Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess; she lived on the highest floor of her apartment building, and her life was filled with Disney movies and coloring books. She spent her days reading and writing, and no prince or evil Queen ever told her what to do. She surrounded herself with beautiful things and laughing faces, and all that glitter kept the darkness away. She never worried about living happily ever after because she was happy right now, and that’s all that really mattered. Every morning, she rolled out of bed, about 30 minutes too late – because she was not a morning person, and asked “Mirror mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” And the mirror never responded, but she was pretty sure it would say, “You,” if it could…
I’ve always loved princesses and fairytales, but for some reason, since moving into my own apartment, my love for all things “fairest of them all” has turned into a full blown obsession. Maybe it’s because I’m finally free to spend my days doing whatever I want without some boy complaining that “we’ve already watched Beauty and the Beast 4 times this week,” or maybe it’s because I’ve purposely covered my walls with pictures of Cinderella… or maybe it’s because one of my best friends is a 3-year-old who’s equally as obsessed with the movie Tangled as I am – and she once referred to my apartment building as a “castle.” Whatever the reason, I’ve spent the past few months watching Disney movies every single day, and reading fairytale books every single night. It’s been absolutely wonderful. Without further ado, here’s a few books I loved so much, they’ve somehow taken my obsession with gowns and glitter to an entirely new level.
The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon
If you love fairytales at all, you need to check out this author. I’ve read almost all her books. She takes a classic fairytale, gives it just the slightest (and oftentimes dark) twist, and makes it new (I’m pretty sure I’ve reviewed both Godmother, her modern – and psychological – retelling of Cinderella, and Mermaid, her somewhat morbid take on our favorite fishy-friend). However, Fairest of Them All takes fairytales to a whole new level – especially if you’re a fan of Rapunzel (aka the princess that epitomizes unrealistic hair expectations). Before delving into this book, which begs the question “what would happen if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil queen?,” I decided to catch up on some classic Grimm’s fairytales.
Their take on Rapunzel starts with a husband and wife who, for some reason, live in the shadow of an evil enchantresses wall. Just over the wall, a bushel of rapunzel grows (I think it’s a type of lettuce). The wife sees the rapunzel and longs to eat it so badly that she begins to waste away. The husband, seeing this, climbs the wall to steal some of the rapunzel from the enchantresses garden. The enchantress sees him and allows him to take the plant, as long as he gives her his firstborn child in return (seems totally fair). The man agrees and when the baby is born, the enchantress, Gothel, takes the baby and names her Rapunzel. We all know what happens next; Rapunzel gets stuck in a tower, Gothel uses her hair as a rope ladder, and she spends her days singing beautiful song and bonding with whatever wildlife makes its way into her tower. One day, a prince happens upon Rapunzel and the two conspire to meet every evening. Unfortunately, Gothel catches wind of this plan, cuts Rapunzel’s hair off, and uses it to draw the prince to the tower – where she basically pushes him over the edge. In a weird twist, he lives, but some thorns scratch his eyes and blind him. He stumbles around the forest for, well, I don’t know how long, but eventually stumbles into the desert (in what universe is the forest right next to the desert?) where he discovers Rapunzel. Her tears heal his eyes (bring back what once was mine…) and he immediately whisks her back to the castle where she is crowned as “princess.” Talk about happily ever after.
The Fairest of Them All starts similarly – in that Rapunzel was whisked away from her parents by Mother Gothel, but she’s under the impression that she was “rescued.” You see, Rapunzel’s real mother was so obsessed with getting her hands on some rapunzel (the lettuce, not her daughter) that she went batshit crazy. Gothel took the girl and raised her as her own, deep in the woods. The two live beneath the ruins of an old castle (pretty much all that’s left standing is the tower – which Rapunzel sleeps in, but only by choice) and Gothel teaches the girl the art of healing. They both possess magic, but mainly just the magic to heal a broken heart. Magic is pretty frowned upon in the kingdom, but that doesn’t stop young women from stealing away in the middle of the night to beg Gothel, a known enchantress, for a love potion. In any case, a prince happens upon their cottage one day and invites Rapunzel to a royal ball – she, of course, agrees, but Gothel, wanting to keep Rapunzel safe from palace life, locks her in the tower. Fortunately, Rapunzel has long flowing hair – long enough for the prince to climb when he comes to her tower the next day to enquire why she missed the ball. Long story short; they sleep together, he tells her he’s engaged to someone else, and leaves her with her heart in pieces.
