The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty story.  Sleeping Beauty and the people in her castle have been asleep for years. However, this sleeping sickness seems to be spreading. First, the nearby villages fall asleep, then the villages near them, and so on. Soon, the entire kingdom is asleep, and it’s up to three dwarfs and the queen of the neighboring kingdom to figure out how to put an end to the curse.

This story has an ingenious blend of fairy tales. For instance, the queen is a character from another story. I’ll just say that she is someone who has also been asleep for a long time and let you figure out who she is. There are also additional elements to the story that help flesh it out. Those who are asleep do more than sleep, an old woman who is trapped inside the castle and immune to the curse, and the more one delves into the story, the more it becomes apparent that the details of the Sleeping Beauty that appear in each retelling are not what they seem. Not to mention that the ending will leave you thinking, “Wait, what? What just happened?” Overall, this is a quick read that goes more in-depth than one would think the amount of pages would allow.

Genre: Fantasy

Setting: A fairy tale land in an unspecified historical era.

Number of pages: 66

Objectionable content? A small amount of violence, one death, an occasional corpse, and unsettling factors (i.e. the sleepers)

Can children read this? Yes, as long as they are not easily upset by unsettling elements in stories. However, this book is best for teenagers and adults.

Who would enjoy this? Anyone who enjoys Neil Gaiman’s other works, and anyone who enjoys fairy tale remakes.

Themes: Beauty, power, loss, choices, strong women, and the need to control other’s emotions vs. the strength of only feeling your emotions.

Rating: Five stars

The World of Castle Waiting

jacket-aspxCastle Waiting by Linda Medley is a graphic novel in two volumes that depicts a world where horses walk upright and wield swords. A world of ghosts and amulets and curses. And yet, a world of  everyday life that deals with such things as the logistics of cooking for a crowd, doing the laundry, and whether it’s more important for underwear to be functional or interesting.

And through it all, one plucky heroine named Jain travels in search of the legendary Castle Waiting, a sanctuary for anyone who needs it. The characters are wonderful and no one bats an eye at any being, no matter how different: talking storks, annoying sprites, bearded ladies, the mentally unstable, the warriors are all taken in stride and regarded with compassion and a touch of humor.

A small demon  patrols the neighborhood around Castle Waiting looking for souls to corrupt. Sprites infest the castle walls. A lion with wings watches silently and mysteriously, sometimes from the roof and sometimes from the nearby woods. And Jain, who has spent months on the road, arrives just in time for the birth of her baby, whose father is as much of a mystery as everything else in the castle.

castleMeticulously drawn and by turns touching, hilarious, and heartbreaking, this story sucked me right in. With a deft hand,  Medley strews literary references throughout the story and skewers old fairy tales. One reading simply is not sufficient. Only through multiple readings will you be able to catch all the allusions and details. Each panel not only features the major characters but a wealth of of background action. (Watch for the sprites stealing things while no one notices.) The architectural detail of the castle made my wanna-be architect heart beat faster.

This is not a utopian story. People die. There are thieves, baby-nappers, and violence. Jain starts her journey by escaping from an abusive husband. Yet, in a way, Castle Waiting is a utopia. Bickering happens and personalities clash, but underneath it all there is an unquestioning acceptance of everyone.

It seems like a wonderful place to be. It is just quirky enough for my taste and there are enough adventures to keep boredom at bay. The characters bowl in the castle halls. They eat Turkish Delight. They dye their hair red and hold impromptu tea parties.  And each one has a story that is slowly revealed though the (so far) two volumes.

Jain Solander from the graphic novel Castle Waiting. Artist: Linda Medley.

From Castle Waiting, Vol. 1. Copyright Linda Medley.

Did I mention that Castle Waiting has a library complete with a ghost? I want to go live there.

Take a look at other Graphic Novels available at the Cheshire Library.

Save

Save

In the Public Domain

 dressIn the past few years we’ve seen a sudden resurgence of fairy tales, bombarded by big-screen live-action versions of Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror (which came out the same year, just for overkill), Maleficent, Cinderella, Oz the Great and Powerful, the soon-to-be released Peter Pan (October 9), Alice Through the Looking Glass (spring 2016, reprising the 2010 cast of Alice in Wonderland), Beauty and the Beast (2017 release date) and so many more. While some of these have been spectacular (who can forget Cinderella’s dress!), did you ever wonder why?

