Monday, August 20, 2012

Book 5: East by Edith Pattou

Book 5:
East, by Edith Pattou

In a Norse family down on its economic luck in the sixteenth century, Rose is the eighth child born to a superstitious mother. A few times while she grows up, she sees a white bear in the woods, and it saves her life once. Later, when Rose is in her late teens, the family is about to be ejected from their farm and one of the daughters is very sick and near death. The white bear appears and says that if Rose goes with him their other daughter will get better and their economic troubles will end. After a week of family debates and considerations, Rose agrees.

She goes to live with the bear in a castle in a mountain, and by this point the reader has been able to gather that the bear was once a French prince but a troll princess captured him. To punish his daughter for her actions, the Troll king put a spell on the boy, and certain conditions had to be met before either the bear to be turned back into a boy or the princess (now queen) to earn the boy. Rose is unaware of this, but she knows something is not right about the bear. She tries to befriend him, keep herself busy, and also to befriend the two people – actually trolls – who keep the castle running. The bear watches her weave, listens to her try to learn to play instruments, and in man form sleeps in the same bed as her every night, although Rose is unaware for certain that it is him.

After about a year of living with the bear, Rose becomes extremely homesick, and is allowed to go home for one month. True to his word, her sister is healthy and the family is returned to economic success. Rose does not trust her mother completely because of some of her actions due to her superstitions, but accepts a gift from her the day before she leaves to return to the bear. One night, curiosity overwhelms her, so Rose uses the gift: candle and flint that will shed light on any darkness. It works, and Rose sees the bear’s true form: after so many years of being under an enchantment, he is a young man. But because Rose has seen him, it also fulfills a condition, and the Troll queen can now come and collect him, and he is now a human again all the time.

Rose feels awful, and wants to set things right, so she decided to go after him. She journeys up past the coldest parts of the north and eventually reaches the Troll kingdom. She infiltrates the castle by pretending to be a “softskin” servant, and works in the castle while making a plan and finding Tuki – one of the trolls who served in the mountain castle – again. During the wedding of the Troll queen and the former white bear, Rose intervenes in a way that causes him to be married to her, not the queen, and then the Troll castle to be destroyed. They, along with some of the captured humans, journey back down south.

They meet up with Rose’s father and one of her brothers, and in the night the former white bear disappears. Rose understands that he needs to figure out who he is now that he’s no longer a white bear, but she goes after him anyway because she knows now that she truly loves him. She finds him at the castle in the mountains, where he has learned that his name is Charles. Charles and Rose get married, and live happily ever after. 


Use of Myths:
East was unlike any of the other books I have read for this so far, especially because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Greek gods. Instead, this novel is a reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast tale.

A girl who is different than the rest of her family is born
Ebba Rose is born, the eighth child and the one that is different from the rest in personality
Girl’s family falls on tough times
Sara becomes deadly ill, and the family will be evicted from their farm
In exchange for the family’s betterment, girl goes to live in an enchanted castle with a beast
The white bear appears and tells them that Sara will heal and their economic woes will cease if Rose goes to live with him
Girl and beast become close
The white bear sleeps in Rose’s room every night, and often watches her while she weaves or does other activities. Rose begins to think of him as her white bear
Girl becomes extremely homesick
Rose eats less and also takes less enjoyment from her former activities like reading, weaving, sewing, and playing music. The white bear notices that she is not doing well and she says that she misses her family and her home
Girl is allowed to go home for a short period of time, but must return
Rose is allowed to go home for one month, but after that period of time she must return to the bear
Girl breaks the spell on the beast
One night after they have returned to the castle, Rose lights the candle her mother gave her. Now that she has laid eyes on the bear’s true form, the spell is broken. He is now a man all the time, but also the Troll queen returns for him.

However, East goes beyond that. In most Beauty and the Beast tales, after the spell is broken the happily-ever-after part starts, and the book ends. However, when Rose breaks the spell, her story is really almost beginning. The hero’s journey can be applied to the story once the action to end the spell gets under way.

