Dealing with Dragons – Patricia C. Wrede
Magic Carpet Books Harcourt Inc., 2002
There are books you read when you’re little and you love them, but then you get older and can’t quite remember why. You can outgrow them. Then there are books like Margaret Mahy’s The Pirates’ Mixed-Up Voyage, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Alison Uttley’s Rainbow Tales – and Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. If I ever grow out of any of these books, it will be time to look at the path behind me and wonder where on earth I went so wrong.
The kingdom of Linderwall is a traditional sort of place, where princesses learn embroidery instead of Latin and frogs that talk are probably princes under a curse. It is entirely unprepared for Princess Cimorene, who wants to know how to fence and make cherries jubilee. When faced with marriage to a bland young prince hand-picked by her parents, she runs away to live with a dragon and becomes immediately embroiled in a wizardly plot, encountering along the way a witch, a jinn, and frankly more knights than she knows what to do with, none of whom will believe she does not want to be rescued. If anyone is likely to do some rescuing, however, it may well be Cimorene herself…
First published in 1990, Dealing with Dragons – the first book in Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles – has become something of a classic, and deservedly so. I don’t think any girl should grow up without reading this, and generations of boys would probably be more interesting people if they read it too. It cheekily borrows from fairy tales and folk lore alike, including references to The Wizard of Oz, without ever being either obscure or jarringly modernised. Cimorene herself is a marvellous heroine – calm, practical, well-mannered but extremely determined and an all-around useful person to know. Her adventures continue in book two, Searching for Dragons. If you or your kids like Wrede’s style you may also enjoy books by Kaye Umansky, Jean Ure and Lloyd Alexander.