Sunday, November 24, 2013

Princess Hynchatti

Princess Hynchatti and some other surprises is an early-ish book by Tanith Lee.  It's not the first thing I read by her as a kid - that would be Delirium's Mistress, which my 8 or 9-year old self bought because Winged Lions! Long Hair! Ruined Buildings.  Thank you Michael Whelan cover art for hooking me up with a lifetime favorite writer.

Ok, but Princess Hynchatti.  These fairy tales are somewhere between A. A. Milne, T. H. White, and Patricia Wrede in tone.  Gently sarcastic, very aware of conventions even as they play with them.  Wicked witches want to win prizes for most-wicked, and forgetful enchanters accidentally enchant their own daughters. Spells are broken by common sense and kindness. Princess Dahli is a current favorite of mine, with a princess who handles a Cinderella-like role in very clever fashion.  Another princess, trapped by a Rapunzel-like curse, takes matters (and her unruly hair) into her own hands. 

The stories are consistently sweet without being saccharine.  It's often easy to forget that writers who can and do write dark and wild and erotic can also write sweet and gentle.  Throughout her career Tanith Lee has written children's and YA books as well as adult work, and these stories are lovely fairy tales. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fables - Fairy Tales in New York

Fables is a smart, sophisticated comic series starring a cast drawn widely from fairy tales, folklore, nursery rhymes and fantastic literature (as well as the literature of the fantastic). The stories play with old tropes, create new ones, and juxtapose characters very familiar and nearly forgotten (or perhaps misunderstood) in intriguing ways.

If you like comics, I'd say start Fables at the beginning, with the first volume.  Snow White, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Jack (of both Giant-Killing and Beanstalk fame) and the Big Bad Wolf (along with a cast of thousands of others) are living in Manhattan.  Prince Charming is a cad and a playboy (All those princesses who married Prince Charming?  It was always the same Prince Charming.) Jack gets into trouble, and Rose Red doesn't much enjoy living in her more famous sister's shadow.  The writing is sharp and knowledgeable about folklore both famous and obscure.  The art is lovely, detailed, and expressive.  The narrative in the first volume is fully self-contained, and reasonably representative of the story as a whole to date - if you like the first volume, you'll probably continue to enjoy it (and there are 17 or so sequel volumes and two spinoff series to date), but you can also stop at the end and have gotten a complete story.

If you're not such a comics fan but will sample graphic novels here and there, try 1001 Nights of Snowfall, a stand alone graphic novel in the series done in a variety of fully-painted formats, a set of stories within stories.

Credit notes: Fables is written by Bill Willingham. Mark Buckingham has drawn (I think from checking my shelves) most of the volumes since the first one. My apologies for not listing all the artists on the title! Comics, like albums and movies, have complicated credit lists.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wily Wizard and the Wicked Witch

The title story in this collection has a witch who lures people into her treehouse to eat them, and warns each traveler, all smiling, that she's going to eat them after she fattens them up.  They never believe her, and so they come in and are eaten.  The townspeople complain about it in the best way:
"If only she didn't tell them herself," said the mayor, "then I could forbid the whole thing.  But she makes it all quite clear beforehand and the people go in willingly."
"Just so," agreed the clergyman.  "That is the awful thing about it.  Look here: I can understand her enticing strangers in to make them fat and then baking them in her oven.  I don't approve, but I can put myself in her place, and we all have our faults.  But the fact that she speaks the truth about it is too much for me."
Tourism to the village is falling off, so they hire a wizard to deal with her.  As one does.

The Wily Wizard and the Wicked Witch is one of those books that makes me deeply grateful for small libraries with small budgets that don't weed their collections regularly.  I first read it in the tiny one room library in Pawlet, Vermont.  The library has since moved to what used to be the K-2nd grade school across the street (where I went to 2nd grade).  At the time I went there, the library was in one room of an old white wooden-sided building and the town hall was in the other room, and the whole thing perched above a steep bank that rolled down to the river below.  There were sheep nearby.  And there were old and odd and unusual books on the shelves, and the Wily Wizard and the Wicked Witch was one of them. Lovely stories with dark humor, twisted logic, and a gentle heart.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes

A version of Snow White that has pawnshops and gambling on horse races.  A rhyming, rhythmic condemnation of that dastardly Goldilocks and her unfortunate criminal tendencies.  A pistol-packing, morally ambiguous Red Riding Hood.  Roald Dahl is a dark writer with a good ear, and these are a lot of fun, and very satisfying.  Fine for bright 7 year olds as long as you're ok with your 7 year old reading about murder and crime, which really, if they're reading fairy tales, they're already doing.  Also enjoyable to read out loud to your friends while you cook dinner or do something else that, in true fairy tale fashion, involves knives and/or food.

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes are parodies, but they contain enough of the core story of each fairy tale to function as stand-alone versions.  You could do a great double feature with Roald Dahl's Goldilocks and some of the recent Goldilocks picture books - maybe the Mo Willems one where Goldilocks is being lured in by Three Dinosaurs, or Leigh Hodgkinson's Goldilocks and Just One Bear, where turnabout is fair play and the bear invades Goldilocks's house.