I love Chris Riddell’s illustrations and children’s books. Amazingly he has only had one post to himself since I started this blog (see here), although he has featured in several others. Even here, he will be sharing this post with the two authors of some newly published reworked fairy tales…
I had put these two books to the top of my Christmas wishlist, but when I saw them both in my favourite bookshop, I just had to have them there and then. Consequently, I just had to read them instantly too. I shall re-read them at leisure, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts with you now as both of these books will make wonderful Christmas presents. I won’t hold out on you any longer – meet the first…
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
This slim near-A4-sized volume is beautiful from the off. Through the rose-laden translucent dust-jacket you can see a ‘sleeping beauty’. Open it up and the end-papers resemble one of the landscapes with kingdoms divided by mountains in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Turn to the start of the story proper, and you feel you’re in The Hobbit – for there are dwarfs who are going under the impassable mountains between these lands.
The dwarfs (never dwarves), surface and find an inn, only to find that a sickness is creeping upon the land, sending more and more to sleep every day. The inn folk tell the dwarfs the tale of the princess who was cursed to prick her finger and sleep forever by “one of those forest witches, driven to the margins a thousand years ago, and a bad lot.” They compete with each other to embellish the tale, before saying “If you make it through the roses, she’ll be waiting for you. She’s old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death.”
The dwarfs visit the Queen of this land – who turns out to be Snow White, although she is never named thus. (“Names are in short supply in this telling.” says Gaiman’s text cryptically.) She was due to be married, but realising the threat of the creeping sleepiness, postpones the wedding and sets off with the dwarfs to sort it out.
Much has been made of the fact that it is another woman that rescues the princess and that human males are definitely sidelined in this tale. It’s not a gay version of the story though, it’s about sisterhood. The Queen is an independent and intelligent young woman who has plenty of courage – she reminded me of no-one so much as a female version of Aragorn! I loved this modern spin on the old stories.
*** End of Slight Spoiler Alert***
Riddell’s women are characterised by their brows and stares; the other characters go from cheerful groteseques to skull-like gargoyles. The detail in the black and white drawings is incredible, with gold highlights here and there. They remind me of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur but there’s more in them – I loved the way Riddell did the Queen’s hair!
Although this book is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, surely it’s aimed at grown-ups who still love fairy-tales?
One of those stories for ages 9 to 99. I loved it! (10/10)
… and this brings me to the other retelling …
Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales – The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Initially I wasn’t so sure about this one. Gaiman is a known entity and I knew he wouldn’t disappoint, but the bookshop know me and knew I’d love it too. Although I only skimmed Brand’s first memoir My Bookywook, I do have a soft spot for him as a reformed character these days and I think he has found a niche in which to excel as an author here.
Indeed I’d go so far as to say that he out-does Roald Dahl in his portrayal of the awful folk of the town of Hamelin and their ghastly children – far worse than Veruca Salt and her ilk!
You all know the story of the town that was plagued by rats and the mysterious piper who arrives and deals with the rats, before taking nearly all the townsfolk’s children in payment too.
That’s all here, but again, with the exception of crippled Sam and his mother, all the characters are completely horrid – from Dave the Sexist to Fat Bob and the Mayor – a woman who looks like a young Maggie Thatcher! As for the rats, who gatecrash ‘The Most Gorgeous Child in Hamelin’ pageant:
These lawless, filthy, scumbag rats were rearranging Hamelin with nothing in mind but mad rat urges.
They used their rat egg-hole-poo-gun-machine-bums to rat-a-tat-tat the pageant into a dung-covered muck hurricane.
They used their vicious little-lellow claws to rip up all the posters.
They smashed shop windows using stones and sticks that were lying around from when Fat Bob and his gang had been bullying Sam earlier.
This quotation is written on a puddle of rat-poo in the book. Riddell has been encouraged to match Brand’s scatalogical language in his grotesque drawing – the combination is absolutely hilarious. The big format again let’s Riddell show all the detail, this time in full colour.
And then we meet the piper…
He is, as you can see, a homage to Alex in A Clockwork Orange, a real ‘droog’.
There is a full-page illustration homing in on one of his eyes and it is quite chilling. In fact, he has one brown and one blue – like David Bowie and I can quite imagine this piper playing something Ziggy-ish.
Brand’s book is really funny and utterly filthy – but only in a pooey way! The moral of the story is kept in tact and makes the whole a delight. I want more! (10/10)
Two re-told fairy tales – two different authors – one illustrator who achieves two very different styles wonderfully = two hits! If you’re a fairy-tale fan, you know you want these for Christmas too!
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Source: I bought my copies from an independent bookseller.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Sleeper and the Spindleby Neil Gaiman. Pub Oct 2014 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Hardback, 72 pages.
Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelinby Russell Brand. Pub Nov 2014 by Canongate Books. Hardback, 128 pages.