Book Review: Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman. Chesterton Press, 2007
The definition of a fairy-story -- what it is, or what it should be -- does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.
~J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories." Tree and Leaf.
Fairy tales reflect patterns of human thought and experience, reborn anew for each generation. I have always loved them. The origins of the well-known fairy tales are lost in antiquity. Gradually the myths of Greece and Rome combined with the medieval folk-tales and romances to blossoming into classic stories, which in the Renaissance began to be written down.
In the seventeenth century French aristocrats such as Madame d'Aulnoy began to designate them as contes de fée, "fairy-tales." They were not stories for small children but for teenagers and adults. Many of the most beloved stories would be almost unrecognizable to us today if we heard earlier versions of them, for they were filled with gruesomeness, murder, cannibalism. One can just see peasants swapping such stories around the hearth, gleefully frightening each other on long, cold winter evenings.
Later, after the Enlightenment and French Revolution, as the Romantic Age dawned, the stories were collected and rewritten by the Brothers Grimm. The original Grimm renditions were a bit morbid; they were eventually translated and reworked by the Victorians into the children's stories with which most of us are familiar. Disney recreated a few of the most famous stories in animated films, keeping to the basic plot lines, more or less.
Such tales involved horror, but also beauty and splendor. They spoke of tragedy and loss, but also of redemption and triumph. There was overwhelming evil, but it was countered by persevering heroism, and always, true love conquered all. Fairy tales have been vehicles by which people of all ages have faced their fears and anxieties. As Dr. Jonathan Young wrote in Inside Journal magazine (Fall 1997):
The ancient tales have their own lives, each with unique, eccentric qualities. Part of the richness is that the same story will have different lessons for each person who listens. Stories can be like the Holy Grail, which, when passed from person to person, let them drink what they alone desired. Also, when we come back to the same story after a time, it will tell us new things. Stories can speak to us in several ways at once. The practical aspects of our personalities appreciate the assistance they provide in prudent decision-making. Our playful child-like energies find the stories to be gr eat fun. The quiet, spiritual side is grateful to have some time invested in reflection.The very talented Regina Doman, in her "fairy-tale novels," has taken some of the popular stories and re-imagined them for our time. I would hesitate to classify them as books for teenagers alone, since I at forty-five years old could have easily read Waking Rose at one sitting, and would have, had not other duties called. Indeed, my only problem with the book is that I could not turn the pages quickly enough or read as fast as the suspense compelled me to do.
I am truly impressed with Regina's ability to tackle difficult issues and ugly situations in a tasteful manner. She can create a poignant, heartrending scene without doing violence to people's sensibilities, as too many contemporary writers do. Especially in a book for teenagers, this is a good thing, since they will be inspired, intrigued, but not horrified out of their minds. And yet she addresses contemporary issues and situations which our youth today must face, from the point of view of a contemporary man and woman. In a way, Regina has returned the story of "Sleeping Beauty" to its original form. Waking Rose is not a tale for little children to be read at bed time, but a story for young adults about other young adults who conquer insurmountable odds with faith and courage.
The hero in Waking Rose is a deeply wounded young man who must learn to let go of his past and "waken" to love. Like many modern people, he flees from commitment, having experienced too much suffering to want to risk the self-donation that love demands. It is interesting that he is nicknamed "Fish" since the fish is a symbol for Christ. The young man must ultimately sacrifice everything for his beloved, enduring great pain to save her. The novel shows young men being chivalrous for the sake of young ladies, who are, indeed, ladies. Very refreshing to read!
Waking Rose induces laughter as well as tears. At one point "Fish," who is a convert, becomes exasperated with all of his Catholic friends, and says: "I feel as though I am surrounded by crazy people. Prophetic nuns, wild activists, recovering psychopaths, pseudo-anarchists, and a Catholic boys' club with a medieval obsession. And the problem is, these are all the people who are supposed to be on the side of God." (Waking Rose, p.281) I think anyone who has been Catholic longer than five minutes has sometimes felt exactly the same way. In Regina's skillfully woven tale, the old conte de fée of the "Sleepng Beauty" merges into the horrors and struggles of our century, with all its potential for heroism and triumph. Highly recommended, I would especially suggest Waking Rose as a wonderful Christmas gift for teenagers and young adults.
(*Waking Rose was sent to me as a gift by the author Regina Doman. Thank you, Regina!)