[Monday Reading] Gaiman’s Retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” and Sleeping Beauty in “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

I thought it would be great to begin our reading theme with a Neil Gaiman retelling of classic fairy tales.

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Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.

IMG_7689The Sleeper and the Spindle

Written by: Neil Gaiman Illustrated by: Chris Riddell
Published byBloomsbury, 2014
Book given to me as a gift by my husband.

I initially read this story as part of Trigger Warning which I reviewed a few weeks back. While I enjoyed reading it then, holding this illustrated version of the story in my hands is a different sensation altogether. This book is a work of art and makes me grateful that I live in a world where such beautiful books exist not only for children but for everyone who is in love with the written word.

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Chris Riddell’s masterful illustrations complement Gaiman’s narrative so exquisitely that they seem to have fused so completely giving birth to this gorgeous work of art. The layout, typography, overall design – the endpapers, the transparent cover, the golden accents all indicate how much attention has been poured into the making of this novelette: no effort was spared, just a celebration of beauty and wonder.

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The story begins with three dwarves who are shown to be traveling to a nearby kingdom to purchase the finest silks of Dorimar for their Queen who is about to get married.

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The Queen with hair as black as night is portrayed to be quite wistful about her upcoming wedding:

The queen woke early that morning, “A week from today,” she said aloud, “A week from today, I shall be married.”

It seemed both unlikely and extremely final. She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman. It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices. She would reign over her people. She would have children. Perhaps she would die in childbirth, perhaps she would die as an old woman, or in battle. But the path to her death, heartbeat by heartbeat, would be inevitable. (p. 14)

While resigned to her fate, she was way too intrigued by the sleeping plague that is happening in the nearby kingdom that she took it upon herself to see how she could be of service to the people there:

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She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled.

She called for her mail shirt. 

She called for her sword.

She called for provisions, and for her horse, and then she rode out of the palace, towards the east. (p. 21)

Evidently, this is a no-nonsense kind of queen, the type who gets things done, and who does those things herself. She is no simpering, helpless female; but one armed with a sword, and clearly knows how to wield it. There are also clues littered throughout the story that provides some illumination as to who this Queen is with her three dwarves and her evil stepmother who wanted, above all things, to be adored and loved for her beauty.

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The Queen also knows how to wake up the sleeping girl lying on a bed – believed to be cursed into eternal sleep by a witch, an enchantress, or a fairy. I like how indecisive people seem to be in reference to this creature who is able to cast a spell with a spindle to steal people’s vitality, youth, and beauty. It also shows how a woman can be multiple things, and can be called a multitude of names, depending on who does the telling.

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The above photo is what caused, I believe, a great deal of ruckus as people automatically assumed this to be something it isn’t. This story, though, is clearly a celebration of womanity – all the male characters are mere foils – the strength is drawn from women’s will – no matter the shades of sinister darkness which is always complemented by a sense of purpose. There is no helplessness, just a quiet biding of time even for the old hag whose youth was stolen from her by a creature with haunted eyes:

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No one is who they appear to be in this story – there are twists here that haunt and disturb making the world slightly off-kilter for a moment. But that is what good stories do: they make the world shine brighter and darker at the same time. This is what The Sleeper and the Spindle does.

Hansel & Gretel: A Darkly Brilliant Fairy TaleIMG_7705

Written by: Neil Gaiman Illustrated by: Lorenzo Mattotti
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2014
Book given to me as a gift by my husband.

Unlike The Sleeper and the Spindle, this story is more a retelling of the classic fairy tale rather than spun into a different Gaiman-like vision. I kept searching for a twist in the forest, a different fork in the road that would add a different layer to the narrative. Sadly, I didn’t find any.

What stood out for me here was Mattotti’s drawings – how he is able to make the black pulse like midnight with just the slightest change in texture:

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The screaming silence and secrets confined within rooms bouncing off the black walls is captured in the image above making me wonder how Mattotti is able to play with lights and shades such that they are given life altogether with just the very basic of hues:

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This version also adapted the original storyline which featured not a step mother but the actual mother who wanted her children gone. Not dead, she claimed. Just away. To provide them greater chance of survival. It was a logical choice, or so she convinced herself and her husband who seemed to have no mind of his own.

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The witch is every bit the scary creature that most readers are familiar with; Gretel quite cunning in the way she pretends to be a half-wit; and Hansel smart enough to hold out a chicken bone to the hag who wanted his meat indicating that he isn’t fattened well enough to be enjoyed as a meal.

