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A Tale of Two Castles

Review

A Tale of Two Castles

CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A follows the adventures of Philemon, a teenager living in France in the 1960s, after he falls down a well and finds himself on a strange island that is the first A in the word Atlantic. This island is filled with everything from exploding clocks to growing houses. This issue, written by author and illustrator Fred, was followed by a dozen or so more Philemon comics. This is the first time a Philemon comic has been translated into English from French. 
 
Although CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A may at first glance seem like a simple, amusing and imaginative comic, there are many references to Greek mythology, literature and cultural icons. These references are spotlighted in this TOON Graphics edition with extra materials explaining the origin of characters' names, magical creatures and pointing out a few similarities between the comic and other works of literature. But not all references are explained in this edition, and perhaps some of them were not even noticed by those who wrote the extra materials! For example, while I was reading CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A, I noticed that on page 23, there is a strange plant that resembles a dog sitting next to a gramophone. It took me a minute to realize that the plant resembled the cultural icon Nipper the dog, who listens to his master's voice through a gramophone. The author introduces items like this one to provide additional humor.
 
Although CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A may at first glance seem like a simple, amusing and imaginative comic, there are many references to Greek mythology, literature and cultural icons. 
 
One part of CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A that I found puzzling was the fact that throughout the comic, Friday, a centaur and Bartholomew's servant, is treated as less than equal to Philemon and his fellow castaway Bartholomew. From signs proclaiming "Centaurs not admitted!" forcing Friday and other centaurs to use a different entrance to Bartholomew's house to Philemon's comment where he assured Bartholomew that "By Sunday you'll be over it" after Friday and Bartholomew saw each other for possibly the last time, it was clear that Friday is not viewed by the other characters as an equal. Even Friday's occupation suggests that he is inferior. I'm not sure what statement the author meant to make with these interactions, if any. My interpretation is that even in the most magical, strange or fantastic of worlds, prejudice and similar evils exist. But it confuses me that Philemon, the protagonist (whose best friend is a donkey, meaning he can't have anything against equines), is also treating Friday this way. If Philemon had stood up for Friday, CAST AWAY FOR THE LETTER A would have given a powerful message. I don't know if the way Philemon and Bartholomew interact with Friday or other centaurs will change in future comics.
 
Overall, CAST AWAY ON THE LETTER A was a quick, fun and creative read. It is one of those books where you can read it a second time and notice something you didn't see the first time. It could be enjoyed by younger readers. They may not understand all of the humor, but someone of any age will enjoy the brightly colored drawings of both real and imaginary scenery.  

Reviewed by Rachel B., Teen Board Member on September 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Castles
by Gail Carson Levine

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2012
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0061229679
  • ISBN-13: 9780061229671