The fairytales of modern times tend to be, well, modern. They are full of princesses in fluffy tulle dresses, and fairies with wimpy wings that wouldn’t lift a butterfly — and fairies that grant wishes to all and sundry without making any demands.
You would have to go to Andrew Lang or the Grimm brothers for the strange fairytale punishments of being rolled in a barrel of nails until dead – or to meet fay-people (cp. to “in a fay mood”) as grotesque and magical as a gothic cathedral – or to see the fairy food that can only be eaten at the forfeit of your soul.
And where could you find a hero as noble as he is faithful, who is drawn into the quest through no fault of his own – a romantic hero with a remarkably steady head on his shoulders – who ends the tale triumphant, unsullied, and glorified? No fairytale of modern craft would portray that, surely…heroes must be “flawed” to be “realistic”.
Ms. Rowntree has changed that.
The Old Wine
John the smith deeply loves his work, quiet valley home, and his fiancé Janet. But Janet dreams of distant lands and exotic sights, and when she visits the fairy market (no, they’re not only four inches high, thank you!) she eats a pomegranate given to her – and everyone familiar with Greek mythology will groan in apprehension.
Yep – she is enchanted by any evil witch, and nothing in Fairyland can set her free – but her noble intended, her gallant wooer, although dogged by doubts (of her affection) and despair (in ever breaking the spell), sets out to find the reversal relic.
Why? Because he loves her? Because “true love conquers blah blah blah”? No – because he promised. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.
Other noble themes weave through the story, as well. While I have made no study of symbolism, the emblems of the story felt deeply Christian – which is appropriate for a setting of medieval Britain (during the turn-over of Henry VIII’s children, to be specific).
I also loved the running thread of “Make no deals in Faerie.” It’s easy to forget, in our modern age of wheeling and dealing, but it’s the Deep that makes deals, bargains, contracts. The Light says, “Give yourself to Me. No terms.” And in return, He gives Himself to us – completely. Bells of Paradise did an excellent job of portraying this.
The historical flavor, as well as detail, was excellent. The characters think as their time period would, and there are even religiously symbolic market-songs, in full, that advance the plot while harkening back to The Fellowship of the Ring and a more musical age (more musical because the laity were more involved in the making of the music).
The story begins by dropping you into the action, and if you’ve read the back cover blurb recently enough, you can probably figure out what’s going on enough to proceed. The narrative then plunges into an extended flash-back to show what happened to the girl and why her betrothed is pursuing her in this way.
It works as far as it goes, I’m just not what the benefit is of folding the backstory into a bracket of “Now” time, forcing the reader to pay attention to the “Three Days Ago” title, and figure out when we move back to “Now”. Not an earth-shattering difference of opinion, but it did stand out to me.
Perhaps more confusing was the references to faerie lore. John and his fiancé are both familiar with the tales surrounding fairy-markets and their way, and do a decent job explaining why they find significance in various things. However, in the opening passage, John references an owl, a Unicorn, and a Rose. Eventually, he explains why he’s seeking the Rose, but others of these references (and their allegorical significance) aren’t spelled out for those not immersed in medieval symbolism.
Also, I never quite caught how the “bells of paradise” fit in, except perhaps as a motif pointing to the church.
If you pick up Bells of Paradise, you won’t get a trinket-and-reference affair…but a tale with echoes in the Greek myths and roots in the Christian imagery of the Middle Ages. You’ll cross a landscape as rich and colorful as an illuminated manuscript, meeting “fairies” as alien-ly comely as they are internally duplicitous…and yet who can be as noble as the Unicorn, who comes quietly to the pure of heart.
The author’s official site is: www.vintagenovles.com.