Discussion: Light vs. Dark Trend in Fantasy Literature

It seems to me that a common trend throughout Science Fiction and Fantasy literature is the war between the Light and the Dark, or  Good vs. Evil. No matter what world the story takes place in, or what species or race the characters are, the discussion of good and bad is something that is constantly stressed in stories in our society. It has been for as long as we’ve had stories: religious parables and myths, fairy tales, today’s science fiction all share this theme. It comes as no surprise to me that it would also be prevalent in fiction for middle grade readers. The idea of there being good in the world as well as evil is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach to our youth throughout history. A warning, almost, to try and make sure that we instill morals in our children so that they can be positive contributors to our societies.

The Tale of Despereaux delivers this same message, this time using mice and rats and the physical difference of light and darkness. In the world that DiCamillo has created, mice are creatures of the world of the light and are only sent to the dungeon (a world of complete darkness) when they are being exiled from their own society. They are sent there to die a terrible death by the hand of the rats, who are creatures of that darkness and despised by humans as creatures of disease and ugliness and death. It was, in fact, a rat who had unintentionally caused the death of the humans’ queen, who was frightened to death by the accidental appearance of a rat in her soup- a rat who had left the darkness of the dungeon for the light of the world above only to be shunned and sent back to the dark world from which he came. He had wanted to witness beauty and goodness, and leave the evil that the other rats held in their hearts behind, but because of the prejudice of the humans in the castle was forced to go back. While in that darkness, his plan for revenge was conceived and developed and put into action. A plan to steal away the Princess Pea from the world of light and make her remain in the darkness of the dungeon forever as punishment for sending that rat, Chiaroscuro, back to his home and showing him that humans would never accept rats in the world of beauty and light.

But then DiCamillo takes a turn. In the end, she allows the rats to partake of the world of the light. Princess Pea, moved by Despereaux’s devotion and gift of forgiveness, extends a sort of olive branch to the rats inviting them out of the darkness to partake in the beauty and enjoyment of the world of light for a taste of soup. Princess Pea’s invitation serves to showcase the idea that even when people are born in or come from that world of darkness we should still give them the chance to experience light and beauty and good, not shun them from it and ban them to their darkness and sadness and potentially evil ways. This reminds me of countless parables from new testament Christian texts (as well as many other religions’ writings and teachings): ideas of “love your neighbor” and forgiveness and being good to your fellow man. It’s no secret that humans do have an aversion to rats. Throughout history they’ve carried diseases that have been very detrimental to our societies (the plague in medieval times, etc.), and the word itself has quite the negative connotation. But mice can be cute. Especially very tiny ones with giant ears who can read and fall in love with princesses. I think that DiCamillo’s use of mice and rats, two very closely related animals that are thought of very differently, to show prejudice and good vs. evil was interesting and something on a level that children in this age group could latch onto and learn from.

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The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.

Tagline:

The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Age Range: 10-14 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: September is a very normal girl whose father has gone off to fight in World War II and whose mother is now working a lot to help with the war effort. On the night of her twelfth birthday, the Green Wind and his Leopard decide to surprise September with a trip to Fairyland. Before she knows it, September is off on a greater adventure than she could ever have imagined. Fairyland is in turmoil, ruled by a Marquess that has forbidden dragons and fairies to fly and imposed all other sorts of demanding rules on the inhabitants of this fantastic world. Along the way, September makes many new friends, including a Dragon who was raised by a Library and a blue boy from the sea who can grant wishes. But will this terribly normal girl be strong enough to stand up to the evil Marquess? Can she find a way to follow her ever-growing heart and restore Fairyland to what it once was?

Review: One of my top ten books that I have read in 2012, this story is absolutely amazing. For any lover of fairy tales, adventure stories, or fans of Lewis Carroll, this book is a must read. Valente manages to create a Victorian-style story that is truly on a middle grade level, even if it will expand the vocabulary of readers of any age. A wonderful example of a coming-of-age tale, this story follows September’s progression from being Heartless (as all children are) to someone who’s Heart is Growing (what happens to everyone as they begin to grow up). She makes new relationships with very diverse characters and must make very important decisions about who to trust and who to move against. I’ve already given this book as a gift to a few of my friends who have embarked on major life changes this year, and it has struck a chord with each of them. Enjoyable to read for adventurers of all ages.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Making Decisions

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

September: A twelve-year-old girl from Nebraska whose parents are both rather absent because of war-time activities (World War II). She is taken to Fairyland by the Green Wind and left there to have adventures, which ultimately involve the dethroning of the evil Marquess.

A-Through-L: A Wyverary, or a wyvern (like a dragon) whose father was a Library. He has extensive knowledge of everything beginning with the letters A-L. He has no forepaws (so think of a shape like the letter S) and wings, but those wings are chained due to one of the Marquess’s laws. A-Through-L befriends September early in her adventures and travels with her throughout Fairyland.

Saturday: Saturday looks very much like a young boy with blue skin, but he is a Marid. He comes from the sea and lives his life quite out of order. But if you defeat him in legitimate combat, Saturday can and must grant you a wish.

The Marquess: The ruler of Fairyland. She took her place when there was a vacancy from the previous queen, who simply left one day never to return. The Marquess learns of September’s adventures in Fairyland and sets her with the quest of obtaining a very special sword from the depths of a dangerous forest. September must then decide if she will use the sword herself or hand it over to save her friends.

Bibliographic Info:

Valente, C. M. (2011). The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Macmillan.

Tagline:

A very normal girl goes on very abnormal adventures in Fairyland. Can she make the right choices to save both this magical world and herself?