The Door in the Hedge: Robin McKinley Is The Queen of Retelling Fairy Tales

Note: This will be my last post for a few weeks because 1.) I’m going to be out of the country and 2.) I’m running out of reviews and need to start stockpiling again. Expect my next post around the end of January/beginning of February.

The Door in the Hedge is written by Robin McKinