Revisionist fairy tales that elevate a female character's lot in life are nothing new and they're certainly worthy -- there are plenty of good stories in old fairy tales, but using girls as doormats can sometimes limit the modern appeal. It is a slippery slope though -- you don't want the originals to be forgotten, they have their purpose and elegance.
In updating these stories, though, authors play into the spirit of the literary journey -- these tales have always been changed and updated as they have been told, formalized through everyone from the Grimm Brothers to Walt Disney. There are no official versions, though -- these belong to the march of society and history and any given era has a version that speaks to the children the stories are meant for.
This brings us to "Rapunzel's Revenge," which begins by fleshing out the Rapunzel tale and ends ups up in another universe entirely. In this version, Rapunzel does grow her hair out but instead of waiting for some old prince to come along, she uses it to make her own escape -- in fact, she meets the prince on her way out of the forest in an irreverent moment.
This Rapunzel has some deadly braids formed from her flowing tresses and pals around with a ne'er do well named Jack -- he of the beanstalk and the goose that laid the golden egg stories. The story involves Rapunzel striking back at the woman who made her captive in the tower -- here a giant tree -- and also uses magic to enslave the world, as well as Rapunzel's mother.
The adventure takes the fairy tale duo -- unexpectedly -- into the wild west, where they contend with a bit of American folklore, such as a jackalope, as well as some European mainstays like Snow White's dwarves and sea serpents. It all adds up to a rollicking and well-humored adventure and the new, empowered Rapunzel shines as a spirited and capable girl hero.
As written by husband and wife duo Shannon and Dean Hale -- she's already the successful author of the "Princess Academy" books -- and drawn by Nathan Hale -- he's not related -- "Rapunzel's Revenge" brings some good genre-crossing adventure to the young adult graphic novel world. It's the kind of book that plays with the clichés but doesn't fall into them -- and it doesn't assume that girls are locked into soap operas, but instead have more breadth to their literary desires.
The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions)
Rounding out his trilogy of rural Canadian life, Jeff Lemire's "The Country Nurse" examines the history in the choices we make, the patterns in the lives of families and the connections between people that define the lives portrayed.
Lemire's success with the first two volumes of "The Essex County Trilogy" was certainly unexpected -- his multi-layered tale with a rural gothic feel won many accolades, culminating in an Alex Award from the American Library Association. It was wholly deserved.
Lemire's stark black and white renderings, surreal emotional landscape and spare dialogue worked together to create something of great power and mystery with the feeling of the supernatural, but where the ghosts are all of the heart, figurative rather than physical.
In "The Country Nurse" Lemire widens the intimacy with his cast of characters to focus on the lonely life of traveling nurse Anne Quenneville. Spurned by her hostile son and conducting her most honest conversations at her husband's grave, Quenneville's life is made whole by her patients. She also has a place in the two stories from the previous books -- "Tales from the Farm" and "Ghost Stories" -- as well as a connection with another tale that unfolds alongside hers, following an incident at an orphanage in 1917.
Lemire takes us out of his tale not with a bang, but with some quiet pondering on the themes and the understanding that this is not the end of the story, just part of the continuance. What revelations come are part of a complicated and personal emotional jigsaw -- all the pieces aren't in place by the conclusion and that is Lemire's message. It's doubtful anyone can really claim that victory. The players in the trilogy resonate because they aren't much different from those of us reading the story -- captives of our own heritage, not so much breaking the bonds as shimmying and squirming trying to shake them, resigning ourselves to our jail while still not giving up the battle of the soul.
The conclusion to this epic of small proportions is hopeful -- a surprise considering the heavy emotional burden that the trilogy carries. It's a tribute to Lemire's understanding of the way life works -- a continuum of multiple emotions rather than a bludgeoning of pure negatives. If it is a prison, it's a multi-hued one.