, by Nancy Werlin, isn't directly a fairy tale retelling, it definitely draws heavily on fairy tale motifs and concepts.  Phoebe is a rather ordinary girl from a family of remarkable people.  She becomes close friends with a girl named Mallory, who has a dark agenda from another world.  Mallory, though, is drawn to Phoebe as well, and delays in her task.

Mallory, as we-the-readers quickly discover, is from the faerie realm, and her people are sick and dying.  Years pass as she grows closer to Phoebe, until her people send Ryland to finish Mallory's task -- and to destroy Phoebe.

This book works well on the top level, as a fairy tale about friendship and loyalty.  It also works well as a metaphor for emotionally abusive relationships.  Phoebe is drawn to Ryland and he builds a terrible trap for her: sweet and warm at first, and then slowly tearing her apart with carefully cruel words.

I was gritting my teeth in frustration and anger as I read this book -- Ryland was so.  Freakin.  Evil.  And yet he's set up as justified in the story -- he's trying to save his people, after all.  Although his behavoir isn't directly considered acceptable in the story, I feel pretty ambiguous about the justification that's built into the story.

In the end the characters do find another solution, and Ryland's behavoir, while tolerated by his faerie folk, is not applauded.  And I do think that Phoebe's eventual confidence in herself is what makes the book work.  My main concern with the book is that there would ever be any reason for such behavoir to be justified.

If you can read this book on the literal level, it is a good story and I will say that in the end, love does triumph (although not romantically, which I have to say is a refreshing twist).  I do hesitate to give it a full endorsement because of that justification, but it does give a good starting point for discussion on abusive relationships.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

Alex Flinn returns to the world of Beastly with her book Cloaked.  Although she doesn't return to the characters from that series, and aside from mention of the chat room for people who have been transformed by a curse, there's not a lot tying the two books together, so you don't need to have read one to jump in with Cloaked.

Instead of just one fairy tale, Flinn tackles four, and weaves them together skilfully.  The story centers around a frog prince transformation, but the main character, Johnny, is a bit of an unusual hero, since he's more of a shoemaker than royalty, and although he's aiding a princess, he's trying to get the frog prince back safely.

The story is complicated when Meg, Johnny's long-time best friend, starts to notice that strange things are happening around the hotel where they work.  And when she seems to know more than she should, Johnny can't help but be suspicious of her.

Wicked witches, curses, transformations, and heroics abound in this story of friendship, love, and loyalty.  Flinn's writing is witty and her characters are fresh and fully realized.  (An interesting side-note: The books are being rereleased with more typical YA covers now, haunted-looking girls striking tragic poses.  Although I recognize that it's a marketable trend, the new covers don't fit the tone or style of Flinn's books at all -- in my opinion anyway.  Her books are funny and playful and adventurous, and the covers are just a little too... tragic romancy.)

This is a great take on some lesser-known stories, so it's definitely one to check out if you're tired of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.  It's a lighter retelling, and a fairly quick read as well.  If you liked Beastly, you'll definitely like this one -- maybe even more.  (I liked the book Beastly much more than the movie, so don't let that stop you!)


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer

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Mirror Mirror, a Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Massee: This is my new all-time favorite fairy tale picture book. Each page is dedicated to a single fairy-tale story, all of them fairly well known, and each page has a poem that is told once, and then told again in the opposite order, changing the viewpoint and subtly altering the meaning. And it's done brilliantly well.

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When I heard about this book I was intrigued, but actually reading it blew me away. Mostly because I was amazed again and again at how did singer DO that?? As I read each poem, my mind automatically started to reverse it, making it not only a fantastic book of creative poetry, but a fun and intriguing mind-game.

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Please treat yourself to this book! It's a quick read and so well worth it, and the very essence of exploring alternate viewpoints and twisted tales.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mirror Mirror

I admit I was not the most enthusiastic of fairy-tale-enthusiasts when I saw the trailer for Mirror Mirror, with its heavy dose of Julia Roberts (of whom I am not a big fan) and seemingly endless slapstick.



But my interest piqued when Once Upon a Blog: Fairy Tale News posted about a very different review that the film had gotten: one comparing the plot to the real life assassination of Indira Gandhi. Suddenly that outrageous swan dress didn't seem so off-putting, and Julia Robert's half-assed attempted accent was something I was just going to have to bear with.

