Roses with Thorns

Roses with Thorns

A review of Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” in Cabinet des Fees http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/ 

By Derek Newman-Stille

Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” is an enchanting retelling of the fairy tale Tatterhood with an infusion of Indian culture. Thakrar’s tale plays with the interweaving of ideas of femininity, the landscape, and the resistance to patriarchal control. Her characters are interwoven with flowers because of their deep roots in their landscape but not because they are delicate. These are roses with thorns who can defend themselves. 

 Thakrar narrates Gulabi Rani’s desire to have a child without having a husband. Named after the rose, Gulabi Rani has to trade her flower to the yaksha from a neighbouring forest in order to receive a bottle of oil to allow her to become pregnant. As often happens in fairy tales, the rani is given a condition – she is told that she is only able to run enough oil on her belly to cover it, but the rani decides to use the whole bottle instead. 

Fairy tales often involve fantastic footwear and the yaksha gives Gulabi Rani shoes for her baby but instead of one child, the rani has two and her first daughter is born a deep red in colour with green hair like stems and sharp thorns. Her second daughter is born with skin as dark as the earth and dark hair. Lavanya and Deepika cement that connection to the earth with Lavanya’s rose-like body and Deepika’s earthy one. The children ask that the shoes be divided between them, separating gifts between them, which shapes the rest of their lives. 

Despite people taking an instant dislike to Lavanya for her unusual appearance, Deepika splits everything with her sister, and the two are inseparable. Nurses lock Lavanya away while giving treats to Deepika, yet the girls are connected by their love of stories and their love of nature. 

Once the girls become of marriageable age, a neighbouring raja, who has conquered all of the lands around those kept by Gulabi Rani, demands Deepika as a wife for his son. Lavanya and Deepika both bristle at being treated as an object. Thakrar explores the connection between land and marriage by having the raja treat Deepika as a perk of the landscape either to indicate its subjection to his control through marriage or, if marriage is denied, give him an excuse to use military conquest. The raja also demands that Deepika give up hunting, which had been her gift and pleasure throughout her life, wanting her to conform to a passive model of femininity. Women are treated as extensions of a passive landscape by the raja, allowing him to project his imperialism on their bodies and the land. 

When the two girls leave their mother’s land to try to prevent problems from occurring at home, they are pursued by a tiger and Thakrar furthers the clashing of ideas of freedom and domesticity when the girls mourn the tiger’s domesticity, triggering the tiger’s anger at being called domestic and under the control of others.

Thakrar plays with themes of the tame and the wild by infusing her story with disruptions between the ‘wild’ and the domestic by playing with the tiger’s desire to be wild, by Lavanya’s uncertain hybridity of the human and the vegetable world, and by exploring ideas of imperial control over women’s bodies. 

Thakrar’s fairy tale reshapes traditions into texts of speculation and imagination, envisioning the critical power of tales to adapt, change, and grow like Gulabi Rani’s roses and she infuses her tale with the air of magic that those roses cast. This is not a gentle flower girl tale – this is a tale with powerful thorns along with its beauty. 

To read Levanya and Deepika yourself, visit Cabinet des Fees at http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/ 
To find out more about Shveta Thakrar’s work, visit her website at http://shvetathakrar.com

Sleep the Sleep of the Aged

Sleep the Sleep of The AgedA review of Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle illustrated by Chris Riddell (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille


As a sleeping curse spreads across the land, who would be better to awaken the sleeping princess at the centre of the sleeping curse than a queen who was once a princess who slept for a year in a coffin of glass. Neil Gaiman re-imagines the Sleeping Beauty tale by infusing it with a visit from Snow White. His tale is one about age and the fear that has been instilled in ageing women about the transformation into old age and the loss of beauty and youth that are treasured by patriarchy. Like the Snow White tale, Gaiman’s revision is a tale about the theft of youth and the fear of ageing. 

Gaiman links the image of the spindle, the sharp pointed tip and skein of yarn to the things that move while everyone sleeps – the roses with thorns sharp and cruel and the spiders that spin their own yarn over the sleeping populace, entwining them in a tapestry of magic. There is a macabre beauty to Gaiman’s twining of spiders and thorns and the evocation of the image of the spindle whose prick caused this 80 year sleep. 

Gaiman lets readers see the formation of a fairy tale as the people who are encountered in the tale each tell their own version of what has happened to this Sleeping Beauty, revealing the power of tales to shape themselves out of oral narratives and speculations. Gaiman plays with the power of names in fairy tales by bringing into the narrative the power of names, the forbidden quality of unspoken names, and the idea that names can be lost to years of history. 

As Gaiman often does, he misleads the reader, taking him or her down a path of uncertainty for a familiar tale, knowing that Gaiman’s path always diverts from the well-worn ones and into the darker parts of the woods that are strung with vines of potential.

Riddell’s artwork transforms Neil Gaiman’s story into a mixture of a Medieval illuminated manuscript and a grimoire that casts spells of enchantment over the eyes of the reader. Riddell’s art style keeps colour simple, mixing black and white with gold to add that gilded quality of an illuminated manuscript. His style is similar to the pre-Raphaelite painters with a focus on almond eyes and sleepy beauty – a perfect look for a tale about the spell of sleep. Text becomes part of the spell as letters drip into spindles of yarn, fall into spider webs, and form into rose thorns, binding the art to the text of the story. 


The Sleeper and the Spindle is a potion brewed of the distilled essence of Gaiman and Riddell’s styles, combining them into a form of magic that evokes the imagination and transforms fairy tales into tales of change and speculation.

To discover more about Neil Gaiman, visit http://www.neilgaiman.com

To discover more about Chris Riddell, visit http://www.chrisriddell.co.uk

To find out more about The Sleeper and the Spindle, vist http://www.harpercollins.ca/9780062398246/the-sleeper-and-the-spindle