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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

You know the drill by now, right? I like exploring fairy tales and folklore and unique takes on them.  So the wise publicist who sent me Summer and Bird was clearly paying attention (or I got lucky).

Plot summation:

When their parents disappear in the middle of the night, young sisters Summer and Bird set off on a quest to find them. A cryptic picture message from their mother leads them to a familiar gate in the woods, but comfortable sights quickly give way to a new world entirely—Down—one inhabited by talking birds and the evil Puppeteer queen. Summer and Bird are quickly separated, and their divided hearts lead them each in a very different direction in the quest to find their parents, vanquish the Puppeteer, lead the birds back to their Green Home, and discover the identity of the true bird queen

Despite its seemingly being a good fit for me, I struggled with this book for a few reasons. In spite of some weaknesses, that likely vary by reader taste importance, I admire the creativity and writing of this debut work.
Continue reading

In A Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

I had mixed feelings about A Tale Dark and Grimm (enjoyed the stories, the running commentary less so) but was nevertheless excited when the publisher sent me the companion volume In a Glass Grimmly. After having read it, I had a similar reaction.

The bulk of the stories – fairy and folk tale inspired – are quite good. I particularly liked the chapter on the mermaid which was suspenseful and even haunting.

But I have to say, I again quickly grew tired of the author commentary. And the whole be who you are and don’t try to please others message was put on a bit heavy by the end.

Continue reading

Little Red Cap by Brothers Grimm,Lisbeth Zwerger (Illustrator)

We haven’t discussed a Lisbeth Zwerger book here in a while so as we head toward 2012 lets sneak in one more book.  I picked up Little Red Cap – the story most people know as Little Red Ridding Hood – recently and, not surprisingly, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Children’s Literature review:

This is a reissue of the book that originally was published in 1987. It is a version of the beloved tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Once again, children become acquainted with the charming little girl who always wears the red cap that was given to her by her grandmother. One day while on her way to visit her ailing grandmother, she meets the sly and cunning wolf in the forest. He persuades her to wander off the path and gather some flowers for her grandmother, while he rushes to grandmother’s house and gobbles her up. He then pretends to be grandmother and also devours Little Red Cap. Of course, the brave and clever hunter saves both the old lady and Little Red Cap. Zwerger’s beautiful illustrations are an ideal accompaniment to the text as they portray the characters (especially the wolf) with depth and emotion. All libraries should add this to their fairy tale collection.

Unlike some of the other volumes I have covered, this one is perfect for reading out loud. The pages alternate between text – without any unique fonts – and illustrations.  Zwerger offers her reliably evocative and playful illustrations that compliment this classic so well.

As noted above, the wolf  is particularly charming with a variety of facial expressions to match his deviousness as he tricks the innocent, and naive, Red Cap. Continue reading

Swan Lake by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Lisbeth Zwerger

Our tour of Lisbeth Zwerger books in my collection continues today with Swan Lake.  Most people think of the ballet when they think Swan Lake but it was initially written as a one-act fairy tale dance piece for the children of his sister.  It wasn’t until four years later that he was commissioned to create the ballet of the same title.  As Zwerger relates in her author note, the presentation of this most famous of all ballets was a disaster.  Sixteen years later, and after Tchaikovsky‘s death, the score and choreography were changed and the story was given a tragic ending.

Zwerger revives the earlier story, the one with the happy ending, in her retelling of this classic.

Booklist:

Confessing in an appended note that she had approached Swan Lake with mixed feelings because of its tragic conclusion, Zwerger found that her research supported a happier ending, based on Tchaikovsky’s original version of the ballet in 1877. In this picture book, Zwerger offers a series of subtle, delicate paintings illustrating that story. Decorated with swans, boughs, and other figures and flourishes, a few bars of music appear on each left-hand page above the text, offering a musical context for each scene. Facing are large, bordered paintings that illustrate part of the story. Their magical yet somber tone and muted colors suit the many night settings. The delicately composed artwork also has surreal touches, such as the thundercloud that enters the ballroom above the villains’ heads, and the swan’s-head effects sometimes created with the swan queen’s hands. Some of the finest pictures are compositions in black, white, and many shades of gray. Told with drama and illustrated with grace, this is a handsome interpretation of the story.

I agree. It really is a wonderful example of a fairy tales coming to life in words and art.  It is a simple story but full of surprising emotion and depth. And with just ten evocative illustrations Zwerger both brings it to life and inspires the imagination; allowing the reader to bring their imagination to the story and fill in the details.

Continue reading

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

I picked up The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo on my Kindle tempted by the then $.99 price tag. This weekend I was traveling and needed something light and short to read and decided this was a perfect fit.

And it turned out to be a sweet, dream-like fairy tale; and at the same time an inspirational story about the power of dreams and the determination to follow them.

Here is the publisher’s teaser:

When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her?

The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (An elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that Peter can hardly dare to believe it.

But it is-all of it-true.

It is worth noting that writing a fairy tale is harder than it might sound.  It is not easy to write short elegant, dream-like fairy tales that don’t come off too saccharine or derivative, etc. The best evidence that DiCamillo had succeeded was that I kept reading until I had finished the story without thinking about it; she drops you into this world and you are soon caught up in it and suspend your disbelief as the saying goes. The story feels like a real fairy tale if that makes sense. Continue reading