Subterranean Press has published a ton of amazing books over the years and I consider it one of my all time favorite publishers. I was recently sent one very odd book for review however - one that I am still shaking my head over and frankly can not believe. Written by Pat Rothfuss and illustrated in black and white in a candy cane, sweetheart, big-eyed innocent kind of way, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed is not a book for children but it is a fairy tale; it's about the truest, most original, most sincerely what-a-fairy-tale-used-to-be kind of fairy tale that I have come across in a long long time.
Honestly, I'm not sure I liked this book because it really kind of freaked me out. And yet, I couldn't stop turning the pages. It's written in a picture book format with an oversized picture and a few words on each page. It is also split in thirds, and as you stop before each "pre-ending" you are at a precipice of where you think the book is leading you, but turning the next page shoves you into a new direction. Until the end - and whoa nelly what an ending.
The "Princess" lives all alone with her teddy bear ("Mr. Whiffle") in a castle. They play all day and everything is sunshine and roses except at night, when the thing under the bed makes itself known. Except it's not what you think.
In the second section a mysterious package arrives and the Princess has a new kitten and now it is sunshine and roses with Mr. Wiffle and Emmy and all is good until Emmy goes missing and a long dark night is ahead of them and the Princess hears a sound under the bed and has to wonder just what has happened to her new kitten. Except it's not what you think.
In the third section - well I can't tell you that without ruining the first and second and really it must all be read in sequence to fully appreciate the story. All I can say is hold on tight because Rothfuss has crafted something truly impressive. As a writer I can hardly believe how well each word hinges on the one that comes before it. And the combination of words and pictures is pitch perfect. Taylor keeps lulling you into thinking this story is one thing, and then Rothfuss forces you to realize it is something else. Talk about careening from one extreme to another and yet isn't that what the old fairy tales, the true fairy tales were all about? Princesses who were not safe, families that were not happy, monsters that dressed as mothers and grandmothers who were really monsters.
Remember, Hansel and Gretel were abandoned in the woods to starve death by their loving father. Those stories were seriously harsh in the real once upon a time. A candy covered cottage was nothing to celebrate, no matter how pretty it looked. And frankly, I still wonder just what the hell Goldilocks was doing with those bears. (And Fables really blew my mind with that story too.)
As I said, I still don't know if I like this book but I do admire it, and that might be even more significant. I am reminded yet again with The Adventures of the Princess and Mir Whiffle how a good writer can take a story small in scope and make it gigantic. I hope Rothfuss gets some serious love from the award folks for this one - because there truly is nothing else out there like it.
Oh - and I'll say it one more time: Not for children!! (But teenagers with a wickedly dark sense of humor will eat it up with a spoon, promise.)