The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

sleeper and the spindle
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a terrific sequel or re-telling if you will of the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White saga by the fertile and wonderfully warped imagination of Neil Gaiman. This tale takes place shortly after the story of Snow White as she is now Queen and preparing for her upcoming nuptials. Though to be fair, the characters are never referred to as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White.
It is the eve of her wedding and the young Queen is restless. She hears of a land not faraway where a young Princess sleeps and the whole land is under a bewitching spell of enchantment. She is told by her trusted advisors, a group of dwarves, that the spell is spreading and more and more people are falling under the sleep. Soon it will reach her borders. She knows that to halt the spell a hero must travel to the land under enchantment and break the curse. She puts aside her wedding dress, commands her groom to wait and dons her armor and mail and sets off with a trio of trusted dwarves at her side.
“…Wake her how?’ asked the middle-sized dwarf, hand still clutching his rock, for he thought in essentials.
‘The usual method,’ said the pot-girl, and she blushed. ‘Or so the tales have it.’
‘Right,’ said the tallest dwarf. ‘So, bowl of cold water poured on the face and a cry of ‘Wakey! Wakey!’?’
‘A kiss,’ said the sot. ‘But nobody has ever got that close. They’ve been trying for sixty years or more. The say the witch-‘
‘Fairy,’ said the fat man.
‘Enchantress,’ corrected the pot-girl.
‘Whatever she is,’ said the sot. ‘She’s still there. That’s what they say. If you get that close. If you make it through the roses, she’ll be waiting for you. She’s old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death…”
The Queen travels to rescue the sleeping princess, leaving her own future behind to go forth into the unknown. What she finds in the sleeping kingdom is that not all tales are fully told and sometimes the distinction between what is innocence and what is evil is not as it appears on the outside. With her trusty dwarves at her side braves all perils until she is left with her final peril, that is to return to her own land and be wed.
Gaiman writes a terrific little tale here. It is as much about a young woman’s choices as it is about the breaking the traditional mode of being rescued. The Queen is modern woman trapped in a medieval tale. She battles, she wars and she rescues. But in the end, she is left with the choice of returning to rule her Kingdom and transferring all her power and her identity to her husband. Gaiman never names his characters but you will know them just the same and the angst of the Queen as she knows what her impending wedding truly brings her is that of free woman consigning herself to a future of status imprisonment. There is no prince Charming and no happily ever after awaiting her.
Some reviewers have felt cheated by the illustrations and felt that this was a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty tale for the LGBT community. But if they read the tale they will see that the Queen never held any such feelings for the sleeping Princess and the kiss, albeit between two females, was done as a formality and was passionless. Besides, as far as Sleeping Beauty goes, Gaiman had other tricks up his sleeve.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is one of those small gems of a story that Gaiman tosses out every so often and if you’re not paying attention; you will miss out. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are terrific and fit the story perfectly.
This is Gaiman in his Mirrormask mode, telling a really good story.

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