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Falling Into Fairy Tales: 'The Land of Stories- The Wishing Spell' Book Review

Updated on August 1, 2013

The world will always choose convenience over reality, the Evil Queen said. It's easier to hate, blame, and fear than it is to understand. No one wants the truth; they want entertainment.

Large, picturesque advertisement displays rarely work on me. I can easily skirt the displays whose job it is to cry "Look at me! Over here!" without much issue at all. I'm not sure what was different on this occasion. Perhaps I was in a childlike mood, visiting the local bookstore with just myself and my two kids, aged three and four. With their Angry Birds stuffed toys swinging from their arms and the wooden train set beckoning, perhaps I took a step back in time and let the bright colors of the display and the thick, eyecatching book draw me into its web.

I'm not a Glee fan so I didn't recognize the name Chris Colfer upon first sight, although I have seen him in enough interviews to recognize him. To be honest, whenever I got home and saw the book I had just bought was written by the star of a show like Glee I had second thoughts. "Good thing I kept the receipt," was the first thing that ran through my mind. I did crack it open and scanned the first few pages leading into the story, however, and quickly reconsidered. I thought it was a good omen when the words staring back at me were a quote from a favorite author of mine, C.S. Lewis: "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." Amen.

Alex and her twin brother Connor Bailey are still young enough for fairy tales. The Wishing Spell opens a day before their twelfth birthday, a year now behind them that has been the most difficult of their young lives. While they're still young enough to appreciate the magic of fairy tales, you can never be of an age where losing your dad is not a life changing experience. Not only have they lost their father- the one responsible for showing them the beauty of fairy tales and stories- but they soon thereafter lost their house to foreclosure and their mom to the rigors of constant overtime at work.

They do, however, still have their grandmother, who occasionally visits between regular vacations and humanitarian trips around the world. The joy they experience at the thought of their grandmother mirrors that of my own childhood, in fact. The smell of cookies upon entering her house, the nights of climbing in bed and falling asleep to fairy tales told to them by her. In the middle of the chaos life has thrown their way, Alex and Connor's grandmother is a safe harbor from the storms that have been tossing them about lately.

For that special twelfth birthday, it's the twins and grandma together again. As a final and special gift to Alex and Connor, she passes along her treasured book she and their father would always read from, a book of fairy tales called The Land of Stories. While there could be no greater gift to the twins and they cherish it completely, something is terribly wrong with the book. Books aren't supposed to buzz and shine and this one seems to be doing just that (and sometimes at the most inopportune times as well). Something is amiss and Alex has lost about a hundred pencils to an unknown fate, dropping them into the glowing pages of the book, pencils that disappear without a trace.

Map by Brandon Dorman
Map by Brandon Dorman | Source

What follows next is part accident, part dream come true. Falling into the pages of The Land of Stories, the twins Alex and Connor land in a pile of discarded pencils and other unwanted items dropped into the pages, right in the middle of a rather creepy forest. To make things even more unusual, the first thing they see is a well-dressed frog man taking a stroll on his merry way home. As the twins follow the newly christened "Froggy" home, Connor can't help but point out the Narnia-like experience they've recently shared: the twins just met their very own version of Mr. Tumnus after entering an unexpected portal.

After sharing some lily pad tea with Froggy and hoping beyond all hope there is no Turkish delight involved, the twins realize not only are they in a fairy tale realm- the very world inhabited by each of the classic characters we all know by now- but it's a completely different world from ours. There is most likely only one way back to their own world, the world where their mother is more than likely hysterical with worry by now. What follows for the siblings in The Wishing Spell is a full scale scavenger hunt through the different kingdoms of this fairy tale realm. Along the way, as they traverse the lands of the Northern Kingdom, Sleeping Kingdom, Charming Kingdom, Corner Kingdom, Fairy Kingdom, Red Riding Hood Kingdom, Elf Empire, Dwarf Forests and Troll and Goblin Territory, they'll come across the expected and unexpected "real" versions of characters such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and plenty of others.

The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns, available August 2013
The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns, available August 2013

Colfer certainly has a vivid imagination and any child- or parent for that matter- is surely to get lost in the detailed and magical land he's crafted for readers of The Wishing Spell. Each step along the way leads the twins along a winding Aesop's Fable path of finding the moral within each story and not just what appears on the surface. While the homage to Lewis' Narnia series is quite apparent throughout the story, The Wishing Spell doesn't take itself as seriously and is filled from cover to cover with humor and snarkiness. The great news is the story doesn't end here; The Enchantress Returns, the first (and hopefully not last) sequel to The Wishing Spell is set to be released in early August of 2013.

© 2013 Robert Allen Johnson


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