Thursday, November 12, 2009

Modern Fairy Tales: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

One of my favorite fairy tales as a child was "East of the Sun and West of the Moon." Apparently, I'm not alone. In addition to a lot of picture book versions, three MG/YA authors have written their own renditions of this classic Norwegian tale.

For those of you not familiar with this epic fantasy, here's the basic premise: A polar bear visits a poor family and promises them wealth if they will send their youngest daughter to live with him for a year. Once at the castle, the girl discovers that the bear becomes a man at night. But when she goes against part of the bargain, the bear disappears and she has to rescue him from the troll queen who lives east of the sun and west of the moon.

Talk about girl power! How often does the girl get to rescue the guy? (Okay, so it was her fault he got taken away, but she makes up for it with the rescue!) In my humble opinion, this is one of the best fairy tales ever written. I love it so much, I had to read all three novelizations. After reading my reviews, you can choose the one that best suits your tastes.

EAST by Edith Pattou is the first book I read. Released in 2005, this is also the longest, at 516 pages. Pattou weaves wonderful details about the family into the narrative, like the fact that Rose's mother is so superstitious, she even tries to control the direction she is facing when the children are born! The story is told from the perspective of several characters, which for me added to the richness of this version. The main character is adventurous and willing to take chances, even though it goes against everything she knows. The tale is geared toward older readers (did I mention the 516 pages?!). And while the journey to the ice bridge seemed a little long, the culminating chapters were more than worth the wait.

SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW by Jessica Day George came out last year. In this version, the heroine has no name so she is referred to simply as "the lass." With a decidedly middle grade/tween tone to the book, George also delves into the family dynamics in her adaptation. She gives the lass a dog who accompanies her on her journey to the ice palace and unlike the other versions, the lass interacts more with the characters at the palace in this story. With 336 pages, this book is still a substantial read. The storyline is simpler for younger readers to follow, although the tie-in with family at home is stronger and darker.

ICE by Sarah Beth Durst is the most recent version to hit the shelves. Released just last month, ICE also has the most modern spin on the tale. Cassie lives at an Arctic research station and studies polar bears. When one of the bears speaks to her, she goes with him to his castle and makes a bargain to save the mother she's never known. Like the other books, this one weaves in more family details to flesh out the fairy tale. But this one brings unexpected twists to the family story and has Cassie falling in love with the Bear much sooner. In a way it reminded me of Beauty and the Beast while keeping many of the key elements from the original East of the Sun and West of the Moon. With just 320 pages, this was the quickest read. It didn't stay as faithful to the original as the other books, but the author did a great job of modernizing the story and added some fabulous surprises.

If you've never read the original fairy tale, you can find an annotated translation at SurLaLune Fairy Tales or a less distracting version of the same text at the University of Pittsburgh website.

By the way, the image at the top is from a 63-page chapter book version that came out in July. With versions for every reading level, it's no wonder this story is so popular!

13 comments:

Beth Kephart said...

This was a fascinating post! I knew far less than I should have about this fairytale, and I love how you have given us its evolution.

Carrie Harris said...

I cannot believe that I've never read the original. And I've heard so many great things about these other books, particularly Ice.

So yeah, I'm sold. Thanks!

Genie of the Shell said...

Wow, this does sound a lot like Beauty and the Beast. I hadn't heard of this tale before. For NaNoWriMo this month, I'm working on a Beauty and the Beast-based story, so I will have to check these books out. Thanks for sharing one of your favorites.

Tess said...

I love this fairy tale. It brings back memories....

ElanaJ said...

I must have been depraved as a child, because I'd never heard of this tale until I met Jessica Day George.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Beth: You should at least check out the original. It's a great story.

Carrie: I really enjoyed Ice. There were parts that I loved in that book over all the others :)

Genie: I found an interview with Sarah Beth Durst today and she actually compares it to Beauty and the Beast. Here's the link if you're interested: Author Profile

Tess: Great memories, yes?

Elana: You met Jessica Day George? I've read all but one of her books. Love. Her. So did you read her version of this fairy tale?

Anita said...

I'd never even heard of this book...you've steered me towards great books in the past, so here I go, look for this fairy tale!

Lisa and Laura said...

I've never read this fairy tale before, but now I really, really want to! Thanks Sherrie!

Vivian said...

I'll have to check out these books--haven't heard of this fairytale. The covers are awesome!

BTW, love your new look!

story_weaver said...

That's always been my favorite fairy tale too! *shyly* I have a little freewrite I sometimes work on of my retelling of the story.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Anita: I'm always happy to steer you to a good book!

LiLa: Read it. You'll like it :)

Vivian: They do all have fabulous covers. And thanks, I got the idea from you :D

Story Weaver: Yay! You'll have to let me know when yours is available to read!

Shelli said...

i love this book!

Z-Kids said...

P J Lynch has an absolutely beautiful version of this story...

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