Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle is illustrated by Chris Riddell; here, the two have collaborated upon rekindling ‘their bestselling partnership for a beautiful and unique fairy tale that puts a daring queen at the very heart of the adventure’. The blurb states that in ‘twisting together the familiar in the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents’.
The day before her wedding, a young queen ‘sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment’ which is fast engulfing the whole of the kingdom. Gaiman sets the scene immediately: ‘It was the closest kingdom to the queen’s, as the crow flies, but not even the crows flew it. The high mountain range that served as the border between the two kingdoms [of Dorimar and Kanselaire] discouraged crows as much as it discouraged people, and it was considered unpassable’. The enchantress who has cast the spell upon the castle in which the princess lies is ‘old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death’. Throughout, the prose has a fable-like tone to it, and it reminds one of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of some of the elements which converge to create the mini-plots within it.
The Sleeper and The Spindle is both imaginative and inventive. The queen is a strong character, powerful both in terms of her standing within the kingdom, and her determination and actions. The way in which the plot follows different characters at simultaneous periods works wonderfully. The elements which Gaiman has woven in add depth to the original story, from the voyage of self-discovery which the queen takes, to friendship and loyalty. Appearances are deceptive, however; whilst The Sleeper and The Spindle looks as though it is suitable for a very young audience, there is definite darkness within it, and not all of the scenes may be suitable for children.
The book itself is beautiful; the black and white illustrations are accented with gold paint, and the transparent dustjacket is a lovely touch. So much thought has been put into the use of words and pictures, and they complement each other beautifully. The Sleeper and The Spindle is certainly a very enjoyable fairytale retelling.