Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: Fairest (audiobook)
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Bruce Coville gushed to me about the Full Cast Audio production of Gail
Carson Levine's Fairest over the second-best barbeque sandwich he's ever eaten.
"It was the most ambitious, most difficult thing we've ever done," he said between
bites of his warm cheese muffin. I had heard many rumors about it already.
In Fairest, Levine loosely retells the story of Snow White. Our heroine, Aza,
is the epitome of un-fair, so far from beautiful in her own eyes that she eschews
mirrors and despises the patrons of the inn where she works who stare and make
rude comments. But Aza has the most amazing voice -- a huge attribute in a land
where people sing as often as they breathe. Levine had to test her poetic prowess:
as a book, Fairest was chock-full of lyrics.
As an audio production, Todd Hobin, the director, went a step further than
the normal Full Cast pomp and circumstance and actually composed music for all
of the songs Levine had included in the text. The effect was essentially an eight-hour Broadway musical with no stage. I'm a huge fan of clever, Cole Porter-style
musical lyrics. Unfortunately, the singing in Fairest tended to be conversational,
non-rhyming, and operatic . . . but it was still an event to be heard.
Sarah Naughton both read and sang the part of Aza, breathing beautiful life
into Levine's character. Aza's family, Queen Ivi, Prince Ijori . . . I would go so far
as to say there was not a character whose voice I didn't like. This Full Cast was
exceptionally well-cast. The only disagreements I had with Fairest were issues not
with the performance but with the story -- a new plot device of Levine's making,
and one inherent in the fairy tale itself.
Let's start with this ridiculous idea of true love, shall we? Now, I'm the first
person who will jump on the bandwagon and cheer for the hero and heroine to fall
in love and live happily ever after. Chick flick? BRING THEM ON. I enjoy fiction
as my escape from reality, and those are the endings I like to see.
I admit I have issues when "the prince/king sees a pretty girl, falls for her,
and asks her to marry him" means he will always be chivalrous and trustworthy
and stand behind her and do whatever is in his true love's best interest. It's a
failing inherent with the fairy tale -- a failing that sadly serves to keep our hero
depthless and uncomplicated.
Once Prince Ijori falls for Aza, we never question that the world would be
otherwise, and neither does he. He loves her for who she is, not what he sees.
That's the way the world should be, right? But [SPOILER ALERT] when the king
is confronted with his queen's missteps, he exiles himself from his beloved
kingdom in order to be with her. Okay, I get that this is not reality, but to me, that's
not even realistic. And it willingly perpetuates the Prince Charming mythos every
teenage girl with self-esteem issues (that's what, 95% of them?) grabs onto and
wishes for every night on stars that will still be shining even after her precious
dreams are shattered.
I also believe that Queen Ivi's punishment was a bit too harsh for her crime.
Yes, she screwed up. She made some very bad choices. But other than being
slightly silly, shallow, and a bit vain (if you know a teenage girl who's not, please
buy her flowers), Ivi was not at heart a bad person. Her intentions were never
overtly malicious -- she was a stranger in a strange land, and adapted by making
her surroundings conform to what she was used to, regardless of the land's
customs. We've all screwed up; we've all made bad decisions no matter how old
we are (I'm sure I'll make a few more bad decisions before my next birthday). I
would have liked to have seen Ivi embraced and educated, as opposed to being so
severely punished for her ignorance.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, these items are terribly trivial.
Fairest is a fantastic listen, and fun for the whole family. And if you happen to
play these CDs on a car trip with your own teenage girls, be sure to ask them what
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher: William Morrow
"WARNING: THIS IS A BAWDY TALE." So spake the brown-paper
wrapping that covered my review copy of Fool, humorist Christopher Moore's
latest offering. It went on to describe exactly what it meant, at length, just to be
sure I knew exactly what I was getting into once I tore that wrapper off. And boy,
let me tell you what -- it wasn't lying.
The titular fool is our main character, Pocket, orphan child raised by nuns
who is now official court jester to King Lear (and oversexed consort of all Lear's
daughters). His blatant honesty and cutting wit will make you bark laughing
uncontrollably at random intervals throughout the book. He is both cursed and
saved by that honesty and wit throughout his adventures, and with these skills
Pocket unwittingly weaves the fate of the kingdom as the story of King Lear
Tom Stoppard's Academy Award-winning film Shakespeare in Love is to
Romeo and Juliet what Fool is to King Lear. One only needs a passing grade in
high school English to appreciate the humor (and hat-tipping to other plays by the
Bard) woven through the text, but the more intimate the reader is with the subject
matter, the more pleasure might be derived from this book. Conversely, readers
who have finished Fool (according to Moore's afterword) often feel compelled to
reacquaint themselves with the original King Lear in an effort to enhance their
insight -- a task which even the author himself does not recommend. (You may
recall that King Lear is not a comedy. You may not recall that the Fool in Lear
disappears in the third act and is never seen again.)
Do not be discouraged: if you're not an expert on Lear (as I'm certainly not),
there is enough crass lewdness in Fool to whet your appetite. Which is to say: no.
It is very definitely not for kids . . . unless your goal is to teach them anatomy, sex
education, out-of-wedlock children, and creative alternative means of swearing
(including my new favorite word, which modesty forbids me to share with you).
Moore's bawdy tale is, however, passionately true to the language, mood, and
sensibilities of Shakespeare's England. He tells it with the casual ease of a
Groundling at the Globe awaiting curtain call, never once sounding pompous or
forced. It's all in good fun.
What impressed me most about Fool was Moore's consistent voice from the
very first page to the very last. So very often sketch comedy falls flat after only a
few pages or chapters; I laughed and blushed throughout this entire book, but I was
never disappointed. When I was done I clapped my hands in applause and resisted
giving it a standing ovation. As bawdy a tale as Fool is (and never claims to be
otherwise), it is also a smart tale. Christopher Moore proves himself to be a
brilliant author, and a comedic virtuoso.
Read more by Alethea Kontis