So I coaxed (paid for) one of my friends to accompany me to the little local theater and we sat through the previews talking about how horribly wrong fairy tale adaptations could go. (I'm looking at you, Red Riding Hood.)

And honestly... I ended up really enjoying this film. If nothing else, it's worth going to see in the theater for the lush costumes and stunning set work.

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Once I found out about the Indian ties (maybe the director's name should have been my first clue...) it was impossible not to see all the Bollywood Influence. (And I like Bollywood movies; if you're not a fan then I'm not sure how you'd feel about the movie, generally, but it's still interesting from a scholarly/cultural perspective -- always nice to see fairy tales that aren't entirely Western-cultural.)

I think the best way to describe this movie is... kind of cartoony. It's tongue-in-cheek through and through, with the prince even commenting on focus groups. It's hard to say it takes itself seriously, yet it drew me in enough to care about the characters (except the queen, and I'm not supposed to care about her anyway, right?), and I was impressed with the time spent to develop some of the secondary characters, like the dwarves and Snow's mentor Margaret. A lot of fairy tale retellings, especially in film, skim over secondary characters to the point where they are interchangeable.

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For me, the biggest downfall of the movie was Julie Roberts, which is no surprise. But even my friend said the accent was pretty atrocious: everyone else seemed perfectly happy to just speak in their native accent but Roberts waffled back and forth between a vaguely British slur to her normal American vocalizations. And honestly I do not feel like the woman understands comedic timing or any of the other fine-tunings that come with getting a laugh out of an audience. If you are a fan of hers this might not be a problem for you so I'll leave it at that.

If you prefer darker retellings, this one won't hold as much appeal -- though I think that Indian Assassination angle is worth looking into (which I honestly haven't done, but hey I am a light scholar at best). Here is one other blog post, from pinayredeemed.blogspot.com, drawing the parallels between the political situation and the movie.

So should you see this? If you are a fan of the Snow White story, yes. This has enough of its own twists to be worthy of a viewing; Tarsem Singh does draw in the modern sensibilities of women rescuing themselves and in the end it's easy to cheer for this Snow White. Should you see this in the theater? I would encourage it -- like I said, the costumes are fabulous and the scenery is just yummy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fairy Tale Fortnight

It's been pretty quiet around here, and I'm honestly not sure when and how my schedule is going to settle down. I'm not going away though reviews will be somewhat irregular for the near future.

However, if you need your fairy tale fix, head over to The Book Rat blog where Fairy Tale Fortnight is going on RIGHT NOW. There are lots of giveaways, reviews, videos, and more. Check it out! I insist!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gnomeo and Juliet


It's Red vs. Blue in this retelling of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet. The star-crossed lovers take the form of ceramic garden gnomes in the 2011 CGI film Gnomeo and Juliet.



I was somewhat afraid that they would take the names and that would be the extent of the relation to the play, but it does follow the essential storyline of R&J. There are a few changes; the gnomes don't mix at a party, for instance, but Gnomeo runs into Juliet when she's cat-burgling an orchid for the Red's garden. Their first encounter is more of an acrobatic flirtation than a traditional dance.

There are a lot of great Shakespeare references for the aficionados as well as slapstick for the kids. (Honestly, I was pretty nervous throughout from the tinkling of ceramic in motion.) It all follows the story pretty closely -- included a ceramic shattering of Juliet's cousin Tybalt. Gnomeo gets chased away to the park where he encounters, in one of my favorite scenes, the statue of Shakespeare, who explains how the story is supposed to go, and why it's such good writing.

Although Gnomeo is the one who has the knowledge to possibly change their tragic fate, it doesn't come across too much as male heroics. I don't think I can spoil the ending -- it is a kids' movie, after all -- but I won't say anything more specific than that.

