Wendy Froud & Terri Windling, The Winter Child (Simon & Schuster, 2001)

 

The faery court of Old Oak Wood was not the largest in the British Isles, but it was the oldest, steeped in elfin history and tradition. Ruled by Titania and Oberon, those celebrated lovers of story and song, the wood was a misty, mossy place hidden deep in the hills of Dartmoor. The court maidens of Old Oak Wood were said to be the most beautiful, its dancers lightest on their feet, its flying faeries faster than the wind. Its wizards and its warriors were famed throughout the faery realm. But young Sneezle was none of these things; he was just a humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen -- The Winter Child

Once upon a time, Wendy Froud & Terri Windling did an illustrated novel entitled A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, which Grey Walker kindly provides a review of here. Now we have the sequel to that book, which chronicles in loving detail the adventure upon that magical night of one unassuming but oh-so-important faery called Sneezlewort Rowanberry Rootmuster Boggs the Seventh. Sneezle may be but a minor member of the Faery Court that inhabits the Old Oak Wood -- and this is, as noted in the book, the very, very oldest of the Courts that inhabit the British Isles -- but he takes the Midwinter Festival very seriously, as should any good faery.

But I'm getting ahead of meself. I've not yet told you 'bout the two beings who created this tale. So let me tell you about them. Or better yet, I'll let Terri tell you. Terri, according to her biography on the Endicott Studio website is 'a writer, a painter, and a Consulting Editor for Tor Books in New York City -- best known for her two decades of editorial work in the field of fantasy literature, where she is one of the people responsible for the steady rise of contemporary mythic fiction, "urban fantasy," and modern literary fairy tales for adult readers.'

New fiction from Terri is savoured like a sweet dish as she has written but a scant handful of novels: The Wood Wife, A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, and now The Winter Child. The Wood Wife is required reading for anyone interested in mythic fiction. And she has been the co-editor with Ellen Datlow of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, of which there are now fourteen volumes.

Wendy Froud is, according to her bio on the same Web site, 'the child of the American artists Walter and Peggy Midener. She created such beloved film characters as Yoda for the Star Wars movies, and the Gelflings for Dark Crystal, as well as puppets for the Muppets television program. Her dolls and sculptures have been exhibited internationally; her poetry was included in the anthology Sirens; and her first book, A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale (with Terri Windling) was published in 1999...' Froud is second to none in her ability to create truly whimsical characters with her puppetry.

Now back to our tale .... All the members of the forest community have gathered for this important winter holiday, but something is dreadfully wrong; the fall season still holds sway with leaves still green, the air warm and muggy as if it were still fall, and, of course, no cover of snow on the ground. Somehow the very turning of the seasons has been stopped! Even Oberon has nary a clue as to what has happened, so once again, as it was in A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, the young -- he is only two centuries old -- Sneezle and best friend, Twig, must go on a grand adventure full of danger, evil sorcery, and other terrors far too dire to describe here. Suffice it to say that they ferret out the terrible truth behind winter's absence and bear witness to a horrific battle of sorcerers in which the continued existence of the faery kingdom will be decided. Sneezle finds himself to be much more than a 'humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen'. To tell more of the tale would be to ruin it for you, so I won't. The joy of The Winter Child is in the journey that Sneezle undertakes.

What we have here, me dear readers, is what the English call a trifle, a sweet dessert such as the Tart English Orange Trifle that me dear wife Brigid makes occasionally. Think of this as a Christmas sweet -- fare that one has as a treat, as something intended to be more than just something one has to fill an empty belly. At under sixty pages, it's perfect for reading on a cold, windy winter's night with the snow blowing against the window panes. Wendy Froud's full colour illustrations of the faeries in this tale add considerably to the charm. Terri Windling's text shows that she obviously believes in this charming group of beings!

The Website of the Frouds says of The Winter Child that 'Award-winning storyteller Terri Windling sends Sneezle on a fantastic quest that has just the right touches of intrigue, menace, and humor to entertain and enchant.' There's much here to entertain both children and adults, as The Winter Child is that ever-so-rare book, like Jane Yolen's The Wild Hunt or Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, that gives us a glimpse of a world quite, quite different from our own, but one that exists alongside our rather mundane reality. If there indeed be a court of faeries living in England in an ancient copse, than we could do far worse than have Sneezle as its defender!

A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale is still in print, so I urge you to get a copy as it should be read before reading The Winter Child. After you have both books in hand, grab a mug of cocoa, go find a comfortable chair, and settle in for a very fine adventure!

[Jack B. Merry]