Illustrator: Chris Riddle
Genre: Fairytale, fictional revisionism
My Rating: ★★★★(4 of 5 stars)
With today’s unending slew of accounts that unhook many fairytale characters from their more familiar (and often ‘sanitized’) bedtime storybook versions—like those featuring a thrice-divorced Prince Charming, a one-foot cyborg Cinderella, and a rifle-wielding Red Riding Hood who collects wolfskin coats—it is safe to say that revisionism, indeed, is the new black. Many authors and moviemakers are jumping on the bandwagon but only a handful can deftly play around in the genre. One of them is Neil Gaiman, and he has once again proved this in one of his most recent works, The Sleeper and the Spindle.
The novella is both a retelling and a mash-up of two beloved fairytales. When a “sleeping plague” spreads from a nearby kingdom, the unnamed Queen knows she has to do something. Stripping off her wedding dress to don her chain mail and sword, she travels to the kingdom with her three friend dwarfs and tries to stop the curse by the “usual way”: a kiss on the lips of the root of it all, the fair princess in her seemingly eternal slumber. Unbeknown to many, though, the princess is not who they think she is…
Long before its ‘picture-book’ release, The Sleeper and the Spindle has already caused a rather controversial buzz in the Internet. It was when one of its beautiful full-spread illustrations, the one showing Snow White and Sleeping Beauty kissing, surfaced in various social media. There were scattered homophobic bashings but after people got a hold of the tale, some are now complaining why there isn’t an actual inkling of lesbianism in it! That’s the hard-to-please audience for you, but I think Gaiman, being the playful prosemeister that he is, does this on purpose.
So yes, despite what it looked like, The Sleeper and the Spindle did not really cross into the LGBTQ territory. What Gaiman did is swerve into another path to underscore the will and power of women. Gaiman made her Snow White wear the Lady-in-Shining-Armor trope but with a twist; she wakes the princess from the witch-sleep, and the motive is to save her kingdom from the plague. Here, romance is pushed in the backburner; here, masculine roles are taken by the female characters.
More important than that, the women in the story—both the good and the bad—got to showcase individuality and the strength to stand by their own decisions. Yes, there is the overt problem of enchanted sleep, but the undercurrents of internal battles constantly pop up. Even in the beginning Snow White is shown as somewhat dreadful of the future. She has doubts, she wrestles with her conscience, and she wants to hold tightly to her freedom. Who says you should always stick to what is expected of you? Who says other people’s standards officially dictate what would become of you in the future? Gaiman concludes the book with an answer to that.
Typical of Gaiman, the story takes a flavor so dark, but one that does not quite cross the spine-tingling darkness of his other revisionist stories like Snow, Glass, and Apples. Good humor is thrown in there, too, the kind that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
And let us not forget to mention Chris Riddell’s gorgeous black-and-white art! These certainly added to the beauty of this little gem. Inlaid with metallic gold ink, the detailed, wispy illustrations give a modern gothic feel to the whole book. Seeing them made me want to check out other Riddell’s works, and I totally will.
Packaged altogether, this one deserves four stars.