Shannon Hale’s follow-up to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone picks up the story of Miri, a girl whose smarts and sense of fairness have just brought a new age of prosperity to Mount Eskel, a remote area of Danland. She’s also destined to serve the princess-in-waiting and her dear friend, Britta, who has recently sent for her to come to the royal city of Asland. I’m delighted that Shannon Hale will be visiting with her fans via a free live-stream event on October 1, sponsored by Bloomsbury Children’s Books (register here), and that she took time to answer a few questions about her latest book.
Miri lives a fairly simple life in Mount Eskel and is excited to be going to Asland. You grew up in Utah, and have lived there most of your life. Did Miri inherit some of that “young girl in the big city” feeling from you?
Miri and I share a lot of traits, but I never felt geographically isolated as she was. The Salt Lake Valley, where I grew up, is home to a million people. But like most people, I do have experience in personal isolation. I certainly have felt lonely, weird, different, unlovable. It wasn’t hard for me to imagine Miri’s situation.
I am completely dependent on the mountains for directions. Whenever I go to a flat place, I wonder how the locals find their way or know where’s the north? You’re right, whenever I come home, I feel like the first welcome I get is from the mountains. There they are, where they’re supposed to be, so big and gorgeous and immovable.
Miri is a truth seeker, and at first, her naïveté leads her to trust some people with questionable motives. Yet her ongoing education in the Queen’s Castle slowly reveals how truth can be manipulated.
I think elections provide an excellent opportunity to study how facts can be fluid, stories told from different perspectives, narrators unreliable. I don’t think anyone in Miri’s world or ours is making choices motive-free, and it’s tough to uncover all the facts and the pure motives behind actions. But I think what resonates most with Miri is “the best solutions don’t come through force” and “truth is when your gut and your mind agree.”
The painting in Master Filippus’s classroom, which brought to mind Vermeer’s famous “The Milkmaid,” makes quite an impact on Miri.
How astute of you! I was indeed inspired by “The Milkmaid,” although the painting in the story is a bit different. Our girl is looking up, out the window, and there’s a moon. Using the painting was an opportunity to check Miri’s progress through the story–how her reaction to the unchanging painting revealed her own opinions and internal battles. I love how art reflects us back at ourselves.
How do American kids react to your exploration of monarchy, and revolution? Do you think they recognize their own country’s history?
As I wrote Palace of Stone, I was aware that kids in the U.S. would have already studied the American Revolution and be predisposed to think well of the idea of revolution. The revolutionaries would naturally be in the right! But then again, kids in the U.S. also tend to have a fascination with royalty and a longing to know or be a prince or princess. I suspected they might be as torn between the two as Miri is. I’ll be curious to hear if readers in the U.S. react differently to the story than readers in other places, like the U.K., France, or Russia, where revolution and monarchy are discussed very differently in history class.
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