Tag Archives: Fairy Tales

Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack

While I was visiting Ana last week, I borrowed some of her books. Well, in this case, some of her borrowed books. Not that her shelves aren’t interesting. In truth, they are amazing and looking them over will make you want to own them all yourself. The thing was, I needed some quick reads that I could be sure to finish before I left again, and I had always wanted to try Rapunzel’s Revenge. So there you go..

Rapunzel's Revenge - HaleRapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon Hale, Dean Hale & Nathan Hale
Bloomsbury, 2008
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Rapunzel grows up in a large house behind walls. The house is owned by her mother Gothel, a woman with growth magic and the power to make land prosper or whither at will.. When Rapunzel ventures outside the walls protecting her home she finds out that Gothel is not her mother. Instead, Rapunzel was taken from her real mother at an early age; her mother put to work as a slave, herself growing up as Gothel’s child in a house of plenty but very little happiness. Knowing the truth she sets out to rescue her real mother, and take revenge on Gothel.

As I am sure you might have gathered from my rather inadequate plot summary, Rapunzel’s Revenge is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale in the form of a graphic novel.  What makes it SO MUCH FUN is the fact that it plays with the tale and frequently subverts the things we have come to expect from traditional fairy tales.

A good example might be the scene where I for a second started to doubt whether my enjoyment thus far would be spoiled by the introduction of a hero on his way to safe Rapunzel. However, instead of turning this into a tale of a princess saved by a hero, love, and a happily ever after, the so-called heroism of the hero is challenged, especially his endeavour to win her love… You can read the scene written out over at The Book Smugglers.

By this point, there was little the book could do wrong for me. Here is a girl in a very empowering role, a boy companion who turns into a love interest but in a slow and satisfying way without taking any of the great character building from Rapunzel, and there is a very diverse cast of characters. On top of all that, the drawings are very colourful and just splash off the page. And most of all, the story is plain good fun.

Whereas I might have been a little hesitant about the title Rapunzel’s Revenge for the simple reason that I recently read Fables: Animal Farm where Rapunzel is also cast as a rebellious character, Rapunzel’s Revenge quickly managed to persuade me that I was wrong to expect anything less than a great read. The graphic novel combines both the joys of blending and subversion of fairy tales that can be gleaned from the Fables series, with a more bright and sweet outlook as well as perhaps a clearer empowering message for women. Definitely a fun read, and highly recommended.

Other Opinions: The Book Smugglers, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Tales of the Marvelous, The Broke and the Bookish, Book Clutter, Reading Rants,  Bookworm Readers, Bart’s Bookshelf,  Becky’s Book Reviews, Yours?

Calamity Jack - HaleCalamity Jack – Shannon Hale, Dean Hale & Nathan Hale
Bloomsbury, 2010

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This companion graphic novel to Rapunzel’s Revenge tells the story of Jack, the male companion of Rapunzel in Rapunzel’s Revenge. The novel basically consists of two parts. First, we are presented with some back story of Jack and the many pranks he pulled on people, all bordering on the criminal. In the second part Jack tries to come to terms with his past and his misdeeds as he tries to fight the giants he angered and rebuild his mother’s house that was destroyed by a beanstalk he planted. When he ans Rapunzel return home, however, he finds out that a bigger evil than himself is facing the town he left years before.

In effect, Calamity Jack is about the shades between being “good” and “bad”, the ability of and the extent to which people can remedy past mistakes, facing your insecurities and fears and stepping up to help those you love.

The joys of reading Calamity Jack are very similar to those I found in Rapunzel’s Revenge. The story is fun and takes some unexpected turns, the illustrations are bright and colourful, and even though this is the story of Jack Rapunzel plays a significant part which made me very happy.

Nevertheless, Calamity Jack could not quite satisfy me as Rapunzel’s Revenge did. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that it is the second book and thus some of the surprising pleasures of the first one became more expected in this instalment. This leaves me with the question if it was imagined that Rapunzel’s Revenge seemed to play and subvert story telling and fairy tale expectations a little more than Calamity Jack managed to do? Somehow, to me Calamity Jack missed some of the magic of Rapunzel’s story.

Calamity Jack was still a lot of fun to read. However, I definitely enjoyed Rapunzel’s Revenge more.

