I am a little bit obsessed with fairy tales. Straight tellings, upside down tellings, twisted and fractured – I am interested in them all. I finally got a look at Jack Zipes’ latest offering, The Original Folk and Fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (Princeton University Press) last week. If you want to remember what fairy tales could be like then check out ‘The Children Who Played at Slaughtering’. There’s no Disney ending in there. There is no Disney ending with Gaiman’s tale either, although I’m pleased to say that it has a much happier conclusion.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a re-telling (or new telling) of a tale that uses elements of both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. For me, what is so lovely about it is that the story is devoid of Princely interference. There is a prince – the story begins on the eve of the queen’s wedding to one. But you never see him, nor hear him speak. He has nothing to do with the action or adventure.
The queen, accompanied by three faithful dwarfs, sets off to rescue the princess to stop the enchanted sleep that is taking over the land between their kingdoms. She wakes the princess – or whom she thinks is the princess – with a kiss. There’s a really clever twist which I won’t spoil here and at the end, the queen decides not to head West, where her kingdom and marriage awaits. Instead she heads in the opposite direction:
“You do know we’re heading east, don’t you?” said one of the dwarfs.
“Oh yes,” said the queen.
“Well, that’s all right then,” said the dwarf.
They walked to the east, all four of them, away from the sunset and the lands they knew, and into the night.
There’s much to love here. First and foremost, it’s a great story. It’s got a creepy element to it (as all good fairy tales should have in my opinion). It happens to feature strong female characters at the heart of the action and there’s also a lingering kiss between two female characters. I think this is important to see – not presented in a ‘look, this can sometimes happen!’ way. But just as it appears – as part of a story. Adventures don’t always end in marrying a prince – and sometimes princes aren’t involved at all. It’s good for kids to know that that’s OK.
The illustrations, presented in gold, black and white, are by Chris Riddell and are richly detailed, beautiful and unsettling – perfect, then, for a fairy tale.
My kids insisted I read it all in one sitting and have returned to it on their own since – my daughter being particularly taken by the illustrations.
Richly presented, richly told – it would make a great gift for anyone – child or adult – who loves fairy tales. I suppose it could be a great Christmas gift. Christmas really is happening isn’t it?