It’s more than just the fact Hollywood can’t seem to come up with anything original lately, or that remakes are a fad. Movies cost huge coin to produce – truly, hundreds of millions of dollars, from pre-production through movie rights to scripting, set design, music, choreography, lighting, costuming, and advertising. One of those big costs is often acquisition of rights – buying the rights to the material from the original author. In the case of fairy tales, the cost of that right is Zero, and that is a producer’s favorite number. Zero means you can do whatever you want with the material. Yes, you could feasibly make (and I’m sure it’s been done) a very dirty film of Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel and no one can stop you, as long as you don’t reference anyone else’s version.

We’re accustomed to believing that Disney or Touchstone or some other major Alice in Wonderland.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartcompany created Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and so many other cherished films. In fact the answer is no, they did not. They only made their own version of them. Many of Disney’s greatest tales were old folk tales and fairy tales, borrowed from collections by Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, or bought way back when from J. M. Barrie or Rudyard Kipling. The original tales were often a bit different and usually very dark (Mermaid is a very murderous tale; the Little Match Girl freezes to death, etc). They all have one thing in common however: they are all in what’s called the Public Domain. That means they are not copyrighted, and anyone can make their own version of the tale. The stories don’t have to be bought, no author has to be fought with, and a producer can do whatever he or she wants to the story.

panIn the United States, copyright is generally good for the life of the author plus seventy years (in some instances, it is extended to as much as 120 years). If the author has good descendants and they renew on behalf of the estate, it can continue further. This is how Peter Pan is now in the public domain: J.M. Barrie died in 1937; his copyrights have expired. Treasure Island is a free e-book, because it’s in the public domain. Gone With the Wind will enter into public domain in 2031. Many of the early silent films are also free for making use of. This also holds true with music: that’s why so much classical music is used in movie and TV soundtracks: no one has to pay a penny to use it. You can tour the country playing Beethoven and Mozart all you want, and you never have to pay them a dime. Their works, like Shakespeare, and Byron, and even the Bible are all available for public use and performance.

Yes, Anne is now the public's darling, too.

Yes, Anne is now the public’s darling, too.

Now, that’s not to say you can pick up a copy of a play and start performing it for money. While the play and its characters are not under copyright, the person who planned out/composed/wrote the playbook or libretto has a copyright on the booklet or sheet music you are using – their “version” – which is why school plays cost so much (the same way “Snow White” is a public domain tale, but “Disney’s Snow White” is most definitely under copyright). Unless you’ve taken the idea of Romeo and Juliet and written up your own version, you’re going to wind up having to pay someone somewhere for your performance of the material.

Here’s one list of free public-domain books available on ebook, including both adult and children’s classics: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/public-domain.

So whether you look forward to some of the new, spectacularly beautiful versions of old tales coming out, or grumble about how much more money does Disney need rehashing their own blockbusters, remember the reason: movie studios are cheapskates, and copyrights don’t last forever.

Fairy tale fact: Cinderella is the most universal fairy tale. Almost every culture has a version of it. The very first known “Cinderella” story can be traced back to the story of Rhodopis, a real Greek slave girl from Thrace who married the King of Egypt. That story is from 7 BC! Our current version of Cinderella (Cendrillon) goes back to the late 1600’s France, a French version by Charles Perrault.

Honoring Hans Christian Andersen and International Children’s Book Day

Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2, is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day. While he was wrote plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is most remembered for his fairy tales. Andersen’s stories explore ideas and themes that transcend age and nationality. In fact, his stories  have been translated into more than 125 languages, become embedded in the West’s collective consciousness. They have inspired plays, ballets, and a number of films.

In honor of International Children’s Book Day and Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, I would like to offer up a selection of the best fairy tale collections including Andersen and then some great books inspired by his work.

From Andersen:
1.Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

2. Little Mermaids and Ugly Ducklings: Favorite Fairytales

3. Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

4. The Snow Queen 

5. Eric Carle’s Treasury of Classic Stories for Children by Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm

Tales retold or inspired by Andersen:
1. The Steadfast Tin Soldier retold by Cynthia Rylant

2. The Ugly Duckling retold by Jerry Pinkney

3. The Pea Blossom  by Amy Lowry

4. The Tinderbox by Stephen Mitchell

5. King Long Shanks by Jane Yolen

6. The Uglified Ducky by Willy Claflin

7. The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert

8. The Red Shoes by Gloria Fowler

Do you have a favorite story from Andersen’s collections, or perhaps a favorite version or a classic tale? Share it in the comments and it might just becomes someone else’s new favorite!