BOOK REVIEW: Hansel and Greta by Jeanette Winterson

Hansel and Greta: A Fairy Tale RevolutionHansel and Greta: A Fairy Tale Revolution by Jeanette Winterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This story takes a green twist on the similarly named Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Being such a beloved classic, it seems like it would be hard to mess up an environmentally friendly re-telling, and yet it succeeds [in messing it up.] It’s true to its subtitle, “A Fairy Tale Revolution,” being – in part – fairy tale and – in part – the kind of vitriolic villainization of out-group members that one sees in the diatribes of political revolutionaries.

In one of the only non-rant departures from the original story, the witch is made a good character. This might be viewed as a progressive and charitable turn of the story were it not for the fact that the author just – unconsciously or consciously – shifts villainization over to another group: fat people. In the story, fat characters not only consume more food, they are in every way materialistic, gluttonous, and environmentally hateful — as opposed to the skinny in-group who aren’t at all part of the problem. This us-them tribalization is particularly unproductive in dealing with environmental problems because we are all part of the problem, and we all need to be engaged.

I don’t know whether Winterson got caught up in her own ideological anger, or whether she thought young readers need to have the issue oversimplified and the villains made over-the-top. It seems to me like reading Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” results in kids wanting to plant trees and be more aware of how they use natural resources. Reading this book is more likely to make the child want to slap food out of a fat kid’s hands and shame him for his gluttony.

I can’t really recommend this book for kids. It’s more for parents who want their kids to know how to virtue signal than to be thoughtful about using resources.

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POEM: Fairy Tale Wisdom

We watch the naked emperor
like nothing is amiss,
and recoil upon sight of frogs
wise of what lies in a kiss.

We trust the familiar too much,
and the odd too little.
We love a beauty even when 
she's selfish or she's brittle.

There is a Jack for each giant,
and many clever cats,
and, sometimes, we cheat the man who
takes out all our rats.

The other foot will always fall,
even when blinded by hope.
Sometimes it pays to play dimwit,
but not be an outright dope.

Each tale tells us of ways to be
a better, kinder soul
in a world filled with all manner
of monster, fiend, and troll. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Neil Gaiman Library, Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman

The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 3The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 3 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: June 1, 2021

 

This series collects short fiction of Neil Gaiman and presents it via the medium of the graphic novel. While there are four works listed, because two of these works contain multiple stories, there are actually eight stories contained in this volume. The selection is diverse both in terms of genre and artistic style. With respect to genre, the stories cut across fairy tale, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and tales of the weird. The artistic styles range from art nouveau to comic strip style. While this is the third volume, the included stories all stand on their own, and so there is no necessity to have read previous volumes. Because Gaiman draws heavily on fairy tale source material, parents might assume these are kid-friendly stories, but you should check them out first yourself as “Snow, Glass, Apples” and “The Daughter of Owls” both present somewhat sexually explicit content (the former both graphically and with respect to story events and the latter only with respect to story,) and while the horror stories are pretty calm as horror stories go, they are still works of horror.

“Snow, Glass, Apples” is a dark take on the princess-centric fairy tale. It imagines a vampiric young nymph who appears as challenger to the Queen. This is probably the most visually impressive work, being illustrated in a style that mixes art nouveau with Harry Clark’s stain glass artworks. It is definitely not the run-of-the mill graphic novel, graphically speaking. The art is exceptionally detailed and stunning.

“The Problem with Susan and Other Stories”: As the title suggests, this is one of the two multi-story entries in the collection. The titular main story features a retired Professor who is plagued by Narnia-like dreams, and who receives a visit from a reporter for a college paper. The art for this one is much more reminiscent of the typical graphic novel of today. There are three other stories included. “Locks,” the comic strip-esque illustrated story, is a take on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as it’s being told to – and imagined by – a little girl. “October in the Chair” imagines a kind of story competition taking place around a campfire by anthropomorphized “months.” It’s a bit more artistically rendered than the other stories in this [sub-] collection (although that may have to do with the dark tone that is used to reinforce that the stories are being told in the middle of the night in the middle of a woods.) The final story is a brief, but artistically dense, story that imagines a day in which everything goes wrong at once.

The sixth story, “Only the End of the World Again,” revolves around a man / werewolf who wakes up to find that he has clearly turned in the preceding night. The tale is set in a small and remote village, where everyone seems to know everything about everyone, and it doesn’t shock the man when select people let slip that they know his secret. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that the man / werewolf is caught up in something bigger than his own tragedy.

The last entry is a two-parter. The first is one of my favorite Neil Gaiman short stories; entitled, “The Price,” it offers an answer to the question of why some indoor / outdoor cats constantly come home battered and bleeding. The second story, “The Daughter of Owls,” revolves around “the baby left on the church steps” plot mechanism. Because the girl is enveloped in owl accoutrements, she is shunned by the village and forced into exile at a dilapidated former abbey. Both of these stories have a more brush-painted style that the usual graphic novel.

I enjoyed this collection immensely. While not all of the stories were new to me, the way they were illustrated shone a new light on the familiar tales. All of the stories are masterfully crafted and illustrated. While Gaiman draws heavily on well-known fairy tales, there is nothing banal about these stories. I’d highly recommend this book, even if you’ve read some of the stories already.

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