Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Little Red Riding Hood Wrap Up

Little Red Riding Hood Wrap Up

So, this month, we looked at another of those problem fairy tales, those “Then I Found Five Dollar” tales. And similarly to Rumpelstiltskin, in wrapping up the month and looking at how our different authors chose to handle adapting the tale, we’re going to set aside Cloaked in Red for the time being, and look at the three novels that weren’t written specifically to address the issues of the original tale: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue, and Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George.

So the first thing I noticed about these three novels is that in exactly none of them is Little Red a child. Scarlet is 19 and Ruth and Petunia are both 16, and this directly ties in with the second thing I noticed, which was that in exactly none of these novels was the wolf an actual wolf. Scarlet came the closest, making Wolf a sort of human-wolf hybrid, and there’s the werewolf bit in Scarlet Moon, but essentially, all of these novels portray the wolf as human. Which leads directly to the last thing I noticed:

In each and every one of these novels, the wolf became a love interest for Little Red.

This point is a little disturbing to me. I mean, I get it, we live in a culture where every story has to have a romance, and Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t, but . . . the wolf? The creature who preys on Little Red in the original story, who wants to kill her? That’s who we’re choosing to turn into a love interest?

And I mean, yes, all three of these novels also have a secondary wolf in there somewhere who fills the bloodthirsty, wanting Little Red to die role, allowing these primary wolves to also play the role of the hunstmen, but . . . still.

Honestly, as much as I loved Scarlet and Princess of the Silver Woods, I am a little disappointed that no one took a different direction with this story. No one made the wolf a real wolf, no one made Little Red a child, everyone turned it into a romance. Which is fine, looking at each novel individually. But all together, seeing the stories that, boiled down to essentials, are so similar . . . I don’t know. To me, making Little Red older and turning the wolf into the love interest is the easy way to retell this story, and I find myself wishing that someone had taken a more challenging route.

So to that end, thank you Vivian Vande Velde.

I also noticed that of the people we read this month, only one chose to deliberately retell Little Red specifically, creating a world around that story. We’re leaving Cloaked in Red aside again, because of the different motivation in writing it, and Scarlet and Princess of the Silver Woods both used LRRH as a sequel structure, fitting the fairy tale into a world already established for another fairy tale, and while they both did it very well, LRRH was not the starting point for either of them.

At the end of the day, the offerings we have on this story say a lot about how well it lends itself to retelling, which is: not very well. The most successful adaptations this month didn’t try to retell the story on its own, but wove the elements of the story in with others, which I feel like you almost have to do with a story this problematic.

So! Rankings for the month:

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde, Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George, and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer all receive Highly Recommended ratings for vastly different reasons.

Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue gets a Not Recommended from me, but with the caveat that it is very much not my cup of tea, but isn’t necessarily badly written.

May’s fairy tale, and the last fairy tale of the year and the project, is Sleeping Beauty. See you tomorrow!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: When Petunia, the youngest of King Gregor's twelve dancing daughters, is invited to visit an elderly friend in the neighboring country of Westfalin, she welcomes the change of scenery. But in order to reach Westfalin, Petunia must pass through a forest where strange two-legged wolves are rumored to exist. Wolves intent on redistributing the wealth of the noble citizens who have entered their territory. But the bandit-wolves prove more rakishly handsome than truly dangerous, and it's not until Petunia reaches her destination that she realizes the kindly grandmother she has been summoned to visit is really an enemy bent on restoring an age-old curse.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling in combination with the legend of Robin Hood

So, I’m facing some significant challenges summarizing this one for you, not because it’s not good, and not because it’s not Little Red Riding Hood, and not because the LRRH narrative doesn’t extend fully throughout the novel. No, all those things are true. But Princess of the Silver Woods written by the object of my literary adoration, Jessica Day George, is the final book in the Princesses of Westfalin trilogy, the final sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass, which means that while it tells LRRH and tells it fully, the plot that LRRH arranges to is very much the final plot of a trilogy.

In other words, this book is more concluding the story of PotMB and PoG than it is being a Little Red Riding Hood narrative.

But I’m gonna do the best I can, and I’m gonna try not to stray too far from what is LRRH.

So! Our Little Red character is Petunia, also known as the youngest sister from PotMB, and one of the things I really like about the way this is set up is that, in PotMB, Petunia was six, so she couldn’t really fulfill the role of the kickass youngest princess in The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but now, it’s ten years later, and Petunia is grown and a person with opinions and she’s kind of a badass.

As the story starts, she is traveling through the woods near the border of Westfalin in a carriage when they are set upon by the “Wolves” of Westfalin – a band of thieves living in the forest, stealing from the rich who pass by while wearing masks like wolves to protect their identities. In other words, enter Robin Hood, whose name in this case is Oliver.

But Petunia is no fainting damsel, and after all the trouble she and her sisters have had, she carries a pistol and she knows how to use it, so she points it in Oliver’s face and basically says, “yeah, no. How about you leave us alone?” And that in combination with the coach driver slapping the reigns on the horses and taking off through the forest gets them free of the Wolves and back on course to visit the old Grand Duchess Petunia met in Russaka during the Great Inter-Country Marriage Swap of three years before.

Oliver watches her go, impressed in spite of himself, because Petunia is tiny and really doesn’t look like much, but she didn’t hesitate to pull a pistol on him and threaten to use it. He doesn’t know who she is at this point, but he’s pretty captivated by her.

Unfortunately for Petunia, the mad dash through the forest damaged the carriage and one of the horses, and they’re still too far from the Duchess’s estate to try and walk there, and night is coming. The guards accompanying them will stand watch against the Wolves, but when Petunia heads toward the trees to relieve herself, Oliver manages to capture her and abduct her, taking her back to the cottage estate in the woods where, it turns out, he lives with his mother and brother and band of men he’s responsible for.

And his mother, one Lady Emily, recognizes Petunia immediately, for she looks just like her mother, and Lady Emily was one of Queen Maude’s ladies in waiting. This is when Oliver starts to realize just how much trouble he might be in.

Oliver, it turns out, is supposed to be an earl, but the war saw his earldom split into pieces and given to the losing country, and the estate that should have been his is the one Petunia was on her way to. Petunia learns all this and feels awful, and promises to talk to her father about it, presuming Oliver will let her become un-kidnaped.

Which he does. In fact, he sees her safely to the estate, though he himself almost gets caught by Prince Grigori (the Grand Duchess’s grandson) and his hunters, who have been charged with trying to find the Wolves and bring them to justice. They repeatedly fail. But having to run for safety puts Oliver in a position to observe Petunia in the Grand Duchess’s home, and he comes quickly to the conclusion that she is not entirely safe there.

And this is where we leave the LRRH narrative behind for a bit. So we’ve got our Little Red here in Petunia, a girl journeying through a forest to see her grandmother, or grandmother equivalent. She wears a red cloak, made over from one of Rose’s gowns from long ago, and on her journey, she encounters a wolf who forces her off the path, but eventually, she makes it to her grandmother’s, a place where she is not entirely safe.

The LRRH narrative doesn’t come back until much later in the novel, and what I really appreciate about what Jessica Day George has done is that she’s layered two tellings of this story on top of one another. You have the one summarized above, set in the real world, where Oliver is the Wolf and Prince Grigori and his men are the hunters who “save” Petunia from the Wolf. And then, near the novel’s end, we have the one set in the Land Under Stone (which Petunia and her sisters are forced to return to).

In this half of the story, Petunia is traveling through another forest, this one the silver forest that grew from her mother’s cross so many years ago. Here the wolf she seeks to escape is Prince Kestilan, the youngest son of the King Under Stone, who was to be Petunia’s betrothed, and the reason she strays from the path is because if she ventures into the trees of blessed silver, Kestilan cannot follow her.

