Thursday, May 31, 2012

East of the Sun, West of the Moon Wrap Up

East of the Sun, West of the Moon Wrap-up

This month, we’ve looked at four different novelizations of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon: East by Edith Pattou, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, and Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis McKiernan. Of those four, three hit every point on the checklist. But which novel hit each point the strongest?

Kick-ass heroine?

If we’re looking purely at “kick-ass-itude,” it’s gotta be Cassie from Ice. I mean, the things that girl goes through: diving into the Arctic Ocean to make a point, surviving an Arctic snowstorm with nothing but a sleeping bag and a bunch of bears, jumping off a cliff again to make a point? She’s not just kick-ass, ladies and gents, she’s badass.

However, in terms of complexity and three-dimensionality, I’m going to have to go with Rose from East. She’s my favorite of the four, and feel like she is the most human of the four as well. I love the wanderlust put into the story, and I feel like it’s the best reason any of the four have for leaving home. Cassie made a deal to get her mother back, the Lass went to try and help her brother, Camille got guilt-tripped into it, but Rose? Rose went because she wanted to. More than just wanting to help her family, this was her opportunity for adventure, to explore the North with her white bear as she’d been pretending to do for years. I love that dimensionality. And speaking of dimensions . . .

Dimension given to other players?

It’s interesting to me to see how the various novels handled certain similar characters, especially the mother. Of the three applicable examples (I’m discounting Ice because the mother was barely there), two of them (Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow and Once Upon a Winter’s Night)  made the mother into this horrible, selfish, closed-off harpy. She doesn’t care about her youngest daughter; she only cares about wealth and success and the potential her daughter has to bring those. And that’s a perfectly valid interpretation, given the original story. However, I think I like how East drew the mother better. She’s a bit smothering, a bit overprotective, and overly superstitious, which leads to her making a mess of things, but she also genuinely loves her daughter, and I think that’s a stronger combination. It’s certainly more interesting to me.

I also like how many of the versions gave one of the brothers a stronger connection to the heroine (though it was interesting that it was always a brother, never a sister). Rose had Neddy, the Lass had Hans Peter, Camille had Giles, and Ice gets left out again. And I really like all these characters (even Giles!), and thought they played their individual roles in the story very well.

Lastly, I’m always impressed by authors who can handle large casts of characters, and this story certainly has room for them. Each of the four authors did their casts very well, even McKiernan. My favorite supplemental characters were probably Thor the Viking from East (I’m a sucker for a curmudgeon with a heart of gold), Jamie the munaqsri from Ice, Mrs. Grey the gargoyle from Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, and the three Seasons from Once Upon a Winter’s Night.
Elimination of Repetition?

I felt all the stories did this well except for Once Upon a Winter’s Night, in which it was even worse than in the original. East turned the winds into people with their own adventure attached to them, and eliminated the women entirely, replacing their gifts with the three dresses Rose sells along the way, and replacing their symbolic weaving with Rose’s own gift for weaving. Ice had the various munaqsri replace the women, though the winds were still there, and while Ice did get a bit bogged down in the middle, it recovered well. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow used the repetition to its advantage within the story it was trying to tell, so it became purposeful. And Once Upon a Winter’s Night . . . failed this checkpoint entirely.

So where does that leave us this month? Well, the standings are thus:

Ranked first, East by Edith Pattou: Definitely recommended. This book sits right at the top of my favorites list, and will be my first recommendation for this fairy tale.

Tied for second, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George: Both recommended. I would recommend these two differently depending on who was asking.

And in last place, Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis McKiernan: Not recommended. I mean, I’m not going to tell you not to read it; you should come to your own conclusion, and if it sounds interesting to you, then go for it. But I’m not going to be picking it up again. 

Thanks for reading along this month!

June’s fairy tale: Beauty and the Beast.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis McKiernan

Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis McKiernan

Target Audience: Adult

Summary: Once upon a winter’s night, a poor crofter trades his daughter Camille to wed Prince Alain of the Summerwood in exchange for a lifetime of riches. Though love blossoms between Camille and the prince, he is haunted by sadness and will not allow her to see his unmasked face. Believing she can lift whatever curse has been bestowed upon him, Camille acts on her own – with devastating results, as all she loves is swept away. To regain what she has lost, she must embark on a desperate quest through the hinterlands of Faery, seeking a mysterious place lying somewhere east of the sun and west of the moon.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, unlike the other three adaptations I’ve reviewed so far this month, this novel is aimed at adults, not children or teenagers. And it shows. Sex scenes aside, the language is much more sophisticated, one (meaning me) might even say dense. I’ll be honest; I almost didn’t get through this one, for reasons that have little to do with the story at its heart and more to do with incredibly verbose and archaic style the story is written in.

McKiernan makes it clear in his foreword what his style is going to be. He claims that fairy tales were meant to be expanded upon, stretched and lengthened and heightened by traveling bards, and that as we’ve drifted further and further away from oral traditions, we’ve lost that. He wanted to return that sense of style to this story. Fair enough. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. However, I ended up having the same problem with this book that I did when I read Tolkien – the story often gets lost amidst the endless descriptions, and the diction and style that McKiernan chose to use separated me from the story rather severely. To me, I interpret his foreward as saying that he wanted to give the expanded story the same timeless, fairy tale feel as the shorter version. But the way that phrases are worded and the way his characters speak just make the story feel archaic at best and disingenuous at worst. I felt like I was reading a story that someone made up rather than a telling of events that actually happened. And while that’s a perfectly valid form of storytelling as well, it’s not one that appeals to me personally as a reader.

The book got easier to read the farther into the story I got, though that sense of disconnect never fully disappeared. I think a contributing factor was also McKiernan’s choice to give the story a French rather than Nordic feel. He says he made the choice because, as a romance, that felt more authentic to him, but it made the story sit a little less comfortably with me.

