Sleeping Beauty Hardcover – 24 Oct 2002
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Even before stories were written down, young and old have been enchanted by the tale of the beautiful princess who pricked herself and fell into a deep sleep. At that moment, a thicket of briars grew tall and wide around her court and castle, enveloping it with mystery. Here amidst light, shadow and magic emerge the drama of a king's decision, an angry thirteenth fairy, a prince undaunted by a wall of brambles, and a lovely princess, fast asleep. The magic and romance of her story come splendidly to life with Kinuko Craft's rich artistry, promising to keep Sleeping Beauty's story forever in the hearts of children, and this precious edition a treasure for years to come.
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In addition to technical achievement with her lush details, Ms. Craft demonstrates a strong ability to tell a story with pictures in this volume. I very much admire this aspect to her work and I think she uses extraneous details wisely. Ms. Craft's details always enhance the narrative. They add something without giving the sense of simply being tacked into the works. For example, a mermaid child on the fountain goes through the enchantment with Beauty and leaves a little something to wonder about. This character is shown on a fountain in a painting in the opening where Beauty is playing a 12-stringed instrument. You wonder if the child is real or a statue. Later, you can the watery little thing sleeping peacefully inside the fountain when the prince arrives. I found this element to add a bit of mystery and a sense of old fashioned enchantment that has ancient, classical roots.
Another character that lives in the paintings is the German Shepard Dog that you can see clearly sleeping at Beauty's side by her bed. He's introduced earlier, at the side of the fairy, when she flies in with her dragons. There, he's hardly noticeable, but evidently, this handsome dog is left behind to guard the princess. He's even seen in the last full page painting, adding a symbolic element of domesticity and safety, as he sits there and calmly gazes at the reader from his corner. I found him charmingly reminiscent of flemish Renaissance paintings.
I think that Mahlon Craft tried to do the same thing with his ancient frog. This frog swims with Beauty's mother, and to repay her for her songs, he fortells the birth of Beauty. I think I missed the frog's real meaning, if there was one. I found him distracting, creating a slow start for the book. The frog only seemed to be added in for the sake of stretching Mr. Kinuko's narrative, of giving the reader the prophecy in the space of a page, not a paragraph.
Another strange element that didn't seem to mesh tightly into the rest of Mr. Craft's narrative was the negligence of Beauty's parents on her 16th birthday. They leave her alone as they've gone out to buy her a very special gift. How does that make any sense? They are characterized as having feelings for their daughter and they had been warned that she would be afflicted on this day. How could they have been so callous to have left her? They learned their lesson about ignoring the 13th fairy right away, you'd think that they would take these things more seriously! This is the one place in Mahlon's story that I thought showed a weakness and could have been more thoroughly developed.
I have read published reviews of other collaborations done by the Crafts in which Mahlon Craft's writing was characterized as a bit bland and not matching his wife's work for artistic merit. I have agreed at least in part with that assesment until I collected this latest book and got past the strange, bumpy opening. In all fairness, I think that Mahlon's star is rising with the remainder of this text. The strange little frog and the neglect of the King and Queen aside, Mr. Craft creates a lovely narrative that sounds elegant when read aloud. His use of language is soft, gentle and evocative, at times an almost perfect match for the sleepy tapestry of paintings Ms. Craft provides.
I was most pleased with how Mr. Craft's story is a love story, and most of the versions of Sleeping Beauty that I have encountered don't exercise this emotion in the narrative. The other stories seem to focus almost exclusively on magic and retribution- the prince is merely an agent of change and offers little else to the narrative. In this book, however, there is an element of love that gives the story much of its meaning.
Only one prince, her soul mate, could awaken Beauty, for example. He isn't some fellow who comes along at the right time, he's special! His special quality is why he gets through the brambles: the other princes only "disappear" (and don't die in vain, as they do in other stories.) The value of being true to your heart, of waiting as long as necessary to choose the right love to live your life with is strongly affirmed. Mahlon's Beauty gazes on her prince with "tender glances" and informs him that, "These many long years only you have filled my dreams, for none other could awaken me from my spell. Now in love's sweet name at last our hearts will together be eternally bound."
