Continuing in a similar vein as last week, I’ll be talking about another one of Gail Carson Levine’s novels: Fairest, a (somewhat) retelling of Snow White.
Hope you enjoy!
Fairest isn’t a retelling.
At least, not in the strict sense. It’s one of those stories that has enough similarities with the original (a girl with white skin, black hair, and red lips, small creatures who take her in, a queen jealous of her beauty, a little species who keeps her safe, and a prince who keeps her from dying) that it’s not entirely unfamiliar, but enough differences to make it unique. And yet, its message is an enduring one, especially for a young middle-school girl.
Aza is a girl with a problem. Her kingdom, Ayortha, values two things: beauty, and a good singing voice. She has the second in spades, but the first … while she has the same coloring as Snow White, she’s not beautiful. In fact, her face makes people stare, and since her family owns an inn, she often gets rude comments. Her one goal is to be beautiful, so she can finally join her society.
One day, everything changes. Aza becomes the companion of Duchess Olixo, and she goes to the palace for the king’s wedding. But tragedy strikes following the wedding. A horseshoe strikes the king at a centaur tournament, and he ends up in a coma. In his absence, his new (considered foreign) bride, Ivi, now rules.
Unfortunately, things only get worse from there. Despite the fact that Prince Ijori and Aza are slowly becoming friends, Ivi keeps making huge mistakes. She conscripts Aza to be her lady-in-waiting, as she can’t sing and Aza has a special thing she can do with her voice, called illusing, where she can mimic anyone’s voice coming from anywhere. They have Sings — events where people take turns singing — and they hold one to help the king get better. Unfortunately, Ivi angers everyone, because her song has more to do with her than with her husband. Over time, she only gets worse, oscillating between kind (helping Aza with her clothing) to domineering (getting rid of the birds, locking up the cook and Lady Arona, and trying to ban Sings).
Eventually, everything goes wrong when the palace finds out that Aza is illusing for the queen. She’s sent to jail, but not before drinking potion from a mirror called Skulni to become beautiful. She escapes with the help of a guard, and ends up with the gnomes. While there, she learns she’s likely a gnome’s cousin. That’s why her hair is htun (a gnomish shade of black), and why she looks so ugly to humans.
However, while zhamM is gone, the queen poisons her with an apple. She winds up in the mirror, where she meets the creature in it, called Skulni. He’s one of Lucinda’s infamous wedding presents, bestowing beauty on his owners. When they die, they end up in the mirror, while he gets to take a holiday. He’s decidedly evil, having caused all sorts of misfortunes in Ayortha, and is currently manipulating Ivi into dying so that he can take his holiday.
When Ivi arrives, he tries to put his plan into action. But, using her singing to strengthen her, Aza breaks the mirror and ends up back in Gnome Caverns, this time with Prince Ijori. The two return, and everything is set to rights. The king wakes, and pardons Aza for everything. However, he exiles Ivi to the edge of the kingdom for her actions. It’s a merciful decision, as she could’ve been executed. Prince Ijori and Aza marry (in secret, to avoid Lucinda), and they all live happily ever after.
This story is unique for a few reasons. But the most important is that it’s almost a reversal of the Snow White story. In the original, Snow White’s beauty is an important part of the plot, and it’s implied that it’s one reason the prince falls in love with her. In this one, beauty is an elusive prize that, in the end, isn’t worth it. Ultimately, Prince Ijori falls in love with Aza because of who she is, not because she’s beautiful. And she learns to accept herself as she is, without wanting to change her appearance.
This is an important message for any age, not just for young girls. Ayortha isn’t the only place that prizes beauty. Ultimately, its pursuit can cost too much. Nor is it worth it, because one day, it will be gone forever.
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What do you think about this story? If you’ve read it, who’s your favorite character? Let me know in the comments!
And if you have any suggestions about topics, let me know there as well. I’d love to hear them!
Your Fairytale Enthusiast