Other Opinions: The Book Smugglers, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, It’s All ABout Books, Reading Rants,  Tales of the Marvelous, Bart’s Bookshelf, The Friendly Book Nook, One Literature Nut, Becky’s Book Reviews, Yours?

Once Upon a Time VIIRapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack count towards my reading for the Once Upon a Time Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. I hope I get to read something else for the challenge. Or, you know, post about some of the books I have read but have not talked about because of blogging failure.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty - Robin McKinleyBeauty – Robin McKinley
David Fickling Books, 2003

Originally published in 1978
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[note: this was written late at night, which shows. I hope it's not too difficult to navigate my meandering thoughts.]

I shall always have fond memories when it comes to the story of Beauty and the Beast. I know it might be considered sacrilege to some, but I was introduced to the fairy tale through Disney’s movie version of 1991. I was four, and it was the first movie I saw at the cinema. There I was, with my cousin and my aunt (who used to babysit me), and I remember sitting there, and that movie having such an impact. I don’t remember much of the theatre visit, except that the building was quite stately, and that there was a scene where (in my mind) Belle dances with the Beast in a yellow dress, in the library.

There is a reason why Belle has always been my “favourite princess”, if I were to choose one. It is her bookishness in that Disney movie. Her walking from her house, with a book in her hand and a blue dress on, dancing through the streets, being friendly to everyone, and snubbing Gaston (snubbing the annoying man who thinks he’s all that is an important part of my liking for Belle). I wanted to be her. That’s it, basically.

I was very happy to discover that Beauty, in this retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (note that it was published many years before the Disney movie!) is also bookish. She is also, in her own estimation, not truly a beauty. It is a nickname given to her, her actual name is Honour (next to her sisters Grace and Hope). One of the wonderful things in this story is that the main character grows into both her nicknames, that she shows them to be a perfect fit, and that she slowly gains confidence about being worthy of them.

It is not that Beauty is not confident. It is her strength as a female character, that we perhaps do not associate with what we have learned to think of as “the princesses in fairy tales”, which, in part, makes this story so enjoyable. Beauty is willing to go against the grain. First, she devotes herself to studies and reading. Then, when the family has to move, she works around the house and does work that requires great physical strength. Then, when she meets the beast, she wonders, she is sometimes naive, but she also has a very strong will and she’s not unwilling to voice her own opinions. I liked her for that. Very much so.

Beauty is the kind of character that makes it easy to sympathise. Even if at times it becomes a little difficult to believe that she really wouldn’t have understood all those hints that are spoken at night, by invisible servants. Even if, having had people remark that she has grown into a great beauty, and that she does not see herself as others do, she struggles against the notion, and rejects the beautiful gowns laid out for her. Then, at the same time, I also appreciated her for that. I’d like a female fairy tale lead to reject dresses. I understand the notion of not feeling comfortable in your skin, or confident in whatever you have doubts about, despite being told otherwise. It is something many will empathise with. It is something I certainly emphasise with.

Robin McKinley does a wonderful job of setting the scenes. She spends a great deal of time describing scenery. She makes sure to evoke moods through that same scenery. She makes sure you know all the characters involved: Beauty’s father, her sisters, I could see faces accompanied with them all.

There is one thing though, that I wondered at while reading the book. For the first time while reading this, I realised how Beauty and the Beast is not just a romantic love story to swoon over (which happened, for me, here). But how there are some really problematic things going on in the relationship that is established. Sure, I loved Belle for rejecting Gaston in Disney’s version, but have I ever stopped to think that she fell in love with the person who captured her father, and then held her prisoner instead? In this story, there is the same kind of dynamic going on, to a certain extent. As The Literary Omnivore put it, it’s a little bit like Stockholm Syndrome.

