For all that you might not particularly want another adaptation of Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood, there’s a reason they keep getting made and that’s fairy tales are flexible. New fairy tales are another matter. Sure, they might be met with more interest, but the same skepticism abounds – what hasn’t been done before?
Both the biggest selling point and gamble The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairytales makes is to use the word “brand-new” in its title. While the prospect of four original fairy tales is enticing, living up to that promise is a challenge. You can’t use adjectives like “brand-new” and not deliver, so it’s a good thing writer, Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, and artist, Simini Blocker, do.
Starting with the book itself, Singing Rock is hardcover and comes with a book jacket. The cool part is that, when you take the book jacket off, it’s not your standard cover but a different image on the front and the frog from “Hop Hop Wish” on the back.
Frog didn’t mean to unleash a genie from his bottle, but he wouldn’t mind sending him back if he could. While other stories have explored the drawbacks of getting three wishes before, it’s not what to wish for that’s distressing Frog, or figuring out what to say. It’s having three wishes at all.
Deceptively simple, yet able to flip the genie-master dynamic on its head, Genie comes on strong, because he thinks Frog will be like the others but he’s not, and that baffles him. Frog, for his part, never says more than “ribbet,” yet Blocker imbues his eyes with so much emotion, you never feel at a loss for what he’s thinking. I love that Lachenmeyer doesn’t give Genie a reason for being so determined. He’s not going to be granted his freedom if Frog complies. He just doesn’t understand how three wishes could zap the joy out of Frog’s leap.
He’s certainly not deliberately trying to make anyone miserable, like the witch in “The Singing Rock.” Fueled by her hatred of music, the witch has taken to enforcing a ‘no music’ ban in town. With eyebrows that tell you she’s up to no good, and exaggerated motions ready for children to imitate, she’s a wonderful, grouch character. While it’s not treated as such, though, there’s something sad about the ending that feels incomplete.
“The Sorcerer’s New Pet” follows two sorcerers, Athesius and Warthius. Where Athesius is happy creating original spells without the prestige, Warthius has prestige but not the same level of talent. This leads him to hatch a plan whereby he hopes to rip-off Athesius’ spells without him noticing. Another instance where Singing Rock encourages pretend play, by making Pig Latin the language of magic, I like that the ending reassesses Warthius’ plan, and finds some merit in it.
Finally, bringing up the rear is “Ogreish Art,” a story with a message about being true to yourself as an artist and not compromising your art for money. This is sometimes easier said than done, but after making a career out of flattering royals with his portraits, Sebastian meets his most difficult client yet: the Ogre King of Ogredom.
The Singing Rock & Other Brand New Fairy Tales goes on sale June 18th from First Second. Just in time for summer, it’s a quick read but one where the fun doesn’t have to stop with the last page.