I actually had no idea who Gaiman was until I saw the movie version of Stardust. After watching the film, I tracked down a copy of the book and became thoroughly engrossed in the story. Stardust is a marked departure from Gaiman’s usual style and is written in a pre-Tolkien style of English fantasy. Gaiman and illustrator Charles Vess originally conceived the story to be a serial published by DC Comics. Initially published in 1997, it came out once a month in a square-bound high-gloss booklet. In this story, half-fairy Tristran’s father raised him on the human side of the wall separating England from the Faerie World. While trying to convince the local beauty to kiss him, he promises to retrieve a fallen star for her. Unfortunately, the star fell on the other side of the wall, so Tristran has to travel into the Faerie realm. Tristran soon finds himself plunged into a world full of witches, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail in the sky, magical transformations, curses, and contracts with hidden loopholes. The prose and characterization in Stardust is wonderful and Gaiman crafted a fantastic grown-up fairytale. The few downsides are a rather graphic sex scene early into the narrative, several references to sex and erections, and the violent death of the unicorn.
Stardust, William Morrow, 2006, ISBN 9780061142024
Originally published in 1872 by Strahan & Co, The Princess & the Goblin is a children’s fantasy novel. Both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis credit this novel as the inspiration for their respective fantasy novels. I was introduced to this book after my older brother had to read it for a literature class. Ever since, I have enjoyed reading the book on a fairly regular basis. Along with its social commentary and a tight plot, this is one of MacDonald’s more entertaining novels. Although, I recommend skipping the poetry. In this story, Princess Irene lives in a large house on the side of a mountain. The entire household cossets her while the King, her father, is traveling throughout the kingdom. However, an army of goblins is preparing to storm the castle. Irene has to team up with Curdie and her great-great-grandmother to defeat this threat. The narrative really picks up once the goblins enter the scene and they provide the comic relief. What I enjoy about this novel is that on the surface it appears to be about a princess and a boy trying to defeat a threat. However, the core message is about holding to your beliefs when you know you are right, even if others keep telling you that you are wrong.
The Princess & the Goblin, Puffin, 1997, ISBN 9780140367461
Technically, this is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. However, most myths are treated like fairytales so I decided to include it on the list. Published in 1956, Lewis wrote the novel because he realized that some of the actions of the main characters’ were illogical. This retelling has a well-developed main character narrating and detailing her reasoning and emotions. Lewis considered Till We Have Faces to be his most accomplished work. JRR Tolkien and the New York Times seconded that opinion. Upon publication, the novel received a lot of praise from the literary community and continues to receive acclaim today. This is a tale of two princesses, one beautiful and one unattractive, and the struggle between sacred and profane love. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia, this is not an easy read. Lewis definitely wrote a philosophical tale and it takes more than one read to understand the narrative. It is divided into two parts: the first section is written from the perspective of Orual, Psyche’s older sister, and the second half deals with her change of heart. Orual is the “unattractive” princess and spends a lot of time accusing the gods of fickleness. If you want a philosophical tale, I recommend this novel.
Till We Have Faces, Harcourt, 1956, ISBN 9780156904360
This series is a lighthearted blend of fantasy and romance. Far away in the mystical Five Hundred Kingdoms, there exists a force known as The Tradition that tries to force people to live out “traditional” fairy tales. Most of the books center on the Fairy Godmothers, women with huge amounts of magical power endowed upon them by The Tradition. They try to use their experiences to minimize the harm caused by tradition. For instance, they might send a woman to rescue the princess in order to prevent a married woman falling in love with another man simply because he happened to rescue her. Each of the books put an entertaining spin on the standard Fairy Tale narrative, especially since the main characters keep trying to live out their own lives free from the curse of tradition. All the books feature plenty of magic, disguises, witches, wizards, shape-shifting, illusions, knights, princesses, sorcerers, and so on. Also, Lackey does not take the narratives too seriously and weaves in a lot of hilarious dialogue. Each installment puts a spin on traditional tales: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and others. I always have a lot of fun reading these books and recommend them to any fan of retold fairy tales.
I actually hated the first book, a Cyborg Cinderella just seemed a little too odd. However, I went back and reread Cinder and enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. And I really enjoyed the second installment. While the Cyborg element is still rather weird, I like the original twist on the Cinderella tale. The second book, Scarlet, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. And Cress tackles the classic Rapunzel tale. In this world, humans and androids live together on the busy streets of Ne Beijing. Than a deadly plague ravages the population and a ruthless lunar civilization watch and wait to make their movie. No one suspects that the fate of Earth rests on the shoulders of one girl. Meyer does an excellent job of presenting the heroines as strong and independent woman. This is a refreshing change to some of the stereotypical depiction of princesses in fairytales, especially Cinderella. She is usually depicted as a damsel in distress waiting for a knight to come rescue her from a humdrum life. In this series, Cinder is a tough cyborg mechanic who is just trying to survive. Overall, I enjoyed The Lunar Chronicles and think it is a solid entry in the fairytale retelling genre.