31 May 2011

Re reading old books

I'm in my re reading mood these days - didn't feel much like reading romances or thrillers either, so I went through my bookshelves and got out some much loved classics - Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Robin McKinley and my much loved Alice in Wonderland - the book for when you are tired, or despondent or just plain bored. When I was 10 and very very sick, my father bought this book for me - Alice in Wonderland. I was at once fascinated and engrossed in the book and forgot to be cantankerous and demanding or whiney and attention seeking.

Today the book that he bought for me is still around, though tattered and hanging by its bare threads. It should be put in a museum of much loved books - together with all the Enid Blytons, Hans Christian Anderson and Frances Hodgkins. Anyway, last year I came upon this beautiful hardcover edition with illustrations by the original artist, Sir John Tenniel at the Big Bad Wolf Sale and quickly grabbed it, thinking myself the most lucky person that day! There were only 6 copies and they cost, can you beat it, RM8.00. Gem of the year!
What I loved about Alice, and still do is the no nonsense style of Lewis Caroll. In those days I didn't care who the writer was nor how the book came about. I loved the conversational style of Alice, the main character and narrator of the story and I enjoyed her adventures. In fact for a long time after that, I wanted to be Alice and wished we had rabbits in top coats in hot tropical Malaysia, one I could follow down a rabbit hole and have adventures that were both funny and brave.

Another book that I loved and enjoyed reading recently was a re-telling of Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty. This was  written by Robin McKinley and called Spindle's End. It is a truly spell-binding book full of rich detail and colourful characters. The main story does follow the original - about the baby princess who was about to be baptised and on her baptism day the wicked fairy came and sent out a curse. But after this there are so many twists and turns in the story that at times one forgets that it is the story of the sleeping princess. McKinley's baby princess is rescued by a fairy, but a fairy who is not even one yet. She is only a young girl who happened to be at the christening and who happened to overhear the curse. Out of the goodness of her heart she runs to the cradle and holds the baby and says "No, no it will not happen... it will not happen.. You will have all my magic, all knowledge if it will help you at all and it will protect you." Words that became actually the little princess's protection for this young fairy had a gift of talking to animals. Somehow she found herself with the little baby princess in her arms on her way home to her village which is at the very furthest corner of the kingdom. It took her almost 65 days to to reach home , having to keep away from the main pathways and using only the forest track that wound along the borders of the country. Along the way, the little princess was helped and nurtured by all the animals in the forest - bear, fox, cow, even wolf gave their milk readily to help keep the princess quiet and safe. The fox was the first creature to help her, though generally foxes avoided humans as much as possible.

" All the creatures of forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name day. But the curse was cast: Rosie was fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep - a slumber from which no one would be able to rouse her..."

Rosie as she was later called grew up never knowing she was a princess, away from palace rules and curses. The wicked fairy along with the whole palace, looked for her but nobody suspected that the little girl growing up with two fairies far away in a corner of the kingdom was actually a princess. For one thing she grew up to be robust and tomboyish, liking all manner of boy adventures rather than to sit at home and learn to spin. She was also, inspite of the gifts by her twelve fairy godmothers, quite homely looking. Her hair was beautiful it is true, being long and golden and blond and soft as silk. She had a very happy nature and the gift of friendship - everyone who knew her loved her. But she had a nose which while not ugly, was a trifle big for er face and eyes which were as blue as the skies with long curly lashes but which were too big for her small inquisitive features. She was protected by the very ordinariness of her upbringing and thus it was that she never knew that she was the princess the whole country was talking about, until just the week before she turned 21, when a stranger came to the door and claimed to be from the palace and that she Rosie was actually a princess.

After that night things happened very fast. Penicia the wicked fairy who had been looking for her finally realised where she was. The handsome young man who had come to work as Narl's apprentice was actually a prince and her bethrothed, but he was in love with Peony her best friend. Rosie herself realised that she did not want to become the princess and rule a kingdom but preferred to be in her village looking after the animals. But curses as we know cannot be thwarted and so things become even more interesting after this. All in all , this is a very satisfactory book to read, even if you are not really a fan of fantasy or fairy tales. The writer weaves a tale that is really magical and yet so astoundingly real that once you start, you cannot put the book down until you have reached the end. Because the end is not like the fairy tale. There is a ball where the princess was supposed to be introduced to her family and her kinsmen but Pernicia comes to this ball too. And the curse is thrown except that this time, it is Rosie alone who can rescue herself. And this she does, with the help of all her animal friends (very Disneyish this one) but also Narl the blacksmith who is actually a fairy in disguise and who loved her. Like all good fairy tales there is a happy ending, though it is not the ending we all think it would be. I would give this book a 4 out of 5!  Very good read indeed and one a lover of words would love - beautifully written with lots of descriptions.


The Chair Speaks said...

Re-reading old books at a different age is good as you understand it from a different angle.

Gattina said...

I "devoured" the Enid Blayton books, when I was a child and even later. They were translated into German.

naida said...

Wow Kat, your copy of Alice in Wonderland is very nice! Sir John Tenniels illustrations are lovely.

That retelling of Sleeping Beauty sounds good.
Disney does tend to sugar coat sometimes, and I do prefer the original fairy tales.

Amin said...

I also love the re reading...

Kat said...

Thanks everyone! Yes, I agree EJ when you read fairy tales at a different age or even our old classics, we tend to see more and appreciate more, especially the language. When you are young you only want to know the story!
And Gattina - I used to devour Enid Blyton's books too!
Naida - yes Sir John Tenniel's illustrations are beautiful!