Review of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

(For the thrilling backstory of my complicated relationship with fairy tales, please see my previous post, “I Came to Love You Late, Princess.”)

Dear reader, allow me to introduce you to a collection of stories well worth savoring: Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales.

If you read widely, caring less for genre boundaries than you do about discovering imaginative, well-crafted stories wherever you can find them, then I recommend this collection to you!

And if you love retold fairy tales for the sheer ingenuity of the thing – the joy of experiencing human creativity as it launches familiar themes into new genres and settings and characterizations, and explores well-traveled territory in fresh and inspiring ways – then I heartily recommend this collection to you!

Before I read Once, I was already a fan of Suzannah Rowntree, the author of Death Be Not Proud (a suspenseful retelling of Snow White and the Huntsman set against a spectacular New Zealand backdrop during the Jazz Age).  I also admired Hayden Wand, author of With Blossoms Gold (an absorbing and deeply moving Italian Renaissance reinterpretation of Rapunzel).

I was unfamiliar with the other contributing authors, but if these stories are representative of their work, then I’m very pleased to make their acquaintance!:

Elisabeth Grace Foley, The Mountain of the Wolf (a Little Red Riding Hood that both honors and questions classic Western themes of personal vengeance and vigilante justice);

Rachel Heffington, She But Sleepeth (an urban fantasy remake of Sleeping Beauty that moves from the contemporary dreamland of L.A. to the older dreamland of Romania while exploring the age-old conflict between love and death);

J. Grace Pennington, Rumpled (a whimsical and thought-provoking steampunk tale that re-imagines the original version of Rumpelstiltskin in a way that had me cheering by the end); and

Emily Ann Putzke, Sweet Remembrance (a poignantly evocative Little Match Girl set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II).

Whether or not you like all of the tales in Once equally well might very well be a measure of how many different genres and historical time periods you normally enjoy reading.  But despite these differences, I found this collection to have a powerful unity of theme. That theme is courage:

Courage to surrender one’s bitterness for the hope of something better. Courage to love in the face of despair and even death. Courage to admit one’s need for mercy – and then extend it to another. Courage to face the darkest secrets of one’s past in order to have hope for the future. Courage to confront one’s deepest, most uncontainable fears for someone else’s sake.

For me, these things embody what I think of as the Queen Lucy of Narnia kind of courage.

Who doesn’t need a shot of that kind of courage? So allow me to encourage you to be good to yourself today: Read this book. Find refreshment. Find new courage. Enjoy.

Note: Although I received an ARC from the authors in exchange for an honest review, I’ve also purchased my own copy of Once on Amazon because I know I’ll reread it in the future, so I wanted to have the final, published version on my ebook shelf.

I Came to Love You Late, Princess

For the last several years, I’ve ignored the burgeoning interest in retold fairy tales. Until recently, I didn’t even recognize some of the fairy tale themes in my own stories!

Why? In truth, I was never a fan of many fairy tales to begin with. Or rather, it was not so much fairy tales that I had a problem with (I was fascinated by the story of Hansel and Gretel). It would be more accurate to say that I was never a fan of Disney princesses.

Those princesses were always beautiful, and even as a tot I knew I would never look like them. They were loved by all except the truly wicked, and I knew I could never hope to inspire such admiration. Handsome princes were willing to brave all kinds of peril for their love. Yeah, right.

So when it came to Disney, I was not charmed by Cinderella. Instead, I loved Bambi and his forest friends, and I put up with Snow White for the sake of the dwarves. I was most impressed by Mary Poppins, who always knew the right thing to do, and came and went as she pleased, courtesy of her levitating umbrella.

In truth, songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” made me want to hurl.

As I grew older, I loved Lucy Pevensie, who skipped being a princess altogether and went straight to being a Queen of Narnia. Her gift from Father Christmas wasn’t a doll, but a dagger – and a cool healing cordial (which certainly would come in handy following any adventures involving said dagger). She rode into battle with the other archers. She loved sailing toward adventure with her shipmates on the Dawn Treader.

More importantly, Lucy loved her brother Edmund so much that even in the face of his betrayal she begged Aslan to help him. She was kind to her spiteful cousin Eustace. She was willing to risk her life to save her companions by facing the Magician’s magic book alone.

In so many ways, Lucy had the kind of courage I wanted to have. I wanted to be like her. I still do.

For above all else Lucy knew her own faults, and was sorry for them. But she also knew that Aslan knew her as well or better than she knew herself, and that he loved her, as she loved him. This gave her hope.

Queen Lucy never appeared to be pining away, waiting for her prince to come. I mean, sure, she missed Aslan when he wasn’t physically present in Narnia, but … that’s not the same thing, right?

Hmmm….

Which leads me back to the current popularity of retold fairy tales. Turns out a fairy tale (as I’m sure countless others have observed before me) has become something like the tofu of the literary world – a template that is used to cook up a story flavored with whatever one likes:  Materialism. Eroticism. “I Am the Captain of My Soulism.”

Many tales, however (for reasons that deserve a separate post), are especially well-suited to depicting a God-centered view of reality. Therefore, I set out to find some retellings that resonate for me.

And guess what? I found an entire collection! Coming soon: A review of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales.