Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The Door in the Hedge came on my radar as I was trolling through the Toronto Public Library ebook website. It was part of the Big Library Read program where the company that handles ebooks for the library, Overdrive, decided to let everyone borrow this book and even provided points of discussion for book clubs. It said that this book was aimed for 10-12 year olds, so I thought it would be a good idea to give it a try. It’s not a novel though; there are 4 short stories in the book. Two of them are retellings of classic tales, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “The Princess and the Frog”, and two of them are originals, “The Stolen Princess” and “The Hunting of the Hind.”
The most straightforward retelling is “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” There isn’t a lot of deviation from the original fairy tale; the reasons for the dancing, though, are that the family is cursed so the antagonist is on the outside. You never meet the person who put the curse on them, but there is an old soldier who gets some help from an old woman he meets on the way in the shape of an invisible cloak. He follows them and gets tokens to show that he’s been there. Instead of marrying the youngest who notices his actions, even if she doesn’t see him, he asks to marry the eldest because he is an older man. This thankfully side steps the issue of the common ending of the soldier marrying the youngest because she was smart enough to notice him.
I thought that, while a lot shorter, the retelling of “The Princess and The Frog” was really good. There isn’t that kind of guilt skeeviness that comes with the traditional story because there isn’t a lesson about things not always being what they appear, or if it is it’s not because the princess can’t believe something as ugly as a frog could be a person. Instead her suitor, Aliyander, is as horrible as she feels that he is. She’s just powerless to stop him because of the magic that he wields. She’s given a gift that she is certain will be the end of her, but she drops that in the pond by accident and the frog recovers it but removes the enchantment that was on it. The princess isn’t inactive either—while the Frog Prince and Aliyander battle she’s the one who runs for the magic that’s left over in the water to destroy Aliyander.
“The Hunting of the Hind” and “The Stolen Princess” are both good, quick tales that really talk about loss. “The Hunting of the Hind” is about a forgotten princess who helps her brother live by freeing the woman he loves from the curse of a wizard. “The Stolen Princess” is about faeries stealing children, and how a princess who is taken on her seventeenth birthday finds her way back to her kingdom and ends up making it strong through love.
The stories are well written, and a great length for bedtime reading or for your tween who loves fairy tales. The language is a little dense, and some of the words and things that are going on might be a little too much for younger tweens who are just getting into chapter books, but if you feel they can handle it then this is a good one to start. There are stories that they recognize, as well as the fact that it’s a bigger book that’s really made up of smaller ones so that finishing a couple of chapters is finishing a story.
Because they are short stories, there’s a lot of quick ramping up of the action and quick endings. If you’ve got a reader who loves details in their stories these are going to frustrate them to no end, but that’s going to be the same with any set of short stories.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The King and the Princesses in the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” don’t look at each other because he’s locked them up, and he’s hurt by the fact that they don’t tell him where they go.
“The Hunting of the Hind” talks about how the King loved his first wife, and married his second wife out of obligation and that’s how he treats his daughter. He loves his youngest daughter with the same kind of obligation. He isn’t mean, just mostly indifferent.
There are good depictions of family in the stories. “The Stolen Princess” wakes up from her kind of slumber because she remembers her love for her family, and the duty she has towards her people. “The Frog Prince” talks about how worried Rana and the King are about Inthur and the spell that Aliyander has on him.
They are fairy tales, so there are lots of weddings that happen, with varying degrees of reason. There is falling in love at first sight for one and years of looking for the other marriage in “The Stolen Princess.” There is an attempt at controlling and forcing their way into a marriage in “The Frog Prince.” There is a “prize wedding” where the soldier wins one of the princesses like a trophy in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” There’s a lot to talk about on this topic, because one thing that fairy tales are littered with is marriage.
This book was a resounding ok. It’s not something that’s going to be amazing and make you want to read all of it, but it does have some good points. This would make great bedtime reading if you’re in the habit of reading to your tweens. If they’re interested in fairy stories then this would make a good suggestion, especially for a precocious young reader, but overall there are more interesting things out there for them to read.
The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
Published by Firebird, reissue edition (2003); Originally published in 1981
Read as an eBook from the Big Library Read