The motif of stepping into another person's shoes has been developed in a host of tales. A favorite is Mark Twain The Prince and the Pauper, where at the last moment the "mistake" is rectified, the real prince is crowned, and order is reestablished. Ferández Cubas, however, is fond of playing with conventions. In El año de Gracia, which is an ironic rereading of Defoe Robinson Crusoe, she subverts the traditional rite of passage. Although her protagonist is rescued from the desolate island where he has been shipwrecked, he is blighted rather than enriched by his experience there, and his return to society provides neither reintegration nor happiness. Since El año de Gracia is a novel for adults, its intended audience can appreciate the skillful undermining of narrative norms and expectations. In the case of Cris y Cros, the question of audience is less clear. The story seems addressed to two different sets of readers. Those who are older are likely to savor the wry commentaries and ironic ending of the tale. Children and adolescents, less sophisticated and experienced, may be disoriented by the mixed signals transmitted by the text.
The subtitle for Twain The Prince and the Pauper is "A Tale for Young People of All Ages." That same phrase could be appended to Fernández Cubas' El vendedor de sombras and Cris y Cros, narratives that speak to the child in all of us and that hold a special appeal for adult readers. The latter can appreciate the skill with which a gifted writer has breathed new life into formulaic plots and story lines, familiar motifs, and traditional symbolism and has used them as the vehicle for the expression of her continuing concerns as an artist. Those concerns are sharply focused in the texts we have studied. Fernández Cubas has again examined the phenomenon of doubleness and the relationship between ego and alter ego, self and other. She has played with narrative conventions, has subverted expectations, and has celebrated the art of storytelling, fantasy, and the power of the imagination. Centuries ago St. Matthew warned men of the folly of putting new wine into old bottles, but in the case of this contemporary woman writer, the action is to be applauded, for the result is an intoxicating, sparkling brew.
Fernández Cubas, Cristina. Cris y Cros, seguido de El vendedor de sombras. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1988.