Alyce at At Home with Books is doing a weekly feature where she highlights one of her favorite reads from the past and encourages others to do so as well.
While I am a fan of (almost) ALL fairy tales, I do hold a chosen few close to my heart. One of those is the East of the Sun, West of the Moon myth. My grandmother donated a beautifully illustrated book from her personal library to my family sometime in my pre-teen years. East of the Sun and West of the Moon, illustrated by Kay Nielson in Art Nouveau style, had me enthralled from page one. The illustrations were finely rendered and almost mystical, and the pages were so fragile that the reading experience itself was quite tenuous.
That early exposure taught me to love the story, and reading different retellings since hasn’t shaken my affection for it. My preferred retelling in more recent times is Edith Pattou’s East.
Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.
As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.
Main character Rose feels stifled and misunderstood. Family pressures and misfortunes are exacerbated by her mother’s superstitions and her father’s job, which takes him away on map-making expeditions. But when adventure comes for her, she finds that the world and love are strange and that survival will be harder than she ever imagined.
While Pattou’s story follows the general outline of the original fairy tale, it is told from alternating viewpoints of five or six of the main characters. Each voice adds something to Rose’s story, even as they add to the overall picture. This movement and cycling through different voices could be confusing, but the author pulls it off. The technique lends itself to a sense of passage and travel that is not only unique, but also particularly suited to a tale that is essentially a journey.
Another distinctive (and perfectly wonderful!) ingredient in this story is the pervading superstition attached to the compass rose. Obviously, a sense of direction is central to the story. I mean, look at the title – East! But Pattou has created or borrowed superstition about birth order and personality type to attach to peculiarities of each point of the compass, and combined it with detailed descriptions of maps and the Far North. Added up, it is both beautiful and strange.
These elements, in conjunction with an honest and tender love story, equal not only a sterling fantasy tale, but also one that has earned its rightful place on my ‘re-reads’ shelf.
Recommended for: fans of fantasy, fairy tales, delightful young adult literature, unique world cultures, and journeys that end in love, sadness, and other essentials of growing older (and wiser). Enjoy!
This book counts for the Once Upon a Time challenge.