Have you ever wondered what is meant by “…and they lived happily ever after”? Conner and his twin sister Alex never have in spite of all the stories their father used to tell them. Those tales have lost much of their interest since he passed away. Just the same, they are grateful to their grandmother when she gives them the family copy of The Land of Stories. They have spent many hours reading it, and she hopes it will ease their sense of loss and help pass the time while their mother works extra shifts at the hospital.
Being an avid reader, Alex takes an intense interest in the book, too intense for Conner’s taste. When they realize that the book is a portal to the land of fairy tales, Conner unsuccessfully tries to prevent Alex from traveling to the place where childhood stories are made-and inadvertently follows her. Finding a way back home will not be easy. Not only do they discover that Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and other beloved characters are still alive, but so are their nemeses who are seeking revenge.
The premise of Chris Colfer’s first novel, while not original, has much potential. Alex and Conner’s adventure entertains with much suspense and humor. The twins come from a stable family in which the father continues to be a role model even after his death. They clearly care deeply about each other and harbor no feelings of sibling rivalry.
The use of crude and vulgar language and references to sexual promiscuity, however, detract from the book’s value. More importantly, the main characters espouse ambiguous behavioral standards. Alex cheats on a test for Conner because, “She knew she’d done the right thing-not as a student, but as a sister.” Family loyalty is admirable, but it should not justify moral relativism.
Sentiment carries the day at the end of the book when Alex and Conner decide that Snow White’s evil stepmother was really a victim conditioned by her environment and upbringing. Alex concludes that “villains are mostly just people villainized by circumstance.” Ironically she says this after meeting Snow White and Cinderella, two young victims who refused to allow abuse to influence their actions. While true compassion helps one understand why a person behaves a certain way, it should also enable that person to live in a manner consistent with his/her human dignity. Fairy tales are at their best when they fulfill their original purpose: to teach good behavior and personal responsibility to young children. In this respect, Colfer’s book is a disappointment.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.