Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
They lived happily every after. NOT!
on 1 June 2001
If the "happily ever after" at the end of fairy tales never left you completely satisfied, then this is the book for you. In "Enchantment", Orson Scott Card takes you beyond the "happily ever after" of the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty. The first few chapters introduce Ivan, a brilliant Russian graduate student living in America, and preparing to write a dissertation about Russian fairy tales. Just when Card's realism had me convinced that this could be a true story, Ivan stumbles across the sleeping princess Katerina, and awakes her with his kiss. But don't think that Card is just borrowing a fairy tale, because the end of the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty is merely the beginning of Card's tale! Ivan quickly discovers that kissing a princess doesn't result in living happily ever after, as he travels back in time to Katerina's world, and becomes involved with her in an epic struggle to defend the kingdom of her father over against the wannabe ruler, the witch Baba Yaga. In the course of this struggle, Ivan and Katerina travel to worlds past and present. This leads to some delightfully cultural comedy, where ninth century Russians get to use gunpowder and molotov cocktails and also have the rare privilege of seeing a 747 jumbo jet enter their world well ahead of its time. Card's story-telling is superb, and his fantastic blend of reality and magic, past and present, is wonderfully entertaining. There is constant suspense, romance, adventure and humour.
But as usual, Card does much more than just tell a good story. His special attention to inner thoughts and struggles and the psychology of human relationships is masterful. In the course of telling his fairy tale, he shares numerous philosophical thoughts about literary theory, psychology, and religion. The clash between cultures achieves more than just comedy, but provides deep insights about the chasm between times, cultures, and religions (especially Judaism and Christianity - both of which are somewhat unfairly portrayed as mere outward rituals entered upon by circumcision or baptism). Card demonstrates that it is possible for two very different individuals from different times and cultures to make a new beginning together in a marriage, although this meeting of cultures cannot occur without both gaining and losing something at the same time.
Especially thought provoking is the fact that Card uses a fairy tale to show that reality is not like the high fantasy of fairy tales, because in the real world that there is no such thing as living happily ever. Is Card satirizing the impossibly high ideals of beauty and happiness that fairy tales normally offer? I quickly found myself laughing at Card's harsh fantasy world, because it was one I recognized: the real world, my world, which in reality is often cold and harsh. We quickly discover that kissing a beautiful princess in the real world is not all it is made out to be. So we can identify with Ivan the naked prince - his shock at the harsh reality of a fairy tale come true (p.90) is our shock at the harsh reality of life.
Perhaps to heighten the effect of a fairy tale that reflects reality rather than fantasy, Card frequently resorts to crude language, and sexually explicit details. Also the portrayal of the witch Baba Yaga and her sidekick Bear was at times unnecessarily morbid. It is undeniable that this contributes to the effect of bringing the fantasy to cold hard earth, but personally I found it unnecessary to go so far in order to create the effect he wanted, and from Card (a Mormon) rather surprising and unexpected. I find it a shame that by employing such language and giving attention to such crude details, Card has made this book suitable only for mature and discerning readers, and made it inappropriate even for older children.
Card also uses the culture contrast between modernity and myth, past and present to criticize contemporary culture. Are Card's comments about the lack of respect for authority and the change in roles between husbands and wives (p.206) an implicit criticism of Western society? And is Ivan a mouthpiece for Card when he makes the observation that contemporary culture focuses on having itself remembered, whereas past culture focuses more on surviving (p.139)? And is the disappointing and harsh fantasy world that first promised so much intended to be a mirror image of life in the USA, which Ivan's Russian immigrant family also found disappointing (p.144)?
These and more questions will amuse you for hours. "Enchantment" is certainly a wonderful marriage of fantasy and reality, past and present, magic and science, pleasure and philosophy. The crude details do leave a bit of a bad aftertaste, but like Ivan and Katerina's marriage, this marriage of modernity and myth in the end proves to be most successful and satisfying