But like the other versions, we start with the poor family in their hovel. Camille, the youngest girl, has a myriad of older sisters, all selfish, silly, and shallow, and a brother who is much younger than the rest. Her mother is shrewish and cruel; her father is hen-pecked and weak-willed. When the Bear arrives, he does not speak; indeed, the Bear never speaks. Instead, he wears a message on his collar – the faery prince of Summerkeep has fallen in love with Camille, and if she consents to be his bride, prince Alain will ensure that her family want for nothing. Her sisters are jealous, her brother pleads with her not to go, but her mother insists, demands, even, that she do her part to aid her family. Camille cannot bear the thought of being married off to a man she has never met, but when she looks to her father to stand up for her, her father is silent – a twist. In the end, she is guilted into accepting, for her younger brother is ill, and without the money the prince will provide, Camille knows he will not survive another winter.

The readers who know the story already will know that the Bear is also Prince Alain, but Camille does not know this. In her mind, he is simply a traveling companion sent to protect her. And here we reach the first place that McKiernan starts to really expand the story. As they enter faery, Summerkeep is of course the season farthest away from them. And the journey to get there takes forever. As they journey through Springkeep and Winterkeep and Autumnkeep, we are treated to minute, detailed descriptions of what the days were like and what their camps were like and how they foraged for food and how Camille kept clean and what traveling outfits she wore and what they ate every meal and the different tastes each variety of apple had and on and on and on. And the only thing of any real importance that happens in these five chapters is that, while crossing the cursed region of Winterkeep (which is apparently the only way they can go because otherwise the trip would be too long), they’re set upon by goblins and trolls, and a strange man Camille doesn’t know has to make a secret deal with the Troll King to allow them safe passage

And finally, they reach Summerkeep, and Camille is shown to her rooms, but she can’t meet the prince yet because, as she is told, he just returned from a long and tiring journey and needs to recuperate. Does Camille figure it out? No, she does not. But that’s okay. She’s only been given one clue.

When she does finally meet him three nights later, he is masked, and he tells her that unfortunately, he must always be masked when she sees him, and he cannot tell her why. He says he will understand if she chooses to return home and not wed him, given this truth, but she says she made a deal, and she will honor it.

Though the journey to the palace was ridiculous in its length, I think the time spent at the palace is handled very well. Alain truly loves Camille, and he is willing to wait for her to return those feelings, which she eventually does, and that progression is very realistic and very smoothly done. I like Alain’s character a lot. He’s charming and friendly and genuinely in love, but not forceful about it. I like Alain and I like his siblings, the prince and princesses of the other three seasons. The character I don’t like? Camille. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

So Camille spends her days at the palace with the Bear and her evenings and nights with Alain. It’s curious, she thinks, that she never sees Alain before twilight or the Bear after twilight, but since the servants awkwardly tell her that Alain is “kept busy” during the day, she doesn’t question it. So now, with two clues, three if you count the obviously lying servants, does Camille figure it out? No. But that’s okay. As readers, of course we know more than the characters. She has time.

Eventually, Camille overhears the servants talking about the curse that’s on Alain. And she puts it together! Well, kind of. Does she figure out now that Alain and the Bear are one and the same? Nope! She’s just now aware that he’s specifically under a curse. Because, you know, that apparently wasn’t obvious to her before.

I’m just gonna come out and say it. Camille’s dumb. She’s dumb, ladies and gentlemen. And after overhearing this, she gets it in her head that maybe the key to breaking the curse lies in seeing Alain’s face. Maybe, she reasons, he can’t show her his face, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t see it under her own power, and maybe that’s the key!

Except that it totally isn’t, and whoops, away goes the prince and all his household, leaving Camille behind in the ruined Summerkeep palace. Where she stays. For seven days. Wandering around. And not doing anything. Yes, to be fair, she has no leads and no direction to go. But she doesn’t even try. She has to be reminded that there’s an oracle within close distance, and only when the Lady of the Mere gives her a swift kick in the pants does she actually get moving.

And once again, the journey takes forever. Because the oracle tells her she has a year, a month, and a day to find Alain or he’ll be lost forever, and in a fantasy novel like this one, if a quest is given such a time frame, by God it will run down to the last possible minute.

But that means that the year, month, and day have to be filled with something, and I’ll spoil it for you now: Camille meets the three women and the four winds all within the last two months. So what happens the other eleven? Well, I’ll tell you:

Camille travels. She loses hope of finding her way. Someone shows up to help her. She is overly trusting and loses something for it, time or money or possessions. She sings to earn enough money to keep going. Some man falls in love with her.

This happens at least four times.

Camille irritates the hell out of me. She’s cloyingly innocent, almost stubbornly innocent, refusing to change or learn from her mistakes or be even a little more wary the next time around. It takes her forever to figure things out. She spends nearly a week and a good ten pages wondering why one of the nearly 400 magical flowers on her staff from the oracle dies at the end of each day before she finally figures out, hey, it’s a freakin’ calendar, honey. And everyone falls in love with her and jumps to help her in any way that they can, and when she cheats on her true love with an elven bard, it’s given an, “eh, that’ll happen sometimes.” Shoot me now.

But finally the story picks back up, eleven months later, when Camille finally makes it to the three sisters, here the Three Fates. I liked this choice a lot, as well as the concept of time introduced. The sisters were done really well.

Then we came to another standstill when we reached the winds. The winds, here four ships named after the winds, all came to Camille rather than the other way around. She sat in a harbor and waited for each one to appear to see if it could carry her where she needed to go. And of course time was running out, and of course the ship she needed took the longest to appear, and of course the young man protecting her went with her when The North Wind finally came.

Once we got to the trolls, the story really picked up. The pacing was spot on, and the way McKiernan wove this part of the tale was very engaging. Camille challenges the marriage before the assembled court and challenges the King to a battle of riddles to win back her prince. She uses the gifts and riddles of the Fates and wins two of the three rounds. The King then changes the rules and says the final challenge must be physical. Camille sets the challenge of removing the candle wax from the Bear’s fur without pulling any hairs out. The King, Queen, and Princess cannot, but Camille, with the carding combs, can. Then there’s a battle, the trolls are all killed, and happily ever after?

Kinda. But not really, and not in the ambiguous bittersweet way that I can get behind. No, the end of this story was as complicated and muddled as the middle bits – because McKiernan got so wrapped up in setting up the sequel that he forgot to deal with the end of the story. Seriously. The reunion scene was pretty much, “and then they went off and had sex” before moving on to a reveal that was supposed to be shocking and plot twisty but was instead so confusing that I read it four times and still don’t understand what happened.

Let’s cut to the chase and get to the checklist, shall we?