I remember, faintly, that there were moments when Beauty reflected on this herself. Or perhaps, I am editing them in, in my memory, in retrospect (but I think not? Help me out here, fellow readers!). Here is a man, or beast, who lives a life of luxury, even if it is established to be an isolated and sad one, and who can offer Beauty a lot of the things that she always wanted (hello magical library with all the books ever written and yet to be written!). There are moments when I felt that McKinley handled this situation really well, with the reflections, and  the response of Beauty’s family, and Beauty actually makes conscious decisions about staying or returning to the Beast, and she makes them repeatedly.. However, there are moments when they were less overt, or when I felt the tale overrode them, where I would have loved for more questions to have been raised (the ending, for example, and Beauty accepting “the dress” were such moments). But it is a fairy tale, and McKinley makes it easy to go along with these aspects of the story, even if she makes you wonder at the same time. I guess the quality of this story is, in part, that it made me reflect on such things, even if it may not have provided all the answers.¹

I fear I might sound much too critical. The thing is, I did very much enjoy this book. I wanted to keep on reading it. I wanted to hug it close at times. Beauty is a wonderful heroine. It is not that the story is lacking, or at fault. Perhaps it is more that it opened my eyes to the narratives inherent to the fairy tale as it has been told so many times. And that is what made me think. And then, reading this as a retelling, I might think that there were moments where there might have been more subversion, even if there are plenty of moments there. In itself, Beauty does a wonderful job of expanding the story, of giving us a very detailed setting, of offering us a picture of a supportive family and strong girls. In short, it is not my favourite-favourite fairy tale retelling (but who could top Tender Morsels?), but it was wonderful nonetheless. It is definitely going on the re-read pile.

I know there are many more Robin McKinley books out there. I have Deerskin on the shelves, and I cannot wait to get to it (I know it is supposed to be much darker than Beauty - not that that’s better per se, it’s just if people wanted to warn me). Are there any titles you particularly recommend? I think McKinley might very well turn out to be an author of whom I want to read many books.

Other Opinions: There are many.

¹ Can I give an example of such questions the story raised? I’m inserting them as a footnote, because I couldn’t help but ramble a little. Here it is. In her post, The Literary Omnivore also remarked that in Beauty, the Beast does not seem to overcome his nature through Beauty. Instead, he is as he has mostly been. I agree with her. Instead of the Beast (as in the Disney version, which is the only one I know, and I do not know it by heart) going from a more “beastly”, more aggressive, character, to one that is “humane”, tender, and awkward, through Belle’s intercession and for her, in Beauty the Beast is mostly as he has always been (while his beastly outside mostly leads to him becoming more isolated, which is his suffering). He is willing to hope at a better life, meeting Beauty. But a fundamental change? I have seen less of that.

However, after writing that down, there springs a new question to mind. Or really, two questions. One being that that story might be problematic in itself. Beauty might have had more agency in that the Beast not only changed her, but she also changed him (more expressly), and I would definitely cheer for that. But I wonder if in that version is captured the narrative of “if you are a lovely enough girl, you can change the bad boy for the better”, which is not one which can be retold without raising question marks (but which is also part of what I loved about the Disney version. Ugh, I both love and hate discovering problematic things in favourite stories). And then there’s question two, which is the prevailing idea that love will change you at your core. Now, I am a romantic, and I do believe love changes people. But I wonder if it is a good thing if it changed your very nature? Is that romance, or a little scary? Is it not another narrative we are so often told, but that raises complex issues? Should a change always be established through finding your “true love”? Should we think of natures of being “natures”, or “cores”? I hope not, not completely. I don’t know, perhaps this is what McKinley avoids in her tale, as she seems to emphasise that both Beauty and the Beast allow something to flower when they are together, something that was already there but that they could not see? And I like that (romanticised?) idea of love, but even so, I cannot help but wonder at this idea of change through another person too? So, as I said above, this book led me to ask a lot of questions. Questions that are not part of this book per se, that did not detract from my enjoyment, but which led me to wonder and rethink some things, and, as usual, leaving me without any answers (which I do not mind, but you might think I have just wasted your time in having you read this footnote).

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Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest - Juliet MarillierDaughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
Tor Books, 2001

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Sorcha is the seventh child and the only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Growing up without a mother, Sorcha and her brothers share a close bond, even if all of their characters differ. All too soon, their comfortable peace as a family is shattered when Lord Colum falls in love and takes a new wife. This new wife, as the children quickly find out, has enchanted their father. When she encounters only resistance from the children, she decides to bind the brothers by a spell, which only Sorcha may lift. To lift the spell, Sorcha is set a horrible task by the Fair Folk and their queen, in which she can only succeed if she remains silent throughout the whole period it takes to complete it. But when Sorcha is captured by her people’s enemies, the Brits, it becomes more uncertain than ever if she will be able to stick to her promise and save her brothers.