This is sweet stuff, more poetic than others of Mr. Craft's I think, and where his cleverness shines most brightly.
In sum, I see two stories being told. One is in paint. It is enchanting, the brainchild of a true master who excels at her craft. The other story is told in the text. It is not bad, by any means, and is fairly pretty. It sounds pretty and makes sense most of the way through. It is the work of someone who has gotten better but is still outshone by others in his field and by the glorious paintings that they seem to have been written to support but not equal in beauty. A truly extraordinary book would be the one where the text matches the paintings, but with Kinuko Craft this may be too great a challenge for the children's book industry's wordsmiths. In my opinion, few modern works ever come close to happy marriage of beautiful text and beautiful pictures, as we see in the example of past masters, such as Howard Pyle. I do hope the Crafts keep up the effort- we are in need of some new timeless classics for this generation of readers and readers in the future.
The illustrations in this retelling are exquisite and almost like delicate portraits from a bygone era. (the illustration of the king carrying Aurora is very touching!) There are also gorgeous details (both in wording and illustration - the falcon, the dog, the rose - oh, and the Prince's horse is beautiful!) K. Y. Craft made a very wise decision, I think, by matching such intricate illustrations with a fairly high-level of vocabulary. The tale will still register with younger readers, but be warned that there were a few times I found myself stumbling over the speech patterns or word choices (however, if you know this going into the read, it shouldn't be an issue but will instead enhance the retelling). Also, the attention to detail in this story really help to take the tale to a elevated level of "read-aloud."
I also was intrigued by K. Y. Craft's decision on how to represent the King. Typical of this version of Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy is not invited because she is believed either dead or under spell since she hasn't been seen for more than fifty years. However, it is quite apparent that this was simply the King's excuse for not inviting her, because he didn't want the expense of creating another costly golden set place-setting: "for his treasuries were nearly as dear to him as his daughter." Zing! However, the King realizes his selfishness, and his character does have quite an arc by the end.
In this tale it appears that the prince wants to rescue Aurora, which appears more selfless than in some other retellings: "The thought of a sleeping beauty such as Briar Rose lying unprotected in a thorny prison was more than his good and valiant nature could bear." A warning, there is an illustration of the fallen princes within the briar, though they pretty much look like they've been sleeping.
Perhaps my favorite part was the last page, I won't spoil it, but I thought it was very poetic and a great way to summarize the lives of the characters.
The basic story of "Sleeping Beauty" can be told in a few paragraphs. Walt Disney expanded the story considerably for his 75 minute animated movie version. This version, retold here by Mahlon F. Craft, is simple but frequently eloquent. The story begins with a frog who tells the bathing Queen she will soon give birth to a baby daughter. This version retains the complete number of thirteen fairies (Disney sensibly reduced the number of Good Fairies down to three for animation purposes). The King and Queen soon regret their decision not to invite the evil thirtenth fairy to the christening party.
Although she only makes two brief appearances in this version, the Evil Fairy, as drawn by K.Y. Craft, is truly frightening.
By contrast, the sixteen year old Princess Aurora is shown as a breathtaking vision of exquisite and rare beauty. Prince Charming is shown as her perfect male counterpart. Many Princes attempt to rescue Aurora from her curse of a century's sleep. But they all perish in the field of thorns that has grown around the castle. But this particular Prince is the only one who could have ended the curse, by virtue of his adventurous spirit, and brave and loving heart. He kisses Aurora and she awakens. Fittingly, as she awakens and sees this Prince, Aurora remarks that she has been dreaming only of him for one hundred years.
K.Y. Craft's extremely detailed paintings (yes, that's what they are, paintings) are certain to leave you spellbound and in awe of her amazing talents. I would love to see what magic she could do with such stories as "Snow White" or even "The Wizard Of Oz."
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