When In Doubt…

…go to the library.”

when-in-doubt-3How many times have I heard, read, or said those words? And when it comes to reading novels, I absolutely live by it. I will not judge a book without reading it. If I hear gossip about a book, hear that it is wonderful, or terrible, or outright controversial, before I pass judgement I go out and read the book. If people ask me my opinion about a book and I haven’t read it yet, I answer with, “I haven’t read it yet.” I have no problem sharing my opinion on books, I just prefer it to be an informed opinion.

Sadly, not all of us try to emulate Hermione Granger in our daily lives.

mechanicaI bring this up because of a book I read over the summer: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. (Cue collective groaning from people who know what I’m going to say.) This book was published in August 2015 and is a re-telling of the fairy tale Cinderella.

CinderThe supposed issue with this book is that people claim it is a copy of Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which was published in January 2012, and also happens to be a re-telling of Cinderella.

If you scroll through Mechanica’s Goodreads page, you see all sorts of passive aggressive posts about how this story is a copy.

mechanica-1I get it. Both book are about Cinderella. Both feature handsome princes. And both feature the twist that the main character is a mechanic.

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No. If they’re both re-telling the same fairy tale, then obviously they would have very similar plot points. Obviously they would both have Cinderellas and Prince Charmings, ’cause you know, that’s kind of how the story goes.

And Cinderella re-tellings are really popular. Check out the New York Public Library’s list of Ten YA Retellings of Cinderella. Oh, and Cinderella as a mechanic? Got that too: Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt. Cornwell and Meyer are not unique in their stories.

And to be fair, I think Cornwell has handled the criticism of her story with a really decent attitude. She answers people’s questions on Goodreads and has explained herself very clearly.

cornwell-responseSo while this issue has been discussed for almost 2 years and there are many reviews on Goodreads that explicitly state that Mechanica and Cinder are not the same story, I felt like I had to bring it up again. Why? Because there are comments as recent as last month that Mechanica was nothing but a copy of Cinder.

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In danger of repeating many other reviewers, I have now read both books and they are not the same. They are stylistically different, the characters are portrayed absolutely different, and I took home a much different message from both of them. I enjoyed both books for very different reasons. And I definitely don’t think it’s fair to penalize Cornwell because her book happened to come out second.

As readers, we are allowed to be critical. We are allowed to say when we don’t like a book. But if we’re going to judge a book, write reviews, and make accusations, shouldn’t we read the book first? If I have questions about a book I’m going to do one thing: go to the library. The best way to know the answers is to read the book.

 

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Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp – translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton

Arabian NightsOn The Cover: The tales told by Shahrazad over a thousand and one nights to delay her execution by the vengeful King Shahriyar have become among the most popular in both Eastern and Western literature. From the epic adventures of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” to “Sinbad the Sailor”, and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the stories depict a fabulous world of all-powerful sorcerers, jinns imprisoned in bottles, and enchanting princesses. But despite their imaginative extravagance, the Tales are anchored to everyday life by their realism, providing a full and intimate record of medieval Islam.

Published: 800

Why I Chose It: I was curious about the original story of Aladdin!

 


The Review:

So let me just start by saying that yes, Tales from the Arabian Nights is a collection of many different stories, however this review is just focusing on one of those stories, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. I will eventually read the entire collection, but I was really excited about the original tale of Aladdin! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in to this story, as the only real exposure I have had to Aladdin is through the Disney movie, and I knew better than to expect anything similar to that. I found the differences between the two very stark, but very interesting.

What I absolutely loved about this story was the depth of culture that was reflected in the tale. There are so many little details about the setting that really helped to portray that world and give a sense of what this place looked and felt like. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Aladdin and people of the Bazar, such as the goldsmiths and merchants, that really helped to create the environment. It felt like I was getting a genuine taste of what this world and this culture was like, and I admire that I could get so much from such little description.

One Thousand and One Nights

I was mildly concerned at how accessible this story would be to me as a reader, and how modern the language would be. I was happy to discover that it’s actually quite easy to read, and the English used is quite modern and easy to follow. What I absolutely loved about this story is that there are many words and titles from the original stories that were kept intact, such as Sultan, Wazir, Jinn, etc, that really help give the story that genuine feel, so that although I was reading an English translation, I didn’t feel that much removed from the original tale.

I was curious about this story as a comparison to the Disney version. I was absolutely fascinated to find little tidbits that had been extrapolated to create the story found in the Disney movie. It was really interesting to be reading along and suddenly realize that scene I was reading was easily comparable to a scene in the movie. In reality though, the original story really is quite different. The plot lines are different, almost none of the characters are the same, and in culture alone they’re just not even comparable. It was definitely interesting to read the original and experience the story as it was meant to be.

While I found the original story easy to follow and very interesting, I will admit I was not captivated by this story. It is very slow and I did find that the story meanders a bit.  There’s nothing really wrong with the story, and I do feel that it is true to the style I find in most classic works, but I don’t think it’s a story that would be widely enjoyed by modern readers. I think this is a story that will only be truly enjoyed by those who have a strong interest in classic works, and in reading the original stories that can be found in this collection.

Rating: 4 / 5

The Arabian Nights

Quotations:

“Go down with all care into yonder vault until thou reach the bottom and there shalt thou find a space divided into four halls, and in each of these thou shalt see four golden jars and others of virgin or and silver. Beware, however, lest thou take aught therefrom or touch them, nor allow thy down or its skirts even to brush the jars or the walls. Leave them and dare forwards until thou reach the fourth hall without lingering for a single moment on the way; and, if thou do aught contrary thereto thou wilt be at once transformed and become a black stone.” p 303

“So Aladdin’s mother arose and fetched the Lamp for her son; but, while so doing, she saw that it was dirty exceedingly; so she said, ‘O my son, here is the Lamp, but ’tis very foul; after we shall have washed it and polished it ’twill sell better.’ Then, taking a handful of sand she began to rub therewith, but she had only begun when appeared to her one of the Jann whose favour was frightful and whose bulk was horrible big, and he was gigantic as one of the Jababirah. And forthright he cried to her, ‘Say whatso thou wantest of me? Here am I, thy Slave and Slave to whoso holdeth the Lamp.'” (p 311)