The Sleeper and the Spindle is a reworking of the classic Sleeping Beauty story by master story teller, Neil Gaiman. It has previously appeared in an anthology of reworked fairy tales, published for an adult audience. I remember, when I read this story hoping that someone would publish it for children.
And lo. It came to pass. And it is very excellent.
I am especially excited because it sees Gaiman team up once again with Chris Riddell, whose Ottoline and Goth Girl books we are all huge fans of. So if you add our huge fandom of Gaiman to our huge fandom of Chris Riddell, you have just generated an enormous amount of squee right then and there.
There are lots of things to love about this version of the story. It has an exceptional twist at the end, which I am not about to share with you. It is rich with the lore of fairy tale, and nods to other familiar stories.
It reworks the tale for a modern audience, but keeps all the timeless elements that make fairy stories so enduring. It speaks to the place in you where stories take root and become part of you. You find yourself thinking about it at odd times of the day. Other things you read remind you of it.
It has endurance.
The story is dark and thrilling, scary in places, funny in others. It plays with all the key elements of the traditional tale but arranges them in a to me, much more pleasing way. The structure and language of the story gives the nod to a traditional way of telling it, but the events that Gaiman recounts, coupled with the splendidly eerie illustrations by Chris Riddell, give it a new and wonderful life.
I love that the main character is a heroine rather than a hero, and that she is bold and resourceful and clever and thoughtful, and you totally want her to win all the way through. It is she that is the lynch pin in this story to all the major changes and modern moods of the book that give it a real freshness in the retelling.
I love that all the sleeping people in the book share a kind of hive, zombie mind (we are big on zombies in this house), and Riddell’s superb illustrations make them utterly chilling in that brilliant way that the best books do. It’s like being on a fair ground ride, you are frightened, but you feel safe enough to allow yourself to keep feeling frightened, and you choose to go on.
The production quality of the book is incredibly high. In hard back with an opaque slip cover with exquisite black and gold illustrations it screams ‘gift’ to me. I was going to wait and hope someone bought it for me for Christmas, but I was too greedy in the end. Now I will be buying it as a gift for other people for Christmas, because it is one of those books I can think of about ten million people I’d like to share, discuss it with.
The complexity of the language and the darker elements of the text make this a book I would recommend for ages 8 and up as something for them to read alone. You could share it with younger readers, but do bear in mind that it is a mite darker than the usual bland fairy tale fare that is offered up these days. It is true to the roots of the fairy tale genre, but if you’re sharing it with younger readers you might want to discuss and share some of the more frightening elements with them as you go along.
It would be perfect to study as a part of a project on retelling fairy stories, sitting alongside Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber for example, The story was originally published for adults and it has enough in it to share/talk about that make it perfect for a teen/Ya audience to read and/or discuss without it seeming babyish in any way.
I’m going to read it at least one more time before I relinquish it to other members of my family, who are all clamouring to get their mitts on it.