Thus begins Rapunzel’s descent into…not madness – but something close to it. When she discovers that the prince, now King, has had a daughter of his own, named Snow White, with his new wife, the Queen, she and Mother Gothel decide to take matters into their own hands…
This book had it all; “mirror, mirror, on the wall,” romance, action, adventure, beautiful princesses, evil queens, and magic – both light and dark. Plus – just look at that beautiful cover!
When I shut the cover on Fairest of Them All (metaphorically, of course – I read it on my nook), I just couldn’t fathom leaving the world of princesses and magic just yet, so I picked up Spindle’s End and delved into the tale of Sleeping Beauty…
Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
In the Grimm’s fairytale, the King and Queen invite 12 of the 13 Wise Women of the kingdom to celebrate the new princess’s birth. This isn’t because they don’t like the 13th Woman, but simply because they only have 12 golden plates (obviously). The shunned Wise Woman bursts angrily through the doors, just after the 11th Woman has bestowed her gift upon Briar Rose, and curses the baby to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her 15th birthday. The last Wise Woman softens the curse by claiming that the princess won’t die, but sleep for 100 years. The King orders all spindles to be burned and, on Rose’s 15th birthday, they leave her home alone (seriously?!). Of course, she pricks her finger, and the whole castle falls into a deep sleep. Before long, the entire thing gets covered in thorns and any prince who attempts to rescue the Sleeping Beauty gets stuck to the thorns and dies. But then, 100 years later, just as the castle is about to wake up, another prince decides to try his hand at rescuing the princess – he finds the castle, not covered in thorns, but surrounded by flowers that part for him as he makes his way to the tower to wake Sleeping Beauty. Uh, yeah… doesn’t he sound brave?
Did not actually happen.
Anyway, Spindle’s End begins with the birth of Briar Rose (although she has about 15 names in front of that) and the invitation of (almost) every fairy in the kingdom to serve as fairy-godmothers. All but one, evil fairy, at least. Katriona, a guest to the princesses name day, is disgusted by the gifts the fairies are giving – red lips, white skin, golden hair, etc., etc. But then the evil fairy, Pernicia, appears and curses the baby to, you guessed it, prick her finger and die before her 21st birthday. As Pernicia makes her exit, Katriona finds herself holding the baby and, suddenly, forced to kidnap her – or save her, depending on how you look at it. She takes the princess, now known as Rosie, to live with her in her cottage in the woods where “ordinariness” will surely save her from Pernicia’s grasp.
For 21 years Rosie lives with Katriona and grows to be, not beautiful, but kind of weird looking. She has golden hair, white skin, blue eyes, and pearly teeth, but all those features come together in a way that’s not quite natural. She spends her days working at the blacksmith shop and believing she is Katriona’s orphaned niece. But, because this is a fairytale, the dark magic eventually catches up to her – forcing her and her friends to go on a darkly magical journey that ends in, well, not quite “happily ever after.”
I loved this book because it was written like a classic – even though it was actually written just 14 years ago. It reminded me of the old books I used to read at my grandma’s house – things like “The Enchanted Castle,” “The Five Children and It,” or even “The Phantom Tollbooth.” And the ending proved that true love’s first kiss didn’t have to be between a prince and a princess, or even a man and a woman (take that Frozen – Spindle’s End did it first!) – true love saves the day, but not in the way you would think. It was an amazing story, worthy of being a classic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more Robin McKinley books.