July 16, 2013

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Those of you who have been hanging out here for awhile with me, (thank you!! for putting up with my bad jokes and total disregard for punctuation and other niceties common to the writing of the English language...) know that I love my fairy tales. LOVE ME MY FAIRY TALES!

I have a small handful of most favorite fairy tale stories. One is the 'Snow Queen'. The other is 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon'.

I'm not sure why it appeals to me so much. Maybe because it's such an epic quest (the girl's journey takes her to the ends of the earth and is not a walk of posies), and it involves the girl saving her true love, instead of the other way around. But I love it.

I've mentioned all over this blog that my mom-in-law has unbelievably fantastic book taste and knowledge, in addition to also physically possessing some amazing kid lit treasures at her house. I did A WHOLE LOT OF GASPING when I saw that she had a copy of Mercer Mayer's version of 'East of the Sun & West of the Moon'.

(Fun fact: Mercer Mayer grew up in Hawaii!)

She let me borrow it, and so far all I've done is pet it lovingly. And I placed it oh so gently on a black taffeta party dress of Julia's to take its picture. Soon I'll get around to actually reading it with my kiddo, after we wrap up with her 'Paul Bunyan' obsession.

So maybe you are wondering why I haven't seized upon this treasure to read with Julia long before now (she's 7 as of this writing). Well because contrary to the idea that fairy tales are little kid stuff, the great majority of them are NOT light reading. Or Little Kid stuff. Many abridged versions are fine fare for tiny tots and young preschoolers, but most traditional fairy tales are densely written, with intricate and sophisticated language and themes that are meant more for kids 7+.

I read nearly all of Andrew Lang's 'Color' fairy tale books when I was in the 4th and 5th grades. 

'East of the Sun & West of the Moon' is a story that originates from Norway, and is somewhat of a riff on the 'Beauty and the Beast' theme, typically featuring a great bear coming to the heroine's family home and asking for her companionship. Some versions of this story are called 'The Polar Bear King'.

Mercer Mayer's version is more of a variation on 'The Frog Prince', but they all are similar in their prince-under-an-enchantment theme.

Basically, the girl agrees to go with the bear (or frog) to his enchanted castle, so that her family will gain financial security, as the enchanted bear (or frog) has promised. In the traditional tale, she breaks her promise never to come look at the bear at night. She discovers that he is really a handsome prince, but in so doing, she drips candle wax upon him and he is immediately magicked away to the troll kingdom.

In this version, she loses her temper and refuses to marry the magic frog, and in a fit of pique, throws him against a wall. The frog turns into the prince and is rushed off to the land of trolls.

All versions of the tale involve the girl choosing to make the most arduous and incredible journey and to achieve the impossible...to arrive at a place "east of the sun and west of the moon". Through the help of varying nature spirits, she does in fact wind up at such a place, which is the Troll Kingdom. She finds work as a servant in the castle of the Troll Princess, and ultimately manages to defeat her.

Mercer Mayer's art is something to behold here. If all you are familiar with are the 'Little Critter' stories, you are going to be in for a very (fabulous) surprise. Stunning. Incredible. There's so much mediocre fairy tale art out there, sorry but there is. But there's also work of breathtaking originality that is some of the best art in the world, period. Yes. There are works of art in children's literature that rival any kind of "best" art done anywhere, in any genre.

Oh! Last winter I read a YA fiction retelling of this tale, called 'East'. I was glued to it nonstop until I finished it. You won't believe what the poor girl goes through to get to the top of the world to rescue her bear prince. It's FABULOUS.

Got any favorite fairy tales? I want to know!


  1. Absolutely stunning. I love Mercer Mayer's "serious" art. I still need to read this tale, too! My favorite fairy tale is "The Wild Swans" or "The Six Swans" or whatever variation. Again, the girl saves the guys, although there is that pesky wooing king situation. I also loves Andersen's "The Snow Queen." Again, girl saves the boy. I would probably love your tale, too!

  2. wow, this is beautiful! I've never heard of this story. From the gorgeous illustrations though, I can tell its wonderfully epic! what a beautiful book!~

    1. You will also love this one Heather! You will! :)

      (I am most enthused about this fairy tale.)

  3. Honestly, I have never been a big Mercer Mayers fan, but these illustrations may improve my opinion a bit. I'll have to check it out.
    Dana @ Project Day

    1. his more 'serious' work is so interesting, I think!!

  4. Have you read any of the middle grade chapter books based on this fairy tale? They are AWESOME.

  5. I tried to comment on this earlier! Curse my phone! If it is going to boast handheld internet power then it better deliver!!

    Anyway! THIS looks SO fantastic-- I stumbled upon the title when I was doing the baby name post because I was looking for female character names in Mercer Mayer books, but I couldn't find a copy anywhere...dang it! How wonderful it looks!!

    And while I'm at it, does it ever say the girl's name in the book? Just curious if it would have been a good one to add to my list.

    Also, I read a YA version of this fairy tale: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George...maybe it was a middle grade chapter book...can't remember the level specifically. Anyway, I hadn't heard of it before then, hmmm...I need to find more versions obviously. Starting with this one!!

    1. She's just referred to as 'the maiden' throughout the whole book :)

      I can't tell you how many books there are out there, that are eluding me and my collection. I clearly need to go find work in some warehouse full of old books....:)