By Chris Colfer
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $39.99 $51.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 12, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, twins Alex and Conner leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy-tale characters they grew up reading about.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Chris Colfer invites readers to join Alex and Conner from the beginning on their fairy-tale adventures in this gorgeous paperback boxed set, which includes all six books in the Land of Stories series: The Wishing Spell, The Enchantress Returns, A Grimm Warning, Beyond the Kingdoms, An Author’s Odyssey, and Worlds Collide.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Once upon a time…" Mrs. Peters said to her sixth-grade class. "These are the most magical words our world has ever known and the gateway into the greatest stories ever told. They're an immediate calling to anyone who hears them—a calling into a world where everyone is welcome and anything can happen. Mice can become men, maids can become princesses, and they can teach valuable lessons in the process."
Alex Bailey eagerly sat straight up in her seat. She usually enjoyed her teacher's lessons, but this was something especially close to her heart.
"Fairy tales are much more than silly bedtime stories," the teacher continued. "The solution to almost every problem imaginable can be found in the outcome of a fairy tale. Fairy tales are life lessons disguised with colorful characters and situations.
"'The Boy Who Cried Wolf ' teaches us the value of a good reputation and the power of honesty. 'Cinderella' shows us the rewards of having a good heart. 'The Ugly Duckling' teaches us the meaning of inner beauty."
Alex's eyes were wide, and she nodded in agreement. She was a pretty girl with bright blue eyes and short strawberry-blonde hair that was always kept neatly out of her face with a headband.
The way the other students stared at their teacher, as if the lesson being taught were in another language, was something Mrs. Peters had never grown accustomed to. So, Mrs. Peters would often direct entire lessons to the front row, where Alex sat.
Mrs. Peters was a tall, thin woman who always wore dresses that resembled old, patterned sofas. Her hair was dark and curly and sat perfectly on the top of her head like a hat (and her students often thought it was). Through a pair of thick glasses, her eyes were permanently squinted from all the judgmental looks she had given her classes over the years.
"Sadly, these timeless tales are no longer relevant in our society," Mrs. Peters said. "We have traded their brilliant teachings for small-minded entertainment like television and video games. Parents now let obnoxious cartoons and violent movies influence their children.
"The only exposure to the tales some children acquire are versions bastardized by film companies. Fairy tale 'adaptations' are usually stripped of every moral and lesson the stories were originally intended to teach, and replaced with singing and dancing forest animals. I recently read that films are being created depicting Cinderella as a struggling hip-hop singer and Sleeping Beauty as a warrior princess battling zombies!"
"Awesome," a student behind Alex whispered to himself.
Alex shook her head. Hearing this made her soul hurt. She tried to share her disapproval with her fellow classmates but, sadly, her concern was not reciprocated.
"I wonder if the world would be a different place if everyone knew these tales in the way the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen intended them to be known," Mrs. Peters said. "I wonder if people would learn from the Little Mermaid's heartbreak when she dies at the end of her real story. I wonder if there would be so many kidnappings if children were shown the true dangers that Little Red Riding Hood faced. I wonder if delinquents would be so inclined to misbehave if they knew about the consequences Goldilocks caused for herself with the Three Bears.
"There is so much to learn and prevent for our futures if we just open our eyes to past teachings. Perhaps if we embraced fairy tales as much as we could, it would be much easier to find our own happily-ever-afters."
If Alex had her way, Mrs. Peters would be rewarded with thunderous applause after each lesson she gave. Unfortunately, all that followed her classes was a mutual sigh of relief among the students, thankful that they were over. "Let's see how well you all know your fairy tales," the teacher said with a smile, and began pacing the room. "In 'Rumpelstiltskin,' what did the young maiden's father tell the king that his daughter could spin hay into? Does anyone know?"
Mrs. Peters scanned the classroom like a shark looking for wounded fish. Only one student raised her hand.
"Yes, Miss Bailey?" Mrs. Peters called.
"He claimed she could spin hay into gold," Alex said.
"Very good, Miss Bailey," Mrs. Peters said. If she had a favorite student—not that she would ever admit to having one—Alex would have been it.
Alex was always eager to please. She was the definition of a bookworm. It didn't matter what time of day it was—before school, during school, after school, before bed—she was always reading. She had a thirst for knowledge and, because of it, Alex was usually the first person to answer Mrs. Peters's questions.
She tried her best to impress her classmates with every chance she got, putting extra effort into each book report and class presentation she was assigned. However, this usually annoyed the other students, and Alex was often teased for it.
She constantly heard other girls making fun of her behind her back. She usually spent lunch alone under a tree somewhere with an open library book. Although she would never tell anyone, Alex was so lonely that sometimes it hurt.
