Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fairy Tales

Over the last several years, my sister Amy has begun to rival me in her reading.  Since we live hours apart, our phone calls have grown longer and more frequent. In addition to discussing our children, our siblings, and our parents, our talks frequently turn to books.  Some of my reading suggestions come from her and her book club in Jasper, AL.

I'm making a serious attempt this summer to read more "real books"--not because I think eBooks are any less literary. In fact, I suspect the current debate between the two is on par with the scroll-manuscript-Gutenberg debates of old.  I'll take my text any way I can get it.  To be honest, I have too many unread volumes on my shelves that I need to get around to reading--because the number keeps growing.  Still, I find that my iPad is my best reading choice when I'm on the treadmill or exercise bike, so I keep one loaded all the time.

Now that I've gone around the world there, back to Amy's recent suggestion:  While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell.  The story is told by Elise, a young girl whose mother once worked at the nearby castle before finding herself pregnant and being forced to leave. Once she learns the cold man who has raised her and her siblings is not her biological father, Elise follows her mother's lead and heads to St. Elsip, where the castle is located, to find work.  In surprisingly short time, she becomes the lady's made to Queen Lenore and becomes particularly close to Princess Rose, the child the royal pair finally conceive after years of disappointment.

Blackwell introduces a number of darker characters, including Millicent, the king's sister, bitter at her birth before women were considered possible heirs to the thrown. She uses her dark arts to manipulate and threaten.  The king's younger brother, disappointed to be deprived of the throne--news delivered in a way that doubles his humiliation, also joins the cast of antagonists.

Blackwell keeps her focus on Elise, who must choose between duty and her heart's desire. She has a maturity that serves her well, but she remains a believable girl who cares very much about the people around her and who recognizes her own vulnerability.

While the novel has touches of the familiar fairy tale elements--including the threatening spinning wheels, the castle's descent in to a long thorny sleep is presented more metaphorically during a time of war. Now that Hollywood is casting Angelina Jolie as Malificent--presumably the Millicent figure--this is a good time to revisit the old classic tale. Sometimes a prince's kiss may not be the only salvation.

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