As you might have guessed, Daughter of the Forest is a retelling of the Six Swans fairy tale.

In Daughter of the Forest, a lot of attention is paid to the setting of the tale. What makes this interesting is that it adds a lot of magical feel to the story, as the setting leads Marillier to insert Celtic lore into the story. There are druids, tree spirits, fairy folk, and nature that may threaten or protect.

Moreover, Marillier emphasises the conflict between the Celts and the Britons.  As Sorcha travels between her home and the foreign land of the Brits, the mutual distrust of the two parties come into focus, as do the believes in the other’s barbaric customs. Sorcha, in navigating these two worlds, inevitably challenges assumptions, without taking away from the fear and danger caused by a conflict such as this. Particularly interesting in this regard is the love story in which Sorcha plays a part.

What I loved about this book (and I did love it) was the atmospheric setting, the convincing storytelling, and the inevitable sympathy I felt for Sorcha’s plight. Many have complained about the slow beginning to the tale for the first 150 pages or so. I agree, it was slow, but it worked for me; as Marillier takes particular care to set up the story, I felt I truly became part of this world. Because I was allowed the time to familiarise myself with the strong relationship between Sorcha and her brothers it becomes a little more believable that she would go to such length, and through such cruelty, to save them.

Nevertheless, it was not an easy story to read. I feel that I should mention, despite that it might be considered a spoiler, that Sorcha experiences a particularly brutal rape somewhere in the second part of the story. Made even worse by the fact that she’s on her own and that she’s not allowed to utter a thing as she’s trying to break the curse put on her brothers.

While I often find myself questioning if it was necessary to add rape to any story, I can be found interested in how it is handled. In the case of Sorcha, I think her struggles, as I imagine them to be in real life, to be realistically portrayed. I especially appreciated how her distrust is handled: yes, she is scared of intimacy and men in particular, but it does not turn into an “all men are evil” or a women vs. men tale. When Sorcha expresses her fear of intimacy, this very portrayal is instead discussed.

I liked Daughter of the Forest enough to order the other two books in the trilogy, as well as the book itself as I only took it out from the library, from the book depository. I am not sure when I’ll read the other books, but someday… surely?

I read and reviewed Daughter of the Forest as part of Fairy Tale Friday and my personal Fairy Tale Project. Click over to the hosts of Fairy Tale Friday: Books 4 Learning and Literary Transgressions for more fairy tale themed posts.

Other Opinions: Steph Su Reads, The Allure of Books, Chachic’s Book Nook, Things Mean A Lot, It’s All About Books, Book Harbinger, Working Title, Genre Reviews, One Librarian’s Book Reviews, Stella Matutina, The Book Smugglers, Anime Girl’s Bookshelf,  The Bookling, Nose in a Book, ibeeeg, The Written World, Book Nut.
Did I miss your post about this book? Let me know and I will add it to the list. 

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Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue
Penguin, 1998
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Earlier this year I read The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, and while it wasn’t perfect there were moments in that novel of historical fiction that I loved. When Ana recommended this short story collection by Donoghue I admit I was instantly curious. Having read Kissing the Witch I am convinced this is the stronger work of the two . But it’s more than the better one of the two, for this may be one of my favourite reads of the year.

Kissing the Witch is a collection of thirteen interrelated stories hiding familiar fairy tales beneath the surface. Each story is connected to the previous one by providing part of the back story of one of the characters mentioned. Each story starts out with the question of who [character Y] was before she did/were/became [X]. Thus, as you progress through the collection, you travel back in time: each subsequent story preceding the former.

I read Kissing the Witch with wonder, and with awe. Donoghue does something very refreshing and daring in this collection. There are erotic scenes, there are scenes of revenge, there is truth, and there is an absolute overload of female empowerment.

