It has finally happened. I have found a Neil Gaiman story I’m not sure I like.
I know. I’m in shock too.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is Gaiman’s take on two classic fairy tales that have both been doused in Disney magic in the last century: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Of course the original tales are darker than the Disney take, with the evil Queen in SW dancing in red-hot iron shoes until she died and Sleeping Beauty, rather than being kissed awake by a handsome Prince, is actually awoken by one of her children who she has given birth to while asleep after being raped by the King….
In fact the Grimm version of the Sleeping Beauty yarn is actually tamer than the above – leaving out the rape and involving a wicked fairy and a handsome prince. Luckily, there is no rape in Gaiman’s version either.
What we have is a combination tale, with Snow White (never named as being so) the Queen who is to be married, deciding to rescue the Princess from another land from her eternal sleep, which is spreading fast throughout the Kingdoms.
I won’t say what happens, because that’s just mean. What I will say is that it it follows Gaiman tradition of being dark and unexpected with an ending to leave you not entirely satisfied. Or at least I wasn’t.
It is normally one of the great things about a Gaiman novel – the ambiguous end. However I fear I was not happy this time because I am so involved with the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. As a child I was scared out of my wits by Maleficent, loved Prince Philip, had a Sleeping Beauty cake for my 6th birthday, had the dolls, and believe very much so that the power of the story lies in the good fairies who fight to protect young Briar Rose and are the real reason the Prince could climb the tower and kiss the girl awake.
I love it so much I won’t even watch Maleficent.
Never a fan of Snow White though, I think because the evil Queen was terrifying in a human sense (vanity) and Snow was a bit rubbish. Although I do really enjoy the film Mirror Mirror.
What I loved about The Sleeper and the Spindle was Snow, she was formidable and fun – a great role model. I also enjoyed the idea of the Kingdom’s being so close to one another, bringing them into the same Universe and stopping enchanted sleep from being such an alien concept.
Gaiman’s use of language, as with all his works, is almost faultless – especially when combined with the stunning illustrations of Chris Riddell (never have an author/illustrator been so well matched in tone since Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl). It is by far the prettiest book I own and I highly recommend buying the hardback copy.
So what’s this? Recommending you guys actually spend money on a book your reviewer still isn’t sure she likes? Yes, yes I am.
For without my Disney-bias and with my anti-genderism hat on I cannot applaud this book enough. This is the one to tell your daughters after they’ve seen the film or the ballet, just to show there are other ways this tale could have gone. And this version feels truthful, beautiful and terrifying in a whole other way than the originals or the Disney’s.