Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

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Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday!  Today’s book is a little bit different from past ones because Enchanted is a mash-up of several different fairy tales.  It has references to “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Red Shoes,” and more.  But the two tales it draws on the most are “The Frog Prince” and “Cinderella,” so I’ll be examining it as a retelling of those.  However, I’m only going to include reading recommendations for works about and based off “The Frog Prince” since I’ve done two recent posts on “Cinderella” retellings.

My Rating: 3 stars

Warning: Contains spoilers

As a Retelling:

“The Frog Prince” portion of the book really only takes up the first few chapters.  Our frog prince transforms back into a human early on.  Kontis draws mainly from the well-known Grimm version of the tale, which is actually titled “The Frog King; or Iron Henry.”  However, right from the start, she makes many changes.  The original tale features a princess who loses her golden ball in a pond while playing.  Sunday, our heroine, is a woodcutter’s daughter rather than a princess, and she meets her frog, Grumble, while writing in her journal by an abandoned well in the forest.  While the princess of the Grimms’ tale is a brat who tries to get out of her promise to the frog, Sunday is sweet and becomes fast friends with Grumble.  This difference in personality isn’t unprecedented; a few variations of the tale describe the girl as kind and have her keep her promise with no coercion.  Her lack of royal status also isn’t unprecedented.  Some variations say she is a merchant’s daughter, others the daughter of a poor widow, and many don’t say anything about her family’s status at all.

Even though she has changed the initial situation, Kontis does include the golden ball.  In the fairy tale, the princess drops her ball into the pond and the frog offers to retrieve it if she will let him be her companion.  Instead of belonging to Sunday, it belongs to Grumble and he gives it to her to help her family.  In a subplot that draws from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Sunday’s brother Trix is supposed to sell their cow at the market but instead exchanges it for magic beans, leaving them with no money for food.  To save them from starvation, and to save Sunday from the wrath of her mother, Grumble gives them the golden ball.  At this point, Sunday does make a promise to the frog; she says she will return the next day and kisses him.  Like her counterpart in the original fairy tale, she does not keep this promise.  Chores and the revelation of magic in her family keep her away from the well for a few days.  However, even if she had returned, she wouldn’t have found Grumble there because her kiss transforms him.

The kiss is the biggest deviation from the original tale in “The Frog Prince” section of the book.  Despite it’s prevalence in popular culture, none of the variations of the fairy tale feature a kiss breaking the spell.  In the Grimm version, the princess throws the frog against the wall in a fit of anger, which somehow breaks the curse.  In Scottish variations, she cuts off his head.  In the less violent variations, sleeping in the girl’s bed breaks the spell.  The kiss only began appearing in English translations of Grimms’ fairy tales.  However, that has become the most famous method of transforming a frog into a prince, and Kontis uses it in her book.  It does have to be true love’s kiss though.  When Sunday tries kissing him the first day they meet, nothing happens.  It is only after they have gotten to know each other and fallen in love that the kiss has any effect.

Once Grumble, whose real name is Rumbold, transforms back into a human, we shift more toward the “Cinderella” parts of the retelling.  Once again, Kontis mainly draws from the Grimms’ version of the tale, but many aspects found in typical “Cinderella” stories are clearly missing from Enchanted, most notably the malicious stepfamily.  Sunday has both of her parents and there is no resentment between her and any of her siblings.  Though she isn’t always enthused with her life, she is generally from a kind and happy family.  She actually doesn’t take on any aspects of the traditional Cinderella until over halfway through the book.  In fact, two of the most recognizable traits–sleeping by the fire and being covered with ashes–go to Rumbold.  He starts hearing voices in the dark and tries to use the fire to chase them away.  There are other references to the tale peppered throughout the book.  At one point, Sunday’s sister Saturday purposely injures herself with an ax to avoid attending the balls, an allusion to the stepsisters of the Grimms’ “Cinderella” cutting off their toes and heels.  When this happens, Sunday’s magic birds chirp, “Blood in the shoe.  There’s blood in the shoe,” which is what the birds in the fairy tale say to alert the prince of the deception.