In spite of being, as I said, nominally a kids' movie, the pacing is good, and there are lots of puns and plenty of humor for the adults to catch. Shakespeare references, from other plays as well as R&J, abound, and the writing is sharp throughout. The casting is good, and the animation -- while veering more toward cartoonish than realistic -- was well done and fitting. I was completely charmed by this movie.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Mermaid, by Carolyn Turgeon, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. It's often labeled as "a twist on the classic tale" but I felt it was more of an expansion with a little bit of a twist at the end. It considers both princesses -- the mermaid princess, and the other princess whom the prince falls in love with -- and tells the story through them. It sticks closely to the bones of the Andersen tale through most of the story and only diverges in the last quarter or so, once the human princess (Margrethe, in this version) reaches the prince.

The value in this story comes from the fact that there is no real "bad guy" in play -- both princesses love the prince, and he's conflicted for both personal and political reasons, making this one of the more complex retellings of the story. Even the sea witch is not evil or motivated by greed or malice: she warns Lenia (the young mermaid) that it is a terrible thing to lose a part of oneself, but leaves the choice ultimately up to the mermaid princess.

The book was shorter than I expected, given the complexity of the situation, and I found the writing to be overly formal. On the other hand, since it was adapted from Andersen's story, it makes sense that Turgeon would use similar language. Turgeon does give the main characters complexity and depth, but I would have liked to see that from a few of the other characters, and would have appreciated a little more world-building. There are hints of it within the undersea kingdom, but it's never filled out in the story.

It has the same problem that all versions of this story have to a modern audience: a young woman giving up her life, family, and greatest asset to be with a man (who doesn't even know she exists). Turgeon does manage to give Lenia something else to live for in the end, and this becomes more of a story about two women saving each other than a romance or a story of a heroic prince or tragic princess.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Pearl Among Princess by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

A Pearl Among Princes, by Coleen Paratore, isn't so much a fairy tale adaptation. But doesn't it look like one?

This is the story of Gracepearl, a young girl growing up on an island where all the princes from surrounding kingdoms are sent to learn to be charming--dancing, flirting, dating. But it's recently been declared that the princes may now marry commoners, and not just other royalty. So now Gracepearl and her friends dream of marrying a prince and getting away from their tiny island. But of course, the prince has to be worthy of them, too.

I liked the premise here. My main problem with this book was that it felt like part of a much bigger story, and this was just a tiny part of it. There were lots of hints about the political situation and succession and the world itself, and the book was so short (a very quick read) that I found I wanted to know what happens next more than I enjoyed the story itself.

In spite of that, the narration takes a lively voice and it's a funny, quirky story. Recommended especially for younger audiences, as it doesn't fill out the potential that it hints at.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

And we're swinging by Shakespeare again this week with Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay. Isn't that a luscious cover? It would make me want to read this book even if I wasn't a fan of Shakespeare retellings already.

Although this isn't so much a retelling as a "and then what," which intrigued me even more -- they're dead, right? So then what? Well, in Jay's novel, Romeo and Juliet's deaths are far from the romantic lovers' last stand. Instead, Romeo sacrifices their lives to grant them a kind of immortality; one in which they are forever drawn back to earth to try to save (in Juliet's case) or destroy (in Romeo's case) the young love of true soul mates.

The book makes funny references to the play -- Juliet hates that play, which was penned when Romeo told some hot-shot writer about their tragic death. The book takes place in the modern world, with occasional references to the many other lives Juliet has touched over the centuries.

Not quite your typical ghost story, Juliet Immortal plays with its own distinctive mythology, one that I wouldn't mind seeing again in some form, or knowing more about. For all of that, it's a neatly tied-up novel with no indication that there will be a sequel (but I would read one if Jay ever revisits).

Check out Stacey Jay's website for more reviews and tidbits on the book.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I have been hearing the buzz about Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, all over the web and the fairy tale communities, so if you've already read this, just squee with me for a bit, okay? And if you haven't -- I would say the buzz is not overrated.

This is the story of Cinderella, except it's told in way-future China, in a community where cyborgs are ostracized for being less-than-human, androids are all over the place, and the lunar colonists have become their own species. And if that wasn't fun enough, Cinder is a cyborg mechanic who just happens to be the only person who can fix Prince Kai's broken android.

There's plenty of political intrigue and rich world building in this one -- it's not just a gimmicky Cinderella retelling. There were a couple times when I thought the writing was a little off, but not enough to distract from the story or the characters.

