The Door in the Hedge
by Robin McKinley
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted April 15, 2023
Out of print; not listed at Bookshop, but a used copy might be found at Amazon. Also available for Kindle. A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.
The Door in the Hedge is a short, four story collection, by newly named Grand Master Robin McKinley. The image to the right is from the Kindle version, but the title is incorrect. No "and other stories," since there is no story with the title "The Door in the Hedge." Several different bibliographic sites have it grouped with a series I will start next month, Damar, but I am sure that is incorrect. It has more in common with the three Folktales I've previously reviewed. The publisher's synopsis is repeated on other sites, saying it consists of two original stories and two re-tellings, but I'm not sure which fit into which category. The fourth story is said to be a re-telling, but it was not familiar to me, but all four are written as if classic tales.
"The Stolen Princess" is familiar enough, concerning young children stolen in the night and taken to Faerieland. Faeries seemed to prefer boys, and in most cases not the first born of a family, but rather the second or third child. The abduction of girls was not unknown however, but usually only when there were at least two girls in the family. Royal families were not usually targets, mainly because their children were more closely guarded, and royals were more inclined to political acumen rather than the beauty the faeries coveted. Not so in the case of the twin daughters of the King, Alora and Ellian. Ellian was abducted on the eve of their seventeenth birthday, again something unusual, most abductions being of infants. Alora was traumatized by the loss of course, but endeavored not to think about it. Alora became Queen when her parents retired, and many years passed before she and her consort had a child of their own, whom they named Linandel. On the eve of Linandel's seventeenth birthday, she too was abducted. The conclusion of this story is different than others I've read or heard of, but I won't say how.
The second story, "The Princess and the Frog," is also familiar, but again different in its resolution. The frog has been cursed, but his transformation back into human form does not come from a kiss, but something more violent in nature. "The Hunting of the Hind" may be an original story, even if inspired by the poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The Golden Hind has been hunted for generations, with most who have gotten close either never seen again, or else returned out of their minds. Royal huntsmen, even the Crown Prince have failed, but the Princess is able to puncture the veil that leads to the answer of the Hind's purpose. The fourth story, "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," is the longest. The King is puzzled as to how every morning his twelve daughters' shoes are in tatters. Apparently they dance the night away, somewhere the floors are so rough as to ruin their shoes. But where, and why? The main character is a retired soldier, intrigued by the tale as told to him by a village ostler. The King has offered the reward of one of his daughter's hand in marriage for whomever can figure out the secret. The soldier encounters an old woman at a well who tells him what he must do, and gives him the means to accomplish the task. Which he does.
As I said above, there is no story titled "The Door in the Hedge." That is mostly used as a metaphor, of a transition from one reality into another. There is a vast hedge in Faerieland, but to go through it you would pass through an arch, not a door. There is no door, or hedge, in "The Princess and the Frog," and the passages in the other two stories are more magical in nature. If you don't think fairy tales have any worth, then don't bother, but if lyrical prose with beautiful descriptive passages interests you, this is sure to please. I doubt I would have been inclined to read them if not for McKinley's Grand Master Award, but I have enjoyed them, and look forward to more of her work.
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