Kick-ass but flawed heroine? No. I’m sorry, but no. Too needy, too irritating, too innocent, too fairy-tale manic pixie dream girl. And too helpless. For someone who was told to go the journey alone, she was hardly ever alone. There was always someone waiting to jump in and help. And she needed the help almost every time, which I wouldn’t have minded as much if she had at least been the mastermind, but she wasn’t that, either. The only remotely clever thing she did on her own was the contest of riddles, but even in that, she used the riddles of the Fates and their prophecies. Kick-ass? Hardly. No point.

Dimension given to other characters? This one I will give McKiernan – he’s created a rich and varied cast of characters. I did enjoy most of the people I was introduced to.

Elimination of repetition? Yeah, no. The opposite, in fact. I didn’t think it was possible to add to the repetition of this story, but wow. He did it.

Overall, when McKiernan kept to the story, I was entirely on board. The take he wrote on “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” was clever and intriguing, and it had me. But his strange need (fully expressed in his foreward) to expand the story was where he lost me. Every time he went off the path and started adding extraneous trips and details, he got bogged down and I stopped paying attention. 

Bottom line? If someone asks me for a novelization of this fairy tale to read, this is not going to be my first recommendation. And even if I do recommend it, it will be to a very select audience.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: When the Lass was born, her mother was so upset to have yet another useless girl that she refused to name the child. Growing up, her father was terrified that, because she was nameless, she would be stolen by the trolls, so the Lass spent most of her life shut up in her family’s cottage with only her eldest brother for company.

Until the isbjorn, the white bear, comes to their door and whisks her away. At his palace, the Lass is confronted with a harrowing mystery – one that she is all the more desperate to solve because it matches so closely with the mystery surrounding her dear eldest brother. But her curiosity does her in, and when she sets off to set right the wrongs she caused, she discovers that the cycle has been going on for longer than anyone imagined. No one yet has been strong enough to put an end to it, but if stubbornless and love can do, the Lass is determined to succeed.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

More than either of the two adaptations I’ve read so far this month, this book reads like a fairy tale. East begins with a description of a woman going through an old trunk. Ice begins with Cassie hunting polar bears on the Arctic ice. But Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow begins thusly: “Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.” Have no doubt, ladies and gentlemen. You are reading a fairy tale.

This tone continues for the entire book, using phrasing and words that are more formal, more old-fashioned, and therefore more universal that everyday language. Phrases that, in other words, immediately evoke fairy tales.

It is interesting to see common fairy tale tropes expanded into novel form because things that we will wave away easily in a fairy tale (such as characters without names), become much harder to accept in a longer story format. But I like how George handles it. In the original story, our girl has no name. Many authors will take the, “that’s because fairy tales often do not name their characters; here’s the name you were never told” route, which is perfectly valid. But George, from the get-go, takes us in another, fascinating direction. We never learned the name of the girl in the fairy tale because she had no name to be given. Her mother (who in this story is a horrifying piece of work) refused to name her at her birth because the girl had the audacity to not be a boy, and so, her family refers to her merely as “the pika,” which means “girl” in their language.

All except her eldest brother, Hans Peter, who calls her Lass because it is more welcoming and friendly sounding than “pika.” And here we have a second adaptation that gives us a close relationship with an older brother, but George’s Hans Peter is much different from Pattou’s Neddy. Hans Peter is the oldest sibling, for one, who should have long ago left his parents’ home. He did, for a time, working as a sailor. But then he disappeared from his ship, and when he eventually returned home, he was as close to a broken man as one can be and still be sane. He does not speak of what happened to him, but there is a sadness that surrounds him that fascinates the Lass. He sits by the fire and carves strange designs that he claims are a picture language. He has a white fur parka that is covered with embroidery of the same, strange pictures. And he reacts so fiercely, so violently, when his brother Askel intends to hunt and kill a white bear that has been sighted recently near the village.

And when the white bear comes to the cottage to ask for the Lass, Hans Peter is the one most firmly against her going. She must not go, he tells her, begs her not to go with him. But her family is poor. And the farm is failing. And the Lass has never been able to make her mother proud. And here is this white bear, promising to reverse all that, and so her mother is demanding that she go. She wants to finally be of use, but also, she wants to find a way to help Hans Peter, and so she agrees. Disappointed but resigned, Hans Peter gives her his white fur parka to take with her. And so she goes off with the isbjorn.

And here we start to see some differences in the curse’s parameters. For one thing, the bear promises the Lass that she only needs to come with him for a year. After a year, she will be free to return home. In the original story and in the other versions, the length of time is undisclosed, and is often interpreted as “forever.” But here we have a firm time frame – with a catch. It is not enough to simply live in the palace with the white bear and sleep with him in the room each night. The Lass must sleep in the same bed, beside him, all night, or the night doesn’t count. We know this because her first reaction to the visiting stranger is fear, and when she can’t get him to leave, she pulls a blanket out and sleeps in front of the fire. He lets her do this for two nights, but on the third, he physically follows her and carries her back to the bed until she stays there. It’s something of a shock to the reader, but it falls right in with what the author is trying to do.

Throughout the novel, George shows us a much harsher and more nefarious curse being enacted. The castle where the Lass stays is staffed by a number of wondrous creatres: a faun, a selkie, a gargoyle, salamanders, and many more. They are there to serve the Lass and the isbjorn, but she is not supposed to talk with them or interact with them. Stubborn, curious, and stubbornly curious, she breaks this rule again and again. She is not content to simply stay in the castle for a year and then return home. She came to solve the mystery of her brother, of the picture writing, of the isbjorn, and she is determined to do so, despite admonishments from any number of directions.

She asks question after question of the servants and the bear, trying to discover why they are here and who it is that has enslaved them and how. She stubbornly works to decipher the language carved all around her, and when she finally wears Erasmus the faun down to tell her his story, he is taken from the palace and killed. Horrified, the Lass turns her questions to the selkie, trying to find out what happened to Erasmus, if the same person who cursed the isbjorn has taken him as well, and when the selkie in anger speaks, she, too, is taken away and killed. Angry and hurt and still demanding answers, the gargoyle takes pity on the Lass and as quickly and carefully as she can, gives her a handful of answers, but she, likewise, is punished in the harshest way for this.

