Leaping Beauty: And Other Animal Fairy Tales, by Gregory Maguire – review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.  Fred writes: three or four reviews of furry books that I wrote in 2003 or 2004 have vanished from the Internet.  I wrote them for the first version of Watts Martin’s Claw & Quill site, which he has apparently taken down. Here they are back online.

c8486Leaping Beauty: And Other Animal Fairy Tales, by Gregory Maguire. Illustrated by Chris L. Demarest.
NYC, HarperCollinsPublishers, August 2004, hardcover $15.99 (197 pages, Kindle $7.99.

Some people can’t hear Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” without thinking of the Lone Ranger. I couldn’t read Leaping Beauty without imagining it being read aloud by Edward Everett Horton as the Narrator of the “Fractured Fairy Tales” on Jay Ward’s Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show. Leaping Beauty is categorized as an Ages 8 – 12 children’s book. Sure, and Jay Ward’s TV cartoons were for kids, too.

Leaping Beauty is exactly in the style of “Fractured Fairy Tales” except that the eight stories all feature animal casts. Some are in traditional fairy-tale settings, such as “Leaping Beauty” which takes place in a swamp kingdom with a bullfrog king & queen. At their polliwog princess’ christening, a bumblebee good fairy blesses her with a loud voice. “She will have a beautiful voice for all to hear and enjoy. Her ribbit will be as loud as a foghorn.” Old Dame Hornet, the nasty fairy they forgot to invite, wishes she will die as an exploding frog, but the last good fairy who has not used his wish yet tries to save her. So the polliwog grows up to become a weeping, sleeping, leaping beauty who hops over to demand Dame Hornet lift the curse. “The sound came right up to Old Dame Hornet’s doorway and went away again, like an ambulance driving by, and driving right back. Like an ambulance going up and down the street, hour after hour.”

Some are in modernized settings, such as “Rumplesnakeskin”:

“Down by the old mill stream, there stood a mill. In the mill there worked a miller. He was a sheep named Bubba.

Now Bubba had a beautiful daughter named Norma Jean. Her fleece was as yellow as a field of dandelions. Furthermore it was naturally curly. When she went for a drink in the millpond, she tossed her flaxen locks and admired herself in a mirror. ‘How like a movie star I am!’ she said. ‘If only I could be discovered!'” (pg. 175)

She changes her name to Beauty and is discovered by a stag king who is a wannabe horror movie director and promises to star her in it. But he is really more interested in her spinning gold to finance it:

“The king stag chattered all the way to the studio about camera angles and foreign rights and how genius usually ends up on the cutting-room floor. ‘You’ll be a big star one day,’ he said to Beauty. ‘You’ve got the looks. You’ve got the curves. I’ve got a serious case of the nerves. Spin me some gold, sweetheart. All the world will thank you for it.’

And off he went, locking the door behind him.” (pg. 178)

Some stories involve gender reversals. “Little Red Robin Hood” is a boy, not a girl. A boy with an overactive imagination:

“Little Red Robin Hood pretended he was a superhero with special superpowers. Sometimes he wore a little red cape with a red hood. It was his superhero costume. It made a nice fluttering noise when he flew, like the sound of baseball cards slapping against a rotating bicycle wheel.” (pg. 107)

When he is sent to bring a basket of goodies to Grandma Robin “in a retirement village for old birds on the other side of the forest,” he is alert for the opportunity to confront any supervillains he may meet on the way.

The stories embrace all animals and locales. “So What and the Seven Giraffes” is an African tale about a chimpanzee prince of baboon parents, a gorilla evil stepmother, and seven female giraffes who are bespangled performers in the local circus. “The Three Little Penguins and the Big Bad Walrus” takes place at the South Pole. Or maybe the North Pole (does it matter?):

“Once there were three little penguins who lived in an igloo with their mother.

“The oldest penguin liked to eat fish.

The middle penguin liked to eat fish.

The youngest penguin liked to get dressed up in a ballet costume and put on a show. This was not usual for penguins, and it worried old Mama Penguin a lot.” (pg. 129)

The remaining three tales are “Goldiefox and the Three Chickens”, “Hamster and Gerbil”, and “Cinder-Elephant”. Betcha can’t read these without imagining them narrated by Ed Horton, and drawn in the Jay Ward art-style (which is pretty close to the illustrations in this book anyway). If you remember the “Fractured Fairy Tales” from 1960s TV and later video releases (they just came out on DVD), that should be all the recommendation you need for Leaping Beauty, and Other Animal Fairy Tales.

– Fred Patten