Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Door in the Hedge

Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, William Morrow & Company
Copyright: 1981
Reissue: Firebird, Penguin Group, 2003
Genre: Fantasy (Short Stories)

Summary (Back Cover):
--Princess Linadel lives in a kingdom next to Faerieland - where princesses are stolen away on their seventeenth birthdays, never to be seen again. And Linadel's seventeenth birthday is tomorrow.
--Princess Korah's brother was bewitched by the magical Golden Hind, who he chased across the country until he was close to death. Now it is up to Korah to break the spell....
--There is only one being who can help Princess Rana save her kingdom from the evil Aliyander: a common frog. A talking frog.
--Twelve princesses, enspelled to dance through the soles of their shoes every night, have no one to rescue them from their fate...or do they?
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
These four stories really satisfy in so many ways. Robin McKinley has a way of writing a story so that the tone is a kind of storytelling. They sound magical, like fairy-tales, even disregarding all the magic that happens in each one. Besides for that, she describes the worlds of each story so well that you can conjure up an image of each one and you understand all the workings of each, how magic functions in each specific story. She does this so skillfully, though, that even though so much of the story is taken up in description and explanation, you don't feel like saying - get to the story already! She makes the descriptions and explanations a part of the stories. This is part of what contributes to the storytelling feel. You can almost hear someone saying, "Come, children, and I will tell you the story of..." before each story.

Of course, the language is another contribution to the fairy-tale quality of these stories. The author uses the ancient- and mystical-sounding language common to old fairy-tales, both in the narration and in characters' dialogue. The great thing about it is that she balances the archaic sound with contemporary speech patterns so that the reader is not slowed down by the different language, but just enough magical quality is injected in the language.

And of course, what drives all of Robin McKinley's books - the characters. In these four stories, as in most fairy-tales, the focus is on the story, the magic, not the characters. But even so, the characters are vivid and individual, not flat or stock characters as in many stories of this sort, and the reader can empathize with each character's story and dilemma.

My favorite of these four is "The Princess and the Frog." I found myself holding my breath in fear when Rana faces Aliyander, and that, I think, is the mark of a great story - making the reader feel along with characters so strongly.

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