Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Swan Maiden

So, I just finished reading The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson. I'm usually a sucker for "fairy tales retold" and when I saw this one on the library's new book shelf, I wondered why no one had recommended it to me.

Well, now I know. The story started off strong, with good depth of characters and an interesting and believable world. But about half-way through, something changed.

I think the author decided to cleave to the outline of the original tale. Unfortunately, it didn't work as well here, because the events that followed didn't really work with the characters she created.

Instead, it seemed like Doucette, the heroine, had suddenly turned from a good, and kind and brave princess into a spoiled, arrogant, nasty little brat. After a few chapters of this, I hoped she never reunited with her true love. I hoped she was doomed to spend eternity alone in the wilderness. Because, frankly, I rather liked the hero and didn't want to see him saddled with a nasty, self-centered shrew.

But, of course, fairy tales MUST have fairy tale endings. I'd hate to see what becomes of the poor man after a winter with Doucette, though. He'll probably end up a typical swan-pecked weakling.....

So, I can't really recommend this book. It had a lot of potential, but I think the story ended up quashing the characters. (I can imagine them as tragic figures in a curse--forced to act out this story even though it doesn't fit them. Cursing the cruel author who has given them wills of their own, then bound them to a tortuous outline.)

If you really want to see how strong characters can retell a fairy tale without having to stick to the original story, check out Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Pope, and Elizabeth Bunce. They've all written books I would read again. Swan Maiden? not so much.....

5 comments:

Lisa said...

Did you read 'Curse As Black As Gold'? I've been dying to read it. I know it's the retelling of Rumpelstilskin (sp?).

Deirdre Mundy said...

Curse was awesome! I read it in one, almost unbroken sitting because it was too compelling to put down.

And she managed to keep up the tension right up to the end... it didn't fizzle at any point....

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

This is what I love to read and write myself, and I know what the author must have been wrestling with, wanting to stay with the original.

Still, if that was so important to her she should have kept a tighter reign on character development... It's just something I'm wrestling with too-- how much to let the characters "go" while still pursuing my goals.

Thanks for the warning, anyway. This is one I might have picked up and felt time-wasted too.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Hey Amy-- I think the really good fairy tales retold (Curse as Dark as Gold, Perilous Gard,Ella Enchanted, most of Robin McKinley's stuff) ALL reach a point where the retelling has to deviate from the original to make sense for the characters....

But, on the other hand, most folktales have multiple versions, and sometimes multiple endings...

(Have you ever checked out Italo Calvino's Italian folktales? For every tale, he has end notes about alternate versions.... AWESOME.)

So maybe part of a good re-telling is knowing when to deviate from the established story, and make it your own.....

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

On Calvino-- not yet, but it's on my look-for list.