I got hold of this title back in March at an event at the Glasgow Aye Write! festival and after hearing John Chalmers & Sandra Marrs talk about their process it was perfect timing to escape into their latest Metaphrog release.
The book is made up of three tales that includes the two Hans Christian Anderson adaptations The Red Shoes and The Little Match Girl with The Glass Case by Metaphrog themselves thrown in for good measure. The first story takes up the majority of the book and it tells the story of Karen a poor young girl who is orphaned and taken in by her Great Aunt. Moving on from her barefoot existence of living day to day she soon gets used to taking a step up in the world and on one of their shopping trips she gets the gift of some new red shoes. It’s a turning point in her life and the story as the hope that has seeped into her life quickly disappears into a world of obsession, guilt and darkness that flips the story on it’s head.
The artwork opens up with an almost dreamlike feeling to it that helps emphasize the nightmare turn of events and darker elements that take hold of Karen & the story. The toing & froing of Karen’s dancing is in perfect sync with the balancing act between light & dark in the story and the ultimate lesson rings true with some unexpected changes for our main character.
The Glass Case nestles in between the two adaptations and tells a whimsical story of a school trip to a museum where we’re introduced to Sam and his class bullies. A vivid imagination seems to help him escape the bleak elements of his life as school takes it’s toll and his abusive father shows his true colours as he lashes out at Sam & locks him away in his room to teach him a lesson. The magical element is a big draw for Sam though and he seems to be on the verge of an escape to a better life…..but it’s not the life you’d imagine. A gloriously bittersweet tinge to this suits the collection well and I’m glad the Metaphrog team chose to include this in the mix.
The Little Match Girl is the second adaptation and it tells another story of poverty, loneliness and loss as the poorest girl in the city seems to desperately trying to make enough money for some food & shelter by selling matches……only she isn’t having any luck selling them. Things go from bad to worse and she ends up having to use the matches to try and get any heat she can but this leads to a special discovery with the lighting of each match bringing with it the image of something she’s been longing to see.
All three stories have a similar tone to them and although they have dark and sometimes bleak elements to them, the conclusions end up being far from expected but hopeful in their own way. While I’m not overly familiar with the original Hans Christian Andersen stories the Metaphrog team have done a phenomenal job of capturing that fairy tale vibe in their own unique way. Slick narrative & dialogue combine with gloriously moody artwork in a book that may well have slipped under my radar but thankfully this hidden gem was something I got lost in very easily.