Gaiman is a master storyteller, and this skill is dramatically displayed in his recent, reimagined fairy tale The Sleeper and the Spindle. In this revisioning of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, a young queen is waiting for her impending wedding. Three dwarfs (one tall, one small, one middle-sized), journey to the wedding and stop at an inn on their way. They hear a curious tale about a plague of sleep at a nearby castle. They learn that long ago, a princess pricked her finger and–along with all of the other individuals in the castle–has been in a magical sleep for nearly sixty years. Many people have tried to wake her but very few have made it past the thorns that now enclose the castle.
The dwarfs are amazed at the tale and wonder how people are trying to wake the princess:
“Wake her how?” asked the middle-sized dwarf, hand still clutching his rock, for he thought in essentials.
“The usual method,” said the pot-girl, as she blushed. “Or so the tales have it.”
“Right,” said the tallest dwarf. “So, bowl of cold water poured on the face and a cry of ‘Wakey! Wakey!’?
“A kiss,” said the sot. “But nobody has ever got that close. They’ve been trying for sixty years or more. They say the witch—“
“Fairy,” said the fat man.
“Enchantress,” corrected the pot-girl.
“Whatever she is,” said the sot. “She’s still there. That’s what they say. If you get that close. If you make it through the roses, she’ll be waiting for you. She’s old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death.”
The dwarfs tell their queen about this tale, and she postpones the wedding to head to the castle to save the princess.
As you can see, the whimsical weaving of the two fairy tales—along with a few hints of other tales such as The Three Little Bears and Rapunzel, among others—is delightful and clever. The twists and turns that Gaiman takes with the storyline add a feminist touch (no prince is going to save the day here), and illustrator Chris Riddell’s detailed black and drawings with gold metallic accents truly bring Gaiman’s words alive. Read this piece out loud if you can, for it will help you savor each word and moment that Gaiman offers. It is time well spent.
Here is a brief clip of Gaiman introducing the book. I would suggest listening to the piece rather than watching it due to the bumpy footage:
If you have the time, I would also encourage you to view the following conversation between Gaiman and Art Spiegelman. It’s not only intriguing but inspiring as well: