There are times when I love my job. Some. On rare occasions.
One of those times came today when I spotted a copy of The Sleeper and the Spindle on the side in the library and I was asked to have a read of it over night and see whether I thought it was suitable.
And, my goodness me, it is a gorgeous book! Its language is gorgeous. Its structure is gorgeous. What else would you expect of Neil Gaiman? Its illustrations? Gorgeous, stylised and striking. What else would you expect of Chris Riddell?
I mean, look at the cover firstly!
The translucent cover superimposing the rose thorns and brambles over the ghostly image of the sleeping enchanted girl. What other word is there? Glorious, enchanting, sublime, exquisite….
The story of a sleeping girl falling under an enchantment for a hundred years, trapped behind a wall of thorns and awaiting a kiss to wake her, is so familiar that only a master storyteller could have breathed new life into Sleeping Beauty. But that is exactly what Gaiman has done! It brings together Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and creates something new and just beautiful.
One change Gaiman has made is to have our eponymous sleeper awoken by a queen rather than a prince – leading to the image which has probably garnered most media attention.
Other changes are made to the familiar fairy tale which take it and twist it into new life. The hag haunts the castle, the sleeper lies helpless, but neither is quite what our expectations might lead us to assume. And yet, it remains in its heart as much as a fairy tale and a coming of age tale as any other variant.
And Gaiman’s touch is clear through the text as he slips in on echoes of The Sandman and Coraline and The Graveyard Book and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. as he ruminates on the fluid mercurial nature of the story he tells:
“A witch!” said the sot.
“A bad fairy,” corrected a fat-faced man.
“She was an enchantress, as I heard it,” interposed the pot-girl.
“Whatever she was,” said the sot, “she was not invited to a birthing celebration.”
“That’s all tosh,” said the tinker. “She would have cursed the princess whether she’d been invited to the naming-day party or not. She was one of those forest witches, driven to the margins a thousand years ago, and a bad lot. She cursed the babe at birth, such that when the girl was eighteen, she would prick her finger and sleep forever.”
The fat-faced man wiped his forehead. He was sweating, although it was not warm. “As I heard it, she was going to die but another fairy, a good one this time, commuted her magical death sentence to one of sleep. Magical sleep,” he added.
My only regret at this moment is that I shall have to return this book tomorrow. But with the message that, yes it is suitable and should be required reading for everyone!
Let me leave you with a handful more images:
Plot / Pace: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Date: 23rd October 2014