The Sleeper and the Spindle
Chris Riddell (illustrator)
Harper Collins, 2015 69 pgs
Veteran author and Newbery winner Neil Gaiman presents a take on a traditional fairy tale with a modern feminist twist. We enter the world of Sleeping Beauty, who is trapped in her sleeping thorn-filled kingdom, which keeps growing. The kingdom on the other side of the mountains hears of the spreading danger. The only folks able to cross the tall mountains are dwarfs, the same dwarfs who helped Snow White. In fact Snow White (although Gaiman never actually uses her name and the reader must figure out her identity independently) is the queen on the other side of the mountains, nearly ready to marry her prince. She hears of the sleeping and leaves with the dwarfs to rescue Sleeping Beauty. Because of being affected by the same sleeping illness herself, although for a shorter period of time, Snow White is able to fight its power. After a dangerous journey the brave queen finds Sleeping Beauty and an old hag by her side. Snow White rouses Sleeping Beauty with a kiss and something about her seems familiar. All is not as it seems and the identities of the participants are revealed to much surprise by the reader. Snow White's next choice after the rescue will also surprise readers and prove her to be brave, independent, and not your typical Disney princess.
I have often declared myself Neil Gaiman's biggest fan. His collection of works is varied and vast, as well as across ages and genres. Gaiman is an expert and lover of folklore and fairy tales and reworks them with precision, imagination and integrity. I first read this story as part of a short story collection called Rags and Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, a collection of stories inspired by favorite tales of the authors. This story feels like a traditional fairy tale and its wording is rich and beautiful. Gaiman keeps the traditional elements and adds a modern feminist sensibility by making Snow White beautiful, yet fierce, and having her, instead of a prince, wake Sleeping Beauty. Playing with the identities of Sleeping Beauty and the Hag make the tale that much more interesting and give it a new dimension. It makes sense to connect the tales of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, especially since they both share the common thread of the sleeping curse. The story is made that much more richer by the illustrations contributed by Riddell. They are lavish and beautiful, primarily penned in black with gold accents throughout. The volume is beautifully designed and packaged and will thrill fans of Gaiman, especially those of his classic Stardust. Because of the length and illustrations, younger children will be drawn to this book, but it is deceptively sophisticated and meant for an older audience. For this reason it may have a hard time finding its target readership. Teen and adult fans of fantasy, graphic novels, and Gaiman (like me!) will fall into The Sleeper and the Spindle and devour it. A true gem!