Tag Archives: fairy tale

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock.”

o-OCEAN-AT-THE-END-OF-THE-LANE-facebookOne of the first novels I read this year was Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Wonderful, wonderful book. The day I finished it, I wrote, “I know it’s only January, but I can’t imagine reading another novel this year that’s half as magical as this one.”

We now approach the end of March and I stand by my prediction. Like N.D. Wilson and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Gaiman is one of a handful of contemporary fiction writers I feel it my solemn duty to recommend to everyone I meet.  (On that note, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, pick up Coraline. You can’t go wrong with it.)

And while it’s a popular style of compliment among reviewers to call this or that novel “like nothing I’ve ever read before,” I can’t say this of Ocean. It would be untrue, and further, it would be damning it with faint praise. It is because I have read something like it before that Ocean is such a formidable bit of storytelling.

Gaiman is no hack – the very idea is farcical. But he is carrying on a tradition, and the mantle of writers like C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander looks rather splendid draped across his shoulders. I can’t help but think they would be chuffed to see it worn so well.

In Ocean‘s opening pages, our protagonist (nameless throughout the story) declares his affection for the myths of old: “They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

How fitting that Gaiman’s own story should achieve this very quality. Did you ever stand in your pajamas under a full moon, no shoes, just your naked feet touching the ground? Ocean is like that: a perfect marriage of the tangible and the transcendent. In a word, timeless.

Thank God, the fairy tale lives.

Book Review: Coraline

200px-Coraline“Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house…”

When young Coraline Jones finds a mysterious passageway in her family’s home, she crawls into a world exactly like her own – only better. Here, nobody says her name wrong (“It’s Coraline, not Caroline”), the toys are marvelous, her bedroom is delightfully pink and green, and the food is actually edible (unlike her father’s “recipes”).

But of course, there’s a catch.

Her parents in this alternate world look exactly like her real parents, but with shiny black button eyes and ghastly paper-white skin and a fervent desire to keep Coraline on their side of the door. Coraline can have everything she’s ever wanted – so long as she’s willing to allow her own eyes to be replaced with buttons.

Did I mention this couple is just a tad bit creepy?

Clearly, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline isn’t your typical Disneyfied fairy tale. It’s dark, whimsical, sinister, smart, and funny – frequently all at once. You will recall it was Lewis who once said that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” If this is true (as I believe it is), then Coraline is a very good children’s story indeed.

I haven’t read any of his other novels, but judging from this one, Gaiman is a firm believer in the “short and sweet” method of writing. His style is spare yet colorful, fraught with crisp dialogue and fantastically bizarre images that flicker out of the gloom like candles in a haunted house. It is precisely this restraint that keeps the story from becoming overly dreary or morbid, while still maintaining a keenly creepy edge.

Like all the best fairy tales, this one isn’t without a moral or two tucked slyly up its sleeve. Be careful what you wish for is one; be thankful for what you have, however imperfect it may be is another.

The world on the other side of the door looks like a lot more fun than the one on this side; but like a child’s version of the Matrix, its “betterness” is merely illusory. When the curtain is pulled back, and the masks come off, we see monsters have been running the show all along.

Coraline sighed. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she said. “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?”

It seems getting everything you want can be an exceedingly ugly business after all. Who’d’ve thought?

Soundtrack Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

Snow White & The Huntsman
(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Running Time: 67 min.
Released: 2012

 

 

 

Kristen Stewart as the fairest of them all? No thanks. Another score from the great J.N.H. himself? Yes please. Hollywood’s latest adaption of Snow White wasn’t received well by fans or critics, who branded it neither magical nor memorable. I’m not going to argue with that assessment. What I am going to argue is that the score is worth your time, even if the movie is not. Surprised? Don’t be. Samson found honey in the carcass of a lion, and James Newton Howard wrote a stellar score for a less-than-stellar film. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it some of his finest work to date. It’s dark and complex, gripping and lovely – and it has all the magic and memorability that a fairy-tale should. So let the journey begin: “Once upon a time, there was a composer named James Newton Howard, and his music was the stuff of legend.”

The first track, Snow White, introduces us to the main theme – a quiet and enchanting piece, full of swelling strings and faintly mysterious piano. You couldn’t ask for a better opening: as soon as I heard it, I knew I was in for a treat. And I was right. Beauty and emotion abound in this score, my favorite examples being Fenland In Flames and the mesmerizing Sanctuary. Such loveliness I expected; this is J.N.H. after all. What I did not expect was to be blown away by how magnificent the action music sounded. This is a darker, more audacious side of Howard, one which we don’t hear as often. I wish we did. I absolutely love it. Tracks like Escape From the Tower and Warriors On the Beach come alive with pulse-pounding intensity, a bravura display of heavy percussion, ominous brass, and tenacious strings. Marvelous, marvelous stuff. Bringing the album to a close is Coronation, and believe me, it’s every bit as glorious as the title suggests.

Purchase the MP3 album on iTunes or Amazon.com.