The Lass is far more stubbornly curious than the other girls we have seen. They had a natural curiosity, and while the Lass has that as well, there’s always the undercurrent running beneath it of, “I’m going to keep poking my nose around until I find out what’s going on!” and her attempts to uncover the truth are always stronger just after she’s been told yet again to let it go and just live out her year.

But she just can’t do that because what she’s discovering is something frightening and sinister. The story she is translating on the pillars and the mantle speaks of a princess who is so desperate to be loved that she punishes all who refuse to. This troll princess outlives every other species by centuries, and so she has outlived husband after husband after husband, and she always needs a new one. But the first made her swear that each new husband she took must have a way out. And so, the princess devised this little game. Her husband-to-be will be enchanted as a white bear. If a girl can sleep beside him for one year without seeing his face, he will be free. But if she looks, the bear must then marry her until he dies. And then she searches for a new husband, and the cycle begins all over again.

By making the story cyclical rather than the one-time dealing that we have seen before, George makes the story so much more sinister and horrifying. The troll princess hasn’t done this to just one man, she’s done this to dozens if not hundreds, and a girl making it through the year doesn’t mean she’ll stop. It just means that that one man will not be forced to marry her. But that has never happened. The closest who came was the Lass’s brother, Hans Peter. The girl who stayed with him changed the embroidery on his parka, altering his enchantment, allowing him to escape the troll princess’s clutches.

But the troll princess knows everything that goes on in the castle, and her reach extends everywhere. In this version, it is not homesickness that draws the girl back to her family, it is an accident. Her father was crushed by a falling tree, and her family is pleading with her to come back. She begs the bear for the chance to see her dying father, and he eventually agrees to let her go for five days, but those are five days she will have to make up. While we are never told directly that the troll princess caused this accident, we have every reason to interpret it that way, because it isn’t until she goes home that she spills the secret of her nights in the castle and her sister sends her back with a candle made in a Christian home that will light through any enchantment.

And so she looks. And I like the interpretation of this moment that the cyclical nature of the story gives us here. Instead of feeling betrayed or hurt or angry, the isbjorn is just resigned and disappointed – the Lass is just another girl who failed, who looked, because they always look, we learn in that moment. No girl in the history of this horrible scheme has made it to the end of the year without looking, not even Hans Peter’s girl.

Angry at the troll princess for all she’s done, the pain she’s caused, and the enchantment that will not end, the Lass refuses to accept that she has failed. She will find her way to the land of the trolls. And here, in her journey, we see the cycle again. The three old women she meets are not just random mysterious women; they once stayed with an isbjorn in a castle, too. They, like the Lass, failed and looked. This interpretation ties them more firmly into the story and gives us the sense of just how long this has been going on.

The longer she journeys, the fewer the girls who have made it this far, until by the time she reaches the North Wind, only one other girl has ever been blown as far as the land of the trolls – Tova, the girl who loved Hans Peter.

Once the Lass makes it to the land of the trolls, the story plays out exactly as expected. She finds Tova, who is a slave in the palace, and Tova helps the Lass find a way to not just break the enchantment on her isbjorn, but end the princess once and for all, for that is the only way to end the cycle truly. Trolls, in this version, can only destroy or mimic, they cannot create. They cannot perform the “homely tasks” that young girls grow up knowing. And so, they cannot wash the shirt clean, but the Lass can. The Princess is so enraged that she attempts to end the Lass’s life – a move which breaks her promise, so she is killed, and the Queen goes mad watching what becomes of her daughter. The cycle is ended, and the Lass can return home with her isbjorn – now a prince named Asher – and bring Tova home to Hans Peter as well. Happy endings all around.

This was the first novel of Jessica Day George’s I ever read, and it laid the foundation of “this woman can do no wrong” that has grown only stronger with each book she publishes. Now, this is not a perfect adaptation. The whole bit with Tova being Hans Peter’s maiden and the only one who almost made it all the way has a feeling of “Of course,” to it. I also wanted the naming of the Lass to play a larger role in the end (Earlier in the story, the Lass is named by a white reindeer that she rescues. This name is kept secret until the very end), but instead of actually having a name being central to anything, it’s just . . . she has a name! Yay! And I felt like that moment lost some of its potential.

But overall, I like what George does with the story. I love the cycles, that what we’re seeing isn’t the first or second or third time this has happened, but the hundredth or two hundredth, and that freeing one isbjorn is not equal to breaking the curse. It’s a very smart move, and it adds a whole new layer to the story that I really appreciated. It’s a brand new take, and I love that George found a way to make the story her own.

Kick-ass but flawed heroine? Check. This girl is annoying pig-headed sometimes, but you can’t help but like her. Dimension given to other players? Hans Peter, certainly. And the women were fleshed out nicely. I also like that some of the dimension was negative – there really is nothing redeeming about the Lass’s mother in this version, and her brother Askel is horrible as well. Eliminating the repetition? Condensing it, at least. The winds were still a little too similar, but we got through all that very quickly, so it didn’t bother me.

Overall, a wonderful adaptation definitely worth putting on your reading list.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Cassie Dasent grew up in a research station on the Arctic Ice, learning to survive on the frozen tundra and to track polar bears when most children her age were learning cursive and long division. The ice is all she’s ever known and all she’s ever wanted to know. The only thing missing from her life is a mother, a mother who died just after Cassie was born – unless you believe the story her grandmother tells about how Cassie’s mother was the daughter of the North Wind, and who promised her infant daughter to be the bride of the Polar Bear King in exchange for permission to stay with the mortal man she loved and was then blown to the land of the trolls by her father as punishment. Which of course, Cassie does not, not anymore.

Until the giant polar shows up on her birthday, a polar bear unfazed by tranquilizer darts, a polar bear who walks through solid glaciers, calls to Cassie by name, and has come to claim his bride. While she has little desire to be the wife of a polar bear, Cassie agrees to go with him on one condition – he free her mother from the land of the trolls. And so the bargain is struck.

Type of adaptation: Modernization

I won’t say that I had misgivings about this book, because that’s too strong a word with too many negative connotations, but I did have a number of questions upon starting this book, not the least of which was, How exactly is this story going to work when modernized, especially in such a scientific setting? I can totally get behind the idea that if there is magic left in the world, it’s in the Arctic regions mostly unexplored. But a premise based so heavily on a scientific viewpoint? That was what got me.