Upon finishing the collection I knew right away that this was one I’d like to have on my shelves if I ever have children, in particular girls. Because instead of the traditional fairy tales in which girls turn princesses and are often portrayed as passive, these are stories with heavy feminist overtones – which I loved. These girls or women take, or learn to take, their life into their own hands. The overall message of many of them is that female, or generally individual, agency is needed  to live your own life, and it tells you you have the right to claim it. For example, the advice of a witch in one of the stories where a woman sells her voice to chase the man she loves is

“Change for your own sake, if you must, not for what you imagine another will ask of you.”

But the emphasis placed on personal agency, identity, and strength are not were my overt love for this collection ends. Because it shows women’s lives as not revolving solely around capturing men (although there are women who did, or have done, so in the stories). This one would pass the Bechdel Test without a doubt. There are women who befriend each other, there are women who give each other advice, and there are women who love each other without it being a big deal.

I will say it again: this is the kind of fairy tale inspired collection I would love to read to any future kids. Reading it as an adult, I felt completely empowered. And that literally made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I read and reviewed Kissing the Witch as part of Fairy Tale Friday and my personal Fairy Tale Project. Click over to the hosts of Fairy Tale Friday: Books 4 Learning and Literary Transgressions for more fairy tale themed posts.

Other Opinions: Buried in Print, Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.
Did I miss your post on this book? Let me know and I will add it to the list.

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The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Terry Pratchett
Doubleday, 2001

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The Amazing Maurice is in essence a retelling of the pied piper, but with a slight twist to it.

Maurice, a talking cat, leads a group of rats and a flute-playing child (the “stupid looking kid”)  from town to town; first convincing the town they have a rat plague and then ridding them of said plague. The town of Bad Blintz is supposed to be their last gig, but it quickly turns into their most risky adventure ever..

This was my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s fiction. Ana recommended this one as a children’s novel that is a standalone in the Discworld series. I admit that reading this book has left me curious for more of Pratchett’s work, but at the same time I didn’t feel this book was absolutely perfect.

The Amazing Maurice is a good example of one of the things I particularly like in fantasy: it uses a fantasy setting to explore larger questions about life in general. In this case the uses of storytelling, morality, what it means to be “civilised”, what it means to accept who you are and how this relates to who you wish to be. The talking rats in particular provide a lot of food for thought with their philosophical conversations. Loved that.

I liked how the story invited me to divide my sympathy across the board of characters (though perhaps Maurice himself wasn’t a favourite at the beginning of the story – he’s shown to be quite selfish there). The rats and the humans (the flute player and the girl they meet at Bad Blintz who thinks of everything she encounters as a story) both appealed to me. Especially the girl reminded me a little bit of my own escapism into stories at times (though I admit her “I’m looking at everything as a story!” was a bit over the top at times).

The humor is unusually clever and subtle, and works really well.. I especially liked the ratnames. And yet there were times when I grew a little bit tired of the humor. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that I read the whole thing in under 1,5 hours (that should tell you something about its general compelling character). There were moments towards the end that I was left thinking “ah, if you look at it that way, it’s funny” instead of an instant reaction.

Perhaps what made me less-than-love, but still very much enjoy, The Amazing Maurice was the appearance of rat-kings. *shudder* These passages are meant to be scary – I felt them to be almost claustrophobic. Even more so when you look at them in the context of individuality vs. being part of a system. Eek.

In conclusion you may say that The Amazing Maurice is a very cleverly executed book and I enjoyed reading it very much. I certainly hadn’t expected there to be so many questions raised. Pratchett lost me a little with the overall “carefree” humorous tone though. I did enjoy the humor in the book in general, but it wasn’t a perfect fit for me throughout the novel (I really hope I am still making sense).

I am looking forward to reading more by Pratchett though, as his clever storytelling did appeal to me.

So, which Terry Pratchett book should I read next?

I read and reviewed The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents as part of Fairy Tale Friday and my personal Fairy Tale Project. Click over to the hosts of Fairy Tale Friday: Books 4 Learning and Literary Transgressions for more fairy tale themed posts.

Other Opinions: BirdBrain(ed) Book Blog,  A Reader’s Journal, Becky’s Book Reviews, Jennifer’s Book Blog, The Written World, tiny little reading room, nothing of importance,  Inkweaver Review.
Did I miss your post about this book? Let me know and I will add your review to the list.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.