The Sleeper and the Spindle is Neil Gaiman's sort-of retelling of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty but of course, with a twist. Nothing is what it seems. In this fairy tale the princess with her jet-black hair and skin as white as snow, cancels her wedding and sets off to save her kingdom from the plague of sleep which began in the neighbouring kingdom of Dorimar in the tower of a castle long covered by a tangle of deadly rosebushes. It offers a welcome relief from what I call "the princess problem" (a current obsession in our house).
The queen is certainly more contemplative than the Snow White we've come to know through Disney. The ponders her imminent marriage, "It seemed both unlikely and extremely final. She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman. It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices. In a week from now, she would have no choices. She would reign over her people. She would have children. Perhaps she would die in childbirth, perhaps she would die as an old woman, or in battle. But the path to her death, heartbeat by heartbeat, would be inevitable."
And so the quest to release Sleeping Beauty from her enchantment, and through this stop the plague that threatens her kingdom, this fairy tale veers away from being a love story to being a tale of bravery and courage and ultimately about making choices.
Unlike most fairy tales there is no guarantee of "they lived happily ever after". This made me think of the stories that the kid is currently obsessed with. We have been reading (and re-reading and re-re-reading) a whole host of fairy tales that end with the conventional "and they got married and lived happily ever after". I've probably mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of these fairy tales in their shiny pink Disney-coats, so it's always nice to look at some princess alternatives.
For example, there is the Grimms' story of "Clever Gretel", a tale with a questionable moral about the cook, Gretel, who cleverly outwits her master and enjoys two juicy roast chickens she was supposed to be preparing for a guest. Or Gerda's brave adventures to rescue her enchanted friend in the "Snow Queen". Or a sister's determination and perseverance in saving her six brothers from a curse, that has turned them into swans, by suffering through six years of silence and a host of challenges in the story "The Six Swans".
I'm sure I'm not alone in facing the princess problem. It's not that I even mind reading princess stories to the kid, but a bit more balance and variety would be nice. I also have to keep reminding myself that in the end it's not so much about what I want to read as much as it is about letting the kid choose the way in terms of the stories she enjoys. That is after all what reading for pleasure is all about.