Monday, April 30, 2007


Lately I've been in a rereading phase. Apparently my brain can't handle the stimulus of something new, so I've been revisiting some books I've enjoyed in the past. And here they come:

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale

I just finished this again, and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

I'm always on the quest for a good fairy tale. I don't know why, but I've always found them appealing. I have...I don't know how many collections of fairy tales sitting around the house, and I like them. Princes, princesses, mistaken identities, magical items, quests, impossible tasks—it seems so juvenile to say it all aloud, but I still like it. I like the truth hiding in them, the symbolism that I don't have to look for or even think about—it's just there, and let my subconscious root through it if it really wants to—I'm just looking for story. And better yet, there are always missing bits of story in fairy tales. You are told that the prince must knock three times on the gold door with the glass key, but not why. That sleeping beauty won't die, merely sleep for a hundred years, but is one hundred an arbitrary number, or is there a reason behind it? Why seven dwarves, and not eight? I like to imagine my own whys...

Back to this particular book—the Goose Girl. It is a retelling of the Brothers' Grimm fairy tale of the same name. (If you want the plot rundown of the original fairy tale, this is one place you could look.)

My favorite thing about this particular retelling is that she isn't being rescued by anyone, which is modified from the Grimm version. (Hooray for a strong female character!) She starts off pretty helpless, sure, and there's a prince who does want to help her and protect her, but in the end, she ends up saving him. I love it that she grows up, gains a world of confidence, and ends up rescuing herself from a hopeless situation, and all in under 400 pages.

My slight disappointment about this book: It doesn't seem to go quite...deep...enough; the characters don't quite ring true to me; for such a tense situation the characterization is just a wee bit on the light 'n' fluffy side (and actually, this might be a plus to a lot of people—I don't know). After all the tension is over, the heroine is enjoying a moment to herself after a bath—a real bath, after all that she's been through!—and she is finally, after months and months, safe and at peace. At that point, I was expecting her to break down since she was finally in a position safe enough to do so. Y'know, like any real person would have done who had been through all the trauma she had...instead, she's hangin' out with a friend, making jokes, sipping grape juice. Whatever. It felt too emotionally easy to me, but then, I'm a freak. And it's such a small flaw.

But now my appetite for fairy tales is whetted.... More, more, more! There are an absolute ton of retellings out there these days, and here are a few that I have found and liked:
  • The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli (retelling of "Hansel and Gretel" from the witch's point of view)
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley (retelling of "Donkeyskin"—Warning: this one is emotionally difficult, which is why it's sooo good)
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (retelling of "Cinderella")
  • Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison (retelling of "Cinderella" from the mirror's point of view)
  • Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" with a modern twist, sort of)
  • I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (retelling of "Cinderella" yet again)
Plenty of the above authors, especially the first two, have a ton more fairy tale retellings. I just mentioned my favorite (that I have read so far) from each author.

Also, if you're not interested in a retelling, but would like to read some fairy tales that are a bit more fresh:
  • Nearly anything by the fantasy author Patricia A. McKillip. She's caught the essence of fairy tale in nearly every book she's written, but my favorite is The Forests of Serre
  • George MacDonald has got quite a few, my favorite being The Light Princess
If you know of some more, please let me know! I need something fresh...

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Note: This was originally posted over at the book club blog, so just in case you want to see it in it's original context, here you go.

I just finished my re-reading of this book, and I now have a new perspective on it.

I have a bone to pick.

It isn’t with the book—it was actually executed perfectly and achieved exactly what it intended to for the audience it was written for—but rather with our culture that perpetuates this sort of…well…

Let me start by saying the first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down and finished it quickly. The tension was grand and I had to know what happened next. As soon as I was done with it, I picked it up again and re-read some favorite bits. I was obsessed. I read it so quickly I didn’t have the time to be annoyed with anything. And it was so gratifying—so satisfying—to see a person so infatuated with another and have the infatuation equally returned. Exciting read.

