Madeline Poage ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Trolls attempting a corporate takeover of the tooth fairy business. Carrier pigeon love letters. Dogs named after Satan. Wild inventions that just might work. Relationships tied together by Greek mythology and bad jokes. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, published in 2004 by Harcourt, is a story of true love, adventure, and the consequences of many comically-timed misunderstandings. An elementary to middle grade book, this story certainly feels like it contains all the wonder and excitement of childhood. The story follows Christian, a kid found in the woods and adopted by a grumpy but good-natured troll. Now Christian, a self-made inventor, is almost a man and ready to take on the world – or at least ready to cross the river and pursue his requited but impossible love of Princess Marigold. In a twisted and distorted take on the most prominent clichés of the classic fairytale genre, general antics ensue.
The adventure is not made up of just antics, though, but also the hilarious, suspenseful, madcap kind of fun that can only be found in a fairytale, in a world where anything goes. At its heart, this is a fairytale, and boy, is it self-aware. One of the greatest aspects of the book is the fantastical tone. Are a nefarious murder plot, the abuse of power, and class discrimination driving the story? Absolutely. But Ferris writes with such a light-hearted touch with which humor is never sacrificed for melodrama. Even the dramatic moments are alleviated by the sheer ridiculousness of events, so that the entire book feels like a never-ending joke.
The many punchlines come fast as, towards the end, everything tumbles into place with the extremely quick pacing. The entire last act of the book is a crescendo of multiple forces clashing together in confusion, as no character is quite clear of the whole picture. This, however, is what keeps the story fun. It has an almost Shakespearean vibe, with mistaken identities, a liar revealed, and even evil monologues muttered in dark castle corners. Throw that together with all the mayhem and chaos of the world and the expansive cast of characters that dash in and out of scenes, and the entire story has a charming, off-kilter nature that’s both endearing and captivating.
Once Upon a Marigold hearkens back to a time and type of storytelling that is entirely unique. Ferris’s world is both a combination of and a constant battle between the classic and the modern. There is a villain in the shadows, a beautiful princess, a hero waiting to prove himself, and a kingdom that hangs in the balance. But there are also DIY flying machines, unconventional wedding dresses, and a contemporary love story. The dialogue is an eclectic mix of archetypal medieval style and modern slang, but it all feels timeless in that way only fairytales can. It is a bridge between the old and the new, between nostalgia and progress, and holds the reader tight in its grip. One step forward, and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole into this spellbinding story.