Yet Durst manages it surprisingly well.

Cassie is a very scientifically minded individual, and that doesn’t really change even after she’s been introduced to the fact that magic is, in fact, very real in her world. And it’s the fact that she continues to be so scientifically minded that gives us the conflict in the first half of the novel. Once she accepts that the giant polar bear she was tracking because he’d give her dad’s team excellent data is, in fact, the polar bear king from her grandmother’s old fairy tale, we get to see Cassie’s scientific world come crashing into coexistance with the magical world. And while there’s the part of Cassie that says, Hey, I’m a modern woman and my mother can’t just promise me into a marriage!, there’s also the part that says, okay, if this part of the story is true, then my mother isn’t dead, she’s a prisoner, so hey, I’ve got a bargaining chip. And she uses. She’ll marry the polar bear king, she says, if he frees her mother. She’s told it’s impossible. She doesn’t much care. That’s her price.

And so, she sets off with the Polar Bear King, discovering as they travel that he’s not so much a king as a mystical soul-ferrier, called a munaqsri. Basically, each species of creature and plant has one of these munaqsri whose job is to collect the souls of the dying and deliver them to the babies being born. If they are late to a birth or they haven’t collected a soul, the newborn baby will be stillborn. If they miss a death, the soul floats away beyond the edges of the world. Bear, as he instructs Cassie to call him, is the munaqsri for the polar bears, and he needs a wife because only the children of munaqsri can become munaqsri themselves. Basically, he needs an heir. Cassie’s not particularly happy to learn this, but she did make a promise, and she will honor it, provided that things go slow and she not be required to bear his child any time soon.

What I appreciate most about this character is that she is not even close to being a weak-ass heroine. I knew Cassie and I were going to get along all right when I read the scene where the stranger first enters her room. In the darkness, she hears someone get into bed with her, and the man claims to be Bear there to share the wedding bed, but Cassie is adamant that she married a polar bear, not a human, so he needs to get the hell out of her room. He says he can shift forms, but she’s having none of it and threatens him with her ice axe. He calls her bluff, so she swings it at his head until he leaves. Awesome.

What I also appreciate about Bear’s character is that, yes, Cassie made a bargain, but when he sees how unhappy she is, he’s willing to let her go, as he was willing to do for her mother before her. All he wants is for her to give him a chance, so that’s what he asks for. Specifically, the bargain is that for every question he answers, she has to stay one day. And he uses that time to show her the kind of life she could have with him, with the magic he has to offer. And so one week turns into two and two turns into three, and before long, Cassie is staying because she enjoys the time she spends with him. In other words, they become friends. And, after the night with the axe, he also makes it clear that he won’t renew any romantic advances to Cassie unless she very clearly gives him the okay. This polar bear is a gentleman, in other words.

When Cassie’s homesickness sets in, Durst shows her modernization talents because while, yes, a lot of it is genuine homesickness and a desire to meet the mother she never knew, most of it is driven by the fact that there is nothing for her to do in the palace. And this is a girl used to doing things. She knows all about surviving on the ice and tracking polar bears and running the station, and so for her to sit around all day and have a magical polar bear carve ice sculptures of her is nothing close to the purpose-driven life she was expecting to leave. And it’s the prospect of that being her whole future that really drives her desire to return home. But once she finds a way to to be useful to Bear and keep occupied herself, she goes straight back, having learned that she can’t reconcile living in the world she grew up in with all that she now knows to be true. That, and, she’s realized she loves him.

Unfortunately, he takes her new willingness for a relationship to mean a willingness to bear his child, so he magically alters the precautions she’d taken against that eventuality. In her anger, she lights the candle (or turns on the flashlight, in this version) to see his human form, and I like this touch – anger rather than curiosity or fear driving her – both because it fits better with the relationship that’s been drawn and because it adds another flaw to this character.

It’s no curse that’s enacted this time, but rather a bargain made and broken, for the price asked of Bear to free Cassie’s mother was that she never look upon him in his human form. So now he has to go live with the trolls and marry the troll princess, which is a problem in more ways than one.

Gone are the old women in this version. Durst replaces them with the munaqsri that Cassie goes to for help. Unfortunately, they’re far less helpful than their fairy tale counterparts. At first, they won’t help because Cassie is human, not munaqsri, and even though Bear is one of them, he is considered beyond their reach. Also, with the polar bear souls unclaimed, they’re free game for other munaqsri, which is good for them because souls have a tendency to be scarce. We’re introduced to a very interesting dynamic here, clearly shown a world in which even the spirit guardians of species are in battle with each other, much like the species themselves. But Cassie tries to win them back to her side by revealing that she’s carrying a munaqsri child. Except that when they learn this, they refuse to allow Cassie to put the baby in danger and so essentially kidnap her.

It lends a very “Snow Queen” vibe to the retelling, and presents one more challenge to Cassie’s journey, especially as she’s in this captivity for several months, all the while getting closer and closer to the time of delivery. And here enters really the only qualm I have with this book. Cassie is pregnant, probably eight months by the time she actually gets to the rescuing bit. And over the course of her pregnancy, she almost starves in a snowstorm, dives into the Arctic Sea, climbs a mountain, jumps off a cliff, travels by violent wind, and many other dangerous things. Now, I know that women miscarry from slipping and falling. So . . . magical baby is magical? Eh, I guess I can buy that, but I will lift my eyebrow skeptically.

The way that the trolls are handled in this adaptation is masterful. They are seen as formless beings, ruled by whoever can hold shape the longest. What they desire most is life. So the deal they make with Cassie is Bear in exchange for her unborn child – the same deal her mother was forced to make when Cassie was a baby. But before Cassie can make her decision, the baby decides, hey, time to be born! because, come on, that’s how stories work. Unfortunately, when the human munaqsri appears, he has no soul for the baby, and that’s when Cassie puts it together – the trolls, you see, are all those souls who slipped through the munaqsri’s hands, and it is the Troll Princess that becomes the baby’s soul.

