Tonawanda News

November 4, 2013

BOOK NOOK: 'Divianna and Finn' is a simple fairy tale of a book

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Once upon a time ...

It’s the classic start to a story. Once upon a time ... a boy met a girl. Once upon a time ... there was an evil warlock. Once upon a time ... the boy had to rescue the girl ...

And that’s the set-up for “Adventures of Divianna and Finn” by Candie Gillis of Gasport, a fairy tale of a story about boy, girl and warlock, set in an Ireland that doesn’t seem to be from any particular time period beyond that “once upon a time.” The tale has a very old feel to it, but there are pubs and bands playing “Danny Boy” —written in 1913— in them, and the characters say things like “sure.”

It’s a slim volume, a very quick read. And as a novel, even a short one intended for children, it’s simplistic. 

The characters are cardboard cutouts, with little apparent motivation for what they’re doing beyond “I love her” or “I want her.” No worries, parents — “want” here seems to be mostly in the sense of a household servant.

Magic is a plot device. One character sleeps next to a stone by a pond until one day, poof! There’s a house there for him. Then poof! There’s another character. Poof! She has a stepmother. Poof! 

The dialogue is stilted. One character, just introduced to another, says “You are young and beautiful.” And the other character just takes this as given, apparently.

And as mentioned, motivations are fuzzy. The heroine, supposedly in love with our protagonist, sets off to marry a mysterious stranger she’s known for a short period of time with barely a good-bye. And apparently no complaints from her family. 

The villain cares enough to deceive said heroine, but then summarily marries someone else — who then vanishes — for no apparent reason other than “she had no one to love, so I didn’t wait instead I married her and made her mine.”

All that, along with some missing punctuation and errant grammar that kept throwing me off, initially had me ready to dismiss “Divianna and Finn” quite quickly. But oddly enough, it was a glimpse of our shelf full of Disney movies that started me thinking about it in a different way. And, yes, I’ve read the originals. It’s been a while, though, so forgive me if the Disney versions are more clear in my memory.

Does the classic Snow White have much motivation to consider her prince her true love? Or vice versa, for that matter? She spends most of the story asleep! Cinderella falls into love with hers over the course of an evening. The Little Mermaid gets a mere glimpse of her prince while he’s unconscious — take that, Snow White — and decides she loves him enough to throw her life away.

And the villains ... Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty curses a princess and puts an entire castle to sleep over not being invited to a royal christening! What kind of motivation is that?

If you look at the tale that way — as a story in the fine old traditions of the fairy tales I grew up reading — it’s a different sort of beast altogether.

I read a portion out loud to my 5-year-old son while we settled in for our bedtime reading and he was intrigued. “What happens next? What will they do? Where did he come from?”

The only answer I had for him on that last was “Maybe it was magic.”

And like all fairy tales, it even has a moral. One line, near the end, stood out to me:

”It was not what you’re willing to give up that breaks the spell but the love you’re willing to fight for.”

In the end, “Adventures of Divianna and Finn” reads like a labor of love. And isn’t that what fairy tales are all about?

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.

• WHAT: "Adventures of Divianna and Finn" • BY: Candie Gillis • PUBLISHER: Tate Publishing • GRADE: C