Every now and then, when reality becomes especially harsh, the perfect escape is to the many worlds of fairy tales. In those wondrous places anything is possible, happy endings are a given, and when you leave them you have a lighter outlook, a brighter perspective to confront the days ahead. In times of stress I turn to two books- The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and East by Edith Pattou.
Both of these books have the uplifting, imagination sparking, heart-warming qualities of fairytales, but they are also incredibly unique. They aren’t the stories of Cinderella or Beauty in the Beast told yet again from yet another perspective. They are fresh, and while certain elements of the fairy tale are certainly evident and predictable, that is what places them in the genre- there have to be some similarities for the truly wonderful contrasts to stand out.
In The Goose Girl a princess is sent to a far away kingdom to marry a prince she has never met. On the way she is sabotaged by her maid and alone and abandoned must learn to live as a common citizen. In doing so she comes to understand the hardships of normal lives, the unfair rules, and the lack of concern from royal to citizen. So when her happy ending finally comes she can be a better ruler, a compassionate, caring, aware ruler who understands what the people need because she was in their shoes.
You may say that you’ve heard a story much like this before. But in Cinderella there is no emphasis on the abused girl-turned princess using her experience in the slums of life to better herself as a ruler. And clearly I haven’t shared the twists and turns this plot takes or the magic that adds to the fairy tale (no there isn’t a fairy godmother). Because if you read it, I want you to be as thrilled as I was.
Told from many perspectives East tells the story of a dirt poor farm girl with a sense of adventure and her loving family. When Rose acts on a strange offer to aid her ailing family she travels with a polar bear (who can talk, but only with difficulty) to a castle inside a mountain. Every night someone comes to share her enormous bed (this sounds creepy I know, but just go with it it’s a fairy tale). No candle stays lit in the darkness that accompanies the visitor- except a candle her mother gives her. She knows as soon as she finally decides to light this candle and sees her nighttime visitor and the despair in his face that she has screwed up big-time and broken some unwritten code. So to right the wrong she knows she committed, Rose travels to the far North, to a place no human has gone before. And eventually she too finds happily-ever-after, but it is a happiness made up not of jewels and palaces, but simply a lifetime of love, weaving, and playing music.
Obviously I’ve left out the best parts in that simple plot summary too- normally I wouldn’t want to give away the ending either, but I mean seriously, it’s a fairy tale so you could have figured out how it’s going to end yourself.
In short, if you need an escape, turn to these stories. I have read each of them three or four times and they truly don’t get old. Each time I am left with that sense that anything is possible and with enough work I too can find happiness. Trust me, escaping reality provides a most wonderful cure for stress.