THE LAND BEYOND by Maria Gripe


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Even more ethereal than last year's Glassblower's Children, this concerns a clear-eyed explorer, a young skeptic king and a misfit princess (she is both near-sighted and left-handed) who discover for themselves, and metaphorically in themselves, a land beyond any charted on maps or globes. To make the most of her symbolic ""land beyond,"" Gripe gives us two versions of the same story: first, a shimmering but rootless fairy tale, then a much longer retelling -- no less polished and abstract but laced with metaphysical asides which reveal the young king particularly as a sort of restless philosopher and the princess as a solitary late bloomer who knows that ""if you want to do something special. . .you have to be unknown to everyone. . . (or) you can become a victim of a myth made out of your own name."" After the princess releases the explorer who has been imprisoned by an old king, her father, and runs away to seek the unknown land, the explorer brings news of that land to the young king -- a ruler disgruntled with his advisers because they will not give him an honest answer to a question as simple as ""how many people they think pick their noses."" In both variations of the tale the young king discovers the land and the questing princess as well, but not, on the second time around, until there has been a great deal of speculation all round on Gripe's favorite topic, the split between the inner individual and his public, social persona. At one point, the young king uncharacteristically refuses to elaborate on his unease because ""that really gets us into mysticism and identity and all that sort of thing. And it's so damn boring anyway."" Indeed, that's exactly what Gripe does get us into and this mirrorlike tale is definitely not for those who find ""that sort of thing"" a bore. Her exploration of this land, which so many find invisible or even ""nonexistent"" is witty, glancingly profound, elegantly framed into a fable that uses familiar metaphors with a knowing lightness -- for the uncommon reader who can find growing space in a mythical kingdom where, on the surface, nothing happens.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1974
Publisher: Delacorte