Title: Matchless: A Christmas Story
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publisher: William Morrow
Author Website: www.gregorymaguire.com
Format: Hardcover, from publisher
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Challenge: 100 Books 10
Every year, NPR asks a writer to compose an original story with a Christmas theme. In 2008, Gregory Maguire reinvented the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Little Match Girl" for a new time and new audiences.
When it was first translated from Danish and published in England in the mid-nineteenth century, audiences likely interpreted the Little Match Girl′s dying visions of lights and a grandmother in heaven as metaphors of religious salvation. Maguire′s new piece, entitled "Matchless," reilluminates Andersen′s classic, using his storytelling magic to rekindle Andersen′s original intentions, and to suggest transcendence, the permanence of spirit, and the continuity that links the living and the dead.
I know, I know, it's a Christmas story and I'm reading it almost at the end of January. But, I did get chosen to read this from the October 09 LTER batch, and it just arrived in the mail two days ago, and I don't want to tarnish my LTER reviewing record by waiting until later this year to read and review the book. So, you'll just have to suffer on with a review of a Christmas story in late January. Or you can simply move on to the next post. Your choice. There's no pressure from me here.
I want to like Gregory Maguire, I really do. Not so much the man, as I've never met him face to face so have no thoughts on him personally, but his writing. I mean, one of his books is the foundation for what I feel is one of the finest Broadway shows ever written, and one that I feels parallels my life on so many levels: Wicked. When I read his book Wicked for the first time, I had not seen the show yet. I had not even heard the soundtrack yet. The Wizard of Oz is one of my most cherished stories, and I was expecting something that would lead up to the beginning of Dorothy's time in Oz, and that is not what was delivered. I was fairly disappointed in the book, as it took so many elements of Oz and completely turned them on their side. Of course, that's the point, but it didn't make me happy. A friend says that I'm just too close to the original story of Oz to be able to appreciate any changes like that. Well, I listened to the soundtrack for the stage version of Wicked and really liked it, and felt a little more distance between myself and Maguire's book, but was trying to figure out how some of the songs fit in with the book so hadn't made a final decision yet. Finally, joy of joys, I experienced the stage production, and officially hated the book. While the stage production still keeps in basically the same theme of the book, it transcends the book on every level, and the story of friendship between Elphaba and Glinda and their time together and Elphaba's need to break away and become her own person spoke to my heart on so many levels that I cried through most of the production. And I'm not ashamed to say that I've cried again during each of the eight times that I've seen Wicked since.
Long story short, I know I should like Maguire's writing, because so many friends of mine do, but based on that one reading experience with Wicked, I haven't dared pick up a book of his since. Which is where the LTER program came to my rescue with Matchless. I would be "forced" into reading another book from him and would be able to make another decision, and while Matchless isn't a full blown novel, it still gave me a little bit more respect for Maguire as an author.
Matchelss is described as An Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic "The Little Match Girl", and it is. Maguire took Andersen's classic and one insignificant character (the urchin who picks up the little match girl's slipper) and creates a beautiful little story of family and forgiveness. Maguire tells us the story of that urchin, Frederik, and his mother, a seamstress to the queen. When Frederik finds the slipper in the street, he had no idea that it belonged to the poor match girl, and he takes it home to act as a boat for his toy family to be able to go and find a larger family, which it ends up doing on multiple levels for Frederik. I won't give anymore away except that the little match girl, in the end, forgives Frederik for taking her slipper and helps him find his own way back home.
It is a charming little story that can be read in no time at all, but one that also helped me decide that maybe Maguire will be worth trying to read again, as this short, quaint tale was filled with so much heart and soul.