Monday, December 31, 2012

The Snow Queen Wrap Up

The Snow Queen Wrap Up

So, bear with me for a moment, because I’m going to sneak a fifth review into this wrap-up. I’m sorry, or you’re welcome, whichever you’d prefer. :)

So every once in a while with a fairy tale, there’s one adaptation you encounter that defines that fairy tale in your mind from then on out. Or at least, that’s true for me. For “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” that’s Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. For “The Goose Girl,” it’s Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. For “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” it’s Edith Pattou’s East. And for “The Snow Queen,” it’s the Hallmark movie from 2002.

This movie was my first exposure to the fairy tale, and though I know I read the original story at some point, it’s always been eclipsed in my memory by this movie and the story that it told. Now, don’t get me wrong – a lot of things about the movie are not great. The acting, for one. And the special effects. And then there’s that ice skating polar bear . . .  But despite all that, I adore this movie. I love it. And not in an ironic way. I love this movie. I watch it every year. And what makes it one of my favorite movies despite the wooden acting and the inconsistent accents and that vaguely racist Asian child is the way it tells this story.

In the movie, Gerda and Kai are teenagers. They have not been friends their whole lives. In fact, they don’t even meet until Kai comes over the mountain to work as a bellhop in Gerda’s father’s inn. And when he does, he finds this girl who is closed off and reserved and doesn’t like winter because, long ago, it took her mother’s life. And it wasn’t just winter. It was the Snow Queen. But Kai brings Gerda out of her shell. He reminds her how to live and have fun again. And so when he disappears, she has to follow him.

And he doesn’t disappear randomly. The Snow Queen doesn’t just happen to take him – she’s searching for the pieces of that shattered mirror. She wants to put it back together and use it to make the world winter always. He takes Kai because he’s the final piece of the mirror.

And Gerda doesn’t just follow him into this world, through her obstacles. She has to traverse the seasons. The old woman in the cottage is the embodiment of spring. The princess she meets is the Summer Princess, and she’s not kind and helpful; she wants to keep Gerda there to prolong summer. The robbers are the voices of autumn, reduced to a robbing troupe because the Snow Queen steals more and more of autumn’s time each year.

And when Gerda finds Kai, she doesn’t just free him and leave. She confronts the Snow Queen. She uses her warmth and fire to melt a little of the Snow Queen’s coldness. She restores balance to the seasons. She plays a larger role.

I love this movie. It is everything I want an adaptation of The Snow Queen to be. And that’s why I’ve snuck this mini review in here. Because it you ask me what the best adaptation of this fairy tale is, it’s not any of the books I read this month.

Because overall, this was a pretty disappointing month. No one really wants to tackle this story, it seems, and those who do (with the exception of Ursu) don’t want to tackle some of the hardest parts of it. There is so much more that I wish the novel’s I’d read this month had done. Two weren’t even full adaptations, just novels using the story as an inspiration. But Winter’s Child was poorly motivated and even Breadcrumbs had a tendency to meander. Hallmark’s movie tied it all together. Hallmark’s movie tightened the story the way it needed to be tightened, despite the fact that it’s three hours long.

So the wrap-up for the month is this: if you want a solid adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, watch the Hallmark movie from 2002, look past the poorly directed actors, and enjoy the ice-skating polar bear.


Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu does come highly recommended. Frost by Wendy Delsol was good, but confusing because it doesn’t stand on its own as an adaptation. A True Princess by Diane Zahler was more Princess and the Pea than Snow Queen, and not terribly well done. And Winter’s Child was just disappointing.

Notable Novels: Check out Wizard of London and The Snow Queen, both by Mercedes Lackey. They almost made the reading list, but her books, though wonderful, are terribly intricate and complex and therefore difficult to summarize. Both worth a read, though.

January’s fairy tale is Snow White!

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

So, I’ve been super bad at posting reviews in December, evidenced by the fact that it’s January. Excuse of choice this week is the holidays and the crazy busy-ness that comes with them. So, apologies in advance for the onslaught of posts that will be made today as I catch up. New Year’s Resolution: Post the rest of these reviews for my last five months on FRIDAYS like I’m SUPPOSED to!

Anyway, on to the book of the week!

Target Audience: 9-12

Summary: Hazel and Jack were friends, once upon a time. The games they played demonstrated rich imaginations and kindred spirits. Then Jack got a sliver of a magic mirror in his eye and his heart grew cold. Soon he was snatched away by an evil woman in a sleigh into a strange magical world where snow and cold abound-a place where his frozen emotions seem perfectly at home. Does Hazel have the heart to risk everything to find her friend and bring him back?

Type of Adaptation: Modernization

I think I’ve found a new favorite middle grade author because Anne Ursu is magnificent – she’s a magnificent storyteller, she knows how to write for kids, and she doesn’t shy away from what is difficult or complicated. For all these things, I applaud her. This was an excellent book to wrap up the month. Here’s why.

Our focal character is Hazel, and while that makes this four out of four books that have neglected to name our heroine after Anderson’s character, but her name is Hazel Anderson, which makes this the second of four books to name our heroine after Anderson himself. So that's . . . something?

Actually, I really like the name Hazel for this character. As John Green said about naming his Hazel, it’s an in-between name, and Hazel Anderson is a very in-between person. She is of Indian descent (that’s Indian Indian, not American Indian, thank you Chris Columbus for centuries of confusion), adopted by white American parents who are now divorced, and she’s at that awkward age where boys and girls suddenly aren’t allowed to be friends. Given that her best friend is a boy, that is a problem.

Also, Hazel is at the awkward age where liking to read and pretend and imagine and daydream is cause for ridicule. It also gets her in trouble at school, as she has trouble focusing and following strict classroom regulations.

Hazel is a kid who just plain doesn’t know who she is, and that is done wonderfully. Her only real friend is Jack (second of four books and second of two modernizations to rename Kai Jack), who is going through turbulent transitions of his own, made more difficult by the fact that his mother suffers from chronic depression and has stopped being a capable mother.

So these are two damaged kids who feel a little less broken with each other, but no one else in their lives seems to understand that. Jack’s male friends are constantly trying to pull him away from Hazel; Hazel’s mom is constantly trying to get her to spend more time with the girls her age. And Hazel’s teachers want her to get her head out of the clouds and pay attention to the real world for once.

I love the way that Ursu has taken these very real hardships of adolescence and made them meaningful. She understands that while adults may look at these issues and dismiss them, to the kids, they are veery real and very difficult. I remember being this age. I remember being Hazel, in many ways, and I appreciate that Ursu made that a real, weighted struggle rather than portraying it as “just” something some “kids” were going through.

Anyway, at the point where we enter the story, Hazel considers being Jack’s friend her job in life. Because Jack needs her. She understands him in a way that his other friends don’t. He needs her. She needs him, too, just as much if not more, but she isn’t cognizant of that.

But then the mirror, made by a demon with a 47-syllable name that we just don’t have the time to hear so we’ll just call him ‘Mal’ (have I mentioned how much I adore Ursu’s narrative voice?), shatters, and the pieces fall down to earth, and one of them hits Jack in the eye, right after he and Hazel have had a fight about who Jack will choose to spend his after school hours with. She throws a snowball at him, hard, and then the piece of glass falls into his eye.

In this day and age, Jack is rushed to the hospital, and Hazel is stricken, convinced that she did this. Jack’s friends don’t help, taunting her and menacing her until she finally snaps and throws a pencil case at one of them.

She’s disciplined, but hardly cares as she waits anxiously to hear anything about Jack, but nothing. Even after it turns out he’s fine, he still won’t talk to her. He pointedly ignores her. She figures he’s mad about the pencil case, so she apologizes, but he still calls her a baby, teases and ridicules her, and treats her as awfully as all the other kids in her class.

Hazel can’t understand it. Her mind wants to believe that some magic is at work, some mystical force causing Jack to be this way, but she knows that doesn’t happen in the real world.

And then Jack disappears. His parents tell Hazel that he’s gone to stay with a sickly aunt, to help care for her, and for some reason, everyone believes this. Everyone except Hazel. And everyone except Tyler, the boy Hazel threw the pencil case at. Because Tyler saw something – he saw Jack disappear with a pale, elfin, white woman into the forest. And because Hazel is the only one who won’t call him crazy, he tells her.

And suddenly, Hazel has direction. For really the first time in the novel, she knows what she wants. She has to get Jack back. Even though he was horrible to her, even though she doesn’t know if there’s any such thing as magic and maybe he just doesn’t want to be her friend anymore, she still has to go and get him.

Start part 2. I love that Hazel follows Jack into the forest, without knowing whether or not she believes this crazy story. Because she wants to believe in magic, but isn’t that impossible? But when she enters the forest, sure enough, she’s in another world. And this is a world powered by desire. Whatever you want, the forest can create for you, but always at a terrible price. The people there are so driven by their desires and their regrets about the prices they’ve paid for those desires that they have become so very twisted and broken in a way that is terrifying. This is not a world like Hogwarts or the ideal Narnia that Hazel was hoping to find.

And yet, Hazel proves strangely immune to the power of the forest, and I love the reasoning why – the forest has the power to grant a person’s greatest desire. But Hazel’s greatest desire to go back to her old life, with Jack, a desire that is entirely out of the power of the forest. But it’s all she wants, and so the forest has no control over her. I adore this.

This also sets up a wonderful parallel between Hazel and the Snow Queen. Everyone in the forest is terrified of the Snow Queen because she literally does not want anything. The people who go to her go out of their own desire, and she accepts them because she can use them, but she doesn’t care if they’re there or not. She doesn’t want them. She doesn’t want anything. And in this world, that makes her incredibly dangerous. I love it.

What I’m not quite as crazy about is how the obstacles are handled. Hazel meets with plenty of obstacles, and there are three main ones, but only one of them crosses over with the story. She accidentally steals the swanskin of a witch and is rescued by a boy whose sister was turned into a bird. She gets taken in by a couple who desperately want a child and almost succeeds at making Hazel forget who she is. And she meets the Little Match Girl in the woods and gives up her key to help so that the girl can find peace and a home.

And while I have no problems with changing the obstacles to fit the world in question, it felt awkward for me to have one the same and two different because I kept feeling like I’d just missed the princess’s palace and the robber girl somehow. Now, the couple who desperately want a child fit into the world really well, but a part of me wishes it had been all the same or none of the same.

That being said, though, I love the inclusion of the Little Match Girl, another of Anderson’s characters, into the mix of this story. I love that Hazel helps her, because she knows how the story ends, and she can’t bare to see it. So she sends the signal to the boy who helped her earlier, gives up her coat, and ensures that the Little Match Girl survives with a family. In exchange, the Match Girl gives Hazel her matches and the piece of the demon’s mirror she picked up. For everyone else, the mirror twists the visions to show the worst of the world. But the match girl has always seen the worst of the world, so to her, the mirror is the one thing in her life that doesn’t lie, and it’s the matches, with visions of hope and happiness in their flames, that are cruel and painful to see. It’s beautiful, and I love it.