"Now, can anyone tell me what the compromise was that the maiden made with Rumpelstiltskin?"
Alex waited a moment before putting her hand up. She didn't want to seem like a total teacher's pet.
"Yes, Miss Bailey?"
"In exchange for turning the hay into gold, the maiden promised to give Rumpelstiltskin her first-born child when she became queen," Alex explained.
"That's a pretty steep deal," said a boy behind Alex.
"What's a creepy old short man want with a baby anyway?" a girl next to him asked.
"Obviously, he couldn't adopt with a name like Rumpelstiltskin," another student added.
"Did he eat the baby?" someone else asked nervously.
Alex turned around to face her clueless peers.
"You're all missing the point of the story," Alex said. "Rumpelstiltskin took advantage of the maiden because she was in need. The story is about the price of a bad negotiation. What are we willing to give up long-term in the future for something short-term in the present? Get it?"
If Mrs. Peters could change her facial expression, she would have looked very proud. "Nicely put, Miss Bailey," she said. "I must say, in all my years of teaching, I've rarely come across a pupil with as much in-depth knowledge as—"
A loud snore suddenly came from the back of the classroom. A boy in the back row was slouched over his desk and drooling from the corner of his mouth, very much asleep.
Alex had a twin brother, and it was moments like these that made her wish she didn't.
Mrs. Peters diverted her attention to him like a paper clip to a magnet.
"Mr. Bailey?" Mrs. Peters asked.
He continued to snore.
"Mr. Bailey?" Mrs. Peters asked again, kneeling down closer to him.
He let out another enormous snore. A few of the students wondered how it was possible for such a loud noise to come out of him.
"Mr. Bailey!" Mrs. Peters shouted in his ear.
As if someone had lit a firework under his seat, Conner Bailey jumped back to life, almost knocking his desk over.
"Where am I? What happened?" Conner asked in a panicked state of confusion. His eyes darted around the room while his brain tried to remember where he was.
Like his sister, he also had bright blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair. His face was round and freckled and, at the moment, slightly smushed to one side like a basset hound when it first wakes up from a nap.
Alex couldn't have been more embarrassed by her brother. Besides sharing looks and a birth date, she and her brother couldn't have been more different. Conner may have had a lot of friends, but unlike his sister, he had trouble in school… mostly trouble staying awake.
"I'm so glad you could rejoin us, Mr. Bailey," Mrs. Peters said sternly. "Did you have a nice nap?"
Conner turned bright red.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Peters," he apologized, trying to be as genuine as possible. "Sometimes when you talk for long periods of time, I doze off. No offense. I can't help it."
"You fall asleep in my class at least twice a week," Mrs. Peters reminded him.
"Well, you do talk a lot." Before he could stop himself from saying it, Conner knew it was the wrong thing to say. A few of the students had to bite their hands to stop from laughing.
"I recommend you stay awake while I teach, Mr. Bailey," Mrs. Peters threatened. Conner had never seen anyone squint their eyes so tight without shutting them before. "Unless you know enough about fairy tales to teach this lesson yourself," she added.
"I probably do," Conner said. Once again, he spoke without thinking. "I mean, I know a lot about this stuff, that's all."
"Oh, really?" Mrs. Peters never backed down from a challenge, and every student's worst nightmare was that they'd be her challenger. "All right, Mr. Bailey, if you're so knowledgeable, answer this question."
"In the original tale of Sleeping Beauty, how many years does the princess sleep before she is awoken by true love's first kiss?" Mrs. Peters asked, studying his face.
All eyes were on him, impatiently waiting for the slightest indication that he didn't know the answer. But fortunately for Conner, he did.
"One hundred," Conner answered. "Sleeping Beauty slept for one hundred years. That's why the castle grounds were covered in vines and stuff, because the curse affected everyone in the kingdom, and there was no one to garden."
Mrs. Peters didn't know what to say or do. She frowned down at him, immensely surprised. This was the first time he had ever been correct when she'd put him on the spot, and she certainly hadn't expected it.
"Try to stay conscious, Mr. Bailey. Lucky for you, I used my last detention slip this morning, but I can always request more," Mrs. Peters said, and promptly walked to the front of the classroom to continue her lesson.
Conner sighed with relief, and the red drained from his face. His eyes met his sister's; even she was surprised he had gotten the answer right. Alex hadn't expected Conner to remember any fairy tales.…
"Now, class, I want you all to get out your literature books, turn to page one hundred and seventy, and read 'Little Red Riding Hood' quietly to yourselves," Mrs. Peters instructed.