2014 seemed to be a good year for Gaiman and fairy tales. Both these stories are gorgeously illustrated and packaged so beautifully. He is also very fortunate to be working with such astounding artists who are able to effectively capture his haunting voice in drawings, the black at the center of the tale splashed and formed into figures that breathe danger and evoke feelings of loss and sadness.

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Currently Reading…

I thought that it would be good to have my first book of the year be poetry which I seem to have abandoned a little in 2015. And so I go back to the arms of Mary Oliver with her Felicity – a book I will be featuring in a few weeks’ time for Poetry Friday.

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I was also sidetracked by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which, I believe, is more of an acquired taste – not to my liking, definitely – but I can see its appeal and I did still finish reading it.

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After being hopelessly sidetracked, I wish to begin reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer this week,

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and to also start with our book club book for the month: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr:

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Do you have any recommended titles for us given our new reading theme til end of February. We’d love to hear from you.

  1. I just finished binging on the Lunar Chronicles. Holy carumba – Winter is 824 pages! I loved all the light we cannot see. I wish I had a book club to talk about with. I’ve bookmarked all these Gaimam titles for when I am retired this coming July!

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  2. Hansel and Gretel looks so haunting and beautiful. And OMG I had no idea The Hollow Boy was released. I have to get my hands on that one!

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

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  3. Gaiman really does keep us off-kilter, as you said, Myra. I love the look of both these tales, & will note them. Hansel and Gretel is such a spooky tale, every time it’s re-told, I wonder who would create such a story for children. I loved All the Light You Cannot See and have Felicity, but need to start reading! Enjoy your week back!

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  4. What lovely fairytale illustrations and quotes! Now that I’m feeling surrounded by magical moments, I am also intrigued by All the Light We Cannot See, which I’ve been noticing lately. Thanks for sharing…and for visiting my blog.

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  5. Wow! Neil Gaiman and fairytale retellings! I want both of them, but I think I am going to love the Queen in Sleeper and the Spindle. I love all fairyale retellings from Robin McKinley to Alex Flinn, but I think Meyer’s Cinder series is one of the most creative. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of it.

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  6. Oh, those Gaiman books…I need to get these two, Myra. Felicity is b my side so often these days – the perfect volume with which to start the new year.

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  7. Funny enough, this is the second time I’ve seen fairy tales featured on blogs this week, including that Neil Gaiman retellings. Great minds seem to think alike! Happy new year!

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  8. I have really enjoyed some of Mary Oliver’s poems, but haven’t read much of her work. I’m putting some on hold right now. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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  9. I’m part of the Cybils-ever-after theme — I just finished my first Cybils book of the year (How It Went Down).

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  10. Jen G. (The Introverted Reader) January 5, 2016 at 10:56 am

    I received The Sleeper and the Spindle for Christmas as well. Your review is perfect. I didn’t even know about Hansel and Gretel so I’ll have to look for it.

    Cinder is such a good series! I’m currently on the waitlist for Winter at the library.

    Other retellings I would recommend are anything by Juliet Marillier (Heart’s Blood is my current favorite) or Shannon Hale (I don’t know whether I love The Goose Girl or Book of a Thousand Days more, although I’m not sure that Book is actually a retelling). Instructions by Neil Gaiman is probably marketed more for children but it’s powerful in its simplicity. It’s also illustrated by Charles Vess, whose artwork I adore. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is also amazing. It groups a lot of fairy tales together.

    Enjoy your week!

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  11. I became hooked on the Lunar Chronicles – just have Winter to read now. But with its length, it will likely be the summer before I read it! Enjoy the poetry!

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  12. Such gorgeous illustrations! I need to find those books! I just ordered Felicity yesterday–after resolving to read more poetry in 2016. I have dipped into Big Magic but haven’t been hooked yet. I love the idea of it, but the sections I’ve read have felt a bit too self-helpy for my taste. I had planned to join a book club this month–the Anthony Doerr is this month’s book, which I dutifully bought last month–and have yet to crack open. I have another big project I’m working on and know there’s no way I can squeeze in that big book this month. Will look forward to your report!

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  13. These sound like interesting picks! 🙂

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  14. Great week….beautiful photos.

    ENJOY this week.

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday, What Are You Reading

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  15. […] above image actually reminded me a little bit of Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle with illustrations by […]

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