Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

This is a retelling of a fairy tale -- a story of that genre, not a story specifically with fairies in it -- and it has very pretty pictures in it. It's in a large format, and could easily be mistaken for a book for children.

The Sleeper and the Spindle will probably not confuse or horrify those supposed children the way Gaiman's earlier The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains (illustrated by Eddie Campbell) might, but it's not really written for a young audience. Gaiman's prose here is precise and clear, as always, but he doesn't explain as he might for a less-experienced audience, and he leaves a lot implied and assumed. (On the other hand, as Gaiman rewrites of fairy tales go, this is altogether gentler and less bracing than his masterful short story "Snow, Glass, Apples," which I do not expect will ever be turned into a pretty illustrated book.)

It's the story of Sleeping Beauty -- or of a beauty who is sleeping, amid thorns and a plague of sleeping that grows a bit every day (and has been growing for more than sixty years), and of the person who goes into those thorns and that sleeping land to find and wake the sleeper. That person is not a prince.

(Would you expect anything that obvious from Gaiman?)

That person is a Queen, a black-haired young woman from the nation on the other ride of a mountain range, and she's aided by several dwarf friends on her journey. (You may perhaps have some sense who she may be, now.) It's the day before she is to be married, but she instead puts on her armor, and sets off under the mountains, through dwarven ways, to the sleeping kingdom on the other side. She travels through the thorns and the sleepers, and finds her way to the bed of a beautiful young woman, deep in sleep.

That's not all she finds there, of course. And I wouldn't dream of saying what she does there, or what else she does find. This is a short book, with gorgeous illustrations, told in exquisite prose by a master. You need to read it for yourself.

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