The students did as they were told. Conner made himself as comfortable as possible at his desk and began reading. The story, the pictures, and the characters were all so familiar to him.
One of the things Alex and Conner looked forward to the most when they were very young had been the trips to see their grandmother. She lived up in the mountains in the heart of the woods in a tiny house that could best be described as a cottage, if such a thing still existed.
It was a long journey, a few hours by car, but the twins loved every minute of it. Their anticipation would grow as they traveled up the windy roads and through the endless trees, and when they crossed a yellow bridge, the twins would excitedly exclaim, "We're almost there! We're almost there!"
Once they arrived, their grandmother would greet them at the door with open arms and hugs so tight they would almost pop.
"Look at you two! You've both grown a foot since the last time I saw you!" Grandma would say, even if they hadn't, and then would lead them inside, where a freshly baked batch of cookies waited for them.
Their father had grown up in the woods and would spend hours each day telling the twins his adventures as a kid: all the trees he'd climbed, all the streams he'd swum, and all the ferocious animals he'd barely escaped from. Most of his retellings were highly exaggerated, but they loved this time with him more than anything else in the world.
"Someday, when you're older, I'll take you to all the secret places where I used to play," their father would tease them. He was a tall man with kind eyes that would wrinkle whenever he smiled, and he smiled quite a bit, especially when he was teasing the twins.
At night the twins' mother would help their grandmother cook dinner and, after they had eaten, as soon as the dishes were done, the family would sit around the fireplace. Their grandmother would open her big storybook, and she and their father would take turns reading the twins fairy tales until they fell asleep. Sometimes the Bailey family would be up until sunrise.
They told the stories with such detail and passion that it didn't matter how many times the twins heard the same story. They were the best memories any child could ask for.
Unfortunately, the twins hadn't been back to their grandmother's cottage in a very long time.…
"MR. BAILEY!" Mrs. Peters shouted. Conner had dozed off again.
"Sorry, Mrs. Peters!" he bellowed back, sitting straight up in his seat like a soldier on guard. If looks could kill, Conner would have been dead from the scowl she was sending him.
"What did we think of the real Little Red Riding Hood?" the teacher asked her class.
A girl with frizzy hair and thick braces raised her hand.
"Mrs. Peters?" the frizzy-haired girl asked. "I'm confused."
"And why is that?" Mrs. Peters said, as if asking, "What on earth could you possibly be confused about, idiot?"
"Because, it says the Big Bad Wolf is killed by the Hunter," the frizzy-haired girl explained. "I always thought the wolf was just upset because the other wolves in his pack made fun of his snout, and he and Little Red Riding Hood became friends in the end. At least, that's what happened in the cartoon I used to watch when I was little."
Mrs. Peters rolled her eyes so far into the back of her head, she could have seen what was behind her.
"That," she said with a clenched jaw, "is exactly why we're having this lesson."
The frizzy-haired girl became wide-eyed and sad. How could something so dear to her have been so wrong?
"For homework," Mrs. Peters said, and the room unanimously slumped in their seats, "you are to pick your favorite fairy tale and write a paper, due tomorrow, on the real lesson the tale is trying to teach us."
Mrs. Peters went to her desk, and the students began working on their assignment with the little class time remaining.
"Mr. Bailey?" Mrs. Peters summoned Conner to her desk. "A word."
Conner was in deep trouble, and he knew it. He cautiously stood up and walked to Mrs. Peters's desk. The other students gave him sorrowful looks as he walked by, as if he were walking to his executioner.
"Yes, Mrs. Peters?" Conner asked.
"Conner, I'm trying to be very sensitive about your family situation," Mrs. Peters said, glaring at him over the frames of her glasses.
Family situation. Two words Conner had heard too many times in the last year.
"However," Mrs. Peters continued, "there is certain behavior I just will not tolerate in my classroom. You're constantly falling asleep in class, you don't pay attention, not to mention you quiz and test very poorly. Your sister seems to be functioning just fine. Perhaps you could follow her example?"
It was a comparison that felt like a kick in the stomach every time someone made it. Indeed, Conner was not his sister by any means, and he was always punished because of it.
"If this continues, I will be forced to have a meeting with your mother, do you understand?" Mrs. Peters warned him.
"Yes, sir—I mean ma'am! I meant ma'am! Sorry." It just hadn't been his best day.
"Okay, then. You may have a seat."
Conner slowly walked back to his seat, his head hanging slightly lower than it had all day. More than anything, he hated feeling like a failure.
Alex had watched the entire conversation between her brother and their teacher. As much as her brother embarrassed her, she did feel for him as only a sister could.