And again, she ends up at a cottage in the wood, and the grandmother figure is in the cottage, and is still the Grand Duchess. But when Petunia sees her here, she recognizes her for who she is, noting her green eyes and the shape of her face, identifying her as one who bore a half-human son to the King Under Stone. In this half of the LRRH story, the “wolf” who attacks her is Grigori, who wants to force her to stay, to use her as leverage against the King, and the hunter who rescues her is Oliver.

I love how these two layered versions play with our perception of the story, and I love how the roles of the wolf and the hunter are swapped, and how you can play with the LRRH imagery to layer a third series of events into it: falling into the Land Under Stone being equated with being swallowed by the wolf, and the combined efforts of the hunters – in this case, the magicians and husbands and Oliver – being what releases both our Little Red and all her sisters from the belly of the beast. It’s very impressively done, and I may be reading too much into it, but it’s Jessica Day George, so probably not.

And that’s as much as I’m going to summarize, really, except to wrap up our Robin Hood portion and assure you that Oliver got his earldom back, and he and Petunia were set to live pretty happily ever after.


Make Little Red less of an idiot? Hells to the yes. What I have loved about these princesses from the beginning is that they are not meek and simpering. Each one of them knows how to shoot a pistol, they constantly fight against their curse, and they are as responsible for rescuing themselves as anyone else is, and Petunia is no exception. She is smart, and she figures things out, and she fights against being seen as the “baby” of the family, and it’s lovely.

Develop the world? Yes, and like Marissa Meyer before her, Jessica Day George has also managed to work this new story into the brilliant and fully developed world she created two books ago.

Give me a point? Without a doubt. The reason for telling the story was obvious and inherent, and it was all done so brilliantly.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue

Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Ruth's grandmother lives in the forest, banished there for the "evil" that the townsfolk believed she practiced. But if studying the stars, learning about nature, and dreaming of flying is evil, then Ruth is guilty of it too. Whenever Ruth took food and supplies to her grandmother, she would sit with the old woman for hours, listening and learning.

When she wasn't in the woods, Ruth was learning the trade of her father, a blacksmith, now that her brother would never return from the Crusades.

Amidst those dark days, a new man enters Ruth's life. William is a noble with a hot temper and a bad name, and he makes her shiver. But the young man is prey to his heritage, a curse placed on his family ages ago, and each male of the family has strange blood running in his veins. Now Ruth must come face-to-face with his destiny at Grandma's house.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling (I feel like I should call it Historical Recontextualization, because it’s set against the backdrop of the Crusades, but given that the Crusades spanned 200 years, we’re never told which Crusade it is, we’re never given a country in which it takes place, and magic’s a real thing, I decided ‘Retelling’ was the best bet)

So I feel like I ought to start this review with an apology to my friend Drew because when I started reading the Once Upon a Time series back in high school, this was his favorite book of that series, but when I read it, I hated it. That was almost a decade ago, though, so I tried to go into the reread with an open mind, but . . . sorry, Drew. I still hated it. At least now, though, I hope I can be better about articulating why.

And the best way I can think of to do that is to explain that Northanger Abbey is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and then to reassure you that, yes, this has a point. See, Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s most satirical novel, and it spends the majority of its time making fun of Gothic romances and everything they entail. I love this because I hate Gothic romances and the tired and cliche melodrama they’re made up of.

In other words, if Jane Austen was writing today, it would be books like Scarlet Moon that she was making fun of. This book is so over-the-top melodramatic, teen paranormal romance in the worst way. And hey. If that’s your thing, fine. But for me? Let’s just say that forcing myself to finish this novel was a pretty big task. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

So, we start with a girl, Ruth, who is walking through the woods one day as a child when she and her brother are attacked by a giant wolf. Ruth’s brother manages to wound the animal with his dagger and he chases the beast off, then gets Ruth back to the village to be cared for – the wolf’s attack leaves her with huge scars all down her legs, injuries that it takes months to recover from.

The entire village turns out to hunt down the wolf that attacked their children, and they find and kill and huge one, but Ruth examines it, and she knows, it’s not the same wolf (because this, spoiler, is a werewolf story, and apparently when the man in question changes to a werewolf, everything except his eyes transforms, so Ruth knows it’s not the same wolf because it doesn’t have green eyes. Which I find to be stupid, but hey. That might just be me.)

And in typing this review, and being reminded of this point, I’m forced to point out something of a continuity error — we’re told later that there are no longer any natural wolves in the area, because the presence of the werewolf has forced them all away, and the werewolves have been here for generations – so where exactly did this other wolf come from?

Anyway, a few months after the attack, Ruth’s brother and cousin leave for the Crusades, and to prove her strength to her father, Ruth takes up her brother’s work in their father’s blacksmith shop.

Anyway, we flash forward several years, to when Ruth is sixteen, I believe. She is still working as a blacksmith, which I felt could have been a point of interest and used to make important commentary had it been used to inform her character at all or served any point other than being something to Set Her Apart from the townspeople and be the Thing That Her True Love Accepts later on in the story.

Anyway, Ruth’s days are monotonous, filled with working at the smithy and visiting her grandmother in the woods, banished there by the townsfolk who believe her to be a witch, but not strongly enough that they’re going to do what people did in Europe during this time and burn her or anything.

And strange things happen in the woods. There’s that wolf attack that happened when Ruth was a child, and Ruth finds a naked man on the path one day who runs away as she approaches, and the trees talk (maybe? I don’t know. I’ve read this book twice now, and I still can’t figure out if the trees are actually supposed to be talking or if it’s just narrative anthropomorphization to help set mood), but that’s really the most exciting thing that ever happens in her life.

Until her cousin comes back from the Crusades, broken in body and spirit and bearing the awful news that Ruth’s brother was killed.

Peter’s return seems to incite the rest of the action to begin. It is shortly after Peter returns that Ruth meets Lord William for the first time. Ruth is alone in the smithy when the tanner comes to pick up some knives, and he’s trying to get out of paying the bill and being disrespectful to Ruth, and Lord William comes in and goes Lord of the Manor all over his ass, much to Ruth’s embarrassment and indignation.

He’s come in because he needs his horse shoed, and at first, Ruth has no idea who he is, so she berates him for trying to take care of her when she had the situation in hand. William finds this attitude refreshing because of course he does, and then when Ruth finds out who he is, she’s mortified with her behavior, but William expresses the wish that she will always treat him in such a way.

And the whole meeting and the whole conversation is underlined by sexual tension because of course it is. And then we follow William, who returns to his manor and walks broodingly through his portrait gallery and swears that he has to stay away from Ruth because he will not condemn her to a cursed life, an oath that he makes about twenty times over the course of the novel and always breaks because this is that book.

In Gothic romances of the 18th and 19th century, you had the pure, innocent, naive, virginal maiden. And then you had the dark and foreboding man of the world, corrupted by the pleasures of the world, who seeks to lead the maiden into temptation down that dark and sexual path, the man who is a danger to the maiden’s virtue, but keeps returning to her despite knowing he will be her ruin because he just can’t stay away.

This? Reads exactly like that. There’s not the puritanical emphasis on the maiden’s virginity, and the man in question is less corrupt man of the world and more cursed werewolf, but the structure is there and fully in tact. He is a danger to her. He knows he is a danger to her. He states several times that if he truly wanted what was best for her, he would stay away and never speak to her again.

Spoiler: he always speaks to her again.

And like the naive virginal maiden she’s paralleling, Ruth becomes preoccupied with William as well, and he ends up giving her a gift, a silver cross that he urges her to wear for protection. Grandma in the woods is pretty sure that more is going on here than Ruth is aware of, and that William has a dangerous secret he isn’t communicating.