This is well worth a read, and if you don't believe me, the first 5 chapters are free for kindle, so you can check them out for yourself. (Even if you don't have a kindle you can read them on your computer.)

One note of warning: this is the first book of a trilogy and definitely one that ends on a cliffhanger. I am curious to see if Meyer will incorporate other stories in the other books of the trilogy, as well as being curious as to just what will happen in the world itself.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Tempest


The Tempest. Starring Helen Mirren as Prospero (or Prospera). First of all, I have to say I love this concept. Considering how much Shakespeare tends to play with gender roles (literally and figuratively), this is a mild change, but I also love Helen Mirren, so I was eager to see this one.

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The movie itself is pretty luscious. It was filmed in Hawaii, and they took advantage of everything from rich jungle to volcanic barren landscapes. The costumes were detailed and all of the era. The only thing that ever felt out of place was the occasional rock guitar riff.

The special effects were sometimes spot on and sometimes looked a little cheap. Don't get me wrong, they worked well enough that you can always tell what's going on. Just if you watch this brace yourself for the occasional wince at a corny special effect.

Still, it is Shakespeare, and the majority of the film is about the people and the language. And the casting in this is superb. There were definitely some faces that I would not associate with Shakespeare -- but I think a match up like that, when it works (and it does here) makes it all the better for being surprising. E.g.:

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I was a little lost at first, as far as what was being said (in spite of having been in the Tempest at one point) but if you're having trouble at the beginning, it's just because there's, well, a tempest, and everyone is yelling -- give it another five minutes and I think even the casual Shakespeare fan won't have any trouble following the dialog.

All things considered, I found this to be a very enjoyable and interesting take on one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I hope you'll check it out.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Me and You by Anthony Browne

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Me and You by Anthony Browne is a fairly new retelling of Goldilocks. It is somewhat original, though, in that Baby Bear tells the whole story -- all the text of the picture book comes from what Baby Bear is thinking or saying. And, oddly enough, the three bears are apparently living an idyllic life in the big city. So a few changes from the traditional telling.

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The story isn't entirely from Baby Bear's perspective, though -- on facing pages, we see the story of Goldilocks, with no text, and in darker, contrasting images. She's lost, and alone, and scared, we see, moving through the big city. When she comes across the Bears' cozy cottage, where the door just happens to be propped open -- well, you know what happens.

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I really liked the style of this one, as well as the unique format. I'm not a big fan of Goldilocks, but this version was refreshing and different enough to be memorable. Definitely recommended for your fairy tale library.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Entwined by Heather Dixon



Entwined just may be my favorite new retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Princess Azalea is the eldest of 11 sisters, and she loves to dance. But on the night of the Yule ball, her mother goes into labor early, and passes away giving birth to baby Lily. Now she and her sisters are cast into mourning, and pushed away by their father, the king, as he grieves for his lost wife--until they find a magical passage, and a way of dancing in secret. But their defiant dancing comes with a price, and they find they may be in deeper than they bargained for.

I've got to say, just first of all -- it's no little feat to make 12 princesses all distinctive characters, and Heather Dixon does it really well. Reading this, I felt like I knew all the girls. Sure, some of them stood out more than others, but none of them faded into the background so much that the rare mention brought a "who?" to my mind.

I didn't feel like the world-building was completely filled out in this book. It's a fictional kingdom, surrounded by other fictional lands, but they celebrate Christmas, and many of the cultural details that get mentioned are very non-fictional. However, it wasn't so distracting that I couldn't finish the book --

-- in fact I'd say it makes me speak more highly of the plot and characters, that the minor irritation of world-building did not stop me from devouring this book in delight. More than that, when I was done with the book, I wanted to go back again, and visit the sisters and their home.

It really is an enjoyable read, and I recommend it for fans of this particular story, or just fairy tale lovers in general. Also a good one to recommend to teens or reluctant readers because it's very engrossing.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Falling for Hamlet is, as you can probably tell from the cover, a modernization of Hamlet. It takes place in a modern Denmark, with a modern castle full of cell phones and security cameras. Ophelia is in high school, Hamlet has just graduated and is off to college when the familiar events start to fall into place.