I also love how Hazel changes on this journey. She starts out going because she has to rescue Jack because he needs her, and she needs her life to go back to the way it was. But over the journey, that shifts. Now, she’s rescuing Jack because she knows he doesn’t really want this, and he deserves the chance to choose it for himself, in his right mind. And she grows to the place where, if he chooses to stay, to leave her behind, to stop being her friend, she’ll accept it. But it has to be his choice.

Hazel meets the Snow Queen, who tells her that if Jack chooses to leave, he can leave, it makes no difference to her, for there will be others. But he will not choose to leave.

In the end, it’s the matches that save Jack. Hazel tries the mirror, but Jack sees the worst of who he is and retreats from it. But with the matches, Hazel reminds him of who they were, and that even if they can’t be that again, remembering who they were is important because it determines who they will become.

And Jack is freed, and they leave the forest, but they are both irrevocably changed. And the ending is ambiguous, with Jack and Hazel fully aware that their friendship will not be what it once was. But they’ve accepted that, and they’ll do the best they can.

This is a coming of age story, and it’s a marvelous one. Seriously. Well done, Anne Ursu. Checklist.

Reigned the story in? Yes. This book was really well paced and well balanced and well contained, for the most part. Hazel’s journey through the forest got a little cumbersome and unfocused at times, but not too badly. So point.

Explore the relationship between Gerda and Kai? I am thrilled that we have a relationship here so close to what Anderson wrote. I am thrilled that Ursu choose to keep the characters young and not introduce romance in the slightest. I think in many ways, that makes for a more interesting story, and this relationship, with all its flaws and uncertainties, was done incredibly well.

Define the Snow Queen? I like this take on her a lot: a person who doesn’t want anything. Isn’t that the most terrifying villain? If she doesn’t want anything, how can she have a weakness? It’s a fascinating idea, and Ursu presented it very well.

Give meaning to the journey? Yes, yes, and yes. I adore Hazel’s growth. I adore what she goes through and learns and how she changes. Beautifully done.

A winner all around. The only thing I have an concern about is that Hazel's definition of her world relies so heavily on references to current popular children's literature that I don't know how well this book will stand the test of time. But while it does, it is masterful.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Target Audience: Children, 9-12

Summary: Twelve-year-old Lilia is not a very good servant. In fact, she's terrible! She daydreams, she breaks dishes, and her cooking is awful. Still, she hardly deserves to be sold off to the mean-spirited miller and his family. Refusing to accept that dreadful fate, she decides to flee. With her best friend, Kai, and his sister, Karina, beside her, Lilia heads north to find the family she's never known. But danger awaits. . . .

As their quest leads the threesome through the mysterious and sinister Bitra Forest, they suddenly realize they are lost in the elves' domain. To Lilia's horror, Kai falls under an enchantment cast by the Elf King's beautiful daughter. The only way for Lilia to break the spell and save Kai is to find a jewel of ancient power that lies somewhere in the North Kingdoms. Yet the jewel will not be easy to find. The castle where it is hidden has been overrun with princess hopefuls trying to pass a magical test that will determine the prince's new bride. Lilia has only a few days to search every inch of the castle and find the jewel—or Kai will be lost to her forever.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling drawing inspiration from The Snow Queen, combined with The Princess and the Pea

So, back in August, I read a truly horrendous adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Remember? It was The Thirteenth Princess, and it incensed me? So here I am, four months later, reading another adaptation by the same author. Why? Because I’m a little bit of a masochist.

Okay, seriously, because all authors have bad books, and I wouldn’t want people to judge Cameron Dokey on Winter’s Child, so I decided to give Zahler the benefit of the doubt. Maybe The Thirteenth Princess was her bad book. Maybe this one would be better.

And to be fair, it was. It was better. But I’m not gonna jump all the way to ‘good.’ Also, unrelated, this is the second of three novels I’ve picked for this month that managed to be an “inspired by” rather than a true adaptation. But let’s start from the top.

So, Lilia is a 12-year-old girl who has been a servant on in this house just about her entire life, yet is somehow still horrendous at housework of all sorts.

Right off the bat, here, I'm a little put off about this, for the following reason: I do not have a natural talent for playing the piano. However, I'm pretty sure that if I had to play the piano every day, for most of each day, for ten years, without fail, I would pick up some skills. There's natural talent and then there's learned talent. And if Lilia had to cook and clean and mend and all that other stuff that being a servant entails every day, for most of each day, for ten years, without fail, I'm pretty sure she'd be able to make porridge without lumps in it by the end. Maybe her first 20 or 30 or even 100 batches of the 3,650 she's made since being a servant would be lumpy, but by the end of an entire decade? Even for the laziest servant, repetition leads to proficiency, and choosing to ignore that fact so you can set up your "surprise she's a super secret princess" plot twist that everybody saw coming from page 2? Rankles a bit.

Oh, and spoilers. She's a super secret princess, which is why she couldn't get the hang of housework, and trust me. We'll be getting to that particular point in a bit.

But yeah, Lilia is a servant who can't do anything right but somehow hasn't been fired, and when we open on her, she's eavesdropping (which, we are told in the chapter title, is something that a "true princess" doesn't do).  Specifically, she's listening in on the woodcutter and his wife who took her in when she was a baby found drifting down the river in a basket, a la Moses. The wife is a sour, angry sort of woman who doesn't like Lilia and wants to get rid of her. If her argument for this was only, "Dude, she's been making porridge for ten years and still can't manage it!" I would totally understand, but no, Ylva is just generally unpleasant and spiteful (later we learn she's his second wife, which immediately clears up that point -- fairy tale stereotypes FTW!)

Anyway, Ylva wants to essentially sell Lilia to the miller in exchange for free flour, and Jorgan is so henpecked that he doesn't argue. And Lilia, having overheard this, decides, in a move I can't fault her for, that she would rather run away to find her true people rather than be sold to someone even worse than Ylva. Lilia knows she's not from around here because she has dark hair and purple eyes, and everyone else has blonde hair.

You know, I read about so many people who have purple eyes. From fantasy and young adult literature, you'd think they were ubiquitous -- but I've never met a single one in real life! Of course, if I did, I would know immediately that this person was super special and Destined For Great Things. Because everyone knows that eye color determines both destiny and personality traits. And only the Super Special-est are purple-eyed.

But yeah, Lilia once heard that people from the north have dark hair, and that's how she knows she's from the north, not because she was found floating down the river and north happens to be upstream, which is how my mind would have come to this conclusion, but never mind.

So she runs away, but she doesn't get very far before being discovered by her foster brother and sister, Kai and Karina, who saw she was missing and decided to take their dog and go find her. And now, they're determined to run away with her.

Lilia (and Cassie): But your father! How will he get along without you?

Kai and Karina: Eh, he'll be fine. He's got Ylva and her new baby, so he'll have another family soon. Also, fewer mouths to feed, amiright?

Lilia: Okay, great! Awesome! Road trip adventure time!

Cassie, and Cassie alone: ... Really? Really, guys? Lilia sneaking away with no warning, I get, she didn't have a choice, and she couldn't exactly let them know where she was going, but you two? This is your father, and you're going to leave in the middle of the night with no note, no explanation, and no regret?

Kai and Karina: Road trip adventure time!

Cassie: So, because he's left at home with a shrewish wife and a newborn baby, he's not going to care about the two of you anymore, just like that? And, yeah, fewer mouths to feed, but what about herding the flock, especially now that you've also stolen his sheepdog?

Kai: Cassie, road trip adventure time!

Cassie: What about . . . whatever it was Karina did?

Karina: Cassie, road trip adventure time!

Cassie: You guys sure you don't want to think about this just a little bit more---


Ahem. Anyway.

So Lilia and Kai and Karina travel, switching between traveling at night and during the day, with seeming ease. We learn in this section that Lilia has never been able to sleep well in a bed or on a cot of any kind (BECAUSE SHE'S A SUPER SECRET PRINCESS, GUYS, SEE THERE ARE CLUES!!!) But apparently, this doesn't apply to THE GROUND, since she sleeps there with no problem -- apparently, this phenomenon is limited to something that can actually be called a bed, and I don't know, guys. It's inconsistent and ill-defined and apparently no one on the editing team ever had an issue with it, so I'm gonna move on.

Lilia and Kai and Karina end up in an inn that they can afford with a few copper coins, and they meet a band of traveling knights who tell them the legend of the Elf King and his daughter, and of Odin's Hunt, and of a kingdom up north with a prince who refuses to marry unless the girl can pass a test proving herself to be a true princess, and wow! All of a sudden, we have an awful lot of stories happening. We've got Goethe's "Elf King" and Anderson's The Snow Queen and The Princess and the Pea, and some Norse mythology thrown in there as well! I got to this point and had to ask how she was going to manage all this in just 180 pages!

And the answer, unfortunately, is not terribly well, and by picked one element to really focus on and then neglecting the others. And the element Zahler chooses is The Princess and the Pea. That's the focus of the story. Oh, The Snow Queen is there, but it takes a decided backseat, as does “The Elf King” and the Norse mythology.

The kids get lost in the enchanted forest because they do exactly what they weren't supposed to do and leave the path, and they end up at the court of the Elf King. Kai takes one look at the Elf King's daughter and is hopelessly enchanted by her beauty, and she decides she wants him to be her new plaything. Lilia and Karina won't let that happen, and so they decide to make a bargain with the Elf King. If they can obtain something his daughter wants more than Kai and bring it to him within two weeks, he'll let Kai and all the other human children in his court go free.

And that's essentially all we get of The Snow Queen -- a boy named Kai being taken in by an ethereal woman, and needing to be rescued by his sister/close friend. The other elements aren't really there, and to be honest, when I picked this book for this month, I was expecting there to be a bit more of the story than that. The summary makes it sound as if we're going to be mainly immersed in The Snow Queen, with the events of Princess and the Pea taking the place of the majority of Gerda's journey -- which I was pretty okay with, but that's not what I got.

What the Elf King's daughter wants more than Kai is Odin's cloak clasp, which just happens to be somewhere in the palace of the prince who is holding the contest to find a true princess for his bride, which also happens to be the kingdom of the band of traveling knights they met earlier in the story. So the two girls journey to this kingdom, where the obtain jobs in the palace, despite the fact that Lilia is a horrible servant, and then we're hit with a whole slew of plot "twists":

-The blue clad gentleman Karina has been pining after is the prince!
-He's in love with Karina!
-Lilia is the kingdom's long-lost princess who was stolen by the Elf King, but then stolen by the prince's falcons who dropped her in the river rather than taking her back to her parents!

None of these "twists" are even a little bit surprising.

And after looking for a priceless, god-made jewel in such likely places as the palace pantry, the linen closets, and random junk drawers (but not the room with the crown jewels, which would be too obvious), Lilia manages to find it hidden in the super secret hiding place that she saw her brother use once more than a decade ago when she was less than two years old.

Anyway, they get the clasp, return it to the Elf King, who tries to weasel out of his deal, but Lilia calls on a Norse god, and all the human children are freed, and Karina marries the prince, and Kai kisses Lilia, and now she's a princess, and then this line is uttered:

"You were a bad servant to Ylva because you were a princess."