And then the full moon rolls around and horrible things start happening. Namely, the tanner who was so rude to Ruth is found brutally murdered – by a wolf. Ruth knows nothing about William being a werewolf at this point, but William is pretty sure he did it, though he can’t remember anything about his transformation, which is troubling because usually he can. But, he states, since meeting Ruth, his self-control is shot to pieces.

That’s right, folks. He is so overcome by lust for this girl that he’s lost control of the incredibly necessary mind exercises designed to keep him from savagely killing anyone in the three days he spends as a wolf. I feel like this is something he should really focus on fixing, but his attitude toward it seems to be “Well, that’s that. I’m a goner. Nothing to be done.” In fact, his whole attitude toward Ruth is like that.

And he “can’t stay away from her,” which is bullshit. I mean, seriously, dude. I feel like I’m supposed to be sympathetic to this plight in a “true love has a call that cannot be denied” sort of way, but I just think William is a selfish bastard who just got reminded that girls are a thing. Like, seriously, he gives her this cross and then kisses her and then says, “No! You have to stay away from me because I’m dangerous!” and I’m just like, dude. Lock yourself in a room and deal with it. But don’t put that on her when you’re the one who keeps showing up and you’re the only one who fully understands just how dangerous you actually are, you know what I’m saying?

Anyway, during one of those “can’t stay away from her” moments, he ends up at the smithy to sneak a conversation with her, but encounters her father, and is all, hey, I need Ruth to come . . . shoe my 130 horses! Which, I’m sorry, how many horses did you say you just had? Over 100? A small-time country lord? Has over a hundred horses? This does not seem accurate to me. But what do I know, right? I mean, it’s not like I did the research – except, oh wait. Yes I did. (For those who don’t want to wade through the article, it states that the royal household of England in the 1400s had 60 horses for personal use and 180 for carts and chariots. Which, yes, is over 130, but it’s the frickin’ royal household, with a huge and massive court and lots of traffic. Lord William? Lives alone with his servants. Wikipedia and I call bullshit on your 130 horses, Vigue).

Sorry. Tangent done. So, another full moon happens, and Ruth is attacked again by a wolf. And she recognizes the wolf – it’s the same one that attacked her as a child. And when William comes to get her to shoe his 130 horses, she tells him, and he realizes that he attacked her, and he is so overcome with guilt that he confesses everything to her. And Ruth is so angry with him that she almost takes her dagger and kills him, but instead — she kisses him. She kisses him, and then, in a conversation that defies logic, but sadly not my expectations in any way, he tells her again that he’s dangerous and she really ought to stay away from him, but if she won’t do that, would she consider marrying him, maybe?

Because, yeah. That makes sense. Dude, are you even legitimately trying to keep this girl safe anymore, or has your entire world focused down to your need to get laid? Because seriously, what the hell?

Anyway, Ruth accepts him because of course she does, remember, it’s that book, and they have this talk about having died a little every day since they met and nothing, no curse, no murderous actions, can ever come between their love, and are you two forgetting that you’ve met, like, twice, and the first time was less than a week ago. Because I’m not.

Anyway, the scene gets real sexual real fast, until Ruth plays the “I’m a pure virginal maiden and must remain so” card, which will make an appearance basically every time they’re alone together from here til the end of the novel. When they’re apart, however, they each grapple with the decision and almost call off the wedding, and then they see each other again and are so consumed with lust that they just have to go through with it.

Granny posits that there must be a way to break the curse, and Ruth agrees. She says that she will set herself up with William when he transforms next and watch him, to ensure that he doesn’t go kill anyone else. So they chain him up in the manor, and I don’t know why this isn’t a thing that’s done really every month. And Ruth sits in the room with this wolf, trusting that the Power of her Love will keep him sane – which works until she falls asleep and he gets free.

Ruth, you had one job.

And while he’s free, a couple who visited Granny in secret are killed. Ruth finds their mangled bodies and knows she has to find William before the villagers do. She runs to Granny, but instead of getting help there, she finds Peter (you remember Peter? The cousin from the Crusades? Turns out he’s been studying with Granny, hoping that she really is a witch who will teach him Dark magic so he can go get his revenge in the Holy Land, and he’s gone a bit round the bend and thinks he’s a wolf now). With filed teeth and the wolf paw from the wolf that the village killed all those years ago, he’s been committing these murders, and now that Ruth has discovered him trying to kill Granny, he has to kill her.

But before he can, William the Wolf shows up and rips his throat out! Ruth’s hero! In his beast form, he savagely murders people to protect her! That’s the way to a girl’s heart!

Once he’s human again – and through the Power of Love and Plot Convenience can remember everything! – they hide all the bodies and Ruth and William decide to go ahead and get married and just deal with the wolf thing as best they can, and that’s when Granny goes, no just take this here portrait of the guy who got cursed and chuck it in the fire. Curse broken.

Yeah. It’s that simple. And I’m done.
The whole thing is just so melodramatic and so over the top that I was just rolling my eyes constantly.

And the thing is, it’s not that this is a bad book, not really. I mean, it’s got it’s bad moments and the characterization can be lacking and there are some plot issues, but it’s not the kind of bad book that I get great pleasure out of tearing to pieces, as has been true with some titles this year. It’s more that this book is telling a story I have absolutely no interest in, and have never had an interest in.

I don’t do teen paranormal romance. I just don’t enjoy it. It’s the Gothic Romance genre of the 18th century updated for today’s generation, and I just don’t understand the appeal. I don’t get why so many readers these days get so obsessed over stories that paint the ideal romance as one that is forbidden and dangerous. The innocent maiden who knowingly and willingly puts her life and her virtue in the hands of a man who could literally kill her. It’s tired, and cliche, and it was tired and cliche before Twilight got ahold of it. It’s Wuthering Heights and The Mysteries of Udolpho all over again, just with werewolves and vampires in place of angsty philanderers, and I’m sorry, but that’s not a story that interests me.

And I’m not saying that this highly sexualized version of events isn’t a perfectly valid interpretation of the Little Red Riding Hood story – it totally is, given the origins of this fairy tale. It’s just not an interpretation I have any intention of rereading ever again.

But let’s plug it into the checklist.

Make Little Red less of an idiot? Well, she’s certainly not an idiot in the same way as LRRH’s main character. She’s not “dumb and unobservant as a box of rocks” idiotic. But I would argue that she’s still pretty idiotic, willingly letting this man be a part of her life even knowing what he’s done to her in the past. So, half a point.

Develop the world? Yeah, this is where Vigue loses me. What the hell is going on with your world? What country are we in? Which Crusade is being fought? What’s our time period? And most importantly, what the heck is going on with your magical parameters? Okay, witches and werewolves are a thing, I get that, but Granny? Is she a witch? And what’s going on with the trees? I just felt lost, like the characters knew things about their world that they weren’t sharing with me, and it got annoying. No point.

Give me a point? Yeah, okay. I didn’t much care for it, but I guess it was there. So I’ll give you this one.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Type of Adaptation: Futuristic Retelling

So, Scarlet is the sequel to Cinder, which we read last month, and I was a little wary of adding it to the review list because of that. And true enough, there’s about half of this book I won’t be touching because it’s a continuation of Cinder’s story, which isn’t our current focus. But I really wanted to read this sequel, and it was Little Red Riding Hood, so . . .

And as an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, this book surprised me. But in a good way.

Where Cinder took place in the Asia area of this futuristic, post-WWIV version of earth, Scarlet takes place in Europe, specifically France. Scarlet is a teenage girl who works alongside her grandmother at a small country farm. Scarlet is largely responsible for driving the delivery hover to vendors in the city and delivering their food.

