Monday, August 4, 2008

East by Edith Pattou (or how do you like your fairy tales?)


East by Edith Pattou (or how do you like your fairy tales?)

East is another retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. If you recall I recently reviewed Jessica Day George’s Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, which is based off the same fairy tale. I thought it would be fun to tell you which version I liked better and why.
So, I guess in the retelling fairy-tale business there are two ways to go about it. You can turn the tale into a more realistic story so that it makes sense and take a lot of the random, confusing magical elements out of it, and rework them in clever ways to make them into things that make sense. An example is Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment (A good book, but one I wouldn’t recommend readily because I was offended by some content in it). In his retelling of a Russian fairy-tale he made Babba Yagga’s flying home with stick-legs, an airplane. Then there are the fairy tales that add characterization, stronger plots, but still basically keep the magical and wondrous tone of the fairy-tale.

I felt like East was a more of the realistic tone of fairy tale. It is about three times as long, and the main character, Rose, has a better motivation to go off with the Polar Bear than Jessica Day George's character, Pika, did. Yet the story is less magical, and takes the fairy tale symbolically instead of literally. There is a cool compass and traveler theme to the whole book that I really liked, but the four winds carrying the main character to the ice palace of the trolls doesn’t really happen per se. She does a lot of sailing to get there, which technically has to do with winds. Yet, in George’s book she personifies the wind and has the main character carried by each of the four winds, who have different personalities and characteristics.

Another difference is the destruction of the troll Queen, I felt like Rose was more passive, than Pika. In fact, I felt cheated by how easy it was to destroy the ice palace, and the trolls in East. Rose really didn’t have to do all that much, and she came up with a sort of plan, but it really wasn’t directly involved in destroying the troll queen. I felt like Pika used more of her cleverness and resourcefulness to free her prince, which made the plot and character a lot stronger.

So, the ditching of personifying the winds really does take a lot of the wonder element out of the story, but another thing that strengthened George’s book was her knowledge of the Norse Language. It increased the magical and wondrous tone of the book that gave it character in a way that mere repetitions of Norse mythology couldn’t do. There really is a very real power in language--a tone, a resonance, the whisper of a people’s story.

So, in the end I enjoyed Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow better, because the story had more of a wonder element in it that it so crucial to fairy tales, and the climax was better. East really does have some cool stuff in it, but I kind of disliked the trend toward making the fairy-tale make sense rather than making it more magical. Though, it does have character motivations that make more sense. I still recommend it, and found it very fun to see which one I enjoyed better.

So what about you? Which type of fairy-tale do you prefer?

1 comment:

storyengineer said...

I like my fairy tales to keep the magical element. I like the wonder element, which is why I like the whole fantasy genre.