Frankenstiltskin by Joseph Coelho is the second in his series of fiendishly clever literary mash-ups. Coelho, our newly appointed Children’s Laureate is an award-winning poet and passionate advocate of the power of verse, used to marvellous effect in this retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, with its literally galvanising Frankensteinian goings on. This is Bryony’s story. Kidnapped by an autocratic king, she is given three impossible tasks to complete on pain of, if not death, then something unspeakably hideous. The situation seems hopeless, until a sinister impish creature materialises with an offer of help. The price is beyond anything the Brothers Grimm ever imagined.
Bryony is a taxidermist (taxidermy being a distinctly unusual occupation for a children’s story!) Renowned for her nimble stitching fingers and tender heart, Bryony works in the family taxidermy business, taught everything she knows by her father. Proud and boastful of his daughter’s talent, he conceives a hyperbolic advertising campaign that is somewhat elastic with the facts. The town is bombarded with adverts, claiming boldly that Bryony can ‘bring back animals from the ever after.’ Then there’s the slogan he concocts on the day the King pays an unexpected visit:
‘She can breathe new life into your pets, make it as if they never went to the vets.’
At this point we know nothing of the King’s pet-owning status, but we do know that he’s in mourning for the loss of his beloved son. Impressed by Bryony’s skills and somewhat lacking in manners, the King has her bundled into a carriage and taken to his palace. It is here that she receives the impossible tasks and resultant visit from the repugnant imp.
Fairy tale fans will spot the resemblance to Rumpelstiltskin but if you think you know where the plot’s going, think again. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also hovering in the wings.
Peppered with magic and a cleverly conceived conservation message, Frankenstiltskin is also blessed with fabulously expressive illustrations by Freya Hartas. A gleefully twisted tale!
Frankenstiltskin by Joseph Coelho is published by Walker Books, 240 pages.