Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Fairy Tale by Stephen King is a coming of age story blended into fantasy. The book stars 17-year old Charlie Reade and an aging German Shepherd named Radar. Charlie comes across this dog by accident when a neighbor, Howard Bowditch breaks his leg by falling off a ladder.
This accidental encounter, with Charlie literally saving Mr. Bowditch’s life (with the help of Radar), drives the story in every way possible. Charlie nurses the curmudgeonly Howard and falls in love with Radar.
The relationship with Radar is immensely compelling and real. Anyone how has a dog, and especially those faced with the awful decision near the end of their dog’s life, will relate with this.
Eventually as the relationship grows with Howard, Charlie learns the deep secrets of why he is a recluse. This leads to a deep well and tunnel to another world, the Other or Empis.
In this other world, there is supposed to be a magic sundial that can reverse aging. This is much like Ray Bradbury’s carousel in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and is even explicitly referenced. Finding this sundial is the quest Charlie takes because it is the only way to prolong the life of his inherited and beloved dog.
The novel is largely split in two. The first 40% or so is the buildup of Charlie as a person and is prayers for redemption from the incredibly stupid and mean things he did after his mother died and his dad became an alcoholic. Despite not knowing the worst of Charlie’s misdeeds, it is easy to cut him slack and know deep down he is a good person. His quest to save Radar says enough to that.
The 60% of the book in the other “world” is where the true fantasy happens. Empis is a cursed land with gray and deformed people, undead, giants, and an awful dwarf. But there is hope as many people Charlie encounters help him on his quest.
Perhaps the most intriguing character is the Snab, a giant red cricket, lord of the small things. This creature provides an easy but lovable way to help Charlie in his darkest times in Empis.
There are many references to King’s multiverse, many references to great authors and books, as well as countless references to well known fairy tales. Some of the dialogue in the first part of the novel was pretty laughable. Charlie uses odd phrases that no teen ever would. And of course there are unnecessary political quips sprinkled in (as expected from King).
But Charlie is every bit an old-fashioned hero. He risks his life numerous times for the unlikely chance he can save his dog. He never even truly considers the riches he could easily obtain from Empis. And he repays those that selflessly helped him on his journey and punishes those who were evil.
Overall Fairy Tale is a fast read with a great story. I am a sucker for a feel good story involving a dog so that helps sway my thoughts. I’m not a die-hard Stephen King fan, but ff we get more fantasy from him I wouldn’t object.
One final note: the artwork in the book is beautiful and adds a lot to the experience. The chapter titles, however, give away a bit too much and I would have not done it that way.