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Leaky Swords and Dragon-Dealing Princesses
An "Enchanted Forest Chronicles" book review
Fairy tales are the stuff of childhood. Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk , and Cinderella (just to name a few) are tales that most children grow up reading. These stories are thrilling, romantic, and full of dastardly deeds and rousing tales of heroism. However, they’re also full of predictability. The fact that so many of these stories share common plotlines, settings and characters, makes a good story of it’s own. And Patricia C. Wrede did, making her Enchanted Forest Chronicles one of the best fantasy tales I’ve ever read. The four books in the series take on all of the classic fantasy clichés and turn them into something fun and original.
Book 1. Dealing With Dragons
This first installment of The Enchanted Chronicles series is all about a princess named Cimorene. Tall and black-haired instead of being blonde and petite, preferring to fence, cook and learn Latin instead of pursuing suitable princess habits, Cimerone is exactly the opposite of what a proper princess should be. Strong minded and independent, she stubbornly refuses to marry just to please her parents. Instead, she runs away to seek a life of adventure and freedom, and quickly finds a place where her ‘special talents’ are exactly suited. Cimerone becomes the princess of Kazul the dragon, an extraordinary role of servitude no one had ever volunteered to perform before. Cimerone enjoys her new job; as princess to Kazul she is expected to perform tasks based on her talents. She cooks, cleans and studies in the library, becomes friends with many eccentric people (such as a witch named Morwen, a fellow princess and a stone knight), and tends to the needs of her dragon. Unfortunately the new world Cimerone enters into is full of unpleasant surprises as well. The evil schemes of the neighboring wizards threaten to prematurely end Cimerone’s happiness, and the unwelcome rescue attempts of numerous knights and princes quickly become tiresome. Cimerone finds more excitement than she knows how to deal with; a situation amplified further when she uncovers a sinister plot that targets the King of the Dragons. But with a little help from her friends and some handy pails of soapy lemon-water (guaranteed to melt wizards), Cimerone proves that she has found the place she belongs.
Book 2. Searching for Dragons
The second installment in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles follows a new character, Mendenbar, King of the Enchanted Forest. As king, Mendenbar is able to connect to and manipulate the magic of the forest in ways no one else can. But that doesn’t make his royal job any easier. The balls, parties and social gatherings that he is invited to quickly drain his energy and his patience, for Mendenbar dreams of a simpler life. Sneaking away from his persistent elfin assistant, Mendenbar decides to take a walk in his ever-changing forest home (the border of the Enchanted Forest has an annoying habit of shifting constantly), and promptly happens upon a mystery. Discovering that portions of the lush forest are being drained of their magic and turned to barren wasteland, Mendenbar is determined to stop the threat to his beloved home. His purpose takes him on a journey that changes his life forever, and introduces him to characters that readers of Dealing with Dragons have become quite familiar with. Teaming up with Cimerone to search for Kazul, now King of the Dragons and who has mysteriously disappeared, Mendenbar begins a series of adventures that includes his special sword (a unique weapon that has a magical connection to the Enchanted Forest, and it can’t stop leaking magic outside of it’s home) and a malfunctioning magic carpet decorated with pink teddy bears. Along the way they melt a few wizards with the infallible soapy lemon-water trick, encounter a few new interesting personalities, and help save the Enchanted Forest from the havoc of their enemies.
Book 3. Calling on Dragons
Continuing the fun and entertainment is the third book in the series. This time the main character is Morwen, Cimerone and Kazul’s witch friend. Morwen isn’t like other witches; she isn’t evil, ugly, or old, she grows flowers and useful plants in her garden instead of harmful ones, she has nine colorful cats instead of the traditional singular black one, and her apple tree grows ordinary apples instead of poisoned ones. In fact, she is so untraditional that Vamist, a campaigner for the conventional ways of witches, singles her out. But Morwen doesn’t have time for Vamist’s quibbles about her lack of normalcy, many stranger things are happening in the Enchanted Forest. Mendenbar and Cimerone, King and Queen of the forest are in danger from the Society of Wizards once again. Mendenbar’s magical sword has been stolen and magic is being stolen from the forest in greater amounts than before. Morwen must help her friends recover the sword, defend the forest and eliminate the wizards for good because soapy lemon-water only melts them temporarily. This time the adventures include a rabbit named Killer who has a few too many enchantments happen to him (throughout the story he is turned into a blue six-foot-tall donkey, insubstantial and able to float), some of Morwen’s highly opinionated cats, a temperamental fire-witch and the unpleasant effects of a tired magician’s magical spells. Saving the Enchanted Forest doesn’t get any easier each time around.
