Tag Archives: fairy tales

It’s Time to Read: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It’s the first Friday in May, which means it’s release day for the latest Time To Read book club podcast! We’ve been reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and we’re excited to talk about it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a man who comes home for a funeral. He’s drawn to visit a farm house where, as a boy, he met a remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He starts remembering events from 40 years before that started with a tragic suicide and built into a strange, frightening, and dangerous adventure, something bigger than any person, let alone a child, should have to deal with.

It’s not a long book, and I found it an easy book to read – I was drawn in early and it really kept my interest. There’s a lot here to reflect on, once the danger has passed.

As the audio producer of the podcast, I’m the first listener for every episode, and I end up listening to it several times through the editing and producing process. I enjoy the insights that our hosts bring to the story, but my favourite parts of these discussions are the little tangents they end up going on, and the questions they raise. Even if you haven’t read the book, it can be a fun listen. This episode, we’ll hear the answers to a number of questions: do any of our librarians have tattoos relevant to this book? Is Young Adult fiction really a thing? Who actually wrote “You are my sunshine”? And what about our Bob, and their Bob?

As always, we look forward to hearing what you think about the book, and about the show. Visit our site to download the latest episode,  leave comments on our discussion page, and email us at wpl-podcast@winnipeg.ca with any thoughts you might have on the program.

For May, we’re reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, so grab your copy now. We’ll have that episode available on the first Friday of June!

  • Dennis and the rest of the Time to Read crew

Long Live the King

Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Stephen King

If you were to walk into almost any library or bookstore, odds are you’ll find most of the shelf space for the K authors is given over to books written by Stephen King. Not only does he tend to write long books, he has written a lot of books. For better or worse, Stephen King has ruled the realm of popular fiction for decades, and he shows no signs of stepping down from his throne anytime soon.

Stephen Kingcarrie officially started his writing career in the late 1960’s, submitting short stories to magazines to supplement his salary as a worker in an industrial laundry. His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. It was a runaway success, so much so that Stephen was able to write full time for a living, and he hasn’t looked back since. Although a lot about his life has changed since his first book was published, King still lives in Maine most of the year, he’s still an avid baseball fan, and he’s still giving a lot of people nightmares.

standOne of my favourite bits of King trivia is that he met his wife while they were both working in a university library. Coincidentally, I too first encountered him in a library, although in my case it was my school library, while I was skipping out on an inter-mural floor hockey tournament. Up until then, my only exposure to Stephen King was through the television ad for the movie version of The Shining, which scared the pants off me. To this day I don’t know why I picked up that copy of The Stand, but I did, and I’ve been hooked every since.

itI’m the first to admit that his books aren’t the greatest literature, and I don’t enjoy everything he’s written. But there’s something about the vast stories he’s able to create, and the basic humanity of his characters, that keeps me coming back for more. I prefer his ridiculously long books – It, Under the Dome, and my all-time favourite, The Talisman, to his short story collections.

There’s something about his writing that reminds me of the really gruesome original versions of classic fairy tales, where the world is a dark and scary place filled with wolves that eat grandmothers alive, and wicked queens that demand the hearts of children. In those stories, even though terrible things happened, the characters who were clever, strong and brave came through in the end. These stories were originally told as morality tales, to introduce children to the concept of good and evil. talismanIn that regard, there are a lot of similarities between the stories told by the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Stephen King. The monsters in Stephen King’s books are sometimes supernatural, sometimes human, and horrible things happen to good people, but at the end of the day evil is defeated by the powers of good. Ultimately, I have to turn to Stephen King’s own words to explain why his books appeal to me and to so many other readers: “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”





Old Book, New Trick

Last week on Readers’ Salon, Lori wrote about the enduring appeal of classic stories. As much as I love the classics in their original form, I am struck by the many ways in which they have been reimagined. In that sense, they are the superhero movies of their format, constantly being re-examined, re-imagined, updated and given improved gadgets or better capes. This allows audiences new and old to explore a new facet of a well-known story.



