First published in 2014, The Sleeper and The Spindle is the gorgeously told and illustrated fairy-tale from Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell. A cunningly dark and twisted blend of the tales of snow white and sleeping beauty, this is a female-focussed fairy-story, with love at its heart.
This is a book told almost entirely by female characters (the dwarves who fetch the Queen seem rather genderless, and the Queen’s betrothed prince is merely a passing mention in half a sentence). The Sleeper dominates the story through apparent inaction, though this is later changed at the point of the twist of the tale, and the old woman watching over her has a rich history; her bravery and struggle and desire to undo the spell over the land is heart-wrenching. Even moreso when the truth of the matter comes to light. The questing queen has her own tale to tell, and it is love that motivates many of her actions, be they apparently ones of kindness or of vengeance.
Although the image that circulated a lot when the book first became popular was the double-page spread of the two princesses kissing, this is not a WLW retelling of sleeping beauty. Though the kiss has pivotal importance to the plot, it is also a turning point for the Queen, whose intentions are brought up short by the truth behind the Sleeper.
Riddell’s artwork is both stunning and terrifying, and although the princesses’ kiss is the image that most easily springs to mind when thinking of this book, a special mention must go to the image of a knight, failed in his quest to awaken the Sleeper, whose skeleton has become part of the beautiful rose garden.
This is a tale of love, and of women, and a beautiful reminder that picture books are not only for the very young.