A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
For as long as there have been fairy tales, there have been writers who retell and reimagine them. Recently we’ve seen many new takes on old stories, from feature films like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent, to TV shows that take on the entire fairy tale world like Once Upon a Time. When it comes to books, novelist Gregory Maguire is well known for his unique take on The Wizard of Oz in his Wicked Years series, starting with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Author Elizabeth Blackwell has most recently tackled the legend of Sleeping Beauty, in her book While Beauty Slept.
What makes Blackwell’s book a little different than many other retellings is the relative absence of magic. This makes While Beauty Slept closer kin with historical fiction than fantasy. This concrete, realistic story is told by Elise, a young girl from a farm village. When she alone escapes from a plague that takes her family, she seeks out work in the royal castle. Elise begins as a chambermaid but quickly ascends within the hierarchy of the castle’s help and learns to navigate the murky world of royal schemes and politics. As Queen Lenore’s personal attendant, she becomes privy to the Queen’s secret infertility and a dangerous deal with the King’s Aunt Millicent. When Rose, our Sleeping Beauty, is finally born, Millicent is slighted by the royal family and curses their newborn daughter. The entire castle must sacrifice everything in order to protect young Rose from a horrible fate.
One of the greatest strengths of this version of the tale is the detailed, rich description of castle life. Given Elise’s placement in the castle, there is a sense of both the glamour of royalty as well as the gritty reality of what it might have been like to be a servant in a vaguely medieval time period. The multi-dimensional characters give a lot of depth and life to people we feel like we already know through the fairy tale. It makes them less predictable and more realistic, which enhances the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this could have really happened and inspired a timeless legend.
If you’d like to find out more about While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell will be visiting the Library on Thursday, October 9th at 7:00 p.m. to talk about her book, her experiences with publishing, and the role social media plays in an author’s career.
Review by Rachel