Publisher: William Morrow
Pub. Date: 2009
Genre: Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars
I was interested in the concept of a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, and I hoped it would be good if Gregory Maguire wrote it. The result, Matchless, is not good. It’s barely okay.
Let’s talk about the biggest difference between this retelling and the original tale. It’s not just the Little Match Girl. This book adds a young boy named Frederick who cares for his poor mother and plays with toys made of bobbins. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have him play a role that is nameless in the original. That is okay, but where it goes makes it not great.
It turns out that the girl’s death was a series of accidents. It wasn’t society or her father being cruel to her. She just forgot to go home, and some stupid little boy stole her shoe with the key in it. She was just an unfortunate girl who had unfortunate things happen to her on Christmas Eve.
We then add the dead girl’s family to Frederick’s household. There is no real acknowledgement that he contributed to her death. He then ends up a year later trying to find his way home and comes close to death. Luckily, little ghost stepsister saves the day, and he never tells a soul about it. Not the mother he loves. Not the father who is still grieving the deaths of his wife and his daughter. It also has nothing (note the sarcasm) to do with the synopsis’s claim that the original story was “often interpreted as [a metaphor] of religious salvation.”
It doesn’t help that this story was written for radio. In fact, it aired on NPR. While that is a neat fact and could inform most reading experiences, it does not excuse the content. And the illustrations are okay.
I don’t recommend Matchless. It’s a fast read, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it isn’t a good retelling.