The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Pat Rothfuss. Illustrated by Nate Taylor. Subterranean Press. 2010. Copy borrowed from Chasing Ray.
The Plot: “Once upon a time, there was a Princess who lived in a marzipan castle.” So this fairy tale begins. End at one place, and you smile; end at another, and you are afraid; end at a third, and there is teeth. You are warned: “This is not a book for children.”
The Good: I read Colleen’s review at Chasing Ray and was terribly intrigued; I like picture books that are different, that have an edge, that are for older readers. The Princess delivers all of that, and more.
The Princess lives alone, except for her teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle. Cheery black and white illustrations show the Princess, alone making her own meals and playing with Mr. Whiffle and her other stuffed animals. She is happy, imaginative, alone, but alone with her toys, much like Christopher Robin. Pay attention, Reader. The black and white illustrations are the first clue that this book isn’t for children; it’s not the bright colors of a children’s book.
The only dark spot in The Princess’s life is the thing under the bed.
It’s something, isn’t it, how a story shifts depending on when you stop telling it? Oh, not just the end, but the message, also. The way you see the characters. Whether you walk away laughing — as you do if you stop reading The Princess at it’s first ending — or afraid –as you after the second ending — or resigned to truth, as you do after the third ending — well, it all depends on when you want the story to end. Do you want to live happy? Afraid? Or with the truth? That is the second clue that this book isn’t for children. A truthful ending is neither happy nor hopeful. It’s just true. And with teeth.
Once the truth is revealed, reread the book. Pay attention to the illustrations, the pictures that an adult reading would have skimmed, barely glanced at in their rush to read the words. A child reading along (reading along despite the warning not to) may have noticed, may have tried to point out — look at the walls. Look at what is on the poles. Look, look, look. And been shushed. Yes, the illustrations are the third clue.
This is not a book meant for children. Well, not unless your name is John Winchester and your children are Sam and Dean.
Is this a book for teens? Yes. And is it a book that will be a bit of a difficult purchase for libraries? Yes; but only because there will be people who look at it and shelve it in the wrong place, and it’ll be hard to get it to the “right” reader.
This is a book about story and how to tell it; it is a book to give nightmares; and it’s a book for any adult who likes their story in graphic format.