Sunday, July 22, 2012

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is blithe and bonny and good and gay.

Enchanted is a fractured fairytale telling the story of the frog prince while incorporating parts of many other fairy tales.

Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of Jack and Seven Woodcutter; Jack, a seventh son and Seven, a seventh daughter. Sunday's family includes her older brothers Jack Jr., and Peter, and Trix who was adopted as well as Sunday's six sisters all of whom are named after days of the week. Monday and Tuesday are twins, Wednesday who is quiet but poetic and lives in the tower of their boot-shaped home, Thursday who ran off and married a Pirate King and plunders ships, Friday who spends all her time helping those less fortunate, and Saturday, a large, strong young woman brandishing an axe, who loves to work hard with her axe.

Sunday's family has suffered much tragedy in their life. Tuesday who was graceful and loved to dance, died after putting on a new pair of shoes charmed by her mother and which caused her to dance herself to death. Jack Jr. was changed into a puppy while serving in the King's Royal Guard, after causing the death of the Prince's puppy. Jack Jr.'s death has meant that the Woodcutter family can never forgive the Royal Family. And Jack has forbidden his family from ever speaking about it again.

One day while sitting in the woods, writing stories in her journal, Sunday meets a frog - a talking frog named Grumble. Grumble is smart, eloquent, well mannered and moves and behaves as though he were a man trapped in a frog's body. Sunday, whose family has fey blood in them, is not surprised much by the appearance of Grumble. Sunday reads Grumble her entry about her family but tells him she never writes something unless it's already happened, because things have a "tendency to come true".

Sunday continues to meet Grumble, whom she feels at ease with and who makes her laugh. Sunday doesn't know who Grumble is, only that he is a man with a spell on him. Every day before she leaves, she grants Grumble his wish that she kiss him in the hopes that the spell will be broken. And every day nothing happens to change poor Grumble back into the prince he once was. The longer Grumble stays a frog, the less he will remember until he forgets he was ever a man. He will no longer understand Sunday when she talks and their friendship will be lost.

Gradually their friendship blossoms into love. One day when Sunday does kiss Grumble, unknown to her, he turns back into Prince Rumbold. Her true love for Grumble has broken the spell. That night there is a raging storm, a sign that a powerful spell has been broken. Prince Rumbold returns home to the palace, determined to win Sunday's love. To this end, he requests that three balls be held in three days and that every eligible young woman in the land is to be invited.

Meanwhile, we also learn that Sunday is in fact, no ordinary girl. Besides being able to turn frog princes back into men, Sunday has fey magic in her blood and so do her sisters and brother Peter. This is because Sunday's grandfather spent time in the Fairy Queen's court and was changed as a result. Because of this Sunday is instructed by her Aunt Joy who is her godmother,in the various abilities of fey magic. This storyline is never fully developed in the novel.

Since Rumbold's early return from his spell, (it was supposed to last a year but he spent only nine months as a frog) he struggles to adjust to palace life. He can remember how to walk and talk, but he can't remember his life before becoming a frog. He also is haunted by dreams and voices that ask him to help. Prince Rumbold has no idea what this is. When Rumbold goes to see his father, the King, whose name no one knows, he discovers that his father is actually extremely ancient and is being kept alive by the blood of a fairy. Prince Rumbold's mother, the Queen, has been long dead.

Not yet understanding the significance of this, Rumbold attends the first ball and easily picks out Sunday as the young woman he fell in love with as a frog. He begins to court her, not telling her that he is her frog prince. Meanwhile, his father chooses Sunday's sister, Wednesday, as his new queen. But Rumbold learns even more about his father and his evil plan, and knows now that he must not only tell Sunday the truth about who he is, but also try to save Wednesday from the terrible fate his father has planned for her.

Told in the alternating voices of Sunday Woodcutter, and Prince Rumbold, Enchanted is a truly bizarre story whose main fairy tale is that of the frog prince, but which also incorporates many other fairy tales, all of them fractured as well. There is Jack in the Beanstalk, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, The Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe and Cinderella. Kontis' attempt to weave in elements of other fairy tales was in itself interesting and might have worked but for the convoluted main story which was further broken up by having two narrators. In addition to the main Frog Prince storyline, there are two fairy godmothers who are at war with one another, casting spells and counter spells which affect the lives of the families they are attached to. All of this made the novel difficult to follow and tedious to read.

Since the novel is plot driven and there are so many twists and turns, so many different story lines, characterization is all but forgotten and eventually so is the romantic drama between Rumbold and Sunday until almost the very end. Alethea Kontis simply tried to do too much. A simple retelling perhaps focusing on romantic intrigue might have sufficed.

The original Frog Prince fairy tale, the first in the Brothers Grimm, has a spoiled princess meeting a frog. She undoes the spell by throwing the frog against a wall.

Book Details:
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012
308 pp.

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