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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan. New York: Roc, 2001. ISBN: 0-451-45840-0

I love fairy tales, don't you? Especially when they're written (or rewritten) for adults. As a child, I didn't get to read them, because my folks didn't believe in such things, and thought fairy stories weren't proper reading for kids. So I never read the spectrum of fairy tales stories that the author mentions in his “Foreword,” The Crimson Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, The Pink Fairy Book, and so on. This particular story, he says, came from The Blue Fairy Book, and is supposed to be of Norse origin.

The name of the story was “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and it was only 11 pages long. To quote the author, “I thought that much too short, and, as is apparent, I did lengthen it a bit.” Quite a bit, in fact, as Once Upon a Winter's Night is a mere 20 pages shy of 400 delightful pages in length.

The tale involves a beautiful, golden-haired poor girl, the youngest of six sisters, who lived on the edge of the realms of Faery. One cold and blustery winter's night, a huge white bear arrives with a note. His master wishes to marry the golden-haired girl who sings in the field. And, not without serious misgivings, she agrees to go to him, riding off on the back of the bear. And thus her adventures begin.

Naturally, there is a dreadful curse, some horrible trolls, ogres and goblins who have to be dealt with, and mainly, there is a lengthy quest, after the prince and his entire household vanish in a flash, when Camille, our plucky heroine, unknowingly violates the terms of the curse. They have been sent to a place “east of the sun, and west of the moon," and no one in all of Faery seems to know where such a place might be. But all's well that ends well, as the bard has said, and we know that there will ultimately be a happy ending.

The reason I read this book, at this particular time (for in fact, I had read it before, probably when it was first published), is that on the new books shelf at my local public library, I recently saw the fourth book in the series, Once Upon a Spring Morn (2006), and naturally decided I should read the books in order. I had forgotten that I had read the first book before, and frankly, I enjoyed it just as much the second time through. The others are Once Upon a Summer's Day (2005) and Once Upon an Autumn Eve (2006).

Highly recommended for all lovers of fantasy and fairy tales. You won't go wrong with this one, and I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the series.

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