For example, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has undergone numerous updates and transformations, including Splintered, the YA series by A.G. Howard with a punk skater heroine, and the manga Alice in the Country of Hearts, which is based off of a computer game. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) tweaks to the characters, setting, and even genre of the story offer just enough spice to entice reluctant readers and pique their interest in this classic tale. Similarly, Gris Grimly’s interpretation of Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel Frankenstein involves taking bits of pared-down original text and completing it with Gothically-styled, rock-inspired illustrations. Even the works of Shakespeare have been subject to continual re-imaginings, such as William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.


FablesFairy Tale Feasts

Fairy tales are another excellent example of the timeless nature of some stories. Fractured or updated fairy tales can take many forms, such as Marissa Meyer’s teen series, The Lunar Chronicles, or Bill Willingham’s adult graphic novel series Fables, in which your standard fairy tale characters end up exiles in modern New York City. However, changing the location of the story isn’t the only way to change how you interact with a classic tale. Jane Yolen’s Fairy Tale Feasts cookbook series for young readers offers an excellent opportunity for fairy tale fanatics to experience their favourite tales in a tactile manner, and demonstrates how a good story spills off of the page and into our day-to-day lives.



Mythologies also tend to be perennial favourites, as evidenced by the popularity of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series (Greek), The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris (Norse), and the Thunder Road trilogy by Chadwick Ginther, which features a cast of characters from Norse mythology and just happens to be set right here in Manitoba (it just so happens that book three, Too Far Gone, is set for release in September).

Do you have a favourite re-imagining of a classic book or story? Or is there a story that you think deserves to be redone? I’d love to hear about it!


Once Upon a Time is Not What it Seems

I love fairy tales and particularly enjoy revisions of traditional fairy tales, which is one reason that I’ve become slightly hooked on Once Upon a Time, a new TV show shot in Vancouver that debuted this fall.  The show goes from fairy tale land to modern Storybrooke, with the premise being that the evil witch has cursed Snow White and exiled her and other fairy tale characters to Storybrooke, where they have no recollection of their fairy tale lives at all.  The only one who can break the curse is Snow White’s daughter Emma, who is found by the son she gave up for adoption (Henry) who is now living with the evil witch (mayor of Storybrooke).  Henry is the only one who knows the truth about the residents of Storybrooke–but will anyone believe him? 

This show made me think about books I’ve read which offer interesting retellings of fairy tales.  Anne Sexton’s Transformations contains poetic renditions of fairy tales.  The poems begin with commentary on modern life–Red Riding Hood opens with examples of deceivers and Sexton counts herself among those who deceive.  “And I.  I too.  Quite collected at cocktail parties, meanwhile in my head I’m undergoing open-heart surgery”.  In describing Red Riding Hood’s cape, she says “it was her Linus blanket, besides it was red, as red as the Swiss flag, yes it was red, as red as chicken blood”.  Anne Sexton provides the reader with feminist, dark retellings of these tales and they aren’t the sanitized, safe versions we tell our children.  Sexton takes the tales to places dark and untamed.    

The book My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales contains stories by a plethora of writers, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman.  The tales of Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White are just a few of the stories that are breathed new life in the capable hands of these renowned authors.  Less well-known tales from lands such as Japan and Mexico are also revisited.  Again, these aren’t our children’s tales–but were fairy tales ever meant to be?

One of my favorite twists on the fairy tale theme has to be Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess.  I first discovered this book when I was a teenager, and I just loved  it! First, I was overjoyed that though this book had a feminist message the author was male, and I just loved the strong female character.  For those of you who don’t know this story, prince Ronald is taken by a dragon right before he is supposed to marry princess Elizabeth.  Elizabeth cleverly rescues Ronald from the dragon, but after her ordeal isn’t looking sufficiently princess-like for Ronald’s taste.  Ronald tells her, “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.”  If Elizabeth can stand up to a dragon, she can certainly stand up to the annoying prince Ronald.  In fact, her response is hilarious–but you’ll have to read the book to find out what she says.  And, yes, this IS a tale that you can read with your kids.