The White Snake by Ben Nadler, based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, 64 pp, RL 3
The White Snake
Based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers
written and illustrated by Ben Nadler
review copy from TOON Books
I love fairy tales, for all their weird qualities, curious characters and impossible challenges, and The White Snake, even with Nadler's smart (and funny) tweaks, this old tale, first collected by the Brothers Grimm in their first edition of the German folk and fairy tales in 1812, stays strange - and delightful!
Randall is a young servant who longs to roam free with the wildlife outside the castle, rather than constantly rearranging paintings for the king, who is deeply concerned with what others think of him. Frustrated with his obsession, the king's daughter Tilda threatens to move to the neighboring kingdom of Borisylvania where the king is a magnificent ruler, beloved by all. Instead, the king sends Randall to Borisylvania as a spy to learn this king's secret to success. Risking his life, Randall uncovers the secret and changes his life. Every night, the secret, final dish of the king's meal is a white snake! Unable to resist, Randall takes a bite and finds he can communicate with animals.
This new ability saves Randall's hide more than once as he leaves Borisylvania to return to King Arnold. Along the way, his innate connection to and empathy for animals slows him down but also leaves many creatures indebted to him. This serves him well when Randall returns to King Arnold but refuses to reveal King Boris's secret. Thrown in the dungeon, his only hope is to enter the contest to win the hand of Princess Tilda, the very person who reveals this plan to him. Winning her hand, Randall reveals to the king the secret he brought back from Borisylvania, an the king says he is the perfect man to rule the kingdom and marry his daughter. While Randall and Tilda have fallen in love, Randall declines the king's offer, telling him Tilda would be a much better ruler. The king agrees, turning the palace into an animal shelter and finally finding a place to hang that picture...
Nadler has done a magnificent job with this story and, reading fantastic back matter by Paul Karasik makes that even clearer. Karasik details the history of the fairy tale, highlighting the differences in Nadler's modern retelling. From giving the characters names (something the Grimms didn't) to giving Tilda a voice and power, to ending the story with a version of The Peaceable Kingdom, a painting by 19th century American artist Edward Hicks who was, "so devoted to the idea of all creatures living in harmony that he painted 62 versions of that scene." I love learning all this from Karasik almost as much as I love Nadler's fairy tale, which includes an angry yeti, a Mongolian death worm (think creature from the movie Tremors) ogres that look like aliens and plants with sharp teeth!