But Scarlet has been fighting a problem for some time when our story opens, and that’s that her grandmother is missing, and has been for almost two weeks. The police have decided that there is no foul play involved in her disappearance, but Scarlet knows otherwise, and if the police won’t help her, then Scarlet is determined to find her grandmother on her own.

She tries to get the townspeople to help, tries to unite them with concern, but her grandmother was considered pretty odd, and no one wants to help. Scarlet’s temper gets the better of her, and she’s thrown out of the tavern, but she did manage to catch the attention of one person, a street fighter who’s known as Wolf.

So already, we’ve got these familiar elements popping up. A LRRH figure, named Scarlet, whose job is delivering food. She wears an old red hoodie, and she’s looking for her grandmother. And now, we have a character named Wolf.

What I really appreciate about this book is how seamlessly the story of Little Red Riding Hood is blended into the world created for Cinderella. In fact, LRRH actually ends up making a little bit more sense in this world in many ways, but we’ll get to that.

Anyway, Scarlet tentatively accepts Wolf’s help, but that changes when her father, who she hasn’t been on speaking terms with for years, shows up at the farm, claiming that he barely escaped with his life from the people who kidnaped him – and who have Scarlet’s grandmother. He’s able to tell Scarlet that he was tortured by a man with a tattoo of numbers and letters, starting with LSO. And it just so happens that Scarlet knows someone with that tattoo.

She confronts Wolf, furious, thinking he’s behind her grandmother’s kidnaping, and eventually, he manages to convince her otherwise. Yes, he acknowledges, he bears that tattoo, but so do many others. The letters LSOP stand for the Loyal Society of the Pack, a city street gang from Paris. He was a member, but he left, and now it seems the Pack has Scarlet’s grandmother, so she accepts his help to travel to Paris and find her.

But Wolf isn’t what he seems, and really, that sentence can sum up the majority of this book – Wolf’s double and triple and quadruple crossing is incredibly complex and complicated and really quite fascinating.

Because LSOP doesn’t stand for Loyal Society of the Pack, at least not exclusively. It stands for Lunar Special Operative, and this is where Meyer gets brilliant.

Remember in Cinder, that the bad guy in question was the Lunar Queen Levana, who ruled the colony on the moon? Well, she’s still a threat, and it turns out that these LSOP boys are hers. She’s been sending Pack’s like Wolf’s into the major cities of Earth for months, genetically altered Lunar males with the instincts, senses, and killing abilities of wolves — wolfish humans, connected to the moon? LRRH meets the Lunar Chronicles universe seamlessly.

Scarlet’s grandmother, it turns out, was kidnaped by the Pack because years ago, she was the pilot who flew the first and only diplomatic mission to the moon, and Queen Levana thinks she had something to do with saving Princess Selene, the true heir of Luna, who is in fact, Cinder, if you’ll remember my disappointment (which has lessened somewhat with Cinder’s side of the story in this book, as it isn’t being treated as a magical fix, which is nice).

So the Pack has Scarlet’s grandmother, but she has proven herself to be immune to the Lunar mind-control, and Wolf’s initial mission was to find a safeguard against that. To go undercover into Scarlet’s town, convince her he had left the Pack because he disagreed with their actions, win her trust and loyalty. Which he did, but the thing is? He also became captivated by her, which wasn’t supposed to be able to happen.

I love that you never fully know what side Wolf is on because Wolf doesn’t know what side he’s on. He knows what his mission is. He knows that when his instincts are controlled and taken over by the leader of his pack, that control is absolute and he’ll become a hungry, killing machine. And yet, here’s Scarlet, for whom he has this incredibly protective instinct, one that proves in the end to be stronger than the animal instincts genetically grown in him. He’s a marvelously complex character, and I love it.

That protective instinct is what makes him try to convince her to abandon hope of rescuing her grandmother once they reach Paris, but no dice. And so, she has to live with his betrayal as he turns her over to the Pack, revealing that his allegiances still lie with them . . . kinda. They have her grandmother, in an abandoned Opera House in Paris, and they plan to use her to get the old woman to talk.

In the other half of the story, Cinder has escaped from prison, which has pissed off Levana, and when Emperor Kai can’t recapture Cinder, Levana orders attacks on Earth from her LSOP units in those 14 major cities around the world. Wolf knows it’s coming, he manages to show Scarlet (and us) that he’s still on her side by getting her an ID chip that will allow her to find her grandmother once the attack begins.

And Scarlet is able to find her grandmother, but granny’s not doing so well. She’s been beaten and tortured, to find the secret of why she can resist the mind-control and for information on Princess Selene. But neither aim have gone terribly well, and her body has been so broken and abused that there’s no way Scarlet can try and remove her from the Opera House. Granny tells Scarlet to run while she can, but Scarlet won’t leave her again, and that’s when another member of the Pack, Ran, shows up. He kills Granny and eats her flesh/drinks her blood in way that was ridiculously difficult for me to read (the neck/blood phobia is typically linked to vampires, but apparently, it can manifest with the right kind of werewolf, too! Great!), and then he turns on Scarlet.

She tries to get away, and goddamn if she doesn’t fight her heart out against him. But he’s genetically engineered, so it’s just not going to happen, and this wolf-man is on the verge of destroying her, too, when Wolf appears and throws the other wolf-man off and proceeds to wolf-fight to the death in a scene that is gruesome like something out of Grimm.

The thing is, Wolf is still mostly in wild animal mind control at this point. He’s not resisting in order to protect Scarlet; protecting Scarlet has just become one of his instincts. Which plays against the trope, and I like it.

This is the point where the two stories converge and the series’ next installment is set up, but we’ll leave off there because Little Red Riding Hood has come full circle.

Because it is all there. There’s a lot that happens in between the original fairy tale’s events, but the high points of the fairy tale are in place. Little Red goes on a journey to find her grandmother, her grandmother is attacked and eaten by a wolf, and Little Red herself is saved by a protector. It’s all there, and not once is it forced, which was another concern of mine. But Meyer has done this incredibly well, and I am quite impressed.


Make Little Red less of an idiot? I adore Scarlet. She is kickass and hot-headed and a hell of a fighter. She is not a wimp, she is not an idiot, she is not weak and malleable in really any way at all. She is badass.

Develop the world? So well done. Meyer is building off of the world she created for Cinder, and the way she has worked in the LRRH narrative is just masterful. She gives an explanation for the wolves that fits so perfectly into this world where the moon is a threat. It never felt forced, it never felt contrived, it just felt natural and seamless, and I applaud that.

Give me a point? Oh, yeah. There was definite meaning to the journey, urgency and need and high stakes, and just absolutely yes.

So . . . when does part 3 come out?

. . . 2014?


Guest Post! Hoodwinked with Jesse

So, because it is looking doubtful that a book review is going to be posted today (I’m sorry guys; I know I’m so behind. April has been stupid busy at both jobs, I’ve got a show opening tonight, and it’s not that I’ve been procrastinating on writing the reviews — I honestly haven’t had time to read the books), have a guest review from Jesse (codedlockfilms)!

Fairy Tale Reviews: Hoodwinked! by Jesse Coder

Hail and well met, friends. So, I am a big ol’ fan of fairy tales that have been deconstructed and told from another perspective. This penchant of mine began in the early 90’s when I first read Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, a short children’s book of parody fairy tales, including such stories as “Cinderrumpelstilskin,” “Chicken Licken,” and yes, “Little Red Running Shorts.” My love for this type of story continued with some of Scieszka’s other books, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Frog Prince, Continued (seriously, if you have not read any of Scieszka’s books, give them a look) and has continued to this day. Into the Woods is one of my favorite theatre productions ever, I adore the Maynard Moose Tales by Willy Claflin, and I greatly enjoy Enchanted, which is, in my opinion, one of Disney’s most underrated movies.