Told you we'd be getting back to this point.

Okay. The idea that being royal makes you somehow inherently “other” – literally, physiologically, you are different because you have royal blood? Yeah, I’ve got a problem with that. Because, to me, it feeds into the whole “ruling by divine right” crap of monarchies past. Because Lilia was born to a king and a queen, that makes her incapable of sweeping a broom across a floor? I guess woe betide the princess who has to go into hiding for political reasons or the kingdom that finds itself in financial or wartime crises. Can’t ask the princes and princesses to pitch in a hand, guys! They’re physically incapable of helping you out!

And yeah, I know that idea is inherent in Anderson’s Princess and the Pea, but I have a problem with it there, too, and if I was taking a month to do that story, one of the things I’d been looking for would be offering a better explanation for a girl’s so-called sensitivity.

But, I remind myself, I am not reading Princess and the Pea adaptations this week, so let’s head to the checklist before I get much further off track.

Reigned the story in? Same issues as last month, but honestly, this novel suffers from the same issues as Anderson’s story – there’s too much going on. Zahler has about four different stories trying to happen all at once here, and she hasn’t given herself enough page room to deal with them all sufficiently. So, no.

Explore the relationship between Gerda and Kai? You know, I would have been happy if Zahler had explored the relationship between anyone, really. But she doesn’t. Each and every one of her characters is flat and two-dimensional with very little in the way of depth or definition. Lilia wasn’t as bad as Zita in terms of utter perfection, but they’re still essentially interchangeable. In fact, that’s true for all the main four – you could replace Lilia with Zita, Karina with Aurelia, Tycho with Mikel, and Kai with Breckin, and I don’t think either novel would suffer much for it. Also, Lilia acts way too old to be twelve, and Karina acts way too young and dumb to be 17. No one was well defined. So, no, checklist. No point here. There wasn’t time to explore the relationship; they were separated too soon, and then Lilia essentially forgot about Kai altogether. And while I know Kai and Lilia were supposed to have feelings for each other, there was little to no chemistry, and I wasn’t given a reason to care about ither one of them.

Define the Snow Queen? God, she was irritating! I hated her! She was the Elf King’s daughter in this version, and I spent all of her twenty pages wanting to punch her in the throat to make her shut up. She was defined, I guess, but as little more than a fairy tale stereotype, so I can’t really get behind her.

Give meaning to the journey? No. It was too disjointed with hardly any focus, and it was undertaken very poorly. Zahler tried to do too much with this one, and it showed.

One more week – let’s see if Anne Ursu delivers better than her counterparts this month.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Frost by Wendy Delsol

Frost by Wendy Delsol

Target Audience: Teen

Summary: After the drama of finding out that she's a Stork, a member of an ancient and mystical order of women, and that her boyfriend, Jack, is a descendent of the Winter People able to control the weather, Katla Leblanc is delighted when all signs point to a busy and peaceful Christmas. That is, until the snowstorm Jack summons as a gift to Katla turns into the storm of the century, attracting Brigid, a gorgeous scientist who, in turn, attracts Jack. Between the school play, a bedridden, pregnant mother's to-do lists, and keeping an eye on her aging grandfather, Katla doesn't have time to question Brigid's motives or deal with Jack's increasingly cold behavior. But Katla's suspicions mount when Jack joins Brigid on a research expedition to Greenland, and when the two of them go missing, it becomes clear that Katla is the only one who can save her beloved Jack from the Snow Queen who holds him prisoner. Adventure, romance, and myth combine in this winter escapade for teens who like a bit of fire with their ice.

Type of adaptation: Modernization drawing inspiration from The Snow Queen

So I’ve been struggling a little bit with how exactly to present this particular novel, for a few reasons. The first being that it is the second novel in a trilogy, a fact I didn’t realize until I obtained the book from the library. And the second is that, while it draws very clear inspiration from The Snow Queen, and even has her as a character and echoes many of the events of the fairy tale, I don’t feel like I can technically call this an adaptation, per se.

See, Anderson’s fairy tale exists in this world as a piece of literature. And what Delsol has done in her novel is act as if, rather than being purely fictional, Anderson hit on some truth in his story. The Snow Queen is real, the events of the story actually happened, but the Snow Queen is still going strong, since, after all, Kay and Gerda never defeated her. And so while she does kidnap the male character, and she does control his emotions and actions with the use of an enchanted shard of glass, this novel is less an adaptation of the fairy tale than an echo happening many generations later.

And the fact that this is the second book in a series makes offering my usual synopsis a bit confusing, especially given that I haven’t actually read the first book. But I’ll try to keep it simple and hit the parts that are very definitely Snow Queen. It shouldn’t be terribly difficult; we didn’t hit the part that was mainly Snow Queen until the last 120 pages or so.

So, our main characters are Jack and Katla, and what I gather was established in the first book is that Jack is a descendant of Jack Frost, or The Winter People, and Katla belongs to a society of women called Storks, also known as soul carriers. They met over the events of the first book, whatever they were, and are now a couple, in high school, in Minnesota.

But Jack has a gift fairly rare to The Winter People – he can control the weather. Or he will be able to once he’s trained a bit. But Katla asks for a white Christmas, and when he tries to oblige her by making it snow, he loses control and brings on the worst blizzard that’s been seen in those parts in the history of basically ever.

Katla’s near-step-father is a scientist studying climate change, so of course his team is very interested in figuring out why this happens, and Jack, acting out of guilt because his blizzard was responsible for the death of a young boy, wants to help because he hopes it will lead to him finding a way to control or get rid of his gift.

Instead, though, in comes Brigid, a supposed scientist renowned in meteorology who is also studying the blizzard. Spoilers, though – she’s not. She is, in fact, the Snow Queen, and she has come looking for Jack. She knows something was up with this blizzard, and she’s guessed its source. She’s come for Jack, and everyone is thoroughly enchanted by her – except for Kat.

One night, the necklace that Brigid wears round her neck shatters, and Jack is cut by one of the shards, and after that point, he starts acting very strange. He becomes even more enamored of Brigid, he starts pulling away from Kat, and just generally becomes a cold and unpleasant guy to be around. Kat is hurt and confused by this, even more so when he announces that he’s been chosen to accompany Brigid on a research trip to Greenland.

The same time that he leaves on this trip, Kat leaves with her grandfather to go to Iceland for reasons that have more to do with the trilogy’s overall arc than with The Snow Queen, so I’m ignoring them. But she is there for this Festival of the Selkies, and discovers that her family line is supposedly descended from seal-people.

While in Iceland, Kat receives the news that Jack has gone missing with Brigid. They got caught in a storm in the wilderness of Greenland, and no one has heard from them since. They’ve disappeared. And Kat knows there is more to this than everyone thinks. Earlier that day, at the festival, she ran into a gypsy girl and her mother (representative of the robber girl from the story) who read her runes and predicted something of this nature.

Kat knows she has to follow Jack somehow, and as she leaves to set about doing this, she is picked up by said gypsy girl and taken to the girl’s grandmother, who will be able to send Kat on a necessary vision quest. Through this vision quest, Kat sees the truth of what she suspected – that Brigid has kidnaped Jack, taken him to Niflheim, and is controlling him and his abilities somehow.

Then the vision quest somehow sends Kat to Niflheim as well? It was very strange, and I didn’t entirely understand what was going on at that point, but Kat is given a white reindeer, Poro, and sent to the Snow Queen’s palace with the help of the selkies and a bargain that I’m pretty sure sets up book three of this trilogy.

Once in Niflheim, Kat discovers that Brigid wants to use Jack’s ability to control the weather to create a massive avalanche in Niflheim, which will translate to essentially a new Ice Age down in our world. Kat knows she has to stop Jack and free him, so when trying to remind him who she is doesn’t work, she takes a knife and slices open his hand, releasing the shard of glass that has been controlling him, and that plus the spilling of blood and the pain, bring Jack back to himself, and they are able to close the portal and stop the snowflood from affecting the world below.

And then, Kat wakes up back in Iceland to the news that Jack has been found in Greenland, and they both go back to Minnesota. What happened in Niflheim really did happen, Jack has been restored, and now they have to face the repercussions that will become tangible in the closing book of this trilogy.

So here’s the question? We have a Snow Queen controlling a boy with a shard of glass, and we have a girl going to rescue him. But is that enough? Kat goes on a journey, yes, but she doesn’t face Gerda’s obstacles. The robber girl is slightly represented, but the old woman and the princess aren’t there. And the characters speak of and reference the events of Anderson’s Snow Queen as if they already happened. So my conclusion is that while this book draws definite inspiration from Anderson’s tale, I don’t think it’s really an adaptation.

Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t good – I found this fascinating. The idea of a modernized Snow Queen was, first of all, fascinating to me, and the way that Delsol worked that story’s mythology into Norse mythology, Icelandic mythology, and her own universe’s mythology was incredibly well done, and really makes me wish I had read the first book so that I would understand it a little better. But I love the treatment of the fairy tale here – history instead of fiction, the same villain with the same goal trying yet another way to obtain it. It was well done.

And understand, there's a lot that happens in this novel that I just didn't get into, events that really define Kat in a wonderful way. But they were related to the trilogy arc, not the Snow Queen arc, so I left them out here.

But let’s look at the checklist, as well as we can.

Reigned it in? Can’t make the call. Delsol chose to cut a lot of Gerda’s journey, but for this novel, it makes sense to. But because of that, we can’t make the comparison.

Define the relationship between Kay and Gerda? I think I’d give a stronger check to this if I’d read book one, so a benefit of the doubt check.

Define the Snow Queen? Yes, and I really like what was done with her. Her move to cover the world in winter was a power grab, to be sure, but it was also punishment for the mistreatment of the world that had led to global warming. I like how she fit herself into the modern world, and I like the subtle ways in which she controlled everyone, not just Jack. How Kat alone had a problem with her because Kat was the only one she was working directly against. And fitting her into the mythology was brilliantly done.

Give meaning to the journey? Again, it’s hard to make the call because the nature of the journey changed completely. It had meaning, yes, but it wasn’t Gerda’s journey. It’s this point that keeps me from calling this a true adaptation.

It’s a good book, and it’s worth a read, but to avoid my constant vague confusion, read the first book first. :)

Friday, December 14, 2012


Today's review is postponed until tomorrow because I need to take tonight and spend it with family and friends.

How does this happen? And how can we live in a world where people like this exist, people who would kill a classroom full of innocent children? How can we face a world with people with that much hatred and darkness in their hearts?

God be with them all. To quote one of the wisest shows I know:

"The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Winter's Child by Cameron Dokey

Winter’s Child by Cameron Dokey

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai’s grandmother, and sharing in each other’s secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai – and their friendship – away. Dejected, Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost, and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai . . . and discover herself.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

Okay, so first off, I need to clarify a couple of things about that summary up above, because seriously, Once Upon a Time series, you need to fire whoever writes these for you. Number one, it’s Grace’s grandmother and not Kai’s who tells the stories. Number two, Kai does not declare his love for Grace so much as demand at her grandmother’s graveside that she marry him. And number three, the Snow Queen does very little enticing; Kai’s pretty much packed when she gets there.