Book 4. Talking to Dragons
The concluding book in the fantastic Enchanted Forest series focuses on the adventures of Daystar, the son of Cimerone and Mendenbar. Thrust into the world on his own at the young age of 16, Daystar is told that he has an extraordinary destiny. Given only a magical sword for his journey, Daystar learns that he must save the imprisoned King of the Enchanted Forest with it. Away from home and surrounded by enemies, Daystar’s journey involves learning what readers of the previous three books already know. He befriends a fire-witch named Shiara, a talking lizard, a baby dragon, and meets a host of characters from the previous stories. Daystar must undo all the trouble that the Society of Wizards has done to the Enchanted Forest and rescue the King of the Enchanted Forest from their evil spell. It’s a lot of pressure and expectation to put on a young man, but Daystar is the son of Cimerone and Mendenbar… the power to accomplish these tasks is in his blood.
I’m a recently introduced reader of these stories, but I’ve become one of its biggest fans. This series is one of the most charming and entertaining I’ve ever read, full of intelligent characters and humor. I loved reading them and couldn’t put them down until they were finished. Once I had completed the series I was anxious to introduce others to them, and enjoyed explaining the stories to my family and friends.
These books are appropriate for all audiences, and unless the aspect of magic offends you, I can’t find any reason for not recommending it. However, I think that some of the humor might be lost on children, or any reader unacquainted with popular fairy tales. A great deal of the comedy comes from the very modern main characters and their interactions with characters bearing the stereotypes of classic tales. But the way this series handles clichés should be enjoyable for audiences familiar with the source material.
For example, every fairy tale has a damsel in distress of some kind, and the author is not ashamed to exaggerate that fact in her stories. While Cimerone, Shiara and Morwen (Patricia C. Wrede’s leading ladies) are intelligent, virtuous and able to take care of themselves, they often encounter other women who are not so independent. Throughout all four stories they encounter princesses, fair ladies and damsels who exhibit a tendency to swoon, flirt, make nuisances of themselves and attract trouble. Sometimes they are accompanied by princes and knights whose sole ambition in life is to win the hand of a princess, slay a dragon, prove himself a hero, or win fame and fortune. Also, when there is a handsome couple on a quest, adventure or journey, there must also be a villain of some kind.
Evil wizards, witches, beasts and people of malicious intent are always found on such adventures. But no one ever stops to ask them what their side of the story is or why they are evil in the first place. Every villain has a motive, whether it is selfish gain, fame, fortune or simply the love of evil schemes. And sometimes they aren’t as evil as they first appear. In these stories there are purely sinister characters for sure, characters that do bad things with a selfish reason in mind, but there are also characters that are feared for simply being associated with others like themselves. Dragons, witches, uncles and magicians aren’t always evil; some are just oppressed with the weight of their fellow beings’ crimes. Not all dragons eat people to be nasty; some are just hungry. Not all witches have a pointy hat, cackle, make evil potions and own a black cat; some have good intentions, own many cats, grow gardens and laugh heartily. Evil uncles are so common that they have formed a society, a society that can be joined even upon expectation (but you have to do something nasty to your niece or nephew eventually to be kept in the society). And not all magicians are out to conquer the world; some are simply interested in the science of magic (in these stories, magic is treated as a science, and magicians are treated as scientists).
As you can see, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles are not a traditional fairy tale. These stories borrow elements from others like them and feature characters, places and settings common to the fantasy genre. But these are stories that are not afraid to make fun of those common elements. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles takes fantasy stereotype and turns it on its head. It features a princess who is expected to be kidnapped by an ogre or giant in order for her betrothed to prove his mettle. This princess lives in a world where all of fantasy’s commonality comes together and blends into something unique. So while I can’t call these stories “altogether original,” there is enough ingenuity to be found here to mark this series as one of fantasy’s best creations.
On a final note, I would like to suggest to those interested, another way of reading these books. The first Enchanted Chronicles book was published in 1985; however, this book was not chronologically the first in the story. Talking to Dragons was published first, and the other three were published as prequels in 1990, 1991, and 1993 respectively. I read these stories chronologically, but after I read Talking to Dragons I realized that one could read that book first and fill in the back stories through reading the previous three. I would make a suggestion to read the last book first and then continue on to Dealing With Dragons, Searching for Dragons and Calling on Dragons, in that order. One can even read them backwards without getting too confused. Whichever way one chooses to read them, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is a fantastic book series that never fails to entertain, delight and impress.