As in most versions of the tale, there are three balls.  Rumbold holds them as a way to meet Sunday again since he can’t just go to her house.  Her family has a long-held grudge against the prince and his family due a situation with their oldest son, Jack Junior.  Unlike the original tale, Rumbold knows who she is when they are interacting at the ball.  However, Sunday doesn’t know that he is Grumble.  At the first ball, he pays a lot of attention to her, causing jealousy and anger among the other women.  Sunday ultimately isn’t able to attend the second ball because some of these women attack her while she is walking in.  This attack gives Sunday the appearance we expect of a Cinderella character pre-ball: covered in soot and dirt and wearing a ragged dress.  At the third ball, Rumbold finally reveals his identity.  This revelation, rather than a midnight deadline, is what causes Sunday to run away.  Until this point, Sunday thought Grumble died in a storm, causing her great grief.  After learning that he’s been alive and aware of who she is the whole time leads her to believe he is toying with her and laughing at her.

Continuing her use of the German version of the tale, Kontis uses silver and gold slippers rather than glass ones.  Overall the slipper plays a much smaller role in the plot than it does in the original fairy tale or other retellings.  Rumbold already knows who Sunday is and that the shoe belongs to her.  When she flees the third ball, Rumbold follows her.  Sunday uses magic to make her appear as a tree with gold and silver roses.  Rumbold stops by the tree to cry before picking a rose.  This tree, along with Sunday’s birds that perch on it, is another reference to the German fairy tale.  Cinderella plants a hazel tree at her mother’s grave and goes there to cry each day.  A white bird that perches on it gives Cinderella whatever she wishes for, including her dress and shoes to wear at the festival.  The rose Rumbold picks soon transforms into the gold and silver slipper.  After the climax, he returns it to Sunday and a playful version of the shoe fitting occurs.  Her sisters Friday and Saturday take the slipper before she can put it back on and joke that it belongs to them.  It’s all good natured fun and contains none of the deception or stakes of the original.

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite things about this book is its focus on Rumbold recovering from his curse.  He spent months as a frog, so it takes him a while to readjust to being human.  He has difficulty walking and speaking, and he experiences memory loss.  It also explores the effects of spending his childhood knowing he is cursed.  The curse was laid when he was young and wouldn’t take effect until his eighteenth birthday.  He grew up first fearing the curse, then embracing the idea of it, and eventually turning self-destructive when his fairy godmother managed to hold it off.  These are all very human reactions to something traumatic, and Rumbold experiencing all this makes him feel real to the reader.

I loved reading about the Woodcutter family.  It was fun to see what fairy tales were part of their lives, and I think Kontis did a great job weaving them all together.  Tuesday’s death by dancing in enchanted red shoes causes the circumstances that lead Monday to becoming the girl from “The Princess and the Pea.”  Tuesday is further woven into Sunday’s story as it is her dress that Sunday wears to the last ball.  Trix’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” plot starts out small at the beginning of the book, but plays a large rolet in the climax.  I know the next two books in the series focus on Saturday and Friday, and I’ll definitely be picking those up to see what fairy tales become incorporated into their lives.

Though I did enjoy the book, I had several issues that kept the rating from being higher.  Some important events happen off-page and are revealed to the reader later through conversations between characters.  The biggest example is when Sunday finds out there is magic in her family.  She, Trix, and Friday return from town to find their fairy godmother, Joy, at the house and find out she is actually their aunt.  However, the scene ends there and the reader finds out what happens in a conversation between Sunday and Saturday after the fact.  It felt like a very odd choice.  Showing the reader the scene would have worked much better than telling them later on.  I also felt the climax was a bit rushed, and parts of it confused me.  It took me a bit of time to figure out exactly what was happening, and I’m still not sure on every aspect.  I think it would have been better if Kontis had drawn it out more and offered a little more explanation.

However, my biggest issue is the insta-love relationship between Sunday and Rumbold.  They only meet three times before Sunday’s kiss is enough to break his curse.  Though they spend a great deal of time talking on those occasions, it didn’t feel like enough to consider love.  After Rumbold is human again, they only meet a few more times before she agrees to marry him.  I wish their relationship while he was a frog had taken longer to develop and that they had gotten to know each other again once he turned into a human.  Juliet Marillier did this very well in Wildwood Dancing; Jena is friends with Gogu, her frog, for years before he transforms back into a human, and it takes her some time to accept that he is actually her cousin, long presumed dead, and that she loves him.  I think if Kontis had taken this route and had Sunday and Rumbold fall in love gradually, it would have felt more realistic.

Other Reading Recommendations:

The starred titles are ones I have read myself.  The others are ones I want to read and may end up being future Fairy Tale Friday books.  I haven’t read many retellings of this tale, so there aren’t as many starred ones as usual.

Other Retellings of “The Frog Prince”:

More Retellings by Alethea Kontis:

About the Fairy Tale:

This review is also posted on aliteraryprincess.tumblr.com

 

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