The Book List: The Hazel Wood


[this post may contain spoilers]


The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert

Alice and her mother, Ella, have been near transient for Alice’s whole life, pursued from place to place by the bad luck that has destroyed every ounce of stability they’ve managed to get their hands on.

When it finally seems that their long journeying may be over and they can take a rest and finally build a decently ordinary life, the bad luck returns in a flurry as Ella disappears amidst other strange occurrences and Alice is thrown into a new journey as she works tirelessly to find the mother who has always been there for her.

This book came highly recommended and now I must pass that recommendation on to you.

You see, I read The Hazel Wood in less than three days.

I am not a fast reader. I am in fact such a slow reader that when I recently finished Terry Pratchett’s Jingo a couple months ago it was after a full two year struggle to get through what was in fact a fairly good book about my favourite set of Discworld characters (the city watch).

A book really has to catch me in the first couple of pages if there is any hope at all of me getting through it. Let alone flying through during nap times, and even once – during a late chapter – a bathroom run.

While some readers have insisted that The Hazel Wood is some strange retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Albert herself has confirmed what I think obvious: that it is Not. She just likes the name Alice. Though, as she puts it, it is a ‘Loaded Name‘ when it comes to literary use. While there are references to the Carroll book within the dialogue and narrative, if anything, the latter half of The Hazel Wood resembles much more the trials of Through the Looking Glass. But it’s still not the main point of this incredible, original story.

Melissa Albert wove together this adventure mystery using every fairy tale element I could imagine to give us this masterpiece novel.

Either in obvious reference, allusion, or echoing taste just at the very tip of my tongue, Alice’s adventure seems to whisper of Harry Potter, Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, Fables, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Silent HillOnce Upon a Time, Doctor Who, The True Meaning of Smekday/Home . . .

I think she must have read, in her lifetime, every book I’ve ever loved, and watched every fantasy tv series or movie I’ve ever enjoyed, because, stitched throughout The Hazel Wood were fragments, elements, flavours, and subtle (and not so subtle) pieces of literally every story that has ever captured my attention. As if this book, itself, like The Neverending Story, could read my inner depths and pull from them things I would recognize and relate to.

You know that part in Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets when Harry reaches for Riddle’s diary for the first time in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom and Ron stops him telling him it could be dangerous and lists all those confiscated books?

“And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could *never stop reading!* You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed.”

Well, he could easily have been talking about The Hazel Wood. It really was very difficult to pull myself away from it. It has a magic all its own.

I got my copy from my local library in the Teen Fiction section, so I suggest checking your local library for a copy.  The Hazel Wood is also available from various booksellers and inside some of those collection boxes you can subscribe to. It has been translated into several different languages. And I really think you should go read it.


Fairy Tales. I love them. I love all forms of them. Books, movies, plays, ballets. I especially love new versions of them. Because the old ones sometimes leave something to be desired. Really, retellings of fairy tales are the closest thing to ‘fan-fiction’ I can stomach. I adore retellings.


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.” -Albert Einstein


I grew up on fairy tales. ‘Raised by them’ might even be accurate. From backyard reenactments of Rapunzel to kitchen dance routines with a straw broom pretending to be Cinderella, my childhood revolved around fairy stories.


As an adult, I have become embittered to a great many of these sugar coated tales but I still cling to what’s underneath: the potential for true love and self actualization. And I’ve come to appreciate more than anything, my proud role as Self-Rescuing Princess.


I dare say that most of us here probably grew up on fairy tales as told by Walt Disney and his successors. And many of us, now that we are actually grown up, have realized what a load of shit most of what we learned from them really was.


When you look at all the lies we’ve been fed, it’s really no wonder that we’ve had such fucked up relationships and relationship expectations.


True Love does not come to you as Instant Gratification.


I can’t know every situation, for you maybe it did come to you like that, but I can’t see how that is ever possible. True Love is something so deep that it takes time to come to life and even more time to recognize.


As our generations grow older, and we are the ones behind the camera, controlling the production of new work, penning new versions of old tales, it is no wonder that we have made strides in shifting our culture’s view and started producing tales from the opposite perspective. Because we have finally realized that the flowery, sugar coated stories about instantaneous love and always being happy, joyful, and kind, just don’t hold up when you’ve been faced with death, betrayal, heartbreak, abuse, manipulation, divorce, child loss, et cetera et cetera et cetera.


It is time to tell the story from a different view point. And Disney has finally risen to the call.


I am so thankful that Disney is finally recognizing the folly of glorifying Love-Without-Friendship, which often seems to coincide with Stalkery Love (we have Twilight and the like for that), or even Love of Riches (I can’t explain this one without sounding like an asshole, so I’m just going to leave it for you to think about).


“Nobody poor was ever called democratic for marrying somebody rich.” -Sabrina (1954)

Seriously, though, I don’t even want to be a princess! (It’s the Queen or Nothing, bitches!) I really don’t want to wear a formal dress for more than two hours at a time (despite how much I dote over pretty clothes, I’ve already mentioned how much I love yoga pants, and pants in general). I don’t want to deal with Politics. I don’t want to be watched 24 hours a day. And I don’t want a Prince Charming. I want my hardworking, caring, normal guy, who can laugh with me and makes me laugh more than I have ever laughed before in ways I never have, build a life With me within our means, play with legos, walk the dog, clean the toilet, complain about the horrendous bigotry and all the beauty we see in our daily lives, write silly or serious stories with, wear ripped jeans or stained shirts, leave off the makeup for a night, belch in front of, and never be afraid of being less than cartoon perfect.


Disney is beginning to see that a better example of Love is one in which relationships are based on friendship, trust, and long standing relationships where the people in them have had time to get to know the deepest secrets, greatest fears, and most magnificent strengths of each person involved.


I am so thankful for their shift in dynamic from Love with a Stranger to the amazing journey that is Love, and even the many different forms Love can take.


I am so thankful for Toy Story, Brave, Maleficent, Once Upon a Time, and even Frozen (which I actually hated, but I’ll explain that later).


Maybe it’s thanks to their relationship with Pixar that Disney is finally changing their representation of Love and How People Find it. It’s rarely handed to us freely. There is almost always a struggle. And there is almost always a little heartbreak thrown in (sometimes a lot). Sometimes that’s the catalyst that makes us finally act, express our feelings, fight for what we want, or which leads us to a new and better path.


Now as The Disney Generations are becoming The Adults, we are, you might say, taking revenge upon those that lied to us. We are becoming the Fairy Tale Villains and telling the world how things really happen. And it is beautiful.


My director, John Fagan, of the Upstate Shakespeare Festival in Greenville, SC, once told us, during a rehearsal of King John (2003),


“Villains are never completely evil. They have Reasons for being evil.”


As a writer, I’m finding it a challenge to write villainous characters without them reading as flat – cardboard cutouts and stereotypical evil-doers. No backstory, just a lifetime of tying damsels to railroad tracks and over taxing the poor to build their seventeenth mansion.


Remembering that the Villain is also a person, has their own story, and probably has a reason for what they are doing is a very important thing. Both as motive for your character, and to make the story believable and full.


Look at Maleficent. Look at Regina and, to a lesser extent, Zelena. Look at Mor’du.


I won’t include all my thoughts on Maleficent, which I attended last night, because I want you to go to it Fresh. I will say these two things, though.


1. The movie and Story are Sheer Beauty

2. Heartbreak Changes People.


“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” -Neil Gaiman

Or as someone once responded, Befriended.

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