Splendors and Glooms
Laura Amy Schlitz
2013 Newbery Honor (updated 1/29/13)
In the hands of a talented story teller, a story becomes, well, “more.” More what, you ask? Just more–more robust, more gripping, more poignant, more creepy, more beautiful, more evil. This can be good or it can be disturbing, depending on the tale being told. No doubt about it, Laura Amy Schlitz is a gifted story teller. That makes Splendors and Glooms both more splendid and more gloomy than it might have been in less capable hands.
I cannot think of a better title for this splendid, gloomy tale, either. Taken from a poem of Shelley’s, it is an apt summation of this tale of three children, one old magician, one old witch, and a host of supporting characters. Puppeteers pull the strings and the puppets dance, some willingly, and some unwillingly. For at least one character, the metaphor of puppet and puppeteer becomes her reality for a time as she is imprisoned in the body of a wooden marionette. For others, though, they are just as trapped and forced to dance at the hands of a “puppeteer”–be it by their own sorcery, their own desires, their own fear. And Schlitz works her own puppet magic: you won’t be able to put the book down as you are danced along on strings, finding out tidbits at a time of the story and bouncing from one character’s perspective to another.
In the end of this Medieval tale, the splendors win out over the glooms. What tips the scales? Love. Love is what enables the puppet to break out of her paralysis and death-like state, to save another at potentially great sacrifice to her own life and soul, and to bring a new family together. Isn’t this what happens in the Great Story? We are dead, imprisoned, until Love sets us free at great sacrifice to Himself; then we become part of a new family. The metaphor won’t please all Christians who read this book and it won’t hold up to careful scrutiny against the Bible–but it is there nonetheless; I do not, however, know anything about the author’s background or beliefs and therefore don’t know if it’s intentional. But I found it mighty interesting to sit back and ponder after finishing this dark, Gothic story of enchantment.
Splendors and Glooms isn’t a perfect book. Literarily speaking, the pacing is off in parts, some characters receive more limelight than other, more interesting ones, and it ends rather abruptly. Nonetheless, it is well crafted overall and will pull readers into its Gothic theater, deftly pulling their strings.
One final note: this book is targeted towards middle grades. Yet, it will no doubt interest those who are much older: it is complex enough, dark enough, and long enough (close to 400 pages). If you have a very sensitive child, you may wish to hold off on this book. As I mentioned, it is skillfully done–which makes the sinister parts that much more sinister.