Michelle Ray tells the story entirely from Ophelia's viewpoint, and deviates from the play only in minor plot details, with the notable exception that Ophelia fakes her death because she fears for her life. (And so is still around to observe the fallout at the end of the story.)

As much as I liked the concept, the execution was lacking. I found myself skimming over numerous sections of Ophelia's drawn out contemplation of what was going on and what was Hamlet thinking and oh my Hamlet is just so sexy. Perhaps the teenage/high school mentality is not one that I can particular relate to at this stage in my life; it tended to bog down the book for me.

If you're a die hard Hamlet fan, I'd say give this one a try. Or if you're looking for a book that's a good, teen-level introduction to Shakespeare, this one is certainly worth a shot.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Puss in Boots

I... I... I have a confession to make.

I couldn't sit through this one.

I tried. But. The man-in-a-cat-suit as a special effect just doesn't hold up. Perhaps it's my age, or perhaps just that I'm spoiled by the proliferation of advanced special effects, but it completely took me out of the episode.

Which I suppose is a pity because as far as I did get, the writing was amusing and, although Faerie Tale Theatre didn't deviate much from the original story, the dialog and scripting was clever. I say they didn't deviate much; I suppose they may have, in the end, but I couldn't get that far.

I would only recommend this one to dedicated fans. You can watch it for free on hulu.


Friday, January 27, 2012

The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker


The Frog Princess, by E. D. Baker has (it seems only appropriate to say) spawned a full series of prequels and followups, and this is the only one I've read. It seemed a good place to start. Also it's on sale for Kindle right now for only $2.49.

I liked Baker's Wide Awake Princess, so I had wanted to give this one a try and the deal was too much to pass up. It's another quick read, aimed at Middle Grade readers so zippy for me to get through. And rather enjoyable.

Although anyone hearing the premise of the story might get it confused with a similarly-themed Disney feature, the stories are different enough. Yes, the Princess does attempt to kiss a frog and turn him back into a prince, only to have the spell backfire and turn her into a frog as well, and yes, there is a swamp involved, but beyond that the characters and situations are their own.

I really like the magic of this world. Not too complex, but well reasoned and definitely the kind of magical detail that makes for good escapism. My favorite character was actually the witch, Princess Emerelda's Aunt Grassina, rather than the heroine herself, but she was also clearly a good role model for the future queen.

Overall: a quick, enjoyable read. I think I shall look for the sequel at some point, although the story resolved such that I don't have a desperate need to know what happens next.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is the story of Minli, a poor girl growing up with her family in a poor village in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain. Although they don't have much, Minli loves her family and her father's constant stories. Her mother is not so content, though, forever sighing and wishing that their fortunes would change, and one night Minli sneaks away from home, to ask the Old Man on the Moon how to change her family's fortune.

It's not an easy journey, but she makes some friends along the way, primarily a flightless dragon. Together they defeat the green tiger and make their way to the foot of the mountain where the Old Man of the Moon can be found.

Throughout the narrative, other stories are told, mostly centered around the misdeeds of a greedy magistrate who wished to be part of the royal family. Eventually these stories all tie together and interact with the main story, of Minli and her quest.

Although both the story and the framed stories are Grace Lin's creations, the motifs and characterizations draw heavily from traditional Chinese folklore. Additionally, Lin's colorful artwork enhances the story beautifully, making it a real delight to turn the page and find another of her illustrations. The book is well-deserving of its Newbury Honor status.

Especially refreshing if you are looking for mythology of non-European descent, but I'd recommend this to anyone interested in folklore and story traditions. While Lin has fleshed out the sparse folkloric stories and made them her own, they retain the flavor of their origins.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Cinderella

Ahhh Cinderella. That timeless story. Of which there are SO many versions. And so many musicals... I kept expecting the Faerie Tale Theatre cast to break into song: it doesn't happen.

There's not a whole lot of twist in this retold tale -- and of course FTT doesn't tend to change much. However, it is a solid entry in the FTT lineup. I like the interplay between Cinderella and her Godmother, and Cinderella blooms in that relationship more than she does with the prince, eventually learning to tease her Fairy Godmother back.