So, yeah. Once again, pretty misleading. And I’ll say with full disclosure that I didn’t go into this week with high hopes – I read this book a few years ago when it came out and I was not impressed. Now, it should be noted that I read it not having read the original, but only having the Hallmark movie to go off of, so what I was really upset about was that Kai and Grace didn’t end up together (spoilers).

However, now that I have read Anderson’s original story and have learned to think about these stories more critically, that didn’t bother me in the slightest this time through. But don’t worry – plenty of new things cropped up to bother me, so let’s just jump right in.

We open with a typical Cameron Dokey opening about some aspect of the nature of storytelling – this one deals with the fact that, at any given moment, thousands of stories are being told all at once, all at once, all overlapping. It’s a neat idea, I guess, but honestly, for the first time with Dokey, I don’t really get the point of it, as this isn’t really an idea she explores over the course of the novel.

So we move on, then, to the legend of the Winter Child. Long ago there was a Queen who loved her husband, but grew to fear the day when her beauty would fade, because she believed that on that day, his love for her would disappear as well. And so, instead of doing the sensible thing and, you know, talking to her husband about this fear, the Queen shut herself up in a tower with her mirror, examining hr face day in and day out for the slightest sign of fading beauty. We all know where this is going, right?

Yeah, she refuses to see her husband for weeks on end, so guess what? He starts to get perturbed with her. And when she is so preoccupied with her looks that she doesn’t notice the North Wind snatching her infant daughter and carrying her out the window. This makes her husband even angrier, understandably. He confronts the Queen, forcing her to see what her short-sightedness has done, and in that moment, her mirror bursts, and she is killed. Shards of the mirror are carried throughout the world on the winds, entering the hearts of certain people and changing them. One shard also pierces the infant’s heart.

The child is forever changed because she was touched by the North Wind – she has now become a Winter Child, which means that, on her 16th birthday, she’ll stop aging until she can right the wrong of her parents, which in this case, means going about and finding all the people with shards of mirror in their hearts and healing them, which she apparently has the power to do for others, but not herself for reasons of plot convenience.

Basically, what this legend does is turn the Winter Child – Deirdre – into a more sympathetic character than she is in the original. Which I have no problem with, understand. The mythology Dokey has created is pretty interesting, even, but my problem with Deirdre is her flatness. She’s not interesting. She’s very bland, and this paragon of princesshood, not to the extent of some other princesses we’ve read this year, but bad enough that it got on my nerves.

And the thing is, she’s got shard of mirror in her heart, but it doesn’t seem to mean anything! It doesn’t affect her personality, it doesn’t make her cold or paranoid or fearful or anything. It doesn’t change her, which is irritating because that’s the whole point of the mirror, right?

Anyway, then the story shifts to Grace and Kai, and a portrayal of their childhoods in which they’ve grown up hearing these stories of the Winter Child from Grace’ grandmother. And jumping perspectives aside (which, believe me, well get to), these characters just didn’t quite work for me. Well, actually, Kai’s character didn’t quite work for me. Grace was fine.

But Kai clashes with himself in a mystifying way: he’s a homebody, always focused on what’s right in front of him, yet he jumps up to follow the Winter Child without a second thought. He’s a watchmaker and very concerned with details and the whys of things and how they work, yet he and not Grace believes that the Winter Child exists with all his heart. He’s grounded and down to earth, and yet, he’s completely unconcerned with everyday logistics. He’s a walking contradiction, and it bugs me because it reads like he’s just very poorly drawn.

But anyway, he and Grace have grown up at each other’s sides – they live next door and they’ve been best friends their whole lives. Grace has never been content with her life – she’s always looking toward the horizon, wanting more. And then, when Kai and Grace are sixteen, a fever sweeps through the town, and Kai’s mother and Grace’s grandmother are among those who die. This means that Kai and Grace are now alone in the world, and on the way home from the funerals, Grace confesses to being scared about the future now, and Kai thinks this would be a great time to say, “Marry me.” It’s not a request, it’s not a question, and there’s no conversation about it. He just says it out of the blue, and then gets all upset with Grace reacts poorly.

This scene really irritates me. Kai says, “Marry me.” Grace, shocked says, “What?” Kai repeats himself, and when Grace is still silent, unable to process this change of events, Kai gets impatient with her, saying that this is the logical next step, she must have figured that out by now, and it’s what their guardians would have wanted. And when Grace comes back with the very reasonable question, “What about what we want?” Kai gets all huffy, and pulls the, “Oh, fine, I guess you don’t love me enough,” card.

Not cool, Kai. Not cool at all. Because first of all, you have yet to make any declaration or reference to love. That was not part of your proposal. So you don’t get to play that card and try to guilt Grace into saying yes.

And what really bothers me is that the way the scene is written, it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be on Kai’s side. We’re supposed to think that Grace is being unreasonable and hurtful and pushing Kai away, but you know what? No. I’m very firmly in Grace’s court here. If you and I have never discussed a joint future together, and you know that what you and I want out of life is very different, and in your declaration, you say nothing about being in love with me? Yeah, I’m gonna turn you down flat, I don’t care what kind of history we have together. And that’s not even what Grace did! She just asked for time to process all of this because she thinks Kai is moving a bit too fast here, and you know what? She’s absolutely right!

But Kai is all hurt and wounded and petty about it, and so when the Winter Child shows up at his house that night, he doesn’t even give a second thought to leaving Grace behind to go with Deirdre. And no, just to be clear, in this version, Kai does not have a sliver of mirror in his heart or his eye to excuse, in part, his actions. Neither is he seduced away or tricked into leaving. He’s just a total dick. And before you say that maybe it didn’t occur to him that going with the Winter Child would mean leaving Grace behind, no. She asks him point blank as they travel if he’s sorry he left her behind, and he says no. The girl he supposedly loves with all his heart. The one he proposed to. Not sorry he left in the middle of the night without a goodbye or a note or explanation of any kind. Dick.

And Deirdre! She pisses me off in this scene too, because she happened to overhear Grace and Kai during all this, and she gets filled with this righteous indignation at Grace for daring to push away love when it’s offered, and I’m sorry, bitch. You don’t know Grace, and you don’t know the situation. You heard one conversation out of context. I don’t care if you’re a mythical immortal; you don’t get to judge her.

Sorry. I feel strongly.

Anyway, the next morning, Grace sees that Kai is gone, and immediately figures out that he must have left with the Winter Child. Once he’s gone, she realizes that she does love him, and she can’t let him disappear without mending the quarrel between them, and so, after making the necessary arrangements, she sets out after him.

How does Grace know Kai has gone away with the Winter Child, who before this moment, Grace fully believed to be a fictional character of legend? What, that’s really a question you want to ask? C’mon, the author didn’t! Why should you?

Seriously, we get no explanation. Grace just says that her “heart just knew,” citing as further evidence the fact that she can see Kai’s footprints heading away, and get this, they disappear into the horizon. . . . I'm sorry, don’t all footprints do that? Because the earth is round? If you stand looking at a trail of any kind, isn’t it, by definition, going to go off into the horizon?

Let’s just move on.

The events of Grace’s journey happen out of order, but I understand why Dokey made the change. It flows better for Grace to meet the robbers first, then the old lady with the garden. So, yeah, she’s captured by the robbers, and she makes friends with the robber girl as per the original, and the robber girl helps Grace escape in exchange for Grace helping her escape by giving her the knowledge she needs to start a new life in civilization. Grace also takes away with her a falcon from the robbers’ camp, who decides to follow her rather than stay with his old masters.

As Grace makes her way away from the robbers, she stumbles and falls into a river, and is saved from drowning by an old woman who fishes her out of the river, and cares for her in a small cottage. But, like in the story, the woman wants to keep Grace for her very own and make her forget about everything else.

While Grace is being captured by robbers and kept captive by the old woman, Kai and Deirdre are back up north at Deirdre’s kingdom, and . . . yeah, I really don’t care about this story line. I don’t. I do not find either of these characters to be likeable, and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I don’t understand why Deirdre showed herself to Kai in the first place, since he’s untouched by the mirror and so isn’t one of the hearts that she has to heal. I don’t understand why she offered to take him back to her kingdom and set up as the Queen there after all this time. Has she finished her task? Found all the broken hearts? I don’t get it. And I don’t care. For some reason, Deirdre has to leave with her steward, and they put Kai in charge of the kingdom to give him something to do? Yeah, I don’t know.

Back in Grace’s storyline, she gets free of the old lady with the falcon’s help, and then we just skip over the third obstacle from the original story entirely, and suddenly, Grace is there, at Deirdre’s palace, and Kai meets her at the gate with a “It’s about time you got here,” and I just HATE HIM!

I think my real irritation stems from this – I don’t know why Grace went on this journey. In the original, Kay changed because of the shard of mirror, everyone got fed up with him, then the Queen whisks him away and everyone but Gerda believes him dead. She goes on her quest to prove that he isn’t dead, to figure out what was wrong with him and heal it.

But here? Kai just left. No one questioned it. No one believed him dead. He was juts gone and no one really seemed to care except Grace. And even then, he disappeared, yeah, but she had no reason to believe him in danger. She just wanted to clear the air. Which, okay, yeah, but because Kai was never in danger, there were never any stakes, and so what Grace has gone through seems wildly disproportionate to what Kai has gone through, and so for him to be standing there at the end of it, expecting her with an air of “good! You went on your life-changing quest and got some character growth, just what I’ve been waiting for!” makes me want to punch him in the face.

This time through? I’m glad Kai doesn’t end up with Grace. She deserves a hell of a lot better. Deirdre returns and there are the usual obligatory misunderstandings between the three, and Grace has to force Kai and Deirdre to acknowledge their love, and then all of a sudden, Deirdre’s heart is mended, not because of Kai’s love, but because of Grace’s heart being the match to her own? It’s abrupt and I don’t care, so I didn’t pay that much attention.

And then Grace says that next she’s going to go see the world and travel into the unknown on her own and be happy with that life, and then suddenly, the falcon transforms into a man! Who’s in love with Grace! And she’s . . . in love with him, too? And he was under a spell to be a falcon until someone chose to be with him without understanding what they were choosing, which happened when Grace confessed preferring the unknown . . .?

Yeah, it’s super unnecessary, and a bit upsetting, honestly. Why did Grace need a phoned-in love interest? Why couldn’t she just have gone off to have adventures on her own? Why did we need to fix her up with someone, and under such . . . questionable circumstances?

And then Deirdre uses some leftover Winter Child magic that I’m not sure how she has anymore given that she’s no longer a Winter Child, having fulfilled her task, and grants Grace to ability to ly once a month just ‘cause? And we’re done.

Cameron Dokey, I love you, and usually you hit these out of the park, but this one? Definitely not your finest offering. I disliked this book the second time through even more than I did the first time through, for entirely different reasons. Also, completely unrelated to anything, but if you’re going to so consciously and deliberately echo Anderson’s story structure, you really ought to make sure your story fits into his seven-book arc, though admittedly, that may just be my love of symmetry talking.


