I came across Robin McKinley’s The Door in the Hedge this weekend, when trying to find something else, and said, “Huh. I don’t think I’ve actually read this.” So I read it on the train Sunday.
This is a collection of four fairy tales, two novellas and two shorter stories. Overall, I like McKinley’s novels better, but this was still enjoyable. The first story, “The Stolen Princess,” takes places in the last mortal kingdom before Faerieland, which feels like an early precursor of Spindle’s End. The characters are charming, but I personally find the happiness of the ending ambiguous. “The Princess and the Frog” is short and elegantly oppressive in the way McKinley does so well. The solution to “The Hunting of the Hind” suggests a quite odd emotional landscape, about which I haven’t quite decided what I think. The last of the stories, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” has one brief “what was that?” moment, but is otherwise excellent.
Interestingly, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is the culmination of the tendency of these stories to treat personal names as almost incidental. Everyone is introduced by their personal name in the first, because there are several generations of characters, and thus “Princess” would be supremely unhelpful. In both “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Hunting of the Hind,” the name of the protagonist Princess isn’t mentioned until the second section, and then in dialogue; and in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” apparently no-one has names at all. McKinley manages to walk the line between iconic and personal, though, which I find fairly impressive.