Saturday, June 03, 2006

Robin McKinley Short Stories

The Door in the Hedge

Robin McKinley's The Door in the Hedge collection consists of four short stories: "The Stolen Princess", "The Princess and the Frog", a retelling of The Frog Prince, "The Hunting of the Hind" and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses, a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

"The Stolen Princess" is set in the last mortal kingdom which borders on Faerie, a place whose inhabitants live with the risk that their baby sons and late teens daughters might be stolen. Queen Alora, whose lovely twin sister Ellian was taken on their seventeenth birthday, gives birth to a daughter late in life and names her Linadel. Alora dreads her daughter's seventeenth birthday, but when the strong-willed Linadel is taken to Faerie, the "door in the hedge" is opened, and both Faerie and humankind are changed forever.

In "The Princess and the Frog", McKinley's princess is a frightened girl in a court that is being menaced by a dark sorcerer prince named Aliyander, to whom her own brother is in thrall. She finds comfort in talking to a large green frog, who seems very sympathetic to her plight and helps her to overcome Aliyander in a rather startling manner.

In "The Hunting of the Hind" a prince falls fatally sick after hunting a beautiful, yet uncanny golden hind. Fortunately, his small half-sister Korah, who has been largely ignored and neglected by everyone except her beloved big brother, rides out to the hunt, and discovers that the hind herself is under a spell. She must then find it in herself to rescue the hind in order to rescue her brother.

In "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", the hero is a soldier who has been prematurely aged by war and is "weary and sad at heart, with a sadness that had no hope in it anywhere." He has heard about the twelve princesses who dance every night until their shoes are worn out and he sets out to see if he discover the mystery. On the way to the King's city, he stops to help an old woman, hauling water from a well for her. In return she gives him a cloak that will make him invisible, and tells him not to drink the wine he will be given by one of the princesses. All he has to do is follow the princesses and bring back some evidence of where they go each night.

Elementals: Water

Elementals: Water is a collection of six short stories, three of which are by Robin McKinley and the other three are by her husband, Peter Dickinson. I have only read the three by McKinley so far: "The Sea King's Son", "Water Horse" and "A Pool in the Desert".

In "The Sea King's Son", Jenny, the only daughter of a farming family becomes engaged to a young man who turns out to be less than suitable, and when she discovers this fact, she flees from his family's farm towards home. But in her distress she forgets the prohibition on land people to use the bridge that connects the two sides of the bay, and the Sea King appears, apparently ready to drown her. She begs him to send her horse and dog home so that her parents will know what has happened to her, and he decides that he will not drown her after all. Jenny is sick for many weeks after her encounter with the Sea King, in part because he touched her in lifting her onto her horse to send her on her way. When she recovers, she goes down to the bridge across the bay, intending to apologise to and thank the Sea King. Instead, she finds his son waiting to see her and an astonishing friendship develops between them.

In "Water Horse", Tamia, the eldest daughter of an inland family, whose step father does not value her, is chosen by the Guardian of the Western Mouth to be her apprentice, to learn the water magic that protects their Island home. Tamia has never seen the sea and is quite convinced that the Guardian has made a mistake, but agrees to learn the water magic. One day, however, her mentor has a stroke and Tamia needs help, but has not yet learned how to send messages to the other Guardians around the Island's shore. She does some magic which she thinks will work, and it does, but unfortunately it also sets free a Horse of Water, which has run wild across the Island is threatening to drown the Island and everyone on it. Tamia discovers that she must be the one who attempts to set everything right again. I found myself wishing this tale was a full length novel, so engrossed did I become and so much more did I want to know about the tale's background.

McKinley's "A Pool in the Desert" disappointed me. It tries too hard to tie a tale of Damar to our world (known as the Homeland) and spoils what is an interesting idea, I feel. Another put-upon, undervalued young woman (McKinley almost seems to specialise in these !) begins dreaming of a desert place, which she slowly discovers is real. Just as she is deciding to try to visit Damar so she can meet in person the man whom she has been dreaming about, she discovers that her dreams are actually about Damar's past (set after Tor and Aerin's age in The Hero and the Crown).

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I added a spoiler-ish review of Charler Butler's The Darkling to the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone (Blogger was on the fritz last night or you would have had today's reviews yesterday !)


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about "A Pool in the Desert," though I felt sorry in a way that she wrote what could have been a novel as a short story. I don't think short stories are McKinley's best thing - I much prefered Dickinson's stories to hers in the Water collection, and found myself muttering "oh, get ON with it, woman" from time to time! And I'm a huge McKinley fan, so don't get me wrong...

Michele said...

Well I'm a big fan too, ever since I first read The Blue Sword twice (finished it and immediately started it again) about 4 years ago... But I do find her habit of trying to fit Damar into everything a bit trying. She mentions its history in Spindle's End and I find it very jarring every time I read the book ! I feel that she tries to tie everything to Damar much as Tolkien tired nearly everything to Middle-earth, but in Tolkien's case it's far more subtly done and works far better.