Alex flipped through her literature book, deciding on which story to write about. The pictures weren't as colorful and exciting as they had been in her grandmother's book, but seeing all the characters she had grown up reading about made her feel at home, a feeling that had recently become a rarity.
If only fairy tales were real, she thought. Somebody could wave a wand and magically make things how they used to be.
THE LONGER WALK HOME
I'm so excited about this lesson," Alex told Conner as they walked home from school. This was something Conner was used to hearing his sister declare, and it was usually his cue to stop listening.
"Mrs. Peters made a very good point, you know," Alex continued excitedly, speaking a mile a minute. "Think about everything children miss out on when they're deprived of fairy tales! Oh, how terrible for them! Don't you just feel awful for them? Conner, are you listening to me?"
"Yup," Conner lied. His attention was focused on an abandoned snail shell he was kicking along the sidewalk.
"Can you imagine a childhood without knowing all those characters and places?" Alex continued. "We're so fortunate that Dad and Grandma made such a point of reading them to us when we were little."
"Very lucky…" Conner nodded, although he wasn't exactly sure what he was agreeing with.
Every day after school, the Bailey twins would walk home together. They lived in a charming neighborhood that was surrounded by more charming neighborhoods that were surrounded by another series of charming neighborhoods. It was a sea of suburbia, where each house was similar to the next but uniquely different at the same time.
To pass the time as they walked, Alex would tell her brother everything on her mind: all her current thoughts and concerns, a summary of everything she had learned that day, and what she planned to do as soon as they got home. As much as this daily routine annoyed Conner, he knew he was the only person in the world Alex had to talk to, so he tried his best to listen. But listening had never been Conner's forte.
"How am I ever going to decide which story to write about? It's too difficult to choose!" Alex said, clapping her hands with excitement. "Which one are you going to write your paper on?"
"Um…" Conner said, whipping his head up from looking at the ground. He had to mentally rewind the conversation to remember what the question was.
"'The Boy Who Cried Wolf,'" he said, choosing the first fairy tale that came to mind.
"You can't choose that one," Alex said, shaking her head. "That's the most obvious one! You have to select something more challenging to impress Mrs. Peters. You should pick something with a message hidden deeper inside it, one that isn't so on-the-surface."
Conner sighed. It was always easier to just go along with Alex instead of arguing with her, but sometimes it was unavoidable.
"Fine, I'll pick 'Sleeping Beauty,'" he decided.
"Interesting selection," Alex said, intrigued. "What do you suppose the moral of that story is?"
"Don't piss off your neighbors, I guess," Conner said.
Alex grunted disapprovingly.
"Be serious, Conner! That is not the moral of 'Sleeping Beauty,'" she reprimanded.
"Sure it is," Conner explained. "If the king and queen had just invited that crazy enchantress to their daughter's party in the first place, none of that stuff ever would have happened."
"They couldn't have stopped it from happening," said Alex. "That enchantress was evil and probably would have cursed the baby princess anyway. 'Sleeping Beauty' is about trying to prevent the unpreventable. Her parents tried protecting her and had all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed. She was so sheltered, she didn't even know what the danger was, and she still pricked her finger on the first spindle she ever saw."
Conner thought about this possibility and shook his head. He liked his version much better.
"I disagree," Conner told her. "I've seen how upset you get when people don't invite you places, and you usually look like you would curse a baby, too."
Alex gave Conner a dirty look Mrs. Peters would have been proud of.
"While there's no such thing as a wrong interpretation, I have to say that is definitely a misread," Alex said.
"I'm just saying to be careful who you ignore," Conner clarified. "I always thought Sleeping Beauty's parents had it coming."
"Oh?" Alex questioned him. "And I suppose you thought Hansel and Gretel had it coming, too?"
"Yes," Conner said, feeling clever. "And so did the witch!"
"How so?" Alex asked.
"Because," Conner explained with a smirk on his face, "if you're going to live in a house made of candy, don't move next door to a couple of obese kids. A lot of these fairy-tale characters are missing common sense."
Alex let out another disapproving grunt. Conner figured he could get at least fifty more out of her before they got home.
"The witch didn't live next door! She lived deep in the forest! They had to leave a trail of bread crumbs behind so they could find their way back, remember. And the whole point of the house was to lure the kids in. They were starving!" Alex reminded him. "At least have all the facts straight before you criticize."
"If they were starving, what were they doing wasting bread crumbs?" Conner asked. "Sounds like a couple of troublemakers to me."
Alex grunted again.
"And in your deranged mind, what do you think the lesson of 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' is?" Alex challenged him.
"Easy," Conner said. "Lock your doors! Robbers come in all shapes and sizes. Even curly-haired little girls can't be trusted."