And yet, for as much as I love this type of story, I had not seen Hoodwinked! until about 6 or 7 years after it came out. This was not a movie that advertised itself well. The trailers looked dumb, the animation looked really half-assed, and it just seemed generally unappealing. I probably would have never seen the movie at all if not for my friend Jethro, and when I saw this movie for the first time, it reminded me of something. You see, no matter what your preconceptions are, no matter how well you might think you have something pegged, no matter how often your instincts about your entertainment are proven correct, you should at least give everything a chance, because stuff can still surprise you. Hoodwinked! is not only one of my favorite fairy tale adaptations; it is also a proud member of my personal favorite-movies-ever list. So let’s take a look at the film, shall we?

Hoodwinked! begins with the climax. Interesting choice. Okay, it doesn’t begin with THE climax, just A climax. Specifically, the climax of the Red Riding Hood story with which we are all familiar. Red Riding Hood enters her granny’s house and finds the wolf in her grandmother’s bed, wearing a conveniently provided costume, complete with a novelty mask. Where he got that, we don’t know. At the moment. More on that shortly. They do that whole “what big blanks, the better to blank you with” deal (wow, that sounds really bad when worded like that) and the Wolf swiftly loses his cool. He and Red square off, Granny stumbles out of the closet all tied up, and the Woodsman bursts through a window, swinging his axe and yelling like a crazy person. The title screen then pops up, and we cut to shortly thereafter, where the police have the place surrounded and cordoned off, with Red, Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsman all in custody. The police chief, a grizzly bear, decides to just take them all downtown, though as one of the officers points out, they don’t have a downtown, this being the woods and all. But before he can do so, a famous frog detective by the name of Nicky Flippers stops by to get to the bottom of the case. He begins to interrogate each of the suspects to get their respective versions of the story, beginning with Red.

She begins her day like any other, making deliveries for her Granny Puckett’s sweets shop. See, the forest in which this story takes place has something of a pastry-based economy, where the only goods that ever seem to get exchanged are cakes, crumpets, muffins, things of that sort. And schnitzel. But we’ll get to that. Red spends a short amount of time talking to a bunny named Boingo, who tells her that he is no longer able to make deliveries for the Muffin Man. This is because the Muffin Man is the latest victim of a criminal known as the Goody Bandit, who has been stealing recipes all over the forest, putting everyone out of business. Red decides to take the recipe book from her shop and make the dangerous trip up the mountain to her Granny’s house, where she believes that the recipes will be safe. She disguises the recipes within a fake basket of goodies and takes a short cable car ride towards the mountain peaks, but ends up accidentally falling out of the car and landing completely unharmed in the middle of the woods, because this is a cartoon, and you can do things like that. She encounters the Wolf, who asks her a bunch of questions and acts generally suspicious before attempting to take the basket from her. She proceeds to beat the crap out of him and escapes by tricking him into falling into the river. Awesome. She then finds a path up the mountain and encounters Japeth the mountain goat. And please, if you go the rest of your life without seeing Hoodwinked!, please at least watch this one scene. It’s edited for time; it’ll only take you three and a half minutes, and you will be glad you watched it. Just trust me, no summarization could possibly convey the humor of this scene adequately. Go on, watch it. I’ll wait.

No, seriously, I’ll wait. This post will still be here in three and a half minutes. Go.

…Did you watch it? I hope so, because all I am going to say is, “I know! Amazing, right?” And you’ll need to know what happens in that scene to understand some of the stuff I talk about in the rest of this post. No, I am not giving you a choice. Watch the damn scene.

Red then arrives at Granny Puckett’s house and the opening climax happens again, albeit primarily from Red’s point of view. The detective then begins to question the Wolf, because there are a few distinct holes in Red’s telling of the story. The Wolf, as it turns out, is actually an investigative reporter who formerly worked on the old Stiltskin case, chasing down leads on his real name. Cute. He is currently investigating the Goody Bandit case, and believes that Red is a prime suspect, since more goodies pass through her hands than anyone else in the forest. He follows her around looking for evidence, and approaches her in the woods to ask her the questions we saw him asking earlier in the movie. Through this, we get new insight into the events of the scene in question. For instance, Red heard him growling before coming out of the bushes, but it was really his stomach growling because he skipped lunch. Also, his supposed “attack” on her was actually just him crying out in pain as his tail gets caught in his photographer’s camera winder. The reason he asks questions of her is not because he wants to eat her Granny, but because he is a reporter. The reason he tries to steal the basket is because he thinks the stolen recipes are inside. That sort of thing. We also learn why the track that Red was on earlier was blown out. (Told you you’d need to watch that scene.) He then shows up at Granny Puckett’s cottage looking for more clues. In an attempt to get some answers out of Red, he disguises himself using some novelty Granny Puckett merchandise (remember, she runs a famous sweets shop) and the opening climax plays again from yet another perspective.

As with Red’s story, there are still some holes left over, so the Woodsman is questioned, and as it turns out, he actually has very little to do with the story at hand. He’s not really a woodsman; he’s a struggling actor named Kirk who tried out for a part in a commercial for Paul’s Bunion Cream. His day job is driving a schnitzel truck for a bunch of nightmare fuel children. He got a callback for the audition and was in the forest doing a bit of method acting when he chopped down a particularly large tree and ended up accidentally on top of it. He rolled down a hill and crashed through Granny Puckett’s window, screaming in terror. Like you do.

With Kirk not being much help, it’s Granny’s turn to be questioned, and she confesses her big secret: She is an extreme sports junkie that goes by the handle of “Triple G.” I am so not even kidding. She is in the middle of competing in a high-speed downhill ski race when she is attacked by the “European team,” a team secretly made up of mercenaries sent by the Goody Bandit to put Granny out of commission. If you haven’t yet figured this out, this movie is kind of insane. To get rid of them, she uses a few grenades (because of course she has grenades) to cause the avalanche that almost inadvertently killed Red (I really wasn’t kidding when I said you would need to see that scene) and parachutes down to her cottage. She accidentally lands in the chimney, gets tangled up in the parachute, and stumbles into the closet, which is why she is tied up in the opening climax.

With the questioning done, Nicky Flippers considers the evidence, while Red slips away to have an existential crisis about what it actually means to be a Puckett, since basically everything she knew about her grandmother is a lie. This is honestly the weakest part of the movie, and while it’s mostly played for laughs, it’s still kind of forced. But it’s only a small flaw in an otherwise solid movie. Nicky puts everything together and deduces that the Goody Bandit is actually the rabbit Boingo, since he was mentioned in all their stories at some point. It’s more complicated than that, but this is a summation, after all. Suffice it to say that you pretty much knew it was going to be him from the beginning, given that he was voiced by Andy Dick. See, Boingo was sick of working as a low-rate peon for the likes of Granny and the Muffin Man, so his plan is to steal every recipe in the woods, then blow up the entire forest and build a massive factory, where he will put addictive chemicals into his sweets and take over the market. Yeah…

Um, Boingo, I get that you’re the cartoonishly evil villain and everything, but how exactly do you plan on controlling the entire market for sweets when you’re about to blow up the forest that the market exists to serve? I don’t care how addictive your goodies are; you can’t sell cookies to smoking piles of rubble and charred flesh. You just don’t seem to have really thought this one through, is all I’m saying. My advice is to not be voiced by Andy Dick if you can help it; he doesn’t really possess the ability to play characters with actual dimension.

So Red confronts Boingo, but it turns out that he knows ear-based kung fu, so he beats her and straps her into the cable car that is set to blow the forest sky-high. If it seems like my descriptions are a little dry here, please understand that it is only because this is the kind of movie where such bizarre things happen that I think the best way to make it entertaining is to just tell you what happens and let the events speak for themselves. Luckily, the Wolf, Kirk, and Granny are able to mount a rescue, since the cops have already gone in the wrong direction, expecting to find the Goody Bandit robbing Red’s cottage. The cable car is sent down the mountain, but Red manages to free herself from her restraints as Granny grinds down the rail on a muffin pan to help her escape. They free the cable car from the line, and it falls into the river, and since the explosives powerful enough to level a forest were underwater when they went off, no harm is done. Cartoon, remember? The villains are captured and sent to prison, the recipes are returned, and Nicky Flippers invites our protagonists to join a secret team that travels the world ensuring that stories have happy endings. And our movie comes to a close.

Hoodwinked! is a movie that only exists because of a lot of luck. Its animation is distinctly subpar, the result of a less than 8 million dollar budget, which is pocket change in the world of animation. But the animation they could afford is used to great effect. It may not look smooth overall, but each character is animated with a distinct personality and the comedic timing is flawless. This is a movie that was made not because some big studio thought it would make a ton of money, but because a tiny team of creative people knew they had a good idea and fought tooth and nail to make it happen. It had a fantastic cast of voice actors, including the talents of Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Patrick Warburton, Jim Belushi, and many others. But does it hit the important points on Cassie’s list?

1. Make Little Red less of an idiot. Absolutely. She is portrayed as very intelligent, independent, and able to take care of herself, as well as being much more proactive. It’s her idea to take the recipes to Granny for safekeeping, it’s her that confronts the villain first, and thankfully, she also didn’t fall for the Wolf’s disguise. She just wanted to keep him talking long enough to get him to incriminate himself, since she thinks he might be the Goody Bandit. She has a distinct character arc, if a relatively small one, and was a very enjoyable protagonist.

2. Develop the world. Yes. The forest has a defined geography, culture, and even an economy. It’s not just the wolves who talk; it’s all the animals, to the point that humans are actually a very small minority. The wolf doesn’t want to eat the humans; he wants to get a scoop on the Goody Bandit. The wolf isn’t mistaken for Granny; that is an act on Red’s part. A little girl is allowed to go by herself into the woods because the animals are all completely sentient and possessed of human-level intelligence, so they are safe to interact with unless they happen to be evil. The only question that isn’t really answered is what the carnivorous animals eat. It’s sort of implied that they do get hungry for meat, but we can probably just assume that they subsist mainly on sweets, just like everyone else.

3. Give me a point. Yes. In fact, that is the whole idea behind the movie: To give the original story a point by looking at the perspectives of each of the characters involved and figure out what is really going on with the story at hand. The reason we are telling this story is to finish telling the story. If that makes sense. There are even little messages about growing up and moving on, as well as teaching the value of honesty. Plus a message about being prepared. Quite well done.

As I have said, Hoodwinked! is not a movie that I expected to enjoy. But as I sit before you, behind the words and lines of code, through the tubes of the Internet and back onto my computer where I am typing this long before you will see it, I say to you that despite its limitations, it is brilliantly constructed, brilliantly acted, and it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen in my entire life. Do yourself a favor and see it at least once. I guarantee that you will not regret it. Or at least watch that one scene. The link’s still up there, if you haven’t looked already.

Do it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: So you think know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions:

-Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged?

-Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest?

-Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared?

-Who is the strangest? (Notice we're not "not including" anyone, because they're all a little off.)

-Who (no fair saying "the author") has stuffing for brains?

Vivian Vande Velde has taken eight new looks at one of the world's most beloved (and mixed-up) stories. You may never look at fairy tales in quite the same way again

Type of Adaptation: Retellings

So, as I stated before, I believe, Vivian Vande Velde is a writer after my own heart. I would love to sit in a room with her and talk about fairy tales and how silly some of them are, and if she continues to write short story anthologies on what I like to term the “Then I Found Five Dollars” fairy tales, I will be a very happy lady.

And in this anthology, like in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, she has tackled the issues she (and I) has with Little Red Riding Hood in eight short stories, so let’s just jump right in, yes? Yes.

Red Cloak

In this tale, Little Red’s real name is Meg, and Meg doesn’t like to stand out, which makes it a problem that her mother has suddenly decided to dye her cloak bright red. Meg is horrified, and immediately starts to figure out how she can get away with not wearing it really at all when Mum insists that she trot over to Granny’s to show it off (under the guise, of course, of returning a soup bowl).

Granny lives on the other side of the village, but there’s no way Meg is walking through the town square looking like a strawberry. So she decides to skirt through the woods on the far edge of the town instead, but she keeps almost meeting people, and so strong is her desire to avoid notice that she keeps venturing deeper and deeper into the woods until she is quite lost.

Quite lost, and carrying a soup bowl that still smells of chicken, which soon attracts the attention of a wolf. Like, a wild animal one. Not a talking one. Meg starts running, hoping to find someone who can help her, and she encounters a woodcutter. She tells him she’s lost and needs help finding the village.

But the woodcutter is less than savory, and he smells a chance to make some money, believing that if she has a find red cloak, she must be from a rich family. Thinking fast, Meg throws the soup bowl at the woodcarver and lets out her best wolf howl. The woodcutter thinks she’s crazy — until the wolf comes, following the sound of a challenging howl and the scent of the chicken. The wolf heads straight for the soup bowl – and the woodcutter, who has climbed up a tree.

Meg taunts him by talking about how long the wolf’s claws are, and how big its teeth are, and then she makes in the direction of the town, coming to the conclusion that maybe being noticed isn’t so bad, compared to the alternative.

Red Riding Hood Doll

In this tale, Georgette is a seamstress who works under her mother for rich, snobby folk who don’t appreciate the work she does and constantly complain to get out of paying. Georgette is tired of the life she leads, and what she wants more than anything is a child, though she has no interest in marrying.

And so, when a rich woman complains about the work Georgette has done on a fancy red cloak, despite the fact that it was made to the woman’s exact specifications, Georgette snaps a bit. She takes the offending article and cuts it down, using the material and other supplies from the shop to create a full-sized lifelike little girl doll in a red riding hood. She calls it her daughter, and refers to her mother as “Granny” and refuses to let the doll be sold. Period.

But the girl isn’t real, and Georgette knows it, but she desperately wants it to be, and so, on Midsummer Night, she takes it to a fairy’s hollow in the hopes that magic will help make her a daughter at last. Which it does — kind of. It turns the girl real, but holding all the humanity that the doll itself had. No heart, and a head full of muslin.

Though Georgette tries to school her, the girl goes off with the first swarm of young men who descend, praising the “big strong arms” they have and the “firm lips” they have, leaving Georgette behind to scoff at the trouble children can be, and wondering if she should just go get a cat.

Little Red Riding Hood’s Family

From a silly daughter in our last story to silly parents in this one, here we have Roselle, who is so exasperated by her parents and how they act because it’s so embarrassing. Case in point, the evening we enter the story, when Roselle’s parents are having a water fight in the kitchen and her mother ends up spraining an ankle.

This is a problem because Mother was supposed to visit Granny that night and take supper. Dad could do it, but he’s terrified of his mother-in-law, so Roselle, being the responsible one in the family, volunteers to go, even though the sun is setting and she’s never made the trip after dark.

But, she reasons, she’s a competent and responsible young woman, so she can make the trip without incident. Which she does, though when she gets to Granny’s, she’s concerned at the outset because Granny doesn’t come out to meet her or respond to Roselle’s calls. And Roselle can hear some disturbance coming from the bedroom. So she musters her courage to go and investigate, and what should she find, but a wolf in her grandmother’s clothing, rummaging through the wardrobe!

The wolf is, in fact, her grandmother, because it’s after dark and the moon is out and Granny happens to be a werewolf. She was on her way to go check on Roselle and family because no one had come, but she couldn’t find four matching shoes, and she wasn’t about to leave the house in a state of undress.

Roselle helps Granny find the fourth shoe, and as she’s doing so, a vampire shows up, looking for a meal, but he’s not into werewolves. The fur, you know. But Roselle will be a nice treat – except that she turns him into a frog before he gets a chance to do anything. Because you don’t mess with a witch.

Granny and the Wolf

This story focuses on Granny, whose name is Nelda, and who has spent some time fighting off the advances of an unwanted suitor. On her way home one day, she finds a wolf caught in a hunting trap. She releases the animal, who is relatively tame and well behaved, and leads her back to her home to bandage the wound.

So there she is with a wolf in the house when her twelve-year-old granddaughter stops by, because Nelda is making her a red dress for the festival and she wants to know if it’s ready. Knowing that if Scarlet sees a wolf in the house, she’ll tell her father who will fuss and worry, Nelda hides the wolf in her bedroom.

And then, in a convoluted series of hilarious events, Nelda ends up hiding the wolf from Scarlet, and Scarlet and the wolf from the unwanted suitor, and Scarlet and the wolf and the unwanted suitor from her son, and eventually, Scarlet finds out about the wolf, and the wolf chases the unwanted suitor away for good, and Granny decides to keep the wolf as a pet and guard.

I’m trying to keep the summary on control on this one, but it flows really nicely, and is very funny, hitting all the points of the story as the wolf gets hidden in the wardrobe and in the bed, and Scarlet gets hidden under the table and in the wardrobe, and the way the original story gets woven into the insanity is very smartly done.

Deems the Wood Gatherer is a delightful story about a near-sighted wood collector who inadvertently ends up helping all the villains of the woodland fairy tales (LRRH, Hansel and Gretel, The 3 Pigs, etc) due to his poor eyesight, but as it isn’t exclusively LRRH, I’m going to leave it out of this discussion.

Why Willy and His Brother Won’t Amount to Anything

This is possibly my favorite tale in the entire collection for reasons we’ll get to at the end. In this story, Isobel lives next door to a pretty annoying boy named Willy. Willy has an overactive imagination that often gets him into trouble, and Isobel’s parents constantly say that he will never amount to anything.

Case in point, one day Isobel finds a fox cub, and she’s trying to coax it nearer to her when Willy comes rushing up, chasing away the “wolf” who was about to “attack” her. Isobel tries to argue, but it’s Willy, the color-blind boy who continually insists her green cloak is red, no matter how many times she corrects him, so she gives it up pretty quick as a lost cause, telling him that he’s welcome to stop in for a drink if the work gets too hot just to be polite.

Isobel heads to her house to help her grandmother, who is in the process of sewing draft protectors for the doors in the house. She had the idea to wrap stones in batting and then sew them with fabric to make them look like animals. She’s made a snake and a fish and a caterpillar, but she’s having trouble with the wolf she’s working on now, and asks for Isobel’s opinion.

The trouble, Isobel identifies, is that the arms are too long, and the eyes and ears and teeth are too big. Playfully, Grandma makes the wolf snap at Isobel, saying, “The better to eat you with!,” and that’s when Willy bursts into the room and cuts the “wolf” in two with his knife, crying out that he will protect the two women from the dangerous wild animal!

Despite their protestations, Willy and his little brother march away, confident in the knowledge that they’ve saved lives, and Isobel and Grandma watch them go, shaking heads. “Those Grimm brothers,” Granny says with a sigh, “they’ll never amount to anything.”

Hehehehe, I love it.

The Little Red Headache

Here we take the tale from the perspective of the wolf, and it’s made very clear early on that the wolf doesn’t speak human, and humans don’t speak wolf, and that will make up much of the confusion.

See, the wolf gets woken from slumber by a child stepping on his tail. And as if that wasn’t enough, her screaming when she see him pop up gives him a headache. He tries to reassure her that’s he fine, no harm done, but it comes out as a growl, and she runs away.

But she forgets her basket. And while the food smells delicious, and the wolf is tempted to just eat it, he was brought up better than that, so he takes the basket in his mouth and tries to follow the little girl. However, every time he gets close, she screams some more and runs away.

Determined to do the right thing, he keeps on through the woods until he finds a cottage. He scratches at the door until it opens, then asks if the basket he has belongs to the woman who lives there, and if she wants it because it smells delicious, and someone really should eat it. But this woman, who also doesn’t speak wolf, just starts screaming just like the little girl, and the wolf’s head is really starting to kill him.

The woman runs into another room and jumps in a big box (wardrobe) to hide. The wolf takes that to mean, no, it isn’t her basket, so he goes ahead and eats what’s in it. And that’s when the little girl shows up and starts screaming again, which sets the old lady to screaming, and that’s when the wolf decides he’s had enough and leaves the humans behind, knocking into a woodcutter on his way out.

Little Red Riding Hood’s Little Red Riding Hood

In this story, a fairy godmother is late to a christening because she can’t decide what to wear, and in the end, she ends up throwing a long red cloak over her out of date gown and just getting on to the christening. She arrives late, in a bad mood and distracted, not to mention frustrated by the cloak that has just been a total nuisance.

Long story short, her intention was to gift the child with intelligence. Instead, she ends up gifting the cloak with intelligence, and then giving the cloak to the girl, whose name is Ruby.

So here we have this intelligent and self-aware cloak. It becomes whatever length or shade of red will best suit little Ruby. It can become warmer or lighter, tighter or looser, and it soon becomes apparent that the cloak is a good deal smarter than its owner. But being fabric, it lacks the ability to speak, so no one knows just how intelligent the cloak is.

And Ruby certainly doesn’t appreciate what she has. Ruby is a silly girl and a bit spoiled. She’s also kind of dumb. Because when she has to go off into the woods to visit her grandmother and a talking wolf pops up, she starts talking right back, complaining about her mother and this unfair task, in no way aware of the danger she’s in.

The cloak is aware, though, and she tries to get Ruby to hurry along, but Ruby is having none of it. This continues through the story we know, the cloak taking the place of the audience in many respects, and finally, Ruby gets fed up enough with the cloak that she disowns it, which allows the cloak to finally leave the idiotic, belligerent girl behind to die however she chooses.

The cloak then searches for a new owner, and is passed from person to person for many years until she finally ends up on the back of a young superhero, helping him leap tall buildings in a single bound, but that’s another story entirely.

Thoughts on this anthology?

I adore it. I mean, yeah, some of the stories are not as good as some others, but you get that with any anthology, and the whole idea behind these collections of Vande Velde’s is one that I am completely behind. There were stories in here that were absolutely wonderful, and there weren’t any stories that I hated or felt missed the mark.


Make Little Red less of an idiot? Yes and no. It depended on the story in question, but what I appreciated was that even in the stories where Little Red was still an idiot, there was another character in there somewhere who wasn’t. And if Little Red was an idiot, there was a reason for it, a comment being made by it, and it was acknowledged within the story itself. So, point.

Develop the world? Yes. What I love about this collection is that every story felt very self-defined. The story had a context and the world was deliberately created. If there actually was a talking wolf, we got an explanation as to why. If there was magic, it was consistently present and used in the story. All eight worlds presented here were well drawn and well defined.

Give me a point? Well, yes, obviously. The whole point of this book, like with The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, is to address the issues of the original fairy tale. So the book gets a point overall for that. But also, individually, each of the stories had a point and purpose as well. There were message being put forth, and yeah, some of them were silly, but that’s fine.

