Cinderella – Not A Review


Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

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Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Day 3


StarflowerGrimm or Tangled? Once Upon A Time or Snow White? Since fairytales aren’t what they used to be, readers may not be sure what they’re getting when they pick up a book touted as a fairytale fantasy.

Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somewhat of a mix of the two extremes. While the covers of each of the books in the series might lead a reader to think along the lines of the happy-ever-after stories, there’s a great deal of the dark side of fairytales in the pages behind those placid pictures.

A Review

The Story Eanrin, a faery who can take the shape of a cat, is the poet of Rudiobus Mountain. He, like the others in this faery kingdom, is light-hearted, self-assured, perhaps a little bored. His world turns around when he sees the Golden Hound–something that would not have happened if he hadn’t stopped to help a mortal girl caught in a curse because she went too close to the river.

The girl turns out to be cursed in more ways than one because she cannot speak. Against his better judgment, Eanrin saves her more than once and determines he must see her safely out of the faery realm.

The problem is, he’s on a mission. The professed love of his life has been taken captive by a dragon woman. In order to win his love’s hand, he must rescue her before Glomar, the captain of the guard, does. The race is on! But the cursed mortal makes Eanrin’s life … confusing.

Starflower is cursed, but not in the way Eanrin thinks. After he saves her from certain death, yet again, she determines she will help him rescue his professed love. To do so, she makes a bargain with the dragon that unleashes more than the captive faery.

Strengths. There are many things to love in this story. The writing is beautiful; the characters memorable, unique, creative, realistic; the plot, unpredictable; the theme, woven subtly into the fabric of the story.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the portrayal of the title character. The mortal girl Starflower is a heroine to love. She is not weak and helpless, suffering as a victim, awaiting someone to rescue her. Nor is she a macho woman, out to conquer or to shed blood trying.

Rather, she is a character who withstands. She chooses to do what is right when it goes against her culture, to love when she is shamed for it, to sacrifice rather than give in. She is truly noble.

I also loved the way the theme is subtly woven into the story. There is no long exposition detailing how and why and who at the appearance of the Golden Hound. He simply is who he is.

Another wonderful strength of this book is the creativity of the world. From the river to the enchanted and vacant city of Etalpalli to the lands of the Crescent Tribes, the world is rich, detailed, unexpected, sometimes magical in the best sense of the word and sometimes in the worst.

An interesting aspect of the story is the humor–the light-hearted behavior of the faeries who don’t take too much in life seriously, who have little worry and less fear. Eanrin in particular reminds me most of Shakespeare’s fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s not such a great prankster, but he has the same “faery-ness.”

Weakness. I am a huge fan of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s, as you can probably tell by what I’ve already said. Nevertheless, I’d prefer a story that had a stronger start. Because the book is entitled Starflower, I’d prefer to see the title character front and center. I realize that withholding her backstory is designed to create intrigue, but since her past is such a huge part of the story and comes out as a fairly lengthy flashback, I think I’d have connected sooner and cared more deeply if the story had started with Starflower and her plight. As it was, I thought the story unfolded too slowly.

That’s my only complaint, but it’s a big one because I can see readers mistakenly setting the book down and not coming back to it, thinking the pace isn’t going to pick up.

I’d like to shout loudly, keep going! 😉

Recommendation. Fairytale fantasy is an interesting genre. Not everyone will enjoy the Alice in Wonderland feel that seeps into Starflower at times. That’s too bad because they’ll miss out on some of the most inventive fiction in the Christian speculative genre.

I personally think “young adult” isn’t quite the right market group. I’d say this one will best be enjoyed by the twenties and thirties crowd. Anyone who is a fan of the fairytale genre, especially the new iteration made popular by the TV shows mentioned earlier, must read Starflower and the entire Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Faery Stories – CSFF Blog Tour: Starflower, Day 2


Starflower Banner
Good fiction always means something. Literature teachers spend any amount of effort teaching their students to look behind a story to find a greater truth, a universal moral. Fairytales are no exception. In fact, they may suffer from literary snobbery because their themes seem too transparent, too simplistic.

In part I think such snubs come from readers associating fairytales with stories for children, designed to teach them not to talk to strangers or to obey their parents—in other words, stories that don’t demand much of adults.

I believe this view in part comes from the Disney-fying of fairytales in the twentieth century in which they were pushed into the corner of make-believe suited for children.

Welcome to the faery stories of the twenty-first century! These are more closely aligned to the original tales told and retold until they were collected and written down by people like the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.

Those original stories were not intended exclusively for children. In fact, they were not set aside as a special class of story. Rather, they constituted the fiction of the day. Instead of being light stories fit for children, most had a dark edge, a bit of the macabre or the paranormal.

In our day of assiduously categorizing our fiction, we have had some work to reclaim faery stories from the trivialized classification of the last century. Authors like Anne Elisabeth Stengl are doing a remarkable job accomplishing this feat for readers of Christian speculative fiction.

Her latest, the CSFF feature for December, is Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Fourth in a series might scare off some readers–I mean, who wants to jump into the middle of a string of stories and be lost? As Anne Elisabeth herself said, however, Starflower is a great place to start because it is a prequel to the first three books. It reads very much like a stand alone, but knowing the title to the next book, I’m confident there will be a strong connection between that story and this one. In short, Starflower is the book fans of fairytale fantasy need to pick up.

And now a couple tour highlights

  • Meagan @ Blooming with Books has an outstanding interview with Anne Elisabeth. Here’s the first question and part of the answer.
    1) Tales from Goldstone Woods has such a depth to it. Where did the inspiration for this series come from?

    The initial inspiration for this series was simply my love of all things Fairy Tale. I wanted to write a series of inter-connected novels that used classic and familiar fairy tale themes and took them in unexpected directions.

  • Gillian continues her book-giveaway contest with a discussion of the characters in Starflower. Leave your comment to become eligible for the drawing. Leave your comment each day and increase your chance to win.
  • Shannon McDermott, an astute CSFF reviewer, gives her impressions, ending with this:
    The story was unexpected, and landscapes and people rose up brilliantly from the pages. This book was a surprise to me. I had expected it to be good, but I didn’t think it would be incredible.

Are all the reviews uniformly favorable? No, actually not. But one that was sort of so-so, yet nonetheless accurate, was written by Robert Treskillard‘s daughter. Since this book came to us as a young adult fairytale, he asked his twelve-year-old to read and review it, figuring she was bordering the target audience. She herself concluded otherwise, ending her review with this: “Overall I would recommend this book for readers 16 and up.” Spot on, Ness!

Be sure to visit the other participants (listed at the end of this post) and read their thoughts about this book and the others in the Tales of Goldstone Wood.

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