To the checklist!
Kick-ass heroine with flaws? Yep. Cassie is a go-getter, stopping at absolutely nothing, willing to do the entirely insane if it means succeeding.That being said, she can also be selfish at times, and she's got a hell of a temper, which in this version, replaces the curiosity.
Dimension given to other players? Yes and yes. Durst has crafted really a wonderful cast of characters here, rich and interesting. Well done.
Repetition eliminated/contained? Yes. Cassie's journey never got old for me. I never felt like it was the same thing over and over.

Overall, this was a well-done adaptation. Yes, sometimes the science got a little skewy – if a munaqsri not having a soul on hand causes stillbirths, what is their explanation for miscarriages? – and there are some eyebrow raising moments, but overall it’s well done. Cassie is a fantastically flawed heroine, and the relationship between her and Bear is built very convincingly. I had my doubts about a modernization with this fairy tale, but I think Durst handled it very well, and this adaptation is definitely worth the read.

Friday, May 4, 2012

East by Edith Pattou

East by Edith Pattou

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Rose, the youngest in her family, has always been adventurous and curious, loving to wander and explore, all qualities of a true north-born child, according to her mother’s superstitions. And yet, Rose’s mother swears that she is an east-born child, and not until she is well past childhood does Rose learn the truth of her birth and the lie she has grown up believing. Angry at her parents and determined to claim her own destiny, when a talking white bear comes to her family and asks Rose to accompany him to his home, she readily agrees. In his home, she wants for nothing except the answers to her questions – why she has been brought there, who the mysterious white servants are, whether or not she will see her family again, who it is that sleeps beside her every night.

Her curiosity is her undoing in the end, and when it hurts a dear friend in the worst possible way, Rose must travel to the corners of the globe and the ends of the earth to set things to rights. But she is up against a terrible foe, one who will do anything and everything in her power to keep Rose from reclaiming her white bear.

Type of adaptation: Retelling

Warning: This will not be a spoiler-free review. I will do my best not to give away any major plot twists, but in order to be an in-depth review, I need to be free to talk about all aspects of the story.

So, this is the book that introduced me to “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” in the first place, and it’s been near the top of my all time favorite books list ever since.
For the most part, the first half of the book is just a straight-up retelling of the story. It fleshes it out and it tightens it up, but it isn’t until Rose sets out to follow the white bear that we start getting real changes to the story.

Rose is the youngest daughter of a large family whose farm is failing because a) there are so many children (7), and b) her father never set out to be a farmer. He was a mapmaker, but a sickness devastated his business, and he had to turn to something else.

Rose’s mother is a very superstitious woman, and one of the superstitions she believes in most strongly is that the direction the mother is facing when a child is born corresponds directly to the child’s personality. So an east-born baby has markedly different characteristics than a northwest-born baby, for instance (also, the children get named for their direction. So her west-born is Willem while her northeast is Nils Erland). Soon after being married, she decides that she wants to have one child for every point on the compass, except North. North-born children, she says, are far too difficult to keep one’s eye on, as they are natural explorers and wanderers, and she has dozens of stories of north-born children dying in horrible ways. So, she has seven children in seven years, working her way around the compass from northeast to northwest. But then her east-born daughter dies, and the empty point haunts her.

Enter Rose. She was originally born to fill that empty space, planned to be an east-born child, but she came a month too early when her parents were out in the forest and a storm was coming. It wasn’t until after she’d been born that the sun reappeared and her parents could see that Rose was born for the North.

Her mother refuses to accept it, and names her daughter Ebba for east and Rose for the wind rose drawn on maps. She makes her husband swear to never tell any differently, and he does because she’s hysterical. But he is uneasy with the lie, and in his heart, calls his daughter Nyamh Rose, for north. Remember this lie. It will become important later on.

One of the things I love is how the story is set both in and not in the real world. Pattou sets the story in our world, specifically Norway and France, with the land of the trolls being across the Arctic wasteland known to really everyone who lives in those freezing northern countries as Lapland. And yet, she doesn’t lose the fairy-tale feel, in part because she sets the story in an ambiguous time in the distant past and in part because she names all those countries in Anglicized versions of the Norwegian names. So France becomes Fransk, and Norway becomes Njord, and so on. The device serves to suspend the story in time in a way that gives it a fairy-tale-esque feel.

Pattou tells the story through five different narrators, and she does it very well. Multiple viewpoints in a novel is a double-edged sword: yes, it allows one to show all sides of the story and help the reader understand many different characters, but it’s also incredibly easy to do badly and it can turn into sloppy storytelling very quickly. Pattou doesn’t let that happen.

It’s a mark of her talent as an author that all her narrators (Rose, the White Bear, Rose’s brother Neddy, Rose’s Father, and the Troll Queen) have five very distinct narrative voices (actually, technically, six, as the White Bear has a different voice when he’s a bear and when he’s human). Pattou uses the technique truly to show all sides of the story. We get into Rose’s head, but it’s from Rose’s Father that we learn the true story of Rose’s birth and the lie she’s spent her life being told. From the White Bear, in halting verse, we hear how he’s watched Rose since she was little, once saving her life when she fell into an icy river. From Neddy, we learn of Rose’s personality and wandering ways, and from the Troll Queen, we get an ominous omnipresence, showing that never is anyone in this story truly unobserved. All these voices combine to tell the story, without being redundant, without overlapping, and without getting confused with one another, which is a tremendous accomplishment.

So the story goes on and we see the struggle of this family and get to know the characters, and then, predictably, Rose discovers the lie of her birth. Rose is infuriated, as one might expect, and it’s right in the middle of this that the White Bear shows up and makes his request. And Rose, angry at her parents and wanting an adventure of her own, says yes before anyone can stop her, climbs on the bear’s back, and rides off with him.

I love the importance that names play in this retelling, especially given that in the original, they are so insignificant as to be non-existent. But here, the names mean something. Rose has her false name, Ebba, her “true” name, Nyamh, and then the name that everyone calls her that is a merging of the false and the true, Rose. Similarly, we have the White Bear, who has been a bear for so long that he no longer remembers his human name, and at the end of the story, he isn’t willing to start a future with Rose until he has a name, and therefore a history, to offer her.

