A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.
On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a strange mash up of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, sold largely on a single image by Chris Riddell of Snow Whie, as an armoured knight, kissing Sleeping Beauty.
That’s not unreasonable; Riddell’s art is absolutely essential to the experience of this book, his characteristic, strong, clear illustrations telling the story themselves as well as illuminating the text. The integration of text and art is excellent, not going down the route of comic books but nor simply describing the text; The Sleeper and the Spindle is as much an art project as anything else, and splash pages such as the famous kiss emphasise that. The high production values – a beautiful translucent dust jacket, metallic inks providing detail highlights that really make the pages pop.
Of course, The Sleeper and the Spindle is as much Gaiman’s work as Riddell’s. The story itself is an interesting subversion of both the Snow White story and Sleeping Beauty; Snow White is, here, our protagonist, a queen engaged to marry the prince who woke her. Her kingdom is threatened by an encroaching plague of sleep, centred on the palace of Sleeping Beauty in the neighbouring kingdom, so with the help of some of the dwarves she met as a princess she infiltrates the country, expecting to have immunity to magical sleep from past experience. The Sleeper and the Spindle follows the small party through the country, and Gaiman raises the creepiness of the story throughout, making it eerie and unsettling even as the familiar elements of the children’s version of the fairy tale crop up, such as the whole kingdom having fallen into sleep except the spiders, the thorn-encrusted castle, and more.
It’s the climax of the story that really makes The Sleeper and the Spindle interesting; subverting not only what we know about the fairy tale from Disney and countless other modern retellings, it subverts expectations Gaiman and Riddell have themselves set up, turning the standard model of the fairytale on its head with some serious style and panache. It’s a wonderful twist and, while clear in hindsight, on first reading it’s actually very well concealed.
This is only a slim volume, but it is a beautiful one; Riddell and Gaiman have collaborated to, in The Sleeper and the Spindle, breathe a whole new kind of life into an old fairy tale. Lovely.