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The Pros and Cons of Glee Star Chris Colfer's Debut Novel

The Pros and Cons of Glee Star Chris Colfer's Debut Novel

By Brandon Specktor

As long as he's been in the public eye, 22-year-old Chris Colfer has been sharing his passions with the world. As Kurt Hummel on Glee, he regularly gets the chance to basque the viewing public in the music that moves him and his peers. With his debut children's novel, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, Chris shares a new artistic passion: the magic of fairytales.

The tale mainly takes place in the aforementioned Land of Stories, a Kingdom Hearts-y crossover fantasy land that plays home to the biggest names in folk literature and nursery rhyme lore. 11-year-old twins Conner and Alex (that's girl Alex) heard these stories to no end under the care of their father (recently killed in a car accident) and grandmother (a kooky, bookish sort who lives a free-wheeling fantasy life of her own), but never expected to become a part of the story when a magical tome swallows them up. Conner and Alex quest across the Land of Stories in search of the cryptic components of the "Wishing Spell" that will allow them to return to their dimension, but a talking mafia of wolves, witches, and the one and only Evil Queen seek to impede their progress.

Intrigued? So were we! So we picked up a copy. What we found was an amusing, sometimes frustrating clash of children's book and young adult conventions that left a uniquely ambiguous aftertaste on our tongues. You might expect mixed results from a story that literally mixes the core ingredients of a dozen-or-so children's classics—but is it worth a read for older audiences?

You decide! We broke down the pros and cons of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell below:

PRO
It's a quick read—some of the quickest 438 pages you'll ever blaze through. Perfect for a weekend of plane rides and beach sittin'.

CON
You'll have predicted the two major twists by page 150 or so.

PRO
Conner is super funny. His explanations of fairytale morals are great ("If you're going to live in a house made of candy, don't move next door to couple of obese kids."), and some of the book's funniest moments come when he tries to dodge fairytale conventions in the Land of Stories, like convincing a kid-hungry witch to go vegetarian or taking the stairs up Rapunzel's tower while Alex struggles up the stony exterior.

CON
Alex, on the other hand, is pretty boring.

PRO
Sub plots with Goldilocks as a wanted criminal (and badass warrior rampaging around on a horse called Porridge), and Red Riding Hood as a stuck-up puppet ruler of her own anti-wolf regime are kind of awesome.

CON
The main plot, not so much. As the hero twins quest through the Land of Stories to puzzle out and collect the eight components of the Wishing Spell (let's call these puzzle pieces "schmorschmuxes,") they face peril, but no difficult decisions. The biggest compromise they have to make is kissing a fugly troll princess to earn freedom from troll jail, and that's kind of a no-brainer. Actually, come to think of it…

CON
The main characters hardly change. From the beginning they're portrayed as intelligent, creative, mature young bucks victimized by circumstance and uniquely receptive to the magic of storytelling. By the end they're still portrayed that way, only now they also have Cinderella's email address. The narrative never challenges our relationship with them, or their relationship with society; even in the idyllic Land of Stories they're considered "do-gooders." They're so static, so unequivocally good guys it's actually a welcome change of pace when the Evil Queen is backhanding them for her Magic Mirror's amusement.

Now, the Evil Queen—there's an interesting character arc. Her story might be the one Chris wanted to write the whole time. Maybe he should have.

PRO
OK, actually, I'm glad he didn't write a story purely from the Evil Queen's perspective. Because then jerky blogger-faces like me would just be complaining about how it's a Wicked ripoff. At least the protagonists of this story try to make a sympathetic appeal to the book's core audience.

CON
The writing, though, comes off kind of patronizing. Superlatives abound in moments of high-stress ("he had never seen her so ____," "she couldn't have been more _____," or "it was the ____est _____ he ever _____ed") and the figurative language uses a few too many cliches as crutches ("if looks could kill, Conner would have been dead" ; "if a house could smile, this house would be grinning from ear to ear.") Scenes of action and violence are approached with a distracting level of hesitation, like when Goldilocks ties up and drags a female rival behind her horse (heavy!) the narrator has to add, "Her dress was so big and layered that she wasn't harmed from being dragged, but she was extremely aggravated." For a story all about the power of whimsy, the language is disappointingly tame.

PRO
But I gotta say, I liked this simile enough to write it down: "Connor's mouth hung open like a broken glove compartment."

PRO
The book's got a nice moral: you have to read a story to take your own meaning from it.

CON
Sometimes the book is a little too explicit about the meaning it wants you to take. e.g.:

"I think what I've learned from all of this is that villains are mostly just people villainized by circumstance," Alex said.

"I agree," Snow White said. "That's the tragic lesson we can learn from the Evil Queen."

PRO
This will make a great movie.

CON
It will probably be in 3D.

PRO
But I bet Jane Lynch will play a wicked witch of some sort. Worth it.

IN CONCLUSION
The Wishing Spell is a compelling if kinda predictable read with a blossoming cast of side characters who provide some memorable moments of action and comedy. But if, as press materials for the novel suggest, Chris is trying to channel the life-changing magic of young adult epics like Harry Potter, he's got a few lessons yet to learn from his fairytales. There's an abundant reverence for literature in these pages, but still a slight lack of respect (or at least a lack of focus) for his young audience. Too often the language stoops to cliche and the moral choices are diluted to basic black-and-white decisions. It's all too safe to be truly impactful. No Avada Kedavra moments, if you get me.

But Chris Colfer is a young and busy dude, and for a first work The Wishing Spell is a worthy effort with a noble heart. If his next book takes more risks with prose and character development, we may begin to see something genuinely magical grow. After all: Hogwarts wasn't built in a day.

Topics: Life
Tags: books, novels, glee, pros and cons, chris colfer, the wishing spell, reivews

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About the Author
Brandon Specktor

For 22 years, Brandon was a fat kid living in Tucson, AZ, which gave him lots and lots of time to write. He now works at a magazine in New York City, but still loves writing almost as much as he loves muffins.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.