Perhaps the biggest deviation that the first half of the story offers is the combination of the Troll Queen and Troll Princess into one character. A century and a half before, when she was just a princess, she saw and lusted after a human child. Her father refused to obtain the boy for her, as he was a prince and so would be missed. Wanting the boy even more once she’d been told she couldn’t have him, she stole the prince away. Her father, enraged, put the spell on the boy to turn him into a white bear, and set conditions for his daughter’s punishment, as well as the conditions for how the spell could be broken. In the present day, then, her father has died and she is Queen, and the terms of the enchantment are almost up. And she is watching with desire and amusement as events with the white bear and Rose unfold, and it really serves to add that sense of futility to Rose’s time at the castle – as a reader you want her to succeed, and as a reader, you see her strengths and know that she is capable of succeeding. But through the Troll Queen’s eyes, you see her weaknesses, and you know how the Queen is going manipulate things to her advantage. You can see it coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Knowing that Rose will eventually want to return home, the Queen works her arts to play on Rose’s mother’s superstitions and plant the idea that something is wrong that Rose isn’t telling her. I like that this adds a reason to the bear’s warning not to talk with her mother alone. It isn’t that the mother is a bad person, she’s just easily worried and concerned about her daughter’s safety. And the Queen takes advantage of it, planting the magic candle in the marketplace for the mother to discover, knowing that she will give it to Rose and that Rose, too curious for her own good, will use it.

Which is exactly what happens. Before the month she spent at home, Rose never worried about who slept beside her. She noticed that whoever it was shivered in the night, which led her to guess that it was somehow the white bear who has shed his fur, and she even wove him a nightshirt of the loose bear fur she found around the castle. But then, her mother plants this idea, and Rose begins having horrifying nightmares. Eventually, she can’t take it any more, so she lights the candle. The wax falls, the man awakens, the Troll Queen appears to take him away.

Why I love this moment in Pattou’s hands: Rose finds herself outside the magic castle after the Queen has driven away with the man who was a white bear. And for one shining moment, she thinks, “I’m free. I can go home now.” Then she remembers the look on his face. And she knows she can’t go home. She writes a letter to Neddy, and another reason I love this character: in the letter, she tells her mother (who has been wracked with guilt over her actions) that she doesn’t blame her: “You gave me the candle,” she says, “but the choice to use it was mine.” LOVE.

There are no old women with golden apples in this book, and there are no personified winds. Instead, the two sets of characters are combined and made into real people: the east and south winds a mother and daughter in France who start Rose on her journey. The west wind, an old, drunk Viking who sails Rose as far as Greenland/Gronland*, and Malmo, an Inuit shaman who takes Rose north, across the Arctic tundra, teaching her to survive the harsh and frozen land. With Malmo, she goes as far as the bridge that will take her to the land of the trolls.

So, here’s something that always bothered me about the original: a human girl shows up in the land of the trolls, bargaining with the troll princess and making demands to see the human prince, and nobody stops her. Nobody questions this at all. What, do random humans just show up there every day? For Rose, it’s not that easy. For Rose, she has to figure out how to blend in, how to work her way into a position where she can just be in the same room with the prince, let alone get a chance to talk to him. In the original story, she’s there for three days. In East, she’s there for weeks.

And part of the struggle is in what the Troll Queen has done to the prince as well. You have to ask yourself why the prince never tried to get away on his own, why he never tried to leave. We know he’s given a sleeping potion at night, but Pattou fills in the rest of it, too. He’s not just being given a good night’s sleep he’s being drugged to the point where he doesn’t remember that he was once a white bear, who Rose is, or that all this is the Queen’s doing. He thinks she rescued him from an evil sorcerer, so Rose doesn’t just have to find a way to wake him up, she has to find a way to make him remember who he is.

I appreciate that extra struggle because it shows us Rose’s resourcefulness. We see what she is willing to do and what she is able to do in pursuit both of righting a wrong. Oh, and winning back the man she loves from the evil Troll Queen. That too.

And yet, once she’s broken through the spell and won back the prince and defeated the Trolls, it’s not smooth sailing. There’s no North Wind to blow them back to civilization. The White Bear and Rose have to lead the enslaved humans back through the frozen tundra, and in the middle of trying to survive and trying to get home, there is too much that needs to be said and too much that can’t be said between Rose and the White Bear, and watching them fight through that to their eventual conclusion is so much more fulfilling than the easy happily ever after. And that is what Pattou delivers.

From start to finish, this is a magnificent book. Does it have what I’ve looking for in an adaptation? Let's head to the checklist, shall we?

Kick-ass but flawed heroine? Check. Rose is the girl from the fairy tale given three dimensional form. She's headstrong and stubborn and overly curious, but when she cares about someone, she cares whole-heartedly. She adventurous, brave, and willing to take responsibility for her actions. She is marvelous.

Dimension given to other players? Yes. The other voices of the story -- the father, Neddy, the white bear, the troll queen -- are all distinct and different, which is wonderful. But beyond that, the smaller players are wonderfully diverse. The four "winds" in particular are fabulous, but they’re all rich and wonderful characters.

Eliminating the repetition? Check and Check. The way Pattou handled the journey portion of the story was masterful, but then, that just fits in with the novel as a whole. 

This book has been near the top of my All Time Favorites list for many years now, and there it remains, both as a general favorite, a fantastically told story, and a truly masterful fairy tale adaptation.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

East of the Sun, West of the Moon (According to Cassie)

East of the Sun, West of the Moon (According to Cassie)

So basically, there’s a poor family with lots of kids. They used to be able to get by all right, but now their farm is failing, and they’re having trouble doing things like keeping everyone adequately fed. You know, minor stuff. Things keep getting more and more dire until one wintery night, a talking polar bear shows up at their doorstep and tells them that if they will give him their youngest daughter, he will make all their problems go away.
In some versions, the father says, “No way, you can’t take my daughter, are you crazy?” and in others, he says, “Sure, sounds good to me,” but regardless of whether or not the father gets labeled one of those crazy heartless fairy tale men, the girl in question steps forward and accepts the terms since, really, one would hope it’s up to her in the end, anyway.
As she rides away on the back of the white bear, they speak only once. He asks, “Are you afraid?” and she says, “No.” Proving that she’s either incredibly courageous or incredibly naive. Or just putting on a good display of bravado.

