07 February 2011

Fairy Tales - YoRY Part 4

I my previous Year of Reading Youthfully post, I mentioned fairy tales. Specifically, I mentioned The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. (Many people may know it by the movie, which I have not seen so I won't get into.) Another fairy tale I read over the year was I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. Both were for the YA Lit book club I'm in, otherwise I don't think I would have gotten around to ...Despereaux. It just wasn't so much on my radar. (Another book with a fairy tale vibe that I read on my own was Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. But that one falls into LGBT YA, so I'll get to it later.)

A little background on each:

The Tale of Despereaux (from Goodreads.com): The adventures of Despereaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the princess that he loves, the servant girl who longs to be a princess, and a devious rat determined to bring them all to ruin.

I, Coriander (also from Goodreads.com - This is, in fact, the beginning of the book.):
It is night, and I have lit the first of seven candles to write my story by. My name is Coriander Hobie, and I have a great many things to tell–of silver shoes that tempted me and an alligator most rare; of London, the home of my childhood, and another, stranger land, one that I thought only existed in dreams; and of an ebony box whose treasure only now am I beginning to understand. The box was once my mother’s, but its secrets were meant for me.
This being my story and a fairy tale besides, I will start once upon a time . . .

So, we know the latter is a fairy tale because it says so right one the first page, and we can assume that former is also a fairy tale because it has talking mice and princesses. Are we all agreed? Good.

There was a lot of discussion over both of these books, and some complaints about I, Coriander's portrayal of the beautiful, mistreated heroine and the handsome prince of the fairies, and the evil hag who does everything to keep them apart. Does the heroine have to be so pretty? Must the prince be handsome? Why is the evil one also physically ugly? Well, I say, because it's a fairy tale and that's the way fairy tales work. Simple answer? Yes. Valid answer? Yes. Honestly, those questions never even occurred to me while I was reading it. I was far more engaged in the story, itself: the setting (London during the Interregnum, and the land of the fairies); the characters (strong-willed heroine; steadfast, shy step-sister; father and allies to her father; mother and her mysterious past; quirky ally in fairy-land; evil queen; tormented prince); and the different sorts of magic that existed in both worlds. I was wrapped up in the tale, and thoughts of what this was telling young girls about what can and can't be, what they should and shouldn't look like or expect out of life never crossed my mind. It's a fairy tale, from "Once upon a time" to the end.

As for Despereaux, well, I enjoyed it, but it didn't touch me particularly. I think it was oversold, to be honest. I love talking animals. Princesses and dungeons and soup are all entertaining things, but to be honest the love of Despereaux for the Princess Pea, while charming and sweet, wasn't particularly meaningful to me. Roscuro's part of the tale was sad and dark, as was
Miggery Sow's, but they didn't especially move me. I can appreciate the book on an academic level, but not so much on a personal one. It was a lovely story, well-written, and worthy of its awards and accolades. But yeah. I think the problem was the heightened expectations I had going in. And that's something it's very hard to overcome.

Fairy tales serve a purpose. They elaborate the human condition in a fantastical yet accessible way. They provide the opportunity to adventure, to be bigger and better than we are in real life. They can teach lessons about how one should behave, how one should treat others, about chivalry and honesty and all sorts of laudable qualities. The bad guys always lose and the good guys always win (which make them a little like Doc Savage novels, but that's another subject entirely). In the end, though, they are entertainment, to be taken for whatever value you personally place upon them. Me, I'm more inclined to dig on a fairy tale set during the Interregnum, just because that's who I am. I mean, how often do you see that, right? Crazy! And yet it worked!

Do you have any fairy tales you particularly love or hate? Tell me about them!
How about books, YA or not, set during the rule of the whack-job Cromwell
(anyone who bans theatre is irredeemable, IMO) and his intolerant round-heads? Let's hear 'em!

(That reminds me, have you read Witch Child by Celia Rees? I'd talk about that, but I read it a few years ago. Starts in England (early into the Restoration, I think), but the heroine flees to America to escape being executed for witchcraft like her grandmother was. The catch? The people she travels with and goes to live with are Puritans, and she really is a witch.)

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