“Alex sat up and looked around her room and finally found what was making the noise. It was coming from inside The Land of Stories on her nightstand and, to her amazement, the pages were unmistakably glowing.” (The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, 61)
Many classic fairy tales end with the characters living “happily ever after,” but what does that really mean? Does each character never have a single worry ever again? In this week’s book review, I look at The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, a fantasy novel that explores what really happens to classic characters beyond the pages of their own tales, and shows that some stories never truly end.
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is about a pair of twins: Alex, an over-achieving yet friendless bookworm, and her brother Conner, a student who is often in trouble for his laziness. The book begins with the children and their family still trying to put their life together after a recent death, but the children find new hope on their twelfth birthday. Their grandmother gives Alex and Conner a book called The Land of Stories, a collection of classic fairy tales that acts as a portal into a realm where the tales actually happened. The twins are quickly whisked away into the new world, but soon discover that returning home is far more difficult.
The Land of Stories is the debut novel by Chris Colfer, who is more widely known as an actor rather than an author. He currently portrays Kurt Hummel on the television series Glee, but he has recently used that success as a springboard for other creative pursuits, such as writing. Aside from The Land of Stories, Colfer has also been working on films and television shows of his own. Actors who branch out into other art forms are often met with skepticism and that’s understandable (Colfer would have had a harder time having this book published if he were not already a celebrity).
However, for the most part, Chris Colfer shows promise as a writer in The Land of Stories. He adds humour throughout the book and, other than a few examples, his jokes are pretty effective. His writing style is simple and unremarkable, but it works, because the story is allowed to happen without distractions from poetic language or unnecessarily long descriptions. Colfer’s book does have some mistakes, though. Some sentences or paragraphs in The Land of Stories have the same word repeated too much. While fantasy authors have used repetition in order to make a story whimsical, Colfer does not appear to be doing it on purpose. Likewise, he has a habit of building sentences with the structure “something happened as something else happened.” This might have been the fault of the editor, but the repeated use of “as” in this way can be distracting, especially in one instance where he used two sentences in a row with the same structure. Of course, these are minor complaints when considering the entire book, which is otherwise entertaining and well-written. For a first novel, The Land of Stories is better than average and shows potential for Colfer as a writer.
The Land of Stories might not appear original or unique at first glance. The idea of expanding classic fairy tales has been very popular in recent years, from films such as Red Riding Hood and Mirror Mirror to the television series Once Upon a Time. Despite its resemblance to these other works, The Land of Stories is successful due to Chris Colfer’s strength in weaving the story and developing the characters. On their journey, the twins come across a variety of classic characters, with Cinderella, Snow White, and Jack (the one who climbed the beanstalk) as some examples. Each of these characters has grown and matured since their original stories, which makes them more complex. I have never been a huge fan of the Goldilocks story, but I really like the direction Colfer uses for her in this book. All of these characters live in the same land, so each character has a history with another, and it’s interesting to see how these relationships play out in the second half of The Land of Stories, when many of the characters come into conflict with each other. Chris Colfer also should be praised for the character development he gives to certain villains, making them more sympathetic than they are in their original stories.
I have some other minor problems to mention. In certain early scenes of The Land of Stories, a character will explain how certain modern versions of the fairy tales remove the darker nature of the stories. When a character does this, he or she will say something along the lines of “actually, in the original version…” While I’m sure there was a first version of each tale at one point, most of these stories have had so many different variations over the years and, from what I understand, none of the stories have a specific version that can be identified as “the original version” with any certainty. I’m not sure whether that kind of error would bother everyone, but I did find it a little annoying, especially because the character usually acted like a know-it-all when his or her information was actually wrong. One other problem was that many of the plot twists in The Land of Stories were easily predictable, but this is a bit more forgivable because the book is mainly written for children, who might not guess the twists before they happen. The novel also has many other entertaining aspects that make it worth reading, so it does not lean too heavily upon the surprises to encourage the reader to continue.
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is a fantasy book worth reading. Even if you’re an adult, the story is sure to keep your attention if you like fantasy or fairy tales. I wasn’t a fan of every fairy tale included, but the way Chris Colfer develops the characters made me appreciate the stories more. However, the story and style of the book are simple because children are the intended audience, so if you’re looking for more complex or adult storytelling, this novel might not be the right fit for you. Some problems aside, The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer is an entertaining and accessible book, which I give a 4 out of 5.