Anyway, the white bear (and no. None of these characters have names. I don’t think we get one name in the whole tale) takes her back to his palace, which is hidden and secluded and magical. And for a kidnaped fairy tale heroine, things could be worse. Her time is her own. No demands are made of her. All her wishes and desires are provided for. And the white bear isn’t ruthless or cruel or vicious. In fact, as time goes on, they become friends.
The only strange thing about the palace at all (apart from the magic) is that every night, the lights are extinguished, and someone climbs into the bed with her. She can’t see who, can’t light a light, can’t speak. But whoever it is means no harm. Just climbs in and sleeps, and eventually, she becomes accustomed to it.
But as time goes on, the girl gets lonesome and homesick, to the point of making herself ill. And so the white bear allows her to visit her family, on three conditions. One, she has to come back in a month. Two, she can’t talk about her life at the castle. And three, under no circumstances is she to allow her mother the chance to talk with her alone.
So, needless to say, her mother eventually gets her alone and gets the story of the nights with the mysterious stranger out of her. The girl does return on time, though, unlike Beauty and the Beast, but with an addition from her mother – a magic candle that will light under any circumstance. Also, a worry planted in her mind that she’s sleeping beside some horrible monster every night.
Unfortunately, her mother’s words get the better of her, and she starts to have nightmares about her sleeping companion. Eventually, she can’t stand it anymore, and she lights the magic candle and looks to see who it is that sleeps beside her. And lo and behold, it’s a handsome young man, and not a monster at all! She’s so captivated that she doesn’t notice her candle dripping, and three drops of wax fall on the man’s nightshirt and awaken him (ow).
When he realizes what she’s done, he is distressed and distraught because (of course) he is the white bear, placed under a curse when he refused to marry the Troll Queen’s daughter. White bear by day, man by night, unless a human girl could sleep beside him for year and never see his mortal face.
Oops. Icing on the cake? There was about a week (or month, depending on the version) left before the conditions would have been fulfilled.
And she’s in for it now because the Troll Queen is coming to take him away to the land that lies east of the sun and west of the moon, to marry the Troll Princess. And sure enough, he’s whisked away.
Horrified at what she’s done, the girl immediately sets out to find him and free him (because this is no weak-ass Disney damsel in distress, ladies and gents). She doesn’t know the way, but that doesn’t stop her.
She journeys along and eventually comes upon an old woman picking golden apples. The woman asks for her help, which the girl provides, and in exchange, she is given a golden apple and advice to seek out the woman’s sister, who might be able to help her find the land she is looking for. This happens twice more, with two more old women and golden carding combs and a golden spindle. The last old woman takes her to the East Wind.
But the East wind can’t take her where she needs to go. Fortunately, the East Wind has a brother stronger and faster, so the girl is taken to the West Wind. And yes, this repeats as well, through the West Wind and South Wind until we get to the North Wind, who has been to the land she seeks, but long ago. If she is not afraid, however, he will journey there again for her.
So, riding the back of the North Wind, our girl finally makes it to the land that lies east of the sun and west of the moon – a land at the top of the world where the Trolls live.
And wouldn’t you know it, she’s arrived just in time. The prince is to be married in three days. She takes her golden apple and goes to try and strike a deal with the troll princess. Which she does – her apple for a night in the prince’s room. But, predictably, when she gets there, she cannot awaken him. So the next day, she trades her golden combs. But again, she cannot wake him. Luckily, though, two human servants have watched her and heard her tell her tale to the sleeping prince, and so they sneak in to his rooms the next day and warn him not to drink what he is offered by the trolls.
And so, when the girl trades the spindle for one last night, the prince is awake when she goes to find him. They confess their love for one another and hatch A Plan.
The next day is the grand wedding. But! Before the prince and the troll princess can be wed, he asks a favor of her. He says that in the land he comes from, a bride offers a gift to her husband. The princess agrees, and so the prince asks that she wash clean a shirt for him – the shirt he was wearing the night the girl spilled candle wax on him. He says that he will marry only the girl who can wash the shirt clean (so we all know where this is going, right?)
Predictably, the princess fails. In fact, she makes the stain worse. So the Queen tries next, but the stain only grows bigger and darker. By the time she’s had her servants at it, the whole shirt is black. Shaking his head in disappointment, the prince says, “I’ll bet even this beggar girl can wash that shirt clean,” and brings the girl up. Of course, under her ministrations, the shirt is cleansed white as snow, and the trolls are so infuriated, they tear themselves apart, leaving the prince and the girl to return home and live happily ever after.

Thoughts on the original tale:

I love this story. There’s a reason it’s my favorite fairy tale, and that reason is almost entirely the main character. This girl is fearless, adventurous, and curious, but she’s also headstrong, lacks forethought, and is perhaps too curious for her own good. She is, in other words, flawed in a very real way, and that makes her a much more human character than many of her “paragon of virtue” counterparts in other fairy tales. But what truly sets her apart from many of those other fairy tale characters is that when she makes a mistake, she doesn’t hesitate before going out to fix it. This story reminds us that our actions have consequences, and that the world doesn’t come with a magic wand to wave all our problems away. When we make mistakes, it’s our responsibility to set them right. A far cry from the “sit back and cry about your problems until someone comes to fix them” message of a lot of tales.
I also love the motivation behind the girl’s journey. It isn’t about rescuing her one true love. She doesn’t set off after the man who was once a white bear because she loves him and has to find a way to be with him. She sets off after him because he was hurt as a result of her actions, and she has to set that to rights. The love story is secondary in this tale, and I truly appreciate that.

So, what am I looking for in an adaptation?

    The kick-ass heroine is the big one. I don’t want her to be simplified or dumbed down. I want that rich mix of flaw and virtue.

    Dimension given to all the major players. If there’s one thing the original story lacks, it’s this. Even the white bear isn’t terribly well defined, and everyone else is pretty two-dimensional.

    Along with the last point, eliminating some of the repetition. This is a long story, and part of what makes the middle drag a little bit is that all three old women are exactly the same, and all the girl’s encounters with them are exactly the same. Same goes for the winds, so that by the time I get to the last of them, I’m saying, “Okay, let’s get on with it!”

The Line Up for the month:

Week 1: East by Edith Pattou
Week 2: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
Week 3: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Week 4: Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis McKiernan

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