Friday, May 31, 2013

This Ain't no Disney Movie

These days you can't spit a mouthful of poisoned apple without it splatting against another adaptation of a classic fairy tale. Many of these remakes emphasize the darker aspects of fairy tales. Some of them move the fairy tale characters and situations into more modern settings. Others, annoyingly, feature Kristin Stewart.

The twisted fairy tale subgenre has lately been quite overdone. And yet, a series like Cornelia Funke's Mirrorworld books demonstrates that despite over-exposure, dark fairy-tale inspired stories can still be both gripping and original. Starting with Reckless, the series follows the Reckless brothers, Jacob and Will, into what they call the Mirrorworld, an alternative reality in which fairy tale creatures (or at least their dark counterparts) exist for real. This is a world populated by living stone-skinned gargoyles (called, simply, Goyl), evil witches (known as Child Eaters) , shape-shifters who can change into animals, blood-thirsty unicorns, and, among many other things, curse uttering fairies. In Reckless, the younger brother, Will, is scratched by a Goyl and his skin begins slowly turning to stone.

(SPOILER ALERT -- if you haven't read Reckless and don't want the story spoiled, stop here. Read my full review of Reckless here, if you want)

Older brother Jacob eventually finds a magical cure for Will's condition, but it comes at the price of his own life, a fee which will be collected after one year passes.

Where Reckless centers around Jacob saving his brother, in Funke's new Mirrorworld book, Fearless, Jacob must try to save himself. The Mirrorworld, Jacob reasons, is so infused with magic and magical objects, that somewhere there must be an antidote to even the curse of a Dark Fairy. He begins his quest in our world, though, attempting to purchase an object, an ancient bottle, which Jacob originally brought from the Mirrorworld to sell in auction in this world. Inside the bottle lives a Djinn who, if it doesn't kill him, has blood that supposedly will undo Jacob's curse.

At the auction, a bidder drives the price of the bottle up so high that it is beyond Jacob's reach. Jacob bids anyway until he wins. His opponent then offers to cover the price for him and gives Jacob his card indicating that he can help Jacob and at a "price he can afford." He pockets what turns out to be a magical business card and returns to the Mirrorworld to try to cure himself.

This is not a fairy tale world of happy-endings. Nearly every fairy tale aspect is viewed through the darkest possible lens. When Jacob meets a veritable Prince Charming, for instance, it turns out that the man uses his considerable charms to abduct women from whom he extracts and bottles their fear before finally killing them.

And yet, it's not merely the characters and storyline that are dark in the Mirrorworld novels. The language itself has a calculated feel to it that gives it a chilling quality. Between the series' thoroughly imagined alternative world and this odd yet readable narrative style, the tale is transporting on multiple levels.

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