All in all, she’s done it again folks, and if you like meta and snark, pick up this book and read it, by all means.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Little Red Riding Hood (According to Cassie)

Little Red Riding Hood (According to Cassie)

So basically, there's this girl, and she's named after a piece of clothing because that makes perfect sense. She lives with her mother on the edge of the woods; if there's a father, we never hear about him.

There's a grandmother, though, and she lives in the middle of the woods, and she's also been feeling a bit under the weather, so Mother asks young Little Red to take a basket of bread and wine into the forest for Granny, to make her feel better. Why we're sending wine and not soup or something isn't made clear, but hey. Alcohol's medicinal, right? Though it should be noted that not everyone includes the wine. Perrault just had them send a cake and some butter because that'll heal a body right up!

Anyway, the mother packs the basket and sends Little Red out into the woods. In some versions, she gives instructions: don't talk to strangers and don't stray from the path; but in Perrault's, the little girl just goes skipping off into the woods with alcohol and sugar for the invalid.

And as she skips along the path into the woods, who should she encounter but a wolf! And not just any sort of wolf -- a talking wolf! Why a little girl has been sent alone into a forest containing a talking wolf is not addressed. Nor is it addressed why an invalided old lady is living alone in a forest containing a talking wolf.

Anyway, Little Red meets this wolf and does not immediately turn and run in the opposite direction. Nor does she express any sort of surprise at the fact that this wolf strikes up a conversation with her, so maybe in this world, talking animals are fairly commonplace.

Or maybe Little Red is just an idiot. I mean, that's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, given what happens next.

Because the wolf starts chatting up Little Red, asking where she's going and what's in her basket and why she's in the woods. And Little Red doesn't say "none of your business" or "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," or "why do you care?" No, instead she flat out tells him that her grandmother lives alone and is sick, and then, she practically draws him a map with GPS coordinates for how to find said sick old woman who can't possibly defend herself.

Seriously, it's not, "I'm visiting my grandma who lives in the forest." That would be not too smart, but the forest is a big place, and hey, maybe grandma's a lumberjack or something. But, no. No, Little Red tells this wolf exactly where to find her sick grandma, which house in which part of the woods and all. And then, the wolf proposes that they race to grandma's and see who can get there first.

No, none of this strikes Little Red as suspect at all. Which means she's either young enough that she shouldn't be wandering around a forest on her own or dumb enough that she shouldn't be wandering around a forest on her own. Either way, this girl really ought to be supervised, is what I'm saying.

So, Little Red finds nothing creepy or suspicious at all about the wolf’s suggestion, and in fact, seems to entirely forget about it once the wolf follows her incredibly specific directions and heads away. In some versions, he specifically distracts her by suggesting she go further into the woods to gather flowers for her grandmother, but in Perrault's, he doesn't have to! The child wanders away of her own accord,  and honestly, I'm surprised it took this long.

So, yeah, the wolf gets to Granny's way ahead of Little Red, and in a move that provides decent evidence that Little Red's idiocy might just be hereditary, this obviously male wolf tells Granny that he is her granddaughter, and she gives him instructions on how to unlock the door from the outside and invites him right in. Having very easily gained entrance to the house, the wolf eats Granny.

Then he dresses himself in her nightgown and climbs into bed to wait for Little Red. And soon enough, Little Red shows up. She knocks on the door, and when the wolf answers, claiming to be her grandmother, Little Red is slightly alarmed by the sound of his voice, but decides that her grandma must just be hoarse because of her cold, and so she goes right in. This, to me, is slightly excusable.

But what happens next is not. Little Red heads for Granny's room, and sees the wolf in Granny's nightdress. And despite the fact that a) she met this same wolf earlier, b) he told her he was going to be heading to Granny's, c) she's already suspicious because of the unfamiliar voice, and d) it's a freakin' wolf in a nightdress!!!, Little Red does not immediately recognize that it is not her grandmother in the room with her.            

Now, I’m no expert, nor did I grow up in this fantasy land, but it seems to me that if you have difficulty distinguishing between your grandmother and a wolf in a nightdress, then you either need to have your eyes checked, your head examined, or offer some sort of explanation as to why your grandmother is regularly covered in fur.

And what gets me about this is how Little Red knows that something’s wrong . . . she just can’t quite put her finger on what. Is it the fur-covered arms and legs that end in paws and claws? No . . . Is it the pointed, furry ears on top of the head? No. . . Is it the glowing yellow eyes? No . . . Is it the fangs in the snout-like mouth? Oh. Yup. That was it. The teeth. Being eaten now. Shucks. Wish I could have seen that coming.

That’s the end of the story, by the way. Little Red gets eaten, along with Granny, the wolf enjoys a nice full meal and heads off, presumably in search of other idiotic little girls to eat. No huntsman, no rescue, no survival. This is the end of the tale, as far as Perrault is concerned.

Honestly, if it weren’t for Perrault’s heavy-handed moral, I’d really be okay with that. Seriously. Act like an idiot, get eaten by a wolf. Works for me. Unfortunately, though, Perrault’s moral is not ‘Learn to tell the difference between your family members and hungry wild animals, you idiot child.’ No, his moral is this:

“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”

Thanks, Charlie. Your concern for the well being of children, particularly “attractive, well-bred young ladies,” is really quite sexist and condescending. But what else is new? And point of interest: morals become slightly less effective when they’re longer than the story you were telling in the first place. Also, if you have to explain the metaphor.

And, yeah, I know the story has been continued in many other versions. The wolf curls up to sleep after eating Little Red, and a huntsman, the smartest human in the forest, apparently, passes by and realizes that wolves don’t normally curl up in nightdresses, so he figures out that something strange is afoot. He cuts open the wolf’s stomach (which somehow doesn’t kill said wolf) and out climb Little Red and Granny, somehow not dead despite having been eaten.

Then Granny fills the wolf’s stomach with rocks to kill him in a slow, torturous, agonizing death that I really don’t feel he deserved, skins him once he’s dead, and makes Little Red a cloak from the skin.

Guess she’ll have to have her name legally changed now.

Thoughts on this story?

It should be noted that I am entirely ignoring the incredibly rape-y original oral versions of this story, and focusing on when it got written down for kids.

As you might be able to glean from the heightened levels of snark in this synopsis, this fairy tale kinda rubs me the wrong way, at least with the common ending. I can get behind it as Perrault’s morality tale, even if I think the moral he identified is stupid and sexist. If the purpose of this story is to say, “hey, this is what happens when you’re an unobservant idiot, try thinking before you act next time,” then I’m totally down with it.

The problem is, that’s not what this story is, usually. When you add the huntsman and the rescue and the wolf’s death . . . what are you left with? No one learns anything, no one grows as a character, and there’s no point to this story. It’s Rumpelstiltskin all over again. I disobeyed my mother, I got eaten by a wolf, I was rescued by a huntsman, and then I found five dollars. 

So. What am I looking for in an adaptation?

Make Little Red less of an idiot. Make her innocent and naive and overly trusting, by all means. But make her less of an idiot, and let’s see some growth by the end of the story, hmm?

Develop the world. I want background and exposition and explanation. There are questions we don’t ask in a morality tale, but when it’s novel length, I need answers. Why do the wolves talk? Why is that not cause for concern? Why does the wolf want to eat the humans? Why is the wolf so easily mistaken for Granny? I need this world to be more developed and more defined, offering answers to some of those questions.

Give me a point. For the love of God, give me a point. Just like with Rumpelstiltskin, why are you telling this story? What’s your message? What’s your ending? Why should I care about your story?

The line-up:

Week 1: Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde
Week 2: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Week 3: Scarlet Moon by Debbie Vigue
Week 4: Princess of the Silver Wood by Jessica Day George

Feel free to read along!