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Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede

Title: Dealing with Dragons
Author: Patricia C. WredeDealing-with-dragons-first-edition
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Age Category: 10+

Fantasy for Young Female Readers

Sixteen-year-old Cimorene is tired of being a princess.  She is fed up with embroidery lessons and etiquette and arranged marriages, and would much rather study magic and sword fighting and Latin. So when a talking frog suggests that she run away from home, that’s just what Cimorene does.  Before long, she finds herself gainfully (albeit dangerously) employed as a dragon’s princess, sorting treasure and brushing up on her Latin and trying out spells to her heart’s content.  But life in the Mountains of Morning isn’t all fun and games–obnoxious, dimwitted knights keep trying to rescue Cimorene, and evil wizards have been popping up all sorts of places they’re not supposed to be.  Everyone knows wizards can’t be trusted; clearly, some sort of nefarious plot is afoot.  With the assistance of an amusingly down-to-earth witch, a rather timid princess, and a stone prince, Cimorene must figure out what the wizards are up to, and stop them, before it’s too late.

SUBJECTIVE APPEAL: A Fun (and Funny) Twist on Classic Fairy Tales

Where do you turn when you’ve read all the classic fairy tales but haven’t yet had your fill of princesses, dragons, witches, genies, enchanted princes, and daring rescues? Welcome to the world of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Chronicles.  While Cimorene and her friends and enemies are all new creations, the story is set in the existing fairytale-verse–the characters chat amiably about their various relatives and acquaintances Sleeping Beauty, George the Dragon Slayer, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Cinderella.  But Wrede gleefully abandons the somber tone of these well-known tales, opting instead for tasteful touches of tongue-in-cheek humor that are somehow both pronounced and subtle.  This is not a broad send-up of fairy tales, but an affectionate embellishment of a beloved genre. In other words, less Monty Python and more Neil Gaiman.

In many ways, Wrede does for the world of fairy tales what Rowling did for the world of magic–she draws our attention to the fact that in a world where reality itself is fantastic, the fantastic becomes . . . mundane.  Just as Harry and Ron had to do their Potions homework and study for Charms exams and shop for school supplies, princesses in Wrede’s world are taught how loudly they may scream when being carried off by a giant, and knights must follow a particular script in challenging a dragon to a duel, lest the dragon be offended by their impertinently casual form of address.  Characters discuss, at length, the difficulty of choosing an appropriate gift to bring to a dragon’s coronation, and what portion of one’s kingdom should be offered as a reward to the man who rescues a princess from danger.  A character is derided for being so foolish as to undertake a certain task even though he is not a seventh son.  And so on.  The end result is a thoroughly charming and delightful read.

DEVELOPMENTAL VALUE:  Girl Power and Good Character

Cimorene is a princess who would make any feminist proud. If The Paper Bag Princess managed to avoid the temptation to bitterness and misandry, she might well have grown up to be Cimorene. Dissatisfied with her feminine lot, she persuades her father’s various retainers to teach her fencing, cooking, magic, and Latin.  When faced with an undesired arranged marriage (and after an unsuccessful attempt to convince her parents that it’s a bad idea), she takes control of her future, thereby discovering a career that suits her down to the ground.  Rather than simply complaining about the injustice of her circumstances, she rolls up her sleeves and changes them.  Once she’s settled in with the dragons, she straightforwardly (but politely) dismisses any and all knights (or princes) who wish to rescue her, insisting that she does not need to be rescued, but is quite happy with her life choices.  She is loyal and brave and helpful and patient.  She is not hostile or disrespectful to men; she is simply competent and content without their assistance.  Sure, she is stubborn and occasionally (as when she runs away from home) disobedient, but she is rarely if ever rude or disrespectful or condescending to those who challenge her independence or who are not interested in seizing such independence for themselves.  In an encounter with some of the other dragon’s princesses, she is frustrated by their attitude but unfailingly polite in her treatment of them.  Where her sisters simper stupidly and whine when they don’t get their way, Cimorene is intelligent, innovative, hardworking, and possessed of more than her fair share of common sense.  She thinks for herself, speaks her mind, and stands up for what she believes in, but she also knows when to keep her mouth shut and doesn’t get sucked into unproductive arguments.  She never comes across as brassy, shrill, harsh, or obnoxious.  And at the end of the day, it is Cimorene who, with her friends, saves the day.

As role models go, young female readers could do a lot worse than Cimorene.  She sets an example not only in her accomplishments, but in her character.  In Cimorene, young readers learn that being an admirable woman isn’t just about pushing boundaries and not letting ‘the Man’ put you in a box.  It’s also about conducting yourself with grace and dignity, caring for and respecting others, and generally behaving like an honorable human being.

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