The young adult book market brims with fairy tale novels, mostly occult and twisted in content. These popular teen books undermine the foundations of our Christian culture luring kids to the demonic. If we want to renew Catholic culture, we need to provide fantasy worlds operating according to the truth of Catholicism.Deceptively simple at a first reading, The Golden Princess and the Moon fulfills this task with the power of a great work of literature. It deserves a more detailed review than I usually post here.
Anna Maria Mendell has given the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty a history, a geography, and characters undergoing psychological development, creating a novel to satisfy the modern reader. Side by side with these traits, however, the story retains its dealings with the realm of Faerie with all its familiar magic, beauty and danger. This superbly-crafted book is deeply rooted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels and scholarship.
The golden times of the Golden Kingdom of Aurlea, ruled by kings with fairy blood and in harmonious relationship with the fairy kingdom, are long past. The “original sin” of a young king allowed evil to enter and through the ages has raised discord between the kingdoms. Their mythical history is suppressed and maligned by King Mark, current heir to the Golden Throne. We find Erik, the young prince, weeping over the death of his mother who shared her love of the old lore with her son - against her husband’s will.
Erik’s encounter in the woods with the old woman Ninny Nanny sets him on the path to rediscover his lost heritage and prepares him for his task of waking the sleeping Princess Rosamund. Together, the prince and princess are destined to restore the old union between Faerie and the Golden Kingdom.
Princess Rosamund, the sleeping beauty, is the daughter of an earlier king on the Golden Throne. At the time of her christening, relations with the fairies were still alive in Aurlea and gifts were bestowed on the infant princess by her seven fairy godparents. However, the royal parents have caused their daughter to squander these gifts through - very modern - irresponsible parenting. Rosamund is indulged to the extent that she demands the gift of the moon. At his point, she is taken into custody by her principal fairy godmother, the Green Lady, who helps her rediscover her gifts and prepares her for the curse laid upon her on the day of her christening. On that day, the Dark Lady placed the familiar curse on the princess, the curse of death by pricking her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday, a sentence mitigated to a hundred years of sleep by the seventh fairy gift.
The two stories of Princess Rosamund and Prince Erik are interwoven masterfully. In an intricate process of revelation, Rosa’s life unfolds before Erik in dreams and in stories told by Ninny Nanny. Rosa, on her part, learns the past of the Golden Kingdom through encounters with her fairy godparents and through dream visions. As the children grow in age and in virtue, more and more of the past is revealed to them. Their stories converge, when Erik finds the sleeping Rosamund, wakes her and marries her. The couple must pass through much trial and suffering until, purified, they can defeat the evil schemes of Erik’s witch stepmother, and until Erik can be crowned as the new Golden King by the company of the seven fairies.
The plot begins at a leisurely pace, picking up speed and suspense, leading to a climax of fast-paced drama with a deep emotional impact. Mendell plunges her characters, and the reader along with them, into depths of despair, then lifts them up to exultant joy.
In his essay “On Fairy Stories”, Tolkien talks about the Cauldron of Story in which story elements simmer like bones. Mendell has selected a great variety of bones for her novel. You will recognize morsels from Narnia and Middle Earth, from the Bible and from Grimm’s fairy tales, from Greek myths and nursery rhymes, all taken from the cauldron of our cultural roots. The story is endlessly satisfying with new revelations of meaning on every page and with each consecutive reading. We discover the legendary past of the Golden Kingdom while at the same time discovering our own literary heritage. Our family once read an African tale about the spoiled son of a king who wanted the moon. Did Mendell know this story, perhaps, or is there a European version? It does not matter, says Tolkien. It is the soup that counts, not the bones. Mendell cooked up a rare and beautiful fantasy worthy to stand beside the great ones who inspired it: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. The result is a beautiful, deeply Catholic fairy tale, not openly so, but obvious to those who have eyes to see.
On a sad note, I must say that some of my teen library patrons, whom I recommended this book to, found it too slow. I suspect, they never read further than the first chapters. A steady diet of what Brittany from over at Good Books For Catholic Kids calls “Turkish Delight” books will spoil the taste for excellent soup. Had it been necessary, I would not have hesitated to force it on my kids. They need good nutrition to grow.
Happy Lent and have a look at these posts for your children’s Lenten reading:
Eastern Lenten Work Out: Climb The Tree With Zacchaeus And The Ladder With St. John Climacus