Call to Adventure
Rose tells Neddy about the white bear
Supernatural Aid
Rose’s mother gives her the magical candle and flint before she returns
Rose lights the candle and breaks the spell on the white bear
Acquires a helper
Rose meets Sofi and Estelle, who help her journey north
Acquires a mentor
Rose meets Malmo
Experiences challenges and temptations
Rose and Malmo journey across the ice to the Troll kingdom
Meets another helper
Rose finds Tuki again
Has a great revelation at the abyss (death/rebirth)
Rose realizes that the former white bear will be marrying the Troll queen, and considers for the first time that he does not want to be rescued (he has been drinking drugged slank every night that makes him forget his past and only think positively about his current situation)
Goes through a transformation
Rose disguises herself as a troll for the wedding. She stops the wedding, and is reunited with the white bear, who is himself again now that the drugged slank is out of him.
Rose, the white bear, and other humans travel back down south after the castle collapses. They meet up with Rose’s father and Neddy, but the bear disappears in the night. Rose has lost what she fought for because he wants to figure out who he was and is.
Receives the gift of the Goddess
The white bear gains back a sense of who is was and is, namely learning that his name is Charles
Charles and Rose get married

In this way, Beauty and the Beast influences the first half of the book, and the hero’s journey influences the second half.

East is the perfect example of how myths can influence YA books in a number of ways. The Beauty and the Beast storyline demonstrates how fairy tales are a kind of myths, and Rose’s journey demonstrates that the hero’s journey can apply to many different kinds of stories. Furthermore, there are many allusions to Norse myths, as well. Rose regularly compares the ice land to Nifleheim, the frozen land of the dead in Norse mythology, and also frequently refers to the Norse mythology stories that Neddy told her as a child. In this capacity she references Freya, Thor, Odin, Loki, Asgard, and more. There’s also the ship captain nicknamed Thor, and the accompanying allusions to the god of thunder.

Since East is an interesting combination of myth components, it would make sense that the archetypes are mixed, too. In the Beauty and the Beast tales, the basic archetypes are the kind and intelligent girl, the beast, the witch, and the father with good intentions but who still can’t protect his child. These are all filled by Rose, the white bear, the Troll queen, and Rose’s father and brother.

The archetypes of the hero’s journey are also filled to some degree, although with changes. Rose is the hero, but even she admits that one of the main reasons she goes with the white bear is because she wants to, not necessarily to put others ahead of herself. Even when she goes to get him back from the Troll queen, she later acknowledges that she went because she loves him and wants him for herself, not because she needs to set the wrong right. The Troll queen is the villain, but she does not directly fight Rose or act maliciously to her. Instead, the queen wants the white bear for herself, and works to have him; in fact, she does not even think much about Rose until the wedding when Rose tricks her. The mother figure would be Malmo, as she guides Rose through the most perilous part of her journey. Although Rose has a mother of her own, Eugenia does not fulfill that role of this story. Similarly, even though Rose has a father, he is not present in Rose’s life during most of the events of the book, and does not lead or protect her, although he does spend much time looking for her.

As a whole, East uses myths entirely differently than the other books I have read so far.

The only connection between East and the other ones I have read for this project so far is that the hero’s journey can be applied. On one hand, this demonstrates the wide variety of formats that the hero’s journey applies to. After all, even though this novel is so different from the others, it still contains this similar structure. On the other hand, it can be a little difficult to explain the place of East within the category of mythological books because of its unique plot.

Unlike the other books, though, students can connect with East because of the influence of Beauty and the Beast and Norse mythology. The majority of students will be at least marginally familiar with the Beauty and the Beast motif because of the Disney film, so that will help them understand the plot a little more and hopefully also like it more. The other side of the mythology in this novel – Norse mythology – is also currently having a bit of a revival in modern cinema. A few years ago, the movie Thor came out, and while it is based on the Thor comic books, those books are based on the Norse mythology. The same character/actor from that movie played a role in this year’s The Avengers, which was extremely popular. Those students who have heard of or seen either of these movies – or who have read the comic books featuring Thor and Loki – should have a basic understanding of the Norse mythology that plays an underlying role in East. By drawing on the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast and the movies based on the Marvel comic books, students can see the different myth components that influence East.

I enjoyed East because it was different from other books that I’ve read before, both adaptations of Beauty and the Beast as well as stories with mythological influences. What I didn’t like was how long it was. It’s really, really long, even though it’s easy to move through. It made sense because that was what was necessary to fully explore the different plot components, but by the time I reached the end I was really glad to be done with it. It’s unique, though, and kind of cute with a heavy adventure component. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read, and a wonderful idea. If only it was shorter, or even two separate books.



  2. "East" is actually a retelling of the classic Nordic folktale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," not Beauty and the Beast