And Marie, I completely agree with you about the sex thing—how refreshing was that to have some characters try restraint for a change? Nice touch.

But now that I have read it again, and the bloom of that first rush is over…well, there was one thing that really bothered me, and then there is that bone I mentioned.

The first thing: Edward. Of course he is ridiculous as a real person, but it’s all okay because, after all, he’s not a real person, he is a vampire. I’m fine with the fact that he sparkles, that he smells wonderful, that he can read minds. I can even accept that when he sneaks into her bedroom at night to watch her sleep, this is considered sweet instead of downright creepy. What I can’t handle is how much he “took care” of Bella. I’m not talking about him saving her life—that’s all hunky-dory—and it’s great that he makes her feel so safe, even when he’s tempted to eat her. I like that. But it’s when she says something like “put me down” or “I can walk” or even “please, Eddie, I can feed myself, that’s why I have hands”, and he ignores it, and forces her to do what he thinks is best for her own good/to keep her safe/whatever. That I don’t like. No one needs to be rescued all the time, and if someone insists on rescuing you from little things that you don’t need rescuing from at all—well, it’s demeaning. It promotes helplessness. Why didn’t Bella feel like a useless twit by the end of the novel? Drove me crazy. Enough about that, though.

The big bone, the bone that really has more to do with our culture than with this book, is this: What is the difference between infatuation and love? I think that pop culture confuses the two. Of course it does. But—how do I begin?

I don’t believe in “love at first sight.” Infatuation at first sight? Oh, yeah: that instant rush of attraction, the high of meeting someone new and finding much of yourself, your interests, your values being reflected out of them and back into yourself, and the anticipation of getting to know them better and experiencing more of the same. Yes. And infatuation often leads a couple into the more mature relationship of love. (This is how I see it, anyway.)

What I am opposed to is how pop culture confuses the two, and how the addicting rush that goes with infatuation is labeled “romance.” The problem is infatuation ALWAYS dies, without exception, and if you’ve gotten lucky, love takes its place: a feeling much less heady, but more hardy. Infatuation brings two together, but love is what keeps them, seals them, brings the two into one. Love is caring about another more than yourself, whereas infatuation is powered by self-love: being able to see reflections of yourself in another.

Okay. I did my best to explain my views—have no idea if it makes sense, but oh well—time to move onward. This book is saturated with infatuation and the rush that goes with it. (Ooo…it’s so romantic!) Positively dripping. I was looking at some of the responses to the book, and noticed that more than one person (myself included) used words like “obsessed” “addicting” “fascinating” and “rush” when describing this book. We're all obsessed because it's about obsession. And that's fine, as far as it goes.

It bothers me, not because I think that Bella and Edward aren’t going to arrive at love (because of course they will—with such a strong foundation of sacrifice and restraint, they’ll be just fine), but because I’m afraid the author won't let them. What if she believes, deep in her romantic heart, that infatuation should always last? What if she has bought into pop culture's stupidity about "romance?" And because she is the author, and she can do what she likes, she makes it so that they are always stuck in infatuation? (Two teenagers, together forever, absorbed in each other to an unhealthy degree for eternity. Ugh. If a vampire truly is damned for eternity as Edward believes, is there a better way to damn him then to be eternally infatuated with your food?)

I’m bothered because when it comes to love, I don’t want a fantasy. I want the real thing. I want a relationship with real intimacy (meaning really knowing each other, all the good and the bad, getting absolutely sick of each other and still loving each other—reality, you know?) and there is no evidence in this book that these two are at that point, or that the author will ever let them get to that point until she puts down her pen (or stops typing, as the case may be). And
I feel cheated.

And...this is too long and too much about the baggage inside my head rather than the book. My apologies.

And this doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop reading the series. Heavens, no. It’s a guilty pleasure, like eating an entire bag of Hershey’s miniatures in one sitting (when Jeff isn’t looking, of course) because even though I know it’s not good for me, I just can’t STOP.