“You don’t need princes to save you. I don’t have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men.”
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a short illustrated novel by renowned genius Neil Gaiman that spins a clever twist on two old and beloved classics.
When a sleeping curse spreads across the country, a young Queen, on the eve of her wedding, accompanies friendly dwarves in an effort to bring an end to the dreadful spell. Casting off her wedding clothes, the Queen takes her chain mail and sword and sets out on an adventure through mountains and frightening terrains towards the source of the curse. When she arrives, the Queen realises that the princess in need of rescuing is not quite what she seems. But the Queen’s true quest is more difficult than breaking a spell: she must decide what she will make of her own future.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a sight to behold. When I first opened the novel, I spent a good ten minutes simply admiring the way the book was produced, as well as the captivating illustrations drawn by Chris Riddell. The illustrations were drawn in black and white, with gold leaf placed here and there for added effect, which brought the drawing together in the most beautiful way and worked perfectly beside the text.
“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget.”
The novel is only 69 pages long, with a majority of those pages taken up by wonderful creations of art. If you are looking for a quick and easy read, this is definitely one you should pick up. The Sleeper and the Spindle is a unique retelling of Sleeping Beauty mixed in with Snow White. Why is it so unique? Because it has that Neil Gaiman creepy but quirky stamp all over it. The novel is dark but hopeful, too. The story-line, much like his other works, is twisted and strange, but paired alongside the illustrations, the result is a whimsical and wonderful novel.
What I loved most about this book is that the Queen is the hero of the story, not the prince. In fact, the Queen leaves behind the prince at the beginning of the book in order to undertake this journey. The Queen is the best character of the novel by far. She is dissatisfied with the direction her life has taken, and wants nothing more than to leave it behind. Her adventure is partly a self-searching journey which added an extra element to the text.
“She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled.”
I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I realised this novel was not a queer retelling of a fairytale. The Queen and the princess do share a kiss, but it is not because they are to become lovers. Based on the few other reviews I have read about this novel, many other readers felt the same way. While the lesbian representation would have been amazing, there is a very interesting twist at the conclusion of the novel which I was thoroughly impressed by and did not see coming. After the twist was revealed, I was then able to appreciate the reason why Gaiman did not follow the lesbian lovers path.
As the novel is so short, there is not a lot of time for the characters to become fully-fleshed out which slightly irked me. The reader knows next to nothing about the dwarves and their motivations, nor about the wicked old woman who guards the princess. I feel like these issues could have been repaired if the novel was only a few pages longer, but considering the sheer gorgeousness of the illustrations and the text, I can forgive Gaiman for the slightly under-developed characters.
Despite a few issues, the novel was truly wonderful to read. Gaiman’s prose is of the highest quality and, paired with Riddell’s captivating illustrations, this novel was impossible to put down. Find a copy of this novel as soon as you can and devour the epicness that is The Sleeper and the Spindle.