Reigned it in? . . . It’s really hard for me to make a call on this. I mean, yes. The novel is much more self-contained than Anderson’s original. While I didn’t particularly like the story that was being told, I do have to acknowledge that at least it was the same story going on consistently. So, okay. A point. But a grudging one.

Explore and define the relationship between Gerda and Kay? I do appreciate that Dokey had the guts to go and make theirs a platonic relationship in the end, and I liked that they both came to that conclusion. I really wish Kai as well as Grace had apologized for his behavior really at all, but that’s a different conversation. I may not like Kai very much, but this was a well-painted and multi-dimensional friendship, even if the same can’t be said for half of its characters.

Define the Snow Queen? . . . Yes? Dokey didn’t want her to be a villain, I get that. But while the legend of how she was created was interesting to me, the character herself was decidedly not. I really disliked Deirdre, and she was flat and colorless (no pun intended) and not done very well. So, half a point.

Give meaning to the journey? There was never any urgency driving the quest. There was never anything at stake. Yeah, Grace grew and changed, and I appreciated that, but that wasn’t really a result of the quest itself. Half point.

Basically, I didn’t like Kai, I didn’t like Deirdre, the ending was abrupt, awkward, painful, and cheesy, the pacing of the whole novel was not well done, there were no stakes, the perspective shifts were jarring, the voices weren’t distinct enough to be easily differentiated, and the message was questionable. Read it if you want, but please don’t judge Dokey on this novel. She’s usually much better.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Snow Queen (According to Cassie)

The Snow Queen (According to Cassie)

Hello again! Enjoy your month off? I know I did. But NaNo is done, my 50,000 words are written, and I am ready to dive back into another fairy tale, so without further ado, let’s look at Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen!

So, basically, there was this demon who had this mirror he’d made that distorted the world when you looked in it. Kinda like a fun-house mirror except for the part where it turned you into a horrible human being. Because looking into the mirror made the bad things seem bigger and more serious and the good things all disappear, and this demon got quite a kick out of watching people look into the mirror.

One day, some of the other demons decided that they wanted the angels of heaven to look into the mirror, just to see what would happen, but it turned out that the power of heaven was too much for the mirror, and as the demons flew up with it, it shattered into a million pieces and rained down on the world below.

This caused problems. Specifically, it caused major problems when a shard of the glass struck a person in the eye, causing him or her to see the world through this distorted view, or even worse, when the glass got into a person’s heart, and turned it cold and useless. And this, sadly, is what happens to Kay.

Who is Kay? Well, he’s a young boy who lives in a small village and is best friends with a girl named Gerda. Kay and Gerda do everything together; they are inseparable. They live next door, they have adventures, they listen to Kay’s grandmother tell stories, and they love to hear the tale of the Snow Queen, a horrible women of ice and cold. And everything is fine and lovely until a piece of this mirror falls into Kay’s eye and through to his heart.

Overnight, he changes. He calls Gerda names and becomes mean and cruel to her and his grandmother and all his other friends. He abandons them to play with the older boys, but one night, a mysterious driver hitches his sled to the back of her automobile and drives away with Kay, who, it should be noted, doesn’t really put up much of a fight to this.

But after some time riding on a sled being pulled by a car, Kay decides this isn’t really something he enjoys (no shit, Sherlock), and so he asks to come up with the driver. She consents, and so he climbs into the car with none other than the Snow Queen. She asks if he is cold, and when he says yes, she kisses him twice, the result being that he quite forgets his grandmother and Gerda and his home and everything except the beautiful Snow Queen beside him.

And the next morning, when Kay is discovered missing, the town turns out to search for him. What they find, however, is a hole in the ice of the river and Kay’s sled half-submerged. The boys tell anyone who will listen that they saw Kay hitch his sled to the back of an automobile the night before for a joyride, and well, they all fill in the rest. Everyone believes that Kay got reckless and died as a result. Gerda, too, believes this, until the sun and the sparrows tell her otherwise. Desperate to get Kay back, Gerda goes down to the river, and offers it her new red shoes if it will just give her Kay back. This, as you might imagine, doesn’t work. So Gerda takes the logical next step – she jumps in the river, hoping it will take her to Kay.

For some reason (magic), Gerda doesn’t drown, but is instead carried down the river until she washes up by the home of an old woman, who fetches her out and dries her off and takes her into the home to take care of her. And by take care of her, I mean that in the most absolute sense of the phrase – Old Woman is looking for a pseudo-daughter, and as she combs Gerda’s hair and sends her off to sleep, she steals away Gerda’s memories, to keep Gerda there forever as her very own.

And this works, for a while. But eventually, Gerda starts to notice that something is up, and the lack of roses in the gardens triggers her memories of Kay. She asks the roses where he can be found, and here Anderson takes us through every frickin’ flower in the damn garden as each one speaks in riddles and poems and nonsense that doesn’t tell Gerda a damn thing, until she gets fed up and leaves the Old Woman’s home, which is . . . surprisingly easy. Seriously. For all the trouble this lady went to keep Gerda there, when Gerda walks out the gate, she’s nowhere to be found. Eh, whatever.

Gerda continues her wandering, trying to track down Kay, and eventually she meets a crow who tells her that Kay has been taken by a princess, though, like the flowers, he goes on for pages and pages before offering any useful information. But he tells Gerda that Kay is the betrothed of this princess, having won her hand in a great contest. Gerda insists on being taken to him, and the crow obliges.

But when Gerda reaches the palace and meets the prince, she discovers that the crow had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, because Kay isn’t there. But the prince and the princess take pity on her, and agree to take her further in their coach, to a new land where she might be able to find Kay.

Unfortunately, as Gerda rides in this coach, it is set upon by robbers, and Gerda is kidnaped by a little robber girl, who basically wants to keep Gerda as a pet, much like the Old Woman from before. Gerda wins the robber girl over, though, with the story of how she is following Kay, trying to get him back, and when the wood-pigeons tell her that they saw Kay going away to Lapland with the Snow Queen, the robber girl gives Gerda a reindeer and sends her off to find her friend.

So Gerda and the reindeer travel north, and along the way, they meet another woman, who tells Gerda that Kay is with the Snow Queen, and more, she tells them where the Snow Queen can be found, and that Kay has got a piece of glass in his heart that makes him want the Snow Queen’s home more than the home he left behind. And she tells Gerda that she has all the tools she needs to defeat the Snow Queen, but that she has to discover what they are for herself. Also, apparently, Gerda has been traveling this whole time without shoes, which seems like a tremendous oversight to me.

Meanwhile, Kay has been in the palace of the Snow Queen, basically existing as her plaything, solving puzzle after puzzle. But there is one he can’t solve. The Queen promises him that once he can, she’ll give him the world and a pair of skates. Personally, it seems to me that the gift of the whole world would include the skates, but whatever.

The Snow Queen leaves, and once she’s gone, Gerda arrives and throws open the doors to the ice palace, and true to Anderson’s form, the Snow Queen’s magical super protective winds turned on Gerda as soon as she enters, are quieted as she prays and angels come down to protect her.

Anyway, the winds taken care of, she runs to Kay, who doesn’t recognize her. She starts to cry, and her warm tears fall on his chest and melt his frozen heart. Then, when he looks at her, she sings their childhood song, and it wakes him up, and his own tears wash out the sliver of glass in his eye, and he’s freed. With the distorting glass out of his eye, he can solve the final puzzle that he couldn’t before, and so he is his own master, and gets the world (and a pair of skates), and Gerda kisses his face and eyes and hands, melting the Snow Queen’s influence wherever it is.

And hand in hand, they head home, meeting in reverse all of Gerda’s friends, and when they finally return home, they realize that they have been gone so long that they’ve grown up, though they remain children at heart.

And . . . the end.

Thoughts on the original:

I’ll be honest, I was remember this story to have a lot more in common with the Hallmark movie adaptation that was my first introduction to it. So seeing that a lot of my favorite elements weren’t actually in Anderson’s original was a bit disappointing. However, I do still think there’s the seed of a good story in here, mainly in the relationship between Gerda and Kay. I love that this is a story where the girl goes and rescues the boy. Other than that, though, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

So what will I look for in an adaptation?

Reign it in! Seriously, this story? It’s kinda all over the place. Everyone that Gerda meets has some story to tell her, and it is very rarely relevant. I would like it if the story could relate back to itself every once in a while, cut what is superfluous, and just generally become tighter and more manageable.

Explore and define the relationship between Gerda and Kay. One of the things that I really do like about this story is that this relationship is really open-ended. It’s described as a very close friendship, but never clearly defined as a romance, which means that there are lots of different ways to take this. You could make Gerda and Kay actually brother and sister, leave them just as close platonic friends, or make them lovers. Their ages are also not firmly set, so there’s some potential there as well. Explore it.

Define the Snow Queen. Here, in the titular character, we have this super scary villain, supposedly, and yet . . . I dunno. I never really knew what her game was. Why did she kidnap Kay? Had she kidnaped others? What was she trying to achieve, exactly? And what was it that made her a villain? Just being winter?

Give meaning to the journey. This is perhaps one of my biggest things – Gerda goes off on this huge quest, but it doesn’t seem to change her at all. What’s the purpose? Why are you including these scenes and these people? How do they challenge or help? Give the quest some impact.

So! That all being said, here’s our lineup! And for the first time this year, the majority of these novels are ones I haven’t read before!

Week 1: Winter's Child by Cameron Dokey
Week 2: Frost by Wendy Delsol
Week 3: A True Princess by Diane Zahler
Week 4: Breadcrumbs by Ann Ursu

Feel free to read along, and I’ll see you on Friday!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rapunzel Wrap Up

Rapunzel Wrap Up

Okay, I need to write this before I get so caught up in NaNo that it falls completely by the wayside.

So. Rapunzel. Let’s go through the checklist point by point and see how the month’s novels stack up.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior. Specifically: Why was the husband so afraid of the witch? Why was the wife so insistent on that particular vegetable? Why did the father agree to hand over his child, and why didn’t the wife object really at all? And what happened to them after the witch took their child away?

Of the four novels, each had a different approach to the parents. Golden made the mother hard-hearted and shallow while finding a way to introduce the father in a different capacity. The mother agreed because she didn’t care, and the father had no say in the matter. And we’re told, once Rapunzel went with Melisande, the mother died, and the father followed.

In Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair, the parents were under an enchantment. The witch here is thoroughly evil, and she stole Rapunzel away forcefully, using magic in a deceitful way to get what she wanted. The didn’t object because they weren’t themselves, and in the end, Rapunzel is returned to them.

In Rapunzel’s Revenge, we have a similar situation. Mother Gothel is entirely cold-hearted, and she needed an heir, so she waited for one of her desperate workers to steal food and used it as an excuse to take their daughter. It was a forceful move that the parents had no say in. And again, Rapunzel is reunited with her mother in the end.

And finally, Zel. We honestly barely get a picture of Zel’s parents, but really, that’s okay because of the way the novel is structured. They aren’t relevant. As far as we know, they went on to have plenty more children. Although we are told that the father promised Zel away because it was that or his life.

