CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's safe to say that we all grew up with tales of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Snow White and the like. But were they the original fairy tales or the Disney adaptations? Few know the actual content of the stories.
(For example, Ariel never married her prince in "The Little Mermaid." Her body actually dissolved into sea foam and turned into a spirit.)
In "The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell," the debut novel from "Glee" star Chris Colfer, the author makes it his goal to point out that Disney has "bastardized" the original content of fairy tales.
In the book, 12-year-old twins Alex and Connor Bailey have recently lost their father in a car accident. The twins are clichéd polar opposites: Alex a goody two-shoes bookworm, Connor a class clown. But they both share a love of the fairy tales their father used to tell them.
When their grandmother gives them her book of fairy tales, called "The Land of Stories," the twins unwittingly open a portal to another dimension where fairy tales are real. To get home, they must embark on a scavenger hunt across the different kingdoms of the fairytale world to gain access to the Wishing Spell, a powerful spell that will grant any and every wish. However, Snow White's evil stepmother also wants to use the Wishing Spell, and the twins must race to collect each item first to get home.
It's entertaining to see how Colfer uses the characters in the established fairytale canon. For example, Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive for resisting arrest after breaking and entering at the bears' home, while Red Riding Hood is busy running her own kingdom and trying to win the heart of Jack (of beanstalk fame). And all of those women who married Prince Charming? Turns out that there are multiple Charmings; they're all brothers.
The book is a fun read, though it does tend to drag in the middle. I would have completely lost interest in the plight of the twins had Colfer not given them such wonderful personalities. It's a genuinely funny novel that well utilizes puns (a gigantic shoe hotel called "The Shoe Inn") and innuendo ("Woo, it's so cold, I think we may be twin sisters now!").
The way Colfer places an emphasis on how a villain is just a "victim whose story has never been told" is also interesting. By the end of the book, we find out just why the Evil Queen is so evil. The world of "Stories" has a true gray morality: evil characters can be sympathized with, and good characters can be condemned.
The most disappointing thing is the ending's deus ex machina. Also, older readers are sure to see plot twists coming a mile away. But these minor complaints aside, "Stories" is a must-read book for anyone looking for a quality and charming adventure novel.