Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

 “We are such stuff
 As dreams are made on…” (Prospero, 4.1.173-4)

That line?  It is probably as familiar as what happens in The Tempest:  A storm forces Prince Ferdinand and his ship to a mostly deserted island inhabited by Prospero, his daughter (Miranda), a feral servant (Caliban), and a number of elementals.  The Prince and Miranda fall in love, and the Prince takes her and her father home.  The end.  Happily ever after.

It is Shakespeare, and his writing brought this story to life in a way that still resonates today.  Carey, more known for her bold and subversive fantasy, is more understated and quietly challenges the play’s storyline. The Tempest was Prospero’s story, while Caliban served as comic relief, and Miranda was the pretty token.  This retelling is Miranda and Caliban’s story.  Carey fleshes out the backstory of life on the island before the events of the play along with Prospero’s careful scheming, adds a doomed romance between Miranda and Caliban, and gets into the minds of both of them. Though a huge imaginative what-if, readers get to know them better, watch them grow up together, and see their role in how the story turned out.  Both of them have more agency, which makes it all the more bittersweet when readers know how the story ends.

The retelling is subtly subversive and does not add anything shockingly different, plot-wise, from what happens in the play.  Miranda is sheltered and, though educated by her father, she is naïve about the world and people outside the island.  The most noticeable change is that of Prospero’s character from protagonist to a more controlling, villainous one. Miranda is the dutiful daughter, any rebellion effectively quelled by Prospero’s magic.  It justifies Miranda’s obedience to her father while retaining a historical feel of the expected role Miranda plays as daughter and woman.  She has a good heart and is a kind person in unusual circumstances.  Seeing the story from Miranda and Caliban’s eyes, there is more of a challenge to Miranda’s courtship and the play’s supposed happy ending.  Her budding but doomed romance with Caliban gives heart to the story and drives it forward to its conclusion.  The expected ending is rather bittersweet, hanging tentatively between hope and denial, possibility and hard reality.  With the play and the retelling ending at the same place, readers are left to wonder what becomes of Miranda and Caliban and what will either do afterwards.

Look for Miranda and Caliban in the VBPL Catalog.  Though this a more subtle and understated work, try some of Jacqueline Carey’s more shocking fantasy titles.  The classic Tempest by William Shakespeare is a definite and certainly adds to this retelling.  See the modern retelling of The Tempest on DVD with Helen Mirren as Prospera.  For more Shakespeare retellings, try L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Prospero’s Children series and the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which various authors were commissioned to retell a Shakespeare work, including Margeret Atwood's Hag Seed (The Tempest retelling).

Review posted by Tracy V.

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