Neil Gaiman's The Sleeper and the Spindle is a modern take on fairy-tale girl power

Neil Gaiman's The Sleeper and the Spindle is a modern take on fairy-tale girl power


There is a current trend in both movies and books these days to re-imagine classic fairy stories that we love and thought we knew.

One of Disney's biggest hits this year, Maleficent, was a sideways telling of Sleeping Beauty. And this Christmas sees the release of Into the Woods, a musical mix-up of a whole clutch of fairy tales.

Last year, popular writer Philip Pullman retold a string of classic tales in his bestseller Grimm Tales For Young and Old, and now it's the turn of Neil Gaiman to dust off a couple of well-worn favourites and mix them up in his own way.

Gaiman has been one of the most imaginative writers around for a while; his 2002 YA novel Coraline has already reached the status of modern classic. In The Sleeper and the Spindle, Gaiman weaves together the tales of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with a few threads of his own dark magic that fans will instantly recognise.

What's that droning noise coming from the abandoned castle in the middle of the dark woods? It sounds like the buzzing of a thousand bees, but it isn't. It's Sleeping Beauty snoring. The woods are littered with the skeletons and skulls of at least a dozen brave princes who have tried to hack their way through the brambles to awaken her with a kiss.

But all have failed, and now poor Sleeping Beauty is abandoned and forgotten. The new young handsome princes in the area have better things to do than risk their necks chopping through all that undergrowth just for a kiss. An ancient female servant struggles up and down the spiral staircases in the castle looking after the comatose princess. What will happen when this old crone dies is anyone's guess.

Far, far away in another kingdom, on the eve of her wedding, a young queen makes a decision. Throwing her expensive wedding dress on the floor, she puts on her suit of armour, grabs her sword, and follows her three faithful dwarf servants through the tunnels under the mountains. There is a job to be done, and only she can do it.

A sleeping sickness has started to spread through the villages, and people have been falling to the ground in a deep sleep. There is a rumour that the sickness is coming from a sleeping princess in a castle. The young queen must investigate.

This book is beautifully illustrated by ace artist Chris Riddell. The whole package is a classy celebration of girl power as you've never seen it before. This is a fantastic tale of strong women doing things their way.

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Tale of girl power turns classic fairy tales inside out


To post comments please
register or