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Mirror Mirror
Gregory Maguire
ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 281 pages

Douglas Smith
Mirror Mirror
Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature at Tufts University (1990). He was a professor and associate director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1979 through 1986. Since 1986 he has been codirector and founding board member of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a non-profit that focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children. He has lived abroad in Dublin and London, and now makes his home in Massachusetts.

Gregory Maguire Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

When I was younger, that was in the 50s, I certainly understood what fiction and fairy tales were, but I was still worried when I saw differences in various versions of oft-told tales. For instance, the ways that the Disney version of Cinderella differed from a story which was read to me, or from the Classics Junior comic book version. I must have thought that there should be a definitive, or "true" version.

Maybe Gregory Maguire wondered about the same things, as he seems to be making a career out of creating his own, new, re-elaborated myths and fairy tales. He does a splendid job of it, too. His previous books have included Wicked (a retelling of OZ), Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Cinderella), and Lost (derived from a cornucopia of familiar and diverse stories such as Jack the Ripper and Peter Pan).

Before turning to post-modernizing fairy tales, Maguire wrote children's books; but this more recent work has definitely been for mature readers. Actually, the traditional tale of Snow White is rather twisted, with a child the victim of an attempted murder by a parent motivated by jealousy. Maguire's version tends to make the story even more perverse.

His retelling of Snow White in this book has it placed in a more definite historical milieu and geographical location than the vague stories I recall. Instead of a land far, far away; long, long ago, it takes place in Renaissance Italy, and the architect of the poisoned apple becomes Lucrezia Borgia, a reasonable situation for an infamous poisoner.

All the well-remembered players in the old tale are here, but their identities are better defined and complex, their motivations more clear and definite, and their roles much larger. Maguire gives them more to do. Snow White is called Bianca de Nevada. Bianca's father -- who I don't remember well from older versions of the tale -- is given a sinister quest by Cesare Borgia. Bianca's father and Lucrezia certainly don't marry, so she isn't technically a stepmother, but while the father is on his quest, Lucrezia becomes the de facto overseer of Bianca's farm and home. The huntsman/woodsman who is told to kill Bianca has a more important, and surprising part to play.

The "Dwarves" are most interesting. You'll recall that in the Disney version, the Dwarves are miners, tolling in earthen borrows when they "hi-ho" off to work. To Lucrezia, Dwarves are dignified short people with humiliating jobs in Royal Court. The Dwarves of this story aren't people at all, but sort of Earth elementals: animated, sentient rock, re-defined by their own goals and the expectations of others into increasingly human like form as the story progresses.

Even some of the props get beefed-up roles. The poisoned apple becomes one of a set of three with an amazingly significant history.

The familiar turns of plot in the story, the well known characters, which are all part of our shared culture, become the surface of Mirror Mirror, as Maguire reveals all the inner workings, the clockwork: the wheels, levers and gears that make the myth work.

After all these years, I'm surprised I still found myself uneasy about what the reality of Snow White could be, and I'm grateful for Maguire's help in finding that truth.

Copyright © 2003 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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