by Sarah Beth Durst
“She had a hundred reasons: because Bear had carved a statue of her in the center of the topiary garden, because she could always make him laugh, because he'd let her return to the station, because he won at chess and lost at hockey, because he ran as fast as he could to polar bear births, because he had seal breath even as a human, because his hands were soft, because he was her Bear. "Because I want my husband back," Cassie said.”
Cassie has lived her whole life in her family's arctic research station. Her world is ice and science and tagging polar bears and survival. Her grandmother had told her fairy tales about her mother, the adopted daughter of the North Wind, who was supposed to marry the Polar Bear King but married a mortal instead. The North Wind was so angry that he threw the mother into the land of the trolls, never to be seen again. When Cassie grew up, she realized these were just stories to make her feel better about her mother's death. That is, until the Polar Bear King comes to claim Cassie as his wife. After agreeing to rescue her mother, Bear whisks Cassie away to his ice castle at the North Pole. She and Bear slowly and deeply fall in love, but when Cassie betrays Bear and he is torn from her side, she must brave the frozen wasteland to find him again.
I loved this adaptation of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" even more than East. It is a rather faithful adaptation of the story, though elements are changed and added to enhance the themes Durst draws out of the tale. The story begins strong and ends strong, but when you hit the 3/4 mark, the story is difficult to adapt, as she travels to find Bear and encounters very vignette-y adversaries and friends, but such is the nature of the tale. Durst's adaptation is rooted in a very real exploration of a relationship: two people who love each other but have separate careers, interests, and plans for the future. They struggle and fight and that is what makes the story ring true. It is about coming to terms with who you are as a person and who you are as a couple. Cassie is 18, so she has a lot of growing up to do in a short period of time.
Cassie and Bear, the pillars of the story, are a joy to watch. Bear, unlike most Beasts or Bears or Cupids I have seen in "Beauty and the Beast"/"East of the Sun and West of the Moon"/ "Cupid and Psyche" adaptations, is not brooding or depressed or serious. His actually very loving and silly. They play together verbally and physically, ice skating in the ballroom and bantering back and forth. He cares deeply for Cassie and the polar bears he serves. He is easy to fall in love with. Cassie is smart and brave and stubborn beyond all belief. The amount of pain and suffering she must endure to find Bear is awe-inspiring. She is up there with September from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of her Own Making and Katsa from Graceling as some of the most resourceful badass chicks in literature.
Durst creates a fascinating mythology surrounding Bear and the creatures that help or hinder Cassie. Bear is a munaqsri, a being who cares for a particular species. He takes their souls from them when they die, and gives them to newborns. If they do not transfer a soul into the newborn, the baby is born dead. This element ends up being essential to the journey of Cassie and Bear and critical in the climax. I teared up on the metro as I read it, it is so well-crafted and emotionally satisfying.
I highly recommend this adaptation of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon."
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