And I do rather enjoy the comeuppance that the stepmother and stepsisters receive, which is much more on the funny side of the line than the horrifying. FTT doesn't go so far back to the source material that the stepsisters are blinded by birds at the end, but it doesn't let them get away without repercussions, either.

This is a good introductory entry for FTT if you haven't seen any episodes and are curious about the show's general quality. It doesn't stand out for me, particular, in any way -- especially with as many different versions of Cinderella as there are -- but it's a well done episode and on that note, there is hardly anyone who isn't familiar with the basic Cinderella storyline so it's a good one to get an idea of the show from.

You can watch it for free on hulu.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Now here is a retelling that I can appreciate. You might guess from the cover what this story ties into... or you might not. And the retelling itself is much more subtle than most of the ones I cover here (which I certainly enjoy). So here we have Puss in Boots.

What I didn't realize when I started this is that it ties to Murdock's other book, Princess Ben, which I still haven't read. In this book, Princess Ben is the dowager queen, guiding her granddaughters as best she can, so the only spoiler for the previous book is: yes, she lives through it. And I did not have any trouble following this story or jumping into the world even though I missed the first book. It did make me want to go back and read the first book, so I'll be looking to get my hands on that one soon.

The story is told almost entirely through letters, diary entries, and a play written by "anonymous." (By the end of the story I think you'll have a good guess as to who the anonymous writer is.) There is both a clever cat and a man who is remarkably proud of both his boots and his wits. And there is something of an Ogre(ss) as well, although not in the shape you would expect.

I loved the way this was adapted. It was unexpected, yet as the pieces fell into place, it was clear to see that the elements of Puss in Boots were all present. I won't say too much about who did what and how it was reflective, but I will say that I loved it and I recommend this one for fans of Puss in Boots, more creative adaptations, or unique YA fiction.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

The 6th entry in the 500 Kingdoms series, Beauty and the Werewolf came out in October 2011. (And I eventually got around to reading it.) Can I just say, before I say anything about the book itself, blech, what is with the cover art? I know these series has a penchant for fuzzy pictures of beautiful women and, normally, pastels, and while I do think you have to have a red cloak for a book so significantly featuring a Red Riding Hood motif, gah, this one just doesn't sit well with me. I think it's the way the model looks like she's uncomfortably holding her breath, waiting for the moment to end so she can relax....

Anyway. That aside, this is probably my favorite of the 500 Kingdoms books. It sneaks in the usual references to the Tradition and how We All Know More Than We Should -- except the main character doesn't, and other characters cut themselves off from revealing too much. So we, the faithful readers, know what they were about to say, but the character isn't wandering around trying to figure out how to manipulate people and events to her liking through most of the book. (Maybe just a little by the end.)

I also really like the blend of Beauty and Little Red. I've thought the two stories would combine well, and Lackey has done a solid job of putting the two stories together. And while the ending is not entirely unpredictable, Lackey has in this case done a good job of making the characters (at least the two main male characters) not entirely predictable. And Bella (of course she's named Bella, this IS a Beauty and the Beast story, after all) herself shows some moxie while not falling into the "I've got moxie because I'm STUBBORN" category.

If you liked the previous books in the series, I definitely recommend this one. It's not particularly deep but it is an enjoyable read.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Pied Piper of Hamelin

So. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is an interesting episode of Faerie Tale Theatre -- mostly because they didn't write it at all. The entire story is narrated and the dialog is lifted straight out of the original Robert Browning poem.

Which is good poetry but makes for some awkward and phrases that turn strangely on the actor's tongues.

In spite of that it's one of my favorite episodes. It's just such a crazy, creepy story, and FTT does a good job with the scenery at atmosphere. The Pied Piper is one of my favorite "villains" of fairy tale lore; I've always thought the real villains were the townsmen who promised to pay him and, well, you know. Plus the implications of underhill/faerie are so strong in this one (both the poem and the episode), yet without being blatant.

And what about the Piper? What's his DEAL?

This episode is available to watch for free on hulu. The complete collection of Faerie Tale Theatre episodes is available on amazon and the price seems to vary a lot from month to month, so if you're interested in buying (it's over $30 right now but I've seen it go as low as $22 or $23) I'd say your best bet is to throw it on a wishlist and just keep an eye on the price for a few months.