Of the four, I think I like Golden’s treatment the best, if only because I like that the father at least remains present. I also like that sympathetic side of the witch and how she was willing to let him be a part of his daughter’s life in some capacity.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel. What was her childhood like? What was her relationship with Mother Gothel like?

It’s interesting to me to see how Mother Gothel is treated in these novels. One paints her as the picture of all evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (The One with All the Hair). Another paints her as an evil, manipulative woman hidden under a veneer of cold aloofness (Rapunzel’s Revenge). Still another portrays her as mildly sympathetic, genuinely loving her adopted daughter, but still doing evil in the name of protection (Zel). And one alone paints her as genuinely sympathetic, as much a victim as Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s father (Golden).

I bring this up because how the novels treat Gothel directly influences Rapunzel’s childhood. I think I like the glimpse we get from Golden and Zel best, and again, it’s because I like that mix of villainy and a loving household that we don’t get from the others. I think the story is so much more powerful if that relationship is complicated and a little gray.

Explain the unexplained elements. How did Rapunzel’s hair grow long enough to hoist a full grown woman up a presumably tall tower, and how was Rapunzel able to stand having her head used as a ladder? Why did her tears heal the prince’s eyes? Could her tears heal other things? Has she always had this ability?            

For the hair, we’ve got ‘enchantment’ as the reason pretty much across the board, which is the reason that, when you think about it, really makes sense. As for how it affected her, in Golden and The One With All the Hair, Rue and Rapunzel couldn’t feel it, in Rapunzel’s Revenge, I don’t think anyone actually climbs the hair, but in Zel, we’re really given insight into what it would be like to suddenly have this weight literally on your shoulders, and how much it hurts to have a full person’s weight hanging from your head, and I appreciate that more than the others.

As for the tears, honestly, they weren’t used in half our novels (Golden, Rapunzel’s Revenge), and in Zel, the explanation is meh. But I really did like what The One with All the Hair did. This novel probably younged the story down more than any other, but they handled that element very well. I loved the “blindness” being like mine, and that she cured it by having his spare glasses. Honestly, though, my vote for this element goes to Tangled, which isn’t even technically in the running.

Wrap up the loose ends. There are a lot of them here. What happened to Rapunzel’s parents? What happened to Mother Gothel? Did the prince live in the wilderness with Rapunzel, or did he return to his kingdom to rule? What about the kids, folks? What about the kids? Oh, yeah, along with this – keep the pregnancy in or find a better way for Mother Gothel to discover Rapunzel’s secret.

With this one, I’m gonna talk about grit. This is a gritty story in its original incarnation. And that’s why I was a tad bit disappointed with this aspect of most of the adaptations. Rather than tackle the grit, most authors chose to work around it. And though they did better than the Grimm brothers, I have to hand this one to Napoli, because she went there. And she did it well.

So here’s where we stand. There was no novel this month that made me want to tear my hair out. I enjoyed all of them, which is rare. But my favorite has to be:

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli – Strongly recommended. I think she had the best handle on the story overall, and it felt like the original rather than a version of it with a gimmick.

Golden by Cameron Dokey – Strongly recommended. Yes, a gimmick, but one that worked really well, and this is my favorite Mother Gothel of the bunch.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale – Recommended. This graphic novel is just a lot of fun, even if it does stray from the story a decent amount.

Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass – Recommended. It’s cute and it’s fluffy, but the way she worked it for a younger audience works, and it’s a fun read.

November’s fairy tale is nothing at all – I’m taking a month’s hiatus for National Novel Writing Month. So, see you in December with The Snow Queen!

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Target Audience: Teen
Summary: High in the mountains, Zel lives with her mother, who insists they have all they need, for they have each other. Zel’s life is peaceful and protected – until a chance encounter changes everything. When she meets a beautiful young prince at the market one day, she is profoundly moved by new emotions. But Zel’s mother sees the future unfolding – and she will do the unspeakable to prevent Zel from leaving her.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, if you don’t know by now how I feel about multiple perspective narration, then hello! I say hello because you must be new. So, hello, and welcome! For those returning, however, let’s say it all together: I have a love/hate relationship with multiple perspectives.

However, Donna Jo Napoli wins me over on the device almost every time, and Zel is no exception. Zel was the first adaptation of Rapunzel I ever read, and among the first of the fairy tale adaptations I encountered in my life. And thank goodness for that, because it I’d read a poorer novel, my obsession with these novels might never have come to pass.

Yeah, just kidding, it still totally would have, but suffice it to say, this novel holds a special place in my heart. Let me tell you why.

This narrative is split between three perspectives – Rapunzel (called Zel), Count Konrad (our prince figure), and Mother, whose portion alone is written in first person. This is a bit of an odd choice, even for multiple perspectives – two of the three are third person omniscient while the last is first person limited? Well, yeah, but you know what? It works. It works really well. Because Mother has powers most people don’t. The deal here is that, long ago, Mother Gothel made a deal with the devil, selling her soul in exchange for a way with plants and a chance to get what nature and God had failed to grant her – a child. So Mother is different than the other characters here, set apart, and this difference in her narration really helps to highlight her. But it is also interesting to me that we’re meant to connect the most with the supposed “villain.” But more on that later.

Anyway, at the novel’s start, Zel knows nothing of her origins. Mother has raised her, and is the only mother Zel has ever known. They live alone on the mountainside, growing everything they need to survive, only venturing in to town twice a year. And while Zel cherishes those days and the chance to go be among people, she also loves her little mountain home and the life she shares with Mother.

But we open on a market day, and Zel is overflowing with excitement. For her thirteenth birthday is in only four days, and she knows that Mother will be buying gifts at market, pens and paper and ink and things they cannot grow or make for themselves.

But something different happens on this trip – Mother leaves Zel on her own for the first time. She needs to go get the things for Zel’s birthday surprises, and so Zel stays on her own by the blacksmith. She even helps the smith calm and shoe a skittish horse. The horse’s name is Meta, and she belongs to Count Konrad, a youth two years older than Zel who is snobbish and entitled but becomes quite taken with Zel because she does not defer to him, is not frightened of him, and offers him peasant bread to eat. He offers her anything she wants in exchange for her help with his horse, but she says she doesn’t want anything. He presses her, and she finally asks for a fertilized goose egg.

See, outside Zel’s alm, there’s this goose. And this goose sits on a nest of rocks because she lost her eggs. So she sits on these rocks day after day after day, and Zel decides to get her a fertilized egg so she’ll finally have a chick to raise. Konrad runs off to fulfill her offer, but then Mother comes back, so Zel makes arrangements for the smith to keep the egg until she can collect it at the end of the day.

When Mother finds out Zel is waiting for a gift, she kinda freaks out a little. Apparently, she has this thing with Zel accepting gifts, mainly that she just flat out isn’t allowed to. The reason, as we discover much later, is that part of Mother’s deal with the devil is that Zel must reach womanhood unconnected to anyone except Mother, so that she, too, can be offered the choice that Mother made – her soul in exchange for a powerful gift. So Mother’s fear is that any gift Zel’s accepts will forge a connection, but as this egg is more for the goose than for Zel, Mother decides to allow it.

Meanwhile, Konrad is out looking for a goose egg and having very little luck because it’s the middle of summer, and he’s kinda pissed. Because this was supposed to be easy – get a gift, discharge his debt, never think of the silly peasant girl so unlike her fellows again. And then she goes and asks for something his money won’t automatically get him. Finally, he manages to secure the egg, only to find that the girl is gone when he goes to deliver it, which is even more infuriating because he doesn’t get to see her reaction to receiving the egg, which he was counting on as payment for his trouble.

I love that this connection is forged so early in the story, and I love that Konrad as we see him here is not the Prince Charming we usually expect from these stories. Instead, he’s kind of a self-entitled jerk. And quickly becoming obsessed with this strange girl from the market place, whose name he does not know.

Zel collects her egg, as well as the small, round-leafed lettuce she loves but Mother won’t grow, and the two of them head home. Zel replaces the largest rock with her fertilized egg, and all seems rosy and happy.

Until the next morning, when Zel discovers that the goose has rolled the egg away and won’t accept it, no matter what Zel does. Zel is distraught, and Mother is, too, because she needs Zel to see that a child can be accepted by someone not its mother. She becomes more distraught when Zel tells her about the youth she met in the market, and then speaks of the far-off eventual marriage that she feels will one day take place.

Mother panics. Fearful that she is losing her child, frightened that Zel’s choice will not be to make the deal Mother made, thereby dooming Mother, Mother acts in rash desperation. She tells Zel that she is in danger, that there are those who would harm her, hurt her, see her killed. Mother tells Zel that she is taking her someplace where she will be safe.

And off they leave on a frightening, harrowing, nerve-wracking journey. And at the end of it, Zel is locked away in a tower without any answers for who is hunting her or where this danger is coming from, and Mother is gone.

What I love about this section is how real and tangible Zel’s terror at this imagined danger is. We really do see just how much she trusts Mother, and Napoli does a fantastic job of putting us in Zel’s shoes – being left alone in that tower, watching her mother be taken away by the plants who carried them there, wondering if she’ll doom herself if she dares to make a sound.

Mother returns every day, with food and paper and ink, but she can stay for only an hour, and then she must leave, to go out into the world and hunt the danger that threatens Zel. Zel is terribly lonely, constantly fearful, and living only a shadow of the life she once knew with no explanation as to why. This part of the novel is heart-wrenching and masterfully done.

And two years pass. We see them pass through Konrad, who has become obsessed with Zel. He thinks of nothing else, won’t consent to marry, questions everyone in the market, trying desperately to find out more about her. If she hadn’t left so suddenly, he wouldn’t be so preoccupied with her, but their brief meeting showed her as a girl unlike any other, and she has taken hold of Konrad’s mind, much to his parents’ dismay.

He passes two years in this almost mindless state, each day wandering out into the mountains, trying to find this girl, driven by memories of her he can’t dispel. And at the end of it, yeah. He’s not entirely sane.

But that’s okay, because we soon learn that Rapunzel isn’t either, and this is where I really fall in love with this adaptation.

Rapunzel has been trapped in a tower for two years. She interacts with another human for one hour a day. That’s it. The rest of the time, she is completely isolated. She has paper and ink, but no other distractions. She lives in constant terror of some unidentified and nameless enemy. Her hair has grown to impossible lengths and Mother now uses it to reach the tower, which, combined with the weight of all that hair, causes Zel nearly constant pain.

I think, under those circumstances, you’d go a bit crazy, too.

And it is made clear to us that Zel is not quite right anymore – her friends are a squirrel, a pigeon, the moon, a sharp stone, and a colony of ants that she led to her tower window by smashing fruit against the outside wall. Her mood shifts on the turn of a dime, and it’s no wonder. She goes about naked except for the hour that Mother comes, and she hurts herself purposefully because feeling anything reassures her that she’s still real and alive. This part of the novel is honestly a little scary, and I’m glad. Because this is the realistic part of Rapunzel’s reality that’s been missing from most other adaptations.

