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.
In this rather unconventional storybook by Neil Gaiman, we get an answer to questions some inquisitive (and tiring) kids may ask after the fairytale: whatever happened after Prince Charming kissed Snow White awake and they rode off to their happily ever after?
We are introduced to Snow White, referred to only as “the queen”. Her ‘ever after’ coincides with Sleeping Beauty’s story, as the sleeping curse starts to spread to the queen’s land. Without second thoughts the queen rides to the Sleeper’s land to try and lift the curse and save her people, all the while trying to figure out what it is she wants to do with her life.
To avoid disappointment, don’t read the next bit if you don’t want any spoilers! The picture marks the next safe non spoiler spot.
Sleeping Beauty’s tale got subverted too: when she pricked the spindle she swapped places with the witch, who has been sleeping together with her people, while the aged princess can never sleep again. No man has been able to save her for 80 years, and only the queen and the dwarfs ever made it into the castle.
The queen kisses the Sleeper awake and reckognises her for what she is, the witch, and after the witch tries to bargain with her she breaks the curse and the witch is killed. The princess can finally sleep and the queen is left to decide what she wants out of life; to marry and rule her kingdom, or to live life in freedom.
Switching the ugly old witch and the sleeping beauty leads to a very unexpected twist, as beautiful / young equals good and ugly / old equals evil in pretty much all children’s stories.
But mostly it’s so, so very cool to see Snow White choose her own path. Sure, we’re happy for her when Prince Charming lifts her curse and takes her away to get married, but we don’t stop to think if this is actually what she wants. This tale shows us that no, it isn’t. She wants to live a life of her own, making her own choices, and she is willing to risk it all just to be happy.
There are choices, she thought, when she had sat long enough. There are always choices.
She made one.
The queen began to walk, and the dwarfs followed her.
They walked to the east, all four of them, away from the sunset and the lands they knew, and into the night.
This is an adventure story, a modern retelling of a classic fairytale, a book about a kick-ass woman and the choices she must make.
The book is graced by many beautiful black ink drawings and gold highlights, which is reminiscent of classic tales and picture books. The style, however, is quite gothic. Not that there is anything gory or scary, but the detailing and atmosphere has a slight touch of the macabre.
The writing style is gorgeous. None of the characters have a name, and somehow that creates the feel of an epic, mixed with a bedtime story. The sentences and scenes flow beautifully into each other, which unfortunately makes this a short read. Although the ending is very satisfying, it also hurts that it’s over so soon: the sad hallmark of a brilliant novel.
Who is this book for, you may ask? Honestly, I cannot imagine anybody who wouldn’t like it. For readers of all ages and all levels it is an engaging story, for those who like pictures more than words there is wonderful artwork, and for those who love the classics but want more, here is a story that fits with the original but is like nothing you would ever expect.
On top of that, it bears an important and empowering message: no matter the situation, there are always choices.
Because this is such a subversive and exciting book, it would be wrong to drink a calming tea with it. The artstyle is too gothic and detailed, and the story too adventurous and unusual. Therefore, I would recommend combining this read with a tea that is quite something else: a Bohea Lapsang. This tea can be a bit hard to find, however, and I ordered mine from the online shop Jing.
Bohea Lapsang is a Chinese tea from the Fujian province, smoked with pine logs. Unlike the Lapsang Souchong, however, the tea is not directly on the fire. Because of this, the smoky flavour stays gentle and the tea easy to drink, not unlike a single malt whisky. It’s very smooth, and the taste evokes the sensation of walking through a pine forest on a golden autumn day and smelling nearby chimneys smoking.
So brace yourself with a steaming cuppa smoky Bohea, and embark on an adventure that will surprise you at every turn with The Sleeper and the Spindle.