Alex grunted again and crossed her arms. She tried her best not to giggle; she didn't want to validate her brother's opinion.
"'Goldilocks' is about consequences! Mrs. Peters said so herself," Alex said. Although Alex would never admit it, sometimes arguing with her brother was amusing. "What do you suppose 'Jack and the Beanstalk' is about?" she asked.
Conner contemplated a moment and slyly grinned. "Bad beans can cause more than indigestion," he answered, laughing hysterically to himself.
Alex pursed her lips to hide a smile.
"What do you think the lesson of 'Little Red Riding Hood' is?" she asked him. "Do you think she should have just mailed her grandmother the gift basket?"
"Now you're thinking!" he said. "Although, I've always felt sorry for Little Red Riding Hood. It's obvious her parents didn't like her very much."
"Why do you say that?" Alex asked, wondering how he could have possibly construed that from the story.
"Who sends their young daughter into a dark and wolf-occupied forest carrying freshly baked food and wearing a bright jacket?" Conner asked. "They were practically asking for a wolf to eat her! She must have annoyed the heck out of them!"
Alex held back laughter with all her might but, to Conner's delight, she let a quiet chuckle slip.
"I know you secretly agree with me," Conner said, bumping her shoulder with his.
"Conner, it's people like you who ruin fairy tales for the rest of the world," Alex said, forcing the smile on her face to fade. "People make jokes about them, and suddenly the whole message is… is… lost—"
Alex suddenly stopped walking. All the color in her face slowly drained away. Something across the street had caught her eye, something very disappointing.
"What's the matter?" Conner asked, turning back to her.
Alex was staring at a large house. It was a lovely home, painted blue with white trim, and had several windows. The front yard was landscaped to perfection; it had just the right amount of grass, patches of colorful flowers, and a large oak tree ideal for climbing.
If a house could smile, this house would be grinning from ear to ear.
"Look," Alex said, and pointed to a For Sale sign next to the oak tree. A bright red stripe with the word Sold had recently been added to it.
"It sold," Alex said, slowly shaking her head from side to side in disbelief. "It sold," she repeated, not wanting it to be true.
The little color in Conner's round face drained, too. The twins stared at the house for a moment in silence, each not knowing what to say to the other.
"We both knew it would happen eventually," Conner said.
"Then why do I feel so surprised?" Alex asked softly. "I guess it had been for sale for so long, I figured it was just… you know… waiting for us."
Conner saw tears begin to form in his sister's eyes through the tears forming in his own.
"Come on, Alex," Conner said and kept walking. "Let's go home."
She looked at the house for a second more and then followed him. This house was only one thing the Bailey family had recently lost.…
A year ago, just a few days before their eleventh birthday, Alex and Conner's father died in a car accident on his way home from work. Mr. Bailey had owned a bookstore a few streets away named Bailey's Books, but all it had taken was a few small streets for a big accident to happen.
The twins and their mother had been anxiously waiting for him at the dinner table when they got the phone call telling them their father wouldn't be joining them that night, or any night after that. He had never been late to dinner before, so as soon as the telephone rang, they all had known something was wrong.
Alex and Conner could never forget the look on their mother's face when she answered the phone—a look that told them, without saying a word, that their lives would never be the same. They had never seen their mother cry like she did that night.
Everything had happened so fast after that. It was hard for the twins to remember what order it all had happened in.
They remembered their mother making tons of phone calls and having to deal with a lot of paperwork. They remembered that their grandmother came to take care of them while their mother made all the funeral arrangements.
They remembered holding their mother's hands as they walked down the church aisle at the funeral. They remembered the white flowers and candles and all the sad expressions on everyone's faces as they passed. They remembered all the food people sent. They remembered how sorry people told them they were.
They didn't remember their eleventh birthday, because no one did.
The twins remembered how strong Grandma and Mom had stayed for them in the following months. They remembered their mother explaining to them why they had to sell the bookstore. They remembered that, eventually, their mother couldn't afford their beautiful blue house anymore, and they'd had to move into a rental house a little way down the street.
They remembered Grandma leaving them once they were settled into their new, smaller house. They remembered returning to school and how falsely normal everything appeared to be. But most of all, the twins remembered not understanding why any of it had to happen.
A full year had passed, and the twins still didn't understand it. People had told them it would get easier with time, but how much time were they talking about? The loss seemed to grow deeper each day without their dad. They missed him so much sometimes that they expected their sadness to swell out of their bodies.
They missed his smile, they missed his laugh, and they missed his stories.…
- On Sale
- May 12, 2020
- Page Count
- 2896 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers