Colour me skeptical, but when a famous actor like Emmy-winner Chris Colfer announces the release of his first novel, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, I’m inclined to think that he didn’t get the book deal based on writing skill alone.
The principle of “someone shouldn’t get published just because he’s famous” is why I’m always a little hesitant to pick up a book like this debut from the Glee star, but the knowledge that Colfer is also a well-critiqued screenwriter and that the book’s reviews on Amazon are absurdly positive convinced me to give it a chance.
The Wishing Spell (the first of many tales to come in The Land of Stories) tells the story of Alex and Connor, twin sixth-graders who fall between the pages of their grandmother’s fairy tale book. The world they fall into takes us beyond the happily-ever-afters we know so well and into a land of many queendoms where Sleeping Beauty struggles to wake her people, Cinderella is hugely pregnant, and Goldilocks is a fugitive on the run. Alex and Connor must locate all of the magical items to perform the elusive Wishing Spell if they ever want to get home again, and some old familiar baddies cause them trouble along the way.
While the idea of falling into a fairy tale world is hardly novel, it fits handily into the current trend of updated fairy tales that is bombarding theatres and television screens these days. Colfer has invented some creative futures for our favourite characters – Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty have all settled into the domestic life while ruling alongside their respective King Charmings (brothers, of course), but Red Riding Hood has become an elected queen in her own right, Goldilocks can kick serious wolf bottom, and Snow White’s Evil Queen is seeking to fulfill the lifelong mission that has coloured every despicable act she’s ever done.
There is literally a world of potential here, but I don’t believe that The Wishing Spell has fulfilled it. Alex and Connor are two of the most annoying protagonists I have ever accompanied on an adventure – one is bossy and prone to making stupid decisions, and the other is profoundly negative about the whole affair. Colfer’s habit of jumping points of view – either by lumping the twins as one entity or by showing us the inner thoughts of multiple characters without changing scene – is disorienting and something any editor worth her salt should have discouraged.
But the biggest disappointment was that the story was over-simplified: for a spell that has only been performed once before, the magical items required were laughably easy for the twins to collect. When they weren’t conveniently landing in exactly the right place to find the next item, they were being handed another, no questions asked. I knew the identity of the mysterious journal’s owner the moment it was given to the twins, and had the book’s major twist figured out long before it was revealed.
Yes, this is a book for children. But the best children’s books – Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, His Dark Materials, to name a few recent examples – don’t simplify things. They don’t make them too easy. And they can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Unfortunately, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is not one of these books. I’m not saying Colfer should stick to acting – but maybe he should aim to include an older audience next time.