Rapunzel hides this madness from Mother as best she can, but one day, it all comes spilling out, and Mother is terrified at what has become of her daughter, and heart-broken because she knows it is her doing. But she justifies and justifies and justifies.

And then Konrad finds the tower. Konrad, who has been searching for Zel for two years, going out of his mind with the memory of her. He finds the tower, and Zel, who is convinced that he does not truly exist, speaks freely and openly to him. And he watches Mother climb to Zel and decides to do the same.

Like Konrad, Zel has been haunted by the memory of the youth she met so long ago, and out of love and madness and spite and anger, she and Konrad consummate their love, which makes this the first adaptation to defy the Grimm brothers and put that in.

And Mother, more frightened and paranoid than ever, finally reveals to Zel the truth – that there is no enemy, that the danger was abstract and Zel now faces a choice. Zel does not take this news well, and rightly so. She reveals that Konrad has been in the tower almost out of spite, and I love it. It’s not a thoughtless comment; it’s very purposeful. It’s made in anger, in madness, in revenge almost. Furious that Zel has ruined herself for the deal, Mother cuts Zel’s hair and pulls all her power to sends Zel away through her web of plants until she reaches the place where the plants run out.

As soon as she has sent Zel away, Mother regrets the action, for she has no more strength to bring her back. Zel is lost to her forever. In her reckless fury and paranoia, many times over, she has lost what she loved most. And then comes Konrad.

Mother has spent the novel hating this boy, this young man who stole her daughter from her. But here at the end, weak and almost spent, she sees the truth – she lost her daughter all on her own, and this man is more like her than she realized, for he too loves Zel. In his anger, he moves to attack Mother. In automatic defense, she whips Zel’s braids at him and knocks him out of the tower. In one final moment of clarity, Mother uses the very last of her magic to grow brambles around the tower to catch Konrad and save his life.

This, to me, is brilliant – not a hateful act of murder, but an act of mercy, a sacrifice to save his life. The blindness was a small price to pay for that. And here, Mother moves from a limited to an omniscient narrator. Her death releases her, allowing her to follow Zel and Konrad to the end of their story.

Blind and alone, Konrad wanders, drawn on and on by a force he doesn’t understand, but he has nothing to lose, so he follows it. Meanwhile, Zel lives by the coast, raising her daughters and reveling in life. She still has moments of madness, but she works through them. She loves her daughters and never holds them captive, and then one day, into her village, comes Konrad. He hears her as she talks to the girls, and he knows who it is, and when the tears she’s held back for two years fall, they cure his blindness.

I feel like I’ve not done justice to this book with my summary, both because I’m rushing to get this posted before the end of the month and because this is a beautifully complex novel. Trust me; it’s worth the read. Let’s hit the checklist.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior? I didn’t really get into it, but yes. The husband is a coward, the wife is a nag, and the husband promises his unborn child away because Mother threatens his life if he doesn’t. As in, brambles will kill him on the spot unless he says yes.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood? We enter the story when Rapunzel is twelve, and the story we know is told through a flashback more than halfway in. But the little we get gives a really good picture on what the childhood was like. So, half a check.

Explain the unexplained? Magical hair – grown by Mother so she wouldn’t expend her limited energy growing a tree every day. Magical tears – uh . . . I mean, kinda? This could have used a little more, to be honest. So one check of two.

Wrap up the loose ends? Beautifully. And I love that this adaptation didn’t shy away from the gritty stuff. Rapunzel is mad, there is sex, this is a mature adaptation of this story, and I appreciate that because this is a pretty mature fairy tale, and Napoli captured that really well.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Post: Tangled with Matthew

Hey all. Cassie here. Personal stuff is still going on -- my grandpa passed away, and his funeral is tomorrow, and today was full of prep for that and time spent with family. I appreciate your patience while things are a bit off kilter. I've finished Zel, but the review isn't quite done, but because you deserve something on a Friday, here's a guest post from Matthew!
Disney’s Tangled

