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The Frog Prince: A Fairy Tale for Consenting Adults by Stephen Mitchell

As I mentioned in the last post, when I was in a bit of a reading funk, and looking for quick interesting reads, I pulled down two books I had picked up at a library sale for a buck: The House of Paper and The Frog Prince. The Frog Prince
by Stephen Mitchell is labeled as a Fairy Tale for Consenting Adults:

The Frog PrinceIn this brilliant jewel of a book, the best-selling author of Tao Te Ching: A New English Version expands and deepens the classic fairy tale in the most surprising and delightful ways, giving new emphasis to its message of the transcendent power of love.

The Frog Prince tells the story of a meditative frog’s love for a rebellious princess, how she came to love him in spite of herself, and how her refusal to compromise helped him become who he truly was. This is a magical book that moves (amphibiously) from story to meditation and back, from the outrageous to the philosophical to the silly to the sublime. Profound, touching, written in prose as lively and unpredictable as a dream, The Frog Prince tickles the mind, opens the heart, and holds up a mirror to the soul.

The above publisher hyperbole aside, I found it to be an interesting exploration of the classic fairy tale with a philosophical/psychological bent.

I didn’t find it particularly profound, but it was well written and an easy read. I am not sure how the whole Tao Te Ching thing fit into the story either but, again, that element wasn’t terribly distracting.

Being a fan of fairy tales myself, I enjoyed the way Mitchell explored the role of classic tales such as this both as stories but also as insight into human nature and relationships. I also liked the way he took this basic story,what Mitchell calls the “condensed version”, and situated it within a time, place, and history of his own devising; explaining the history of magic and these tales while he is at it.

I think Publisher’s Weekly sums it up well:

Insubstantial though it may be, however, the tale is gracefully told, and sympathetic readers will find it an appealing tribute to the original.

If you have an interest in unpacking fairy tales I think you will enjoy this one.

David Hockney Illustrates the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

David Hockney Illustrates the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Six-Gun Snow White seemed like the perfect book for me:

From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title s heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.

A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents–a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.

A new take on a classic fairy tale by talented and creative author. What’s not to like, right?  But I have to say I really struggled with this one. Yes, it includes some incredibly imaginative reworking of classic fairy tale motifs and perspectives. And it is dark and cruel and yet beautiful in certain ways (like most fairy tales).

But the style and structure made it very hard for me to get into a rhythm with book and capture the whole. When I got to the end my reaction was “huh?” And the short chapters and surrealistic elements, combined with the unique voice of Snow made it a little hard to follow at times.

I think this is a book you would be better off reading in one or two long chunks. I read it over a period of a week or so before bed and this contributed to the disjointed perspective I felt. Each time it took me a while to get reacclimatized  if you will, to the world Valente creates; to be in the mood and perspective of the story. Being the impatient reader that I am, this meant frustrating reader for a period of time each night.

But when you get into the mood and rhythm of the story you can enjoy the lyrical and evocative language of Valente and the unique characters she creates even as she explores the nature of story and the fairy tale.  I am tempted to read it again in one sitting.

Allow me to offer you some other opinions in the mean time.

Stefan Raets:

There are many reasons why Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow Whitemay be, if you’ll pardon the expression, the fairest of them all. For me, the main one is the way it adds layers upon layers of meaning to the ancient tale. It’s a highly personal, emotional story about a strong but broken character, sure, but it’s also—and equally importantly—about race, about gender, about colonialism, about abuse. About magic. Write pages full of thoughts about just one of these angles, and you’re still only looking at one facet. This is a story with so many levels that it’s damn near dizzying.

Annie Smith:

I love how Valente has reconstructed the old story here. It’s told in a twisted version of fairy tale language, with hints of Joss Whedon’s Firefly to give it an authentic Western flavor. The chapters are short, titled as though they were other stories. Valente’s narrator hints, over and over, that Snow White’s adventures got turned into myths and legends and that Snow White herself became an archetype*.

I love reconstructed fairy tales. They prove my theory that these stories touch on something important in our cultures. The reason they keep getting told and retold is that there’s something true about them. They point out age old fears and values. They’re like concentrated psychology and sociology rolled up with fantastical creatures and magic. Valente does a great job of preserving all that, while turning Snow White into a story for the twenty-first century.

Los Angles Review of Books:

Six-Gun Snow White is beautifully written, with a ventriloquist’s sense of voice and the poet’s attention to language typical of Valente. It is full of delightful surprises that map the mythical, the magical, and the real onto each other in complex and deliberately disruptive ways.

[…]

Her unforgettable portrait of Snow White is a simultaneously comical, lyrical, political, and haunting reading of the familiar fairy tale that intuits and explores what she shows to be the ongoing truths and insights, as well as the highly problematic gender roles, in the scripts we inherit from the fairy tale, from canonical literary sources, and from popular culture.

 

 

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

I am not sure when it happened but somewhere along the line I became interested in fairy tales.  Myths, legends, folklore, you name it, I find it interesting.  Literary adaptions, recreations, new translations, etc.  I have even gone so far as to collect dozens of children’s and adult fairy tale collections of various sorts from library sales and used book stores (and even occasionally newly published).

One of the wise folks at Viking Publishing figured this out and sent me Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman.

#1 New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman retells the world’s best-loved fairy tales on their 200th anniversary

Two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now Philip Pullman, one of the most accomplished authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Suffused with romance and villainy, danger and wit, the Grimms’ fairy tales have inspired Pullman’s unique creative vision—and his beguiling retellings will draw you back into a world that has long cast a spell on the Western imagination.

I was excited and I started reading it right away.

There was just one small problem.  I found it hard to read 50 fairy tales straight through like it was a novel.  I found myself reading a couple at night before bed, slowly making my way through the collection. So it took me some time to finish.  And of course, then I had to come up with something interesting to say about the volume … So here we find ourselves discussing the book months after it came out. How gauche, right? Sarcasm aside, the publisher probably would have preferred a quicker response but better late than never.

Nevertheless, if you are as fascinated by fairy tales as I am this is a must read. Pullman provides a wonderful collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a straightforward and clean style. Plus, he adds some interesting and whimsical comments at the end of each story.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

I am not sure when it happened but somewhere along the line I became interested in fairy tales.  Myths, legends, folklore, you name it, I find it interesting.  Literary adaptions, recreations, new translations, etc.  I have even gone so far as to collect dozens of children’s and adult fairy tale collections of various sorts from library sales and used book stores (and even occasionally newly published).

One of the wise folks at Viking Publishing figured this out and sent me Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman.

#1 New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman retells the world’s best-loved fairy tales on their 200th anniversary

Two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now Philip Pullman, one of the most accomplished authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Suffused with romance and villainy, danger and wit, the Grimms’ fairy tales have inspired Pullman’s unique creative vision—and his beguiling retellings will draw you back into a world that has long cast a spell on the Western imagination.

I was excited and I started reading it right away.

There was just one small problem.  I found it hard to read 50 fairy tales straight through like it was a novel.  I found myself reading a couple at night before bed, slowly making my way through the collection. So it took me some time to finish.  And of course, then I had to come up with something interesting to say about the volume … So here we find ourselves discussing the book months after it came out. How gauche, right? Sarcasm aside, the publisher probably would have preferred a quicker response but better late than never.

Nevertheless, if you are as fascinated by fairy tales as I am this is a must read. Pullman provides a wonderful collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a straightforward and clean style. Plus, he adds some interesting and whimsical comments at the end of each story.

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