or “How Disney Should Have Done Sleeping Beauty
The sad fact of the matter is that faerie tales don’t always make sense. As Cassie has pointed many times in her “<insert faerie tale here> according to Cassie” segments, things are often confusing, characters are often under- or undeveloped, and questions often go answered. That’s why the distinction between a “retelling” of a faerie tale and an “adaptation” of a faerie tale is so important. Retellings usually just tell the faerie tale again, maybe with a historical backdrop or a twist on a character, but pretty much the straight up faerie tale. Adaptations, on the other hand, seek to tell the classic faerie tale story in the context of another story in order to make sense of it.
Six of the seven faerie tale Disney movies are retellings. Love them or hate them, most of Disney’s faerie tale movies do stick pretty closely to the stories they’re telling. They make changes and so on, but Disney’s Cinderella is still telling the classic story of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast is telling Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid--albeit with a different ending--is telling The Little Mermaid.
Tangled, on the other hand, is an adaptation of the Rapunzel story. It is not, strictly speaking, Rapunzel. It’s telling a different story, and the elements of that story makes sense of many of the aspects of the original story that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, though in all fairness, Rapunzel doesn’t have nearly as many issues as some of the other faerie tales in this series.
So exactly what story is Tangled trying to tell? Let’s take a look, shall we?
The story opens with the love interest, Flynn Rider, saying this is the story of how he died. (Insert End-of-Doctor-Who-Series-2 joke here. [Um . . . This is the story of how I died . . . starts Rose at the beginning of the Season 2 finale, which is just what Flynn says here . . . not a very funny joke, Matthew. -- CG]) He then introduces us both to our main villain and what will become our central plot device: the flower that, when sung to, will heal any injury or illness and restore youth to whoever it touches. The evil villain, Gothel, uses this flower to stay eternally young.
Okay, so she hasn’t really done anything evil, yet. I mean, she knows about this thing and doesn’t share it, and that’s pretty selfish, but not, strictly speaking, evil. But as a rule, anyone seeking to live forever is not usually a good guy. So fast forward several generations, and the Queen is giving birth. But the Queen is very ill and in danger of dying and losing the baby, so the King, having heard about this magical healing flower, sends his various guards to search for the flower. They find it, cut it, and use it to heal the queen. But because it was cut, it loses its healing power . . . or rather, the power transfers to something else. (Remember this. It will become important later.) That something is the newborn baby’s golden hair.
(It should probably be noted at this point that the newborn’s name as Rapunzel. I mean, obviously, you know this, but really think about it for a minute. In the original story, Rapunzel is named for the leaf that her mother craved so much that her father stole it from Gothel’s garden, thus precipitating the story. However, this particular backstory doesn’t exist in the movie, so . . . why on earth would they name her Rapunzel? It’s never explained, just as it’s never explained why “Cinderella” is named “Cinderella.”)
Anyway, Gothel realizes that the powers have been transferred to Rapunzel’s hair, and plans to take a clipping of said hair to use for her continued youthening sessions. This, however, doesn’t work, as the hair loses its power and turns brown the moment it’s cut away from Rapunzel. If Gothel wants to continue to use the healing power of Rapunzel’s hair, she’s going to have to take Rapunzel. Which she does.
The kingdom searches for the lost princess, but Gothel has hidden her away in a secluded tower. So every year, on her birthday, the kingdom launches hundreds and hundreds of floating lanterns into the sky, in the hopes that Rapunzel will see them and return home.
So, at this point in the story, a number of things are different, but a number of things have also been explained. First of all, Rapunzel’s parents aren’t the horrible people they are in the original story, because the father doesn’t make any kind of deal with Gothel about trading away his firstborn and whatnot. Second, we find out why Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel for herself and why she wants to keep her locked up. And third, we learn more about the magical nature of Rapunzel’s hair. Specifically, we get an answer to the question of why Rapunzel didn’t simply cut off her hair and use it to climb down from the tower. Her hair has magic, and she doesn’t want to lose that. [Also, it probably never occurred to her, since she didn't think of running away until Mother Gothel pushed her too far. --CG]
So, fast forward roughly eighteen years. Rapunzel, as the king and queen hoped, has in fact seen the floating lanterns every year on her birthday. She wants to learn their significance, and of course, Mother Gothel won’t let her out of the tower. But she’s hoping that this year, on her eighteenth birthday, she’ll get her chance.
As she sings her opening song, “When Will My Life Begin?”, we see that Rapunzel has grown into a reasonably resourceful young woman, all things considered. She can bake and paint and do all sorts of other domestic things, and she’s developed mad Indiana Jones skills with her uber-long hair. Mother Gothel, of course, visits her each day with the whole “Rapunzel, let down your hair” bit, and we get a nice little glimpse into her character through the song “Mother Knows Best.” And it’s pretty clear that Gothel is pretty much evil. I mean, she acts like the concerned and overly condescending mother, but she pretty much only wants Rapunzel for the healing power her hair offers. This becomes increasingly clearer as the movie progresses, but I thought it was pretty obvious at the beginning.
So, Gothel says no, and Rapunzel backs down, accustomed to her ways. Meanwhile, we get a proper introduction to Flynn Rider, a thief who is currently working on a heist with the Stabbington brothers. (Sigh . . . really, Disney?) What are they stealing? The princess’s royal tiara, which is kept under heavy guard in a large room . . . with a circle of guards, who are all facing out from it . . . directly under a skylight. Um . . . who thought this was a good idea? Flynn steals it easily, though he does manage to alert the guards. But this proves not to be a problem, because this kingdom has the worst guards ever.
Flynn gives the Stabbington brothers the slip and takes the tiara away to . . . I don’t know, sell and buy himself a completely inconspicuous island, I’m sure. He does not, however, escape the keen nose of Maximus, the bloodhound horse who could probably just act as the entirety of the kingdom’s security, as he’s the only creature who actually knows what the flying flip he’s doing. (Also, he kicks ass. Like, a lot. Seriously.) After an amusing enough chase scene, Flynn manages to escape the horse through a curtain of vines, which coincidentally is also the hiding place for Rapunzel’s tower. He decides it’ll make a decent enough hiding place, climbs the tower wall through the power of sheer awesomeness, I guess, and arrives inside . . . only to be knocked unconscious by Rapunzel’s weapon of choice: a frying pan.
So Flynn, then, is a vastly different character from his book counterpart, and also from the typical love interests in Disney movies. He’s not a prince, he's a thief, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of good qualities in the beginning. He’s a liar and, as mentioned, a thief. Sure, he’s handsome and charming, but he mostly uses these assets to lie and steal. He finds Rapunzel, not because he’s intrigued by her beautiful voice and odd living situation, but because he needed to hide from the cops. And, therefore, he’s already considerably more interesting.
Rapunzel, painstakingly hiding both the tiara and the unconscious Flynn, decides that she can use the situation to convince her mother that she should be allowed to leave the tower and go see the floating lanterns. But before she even has a chance to broach this, Gothel loses her cool and proclaims that she’ll never let Rapunzel leave the tower, thus showing her true colors. Rapunzel, then, does some pretty quick thinking and convinces her mother to go away on a three day trip to get her a certain special kind of paint. Once she’s left, Rapunzel ties Flynn up, and uses the tiara as leverage against him, so that he’ll take her to the castle to see the floating lanterns, and maybe solve the mystery of her birthday. Flynn, rather begrudgingly, agrees to this arrangement, and Rapunzel leaves the tower.
It’s worth noting that this is something she could have done at any time. She has, as I said earlier, mad Indiana Jones skills with her hair, and here uses them to leave, not having to mess with this business of gathering silk for a rope and whatnot. Why she chose not to is anyone’s guess, but I have my own theories. Life was not entirely unpleasant with Mother Gothel, though thoroughly stifling. Gothel has had to cater to Rapunzel’s whims--aside from the whim of leaving the tower--because she needs Rapunzel’s happy and relatively content cooperation for the magic to work. And Rapunzel sees Gothel as a mother, though an overprotective one, and has found that in general, being nice and keeping her mother happy gets her what she wants. She could have escaped, but why do so if she had faith that enough sweetness would eventually have her mother capitulate to her request? It’s only when she realizes that Gothel is, truly, never going to let her out of the tower, that she escapes on her own. Her decision to do so is almost immediate, indicating that she always had this weapon in her arsenal, but chose only to use it as a last resort. In all likelihood, she would have escaped even without Flynn there, but decided that the wiser course of action would be to have a guide in a world with which she was entirely unfamiliar. And she’s very shrewd in her “negotiation” with Flynn. Like I said, for someone who’s been locked in a tower all her life, she’s very resourceful and very capable.
So, Rapunzel leaves the tower, setting bare, pigeon-toed feet on the ground for the very first time. The next sequence of scenes shows Rapunzel oscillating between the sheer ecstasy and joy of being outside her tower for the first time and the guilt she feels at having betrayed Gothel, who she still views as a mother figure, remember. After straightening up, she and Flynn sally forth. Meanwhile, Maximus is still sniffing around for Flynn, and eventually, he comes across Gothel who, somehow, draws the conclusion in seeing the horse without his rider that Rapunzel might be in trouble. How she comes to this conclusion, I’m not sure. I guess she’s concerned that the kingdom might find the tower, but that seems like a pretty big leap. Still, Gothel is paranoid about losing her magical hair healing factory, and isn’t about to take chances, so she starts heading back, discovering as she does that Rapunzel has, indeed, escaped. But she finds the tiara, puts two and two together, and decides to team up with the Stabbingtons and use the tiara to get Rapunzel back.
So, Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling, which is full of thugs, and what follows is probably the silliest and most entertaining scene in the whole movie. Rapunzel charms the thugs with her talk of dreams, and gets the thugs all singing about their own dreams. This, I think, is Disney making fun of itself, going to extreme lengths in showing off the sensitive human side of the thugs, and it’s SO much fun. But the guards come and break things up, and Flynn and Rapunzel are able to escape through a secret trap door. Another chase scene follows, with the two of them being chased by the palace guards, Maximus, and the Stabbingtons. They manage to escape them by basically destroying the world’s most unstable and dangerous dam, but they themselves get trapped in a flooding cave, where it takes Rapunzel an alarmingly long time to remember that her hair glows when she sings, and thus they can have light to find their way out. (Also, Flynn admits his name is Eugene Fitzherbert. Now, granted, the name Eugene does mean “prince,” which is a nice touch, but the Fitzherbert? Ouch.)
So they escape, Rapunzel shows Flynn her healing hair, and we see them start to connect, Stockholm Syndrome style. But Gothel finds them and gets Rapunzel alone with her. In her passive-aggressive way, she tries to convince Rapunzel that Flynn won’t stay true to her, and tells her to give him the tiara and see what happens when he no longer needs her.
The next day, Rapunzel manages to forge a reluctant alliance between Maximus and Flynn through sheer force of will and likability . . . and it works. You may have noticed that this seems to be Rapunzel’s major non-hair-related power. She can charm anyone, and I mean anyone. Thugs, thieves, bloodthirsty horses . . . anyone. I think this is Disney making fun of itself again. The other Disney princesses, especially the older ones, were absolutely charming. Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora all managed to befriend animals through sheer charm, Ariel manages to convince most everyone that she’s not completely self-absorbed, and the others are charming in their own ways. Again, Disney takes it to the practically ridiculous extreme with Rapunzel. And, not only is it amusing, but we can’t help but like Rapunzel that much more for it.
They enter the kingdom, and Rapunzel takes it all in and does the whole charm thing on a number of other people before she and Flynn take a boat out to the middle of the lake to watch the lanterns. Why the guards don’t notice ostensibly the most notorious criminal walking through the village can be explained in three simple words. Worst. Guards. Ever.
Now, what follows is one of the most beautiful sequences in Disney history. The king and queen--who, by the way, never speak during the whole movie, which I think is really cool--release their annual lantern, which is followed by the whole kingdom releasing their lanterns, while Rapunzel looks on in awe. And it’s little wonder why. The scene is absolutely breathtaking. The rest of the animation is just so-so. It’s computer animated, but not terribly detailed, and generally geared more for comedy than detailed accuracy. They’re drawing more inspiration from the Pixar or Dreamworks style of animation rather than any of their past work. This sequence, though, is gorgeous.
During all this, Rapunzel returns the tiara to Flynn, and Flynn, as expected, has had a change of heart. So, seeing the Stabbingtons, he decides to simply give them the tiara and beat a hasty retreat back to his lady love. But it doesn’t quite work out that way, as the Stabbingtons appear and show Rapunzel a very still and shadowy Flynn Rider sailing away from her, before attempting to kidnap her for her hair. But Gothel “rescues” her, and Rapunzel, traumatized, goes back to the tower with her. Flynn, meanwhile, is revealed to be unconscious and bound. (No, really?) He sails right into the hands of the palace guards, who arrest him and have him sentenced to death.
Rapunzel, back in her tower, is understandably distraught, but upon reflection of her experiences and her apparently sub-consciously inspired paintings--and by “reflection” I mean “bludgeoning over the head with the point, yes, thank you, we’ve got it, Disney”--realizes that she is the lost princess for whom the lanterns are being released. She finally stands up to Gothel and attempts to escape . . . which results in her being tied up, but we’ll be back here in a moment.
First, we have to see Flynn’s rescue by Flynn and the Snuggly Duckling thugs, who manage to outwit the palace guards . . . not hard, seeing as how they’re the WORST. GUARDS. EVER. . . . and get Flynn to Rapunzel’s tower . . . where he is promptly stabbed by Gothel. Rapunzel offers up her own freedom so that she can save Flynn’s life. (Ariel, are you paying attention? THIS is sacrifice.) Gothel agrees, and Rapunzel prepares to save Flynn . . . only Flynn won’t allow it. He won’t have Rapunzel be captive, so he cuts off all her hair, knowing it’s the only thing keeping Gothel alive. (Also a major sacrifice, as he will die without it. Seriously, Ariel, I hope you’re taking notes.) Gothel rapidly ages, falls out of the tower, and turns to dust.
(Oh, and Pascal, Rapunzel’s chameleon, makes his only contribution to the plot by tripping Gothel and causing her to fall out the window. Which, even then, is an ultimately futile gesture, given that A) the way she was flailing around, she probably would have fallen out all on her own, and B) she’s about to turn to dust, and the fall is basically just for dramatics. So his contribution is really no contribution at all. You may have even noticed that I hadn’t mentioned the chameleon up to this point, and that’s because he is an utterly useless character and a complete waste of animation. They included him, I think, because every Disney princess is contractually obligated to have an animal friend, regardless of whether or not they need one.)
Anyway, Gothel’s dead, but Flynn is dying from his stab wound, and Rapunzel no longer has her healing hair to save him. Now, anyone who has read the original story might be able to piece together what happens next. (Cassie was, much to the irritation of her friends.) Rapunzel begins to cry, and sings to him as he dies. Then, her tears begin to glow, and Flynn awakens, his wound completely healed. The power, which originally transferred from the flower to her hair, has now transferred to her tears, thus explaining why, in the original story, Rapunzel’s tears were able to restore the prince’s blindness.
And Rapunzel, now a pixie-haired brunette, is reunited with her parents, married to Flynn, and everyone lives happily ever after.
This is by no means a perfect adaptation of the story, but it is a strong one. It’s pretty clear that Disney wasn’t taking this one nearly as seriously, instead just trying to make a light-hearted, fun movie, and in that, they succeeded. Rapunzel is charming and likable, but also quite competent for a Disney princess. Flynn has the major character growth, having to become the prince that we like to see our Disney princesses end up with. And I like that, in the end, it’s not a matter of one rescuing the other . . . they rescue each other. Flynn saves Rapunzel from a lifetime of captivity under Gothel, and Rapunzel saves Flynn from . . . well, death. The backstory is exceptionally intriguing, the characters are fun, and it’s a nice, feel-good story.
But on to the checklist.
Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Check. The mother didn’t henpeck her husband into getting what she wanted, and the husband didn’t trade away his daughter for his life. Rapunzel was kidnapped, thus eliminating the problem.
Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel? Erm, no. Not really. It pretty much skips straight to her eighteenth birthday, and we don’t get a lot of depth in the little bit that we do see. Gothel is probably my major disappointment with the Disney film. I was really hoping that this time, they might have antagonist with some depth who WASN’T just pure evil. Now, granted, Gothel is a considerably more subtle evil than a lot of her predecessors, playing the part of the concerned mother and generally using passive-aggressive guilt trips to get what she wants. But I like to think that the mother in the Rapunzel story did actually care for Rapunzel a bit, and was just really overprotective and probably a little selfish and wanted to keep Rapunzel for herself, not for any reasons of needing healing, but because she honestly loved her. But Disney went the “she’s just evil” route with this character, as I unfortunately predicted they would. So, no check.
Explain the unexplained elements? Yes, indeed-y! This is what I really like about this movie. Why did Gothel want Rapunzel? Magical healing hair. Why was her hair special? See previous answer with added explanation of magical healing flower. Why was she locked in a tower? To hide her from the kingdom, who was searching for the lost princess. Why did her tears heal the prince? They were magical healing tears, using the power of the magical healing hair, which in turn took it from the magical healing flower. Simple, yes? (Also, the question of Rapunzel’s pregnancy is a non-issue, as Rapunzel doesn’t get pregnant.)
Wrap up the loose ends? Yeah, if there’s one thing Disney knows how to do, it’s wrap up loose ends. Gothel dies, we see a reunion with the parents, and in general, the characters who drop off the face of the earth in the original story find some sort of closure in the movie.
All in all, not one of Disney’s finest by a long way, but still a good movie and a good adaptation of the Rapunzel story. And honestly, I really do think that this is how Disney should have handled the Sleeping Beauty story, and on some level, I think they knew that. (I really don’t think it’s an accident that the king and queen look an awful lot like the king and queen from Sleeping Beauty, or that Rapunzel is the first blonde Disney princess since Aurora.) It’s what they tried to do--dig into the background and try to tell a new story--but they didn’t take it far enough and it didn’t succeed nearly as well. (Also, Aurora and Philip were about as boring as Disney characters get, while Rapunzel and Flynn? Decidedly not.)
 At any rate, don’t expect it to take itself too seriously, but the movie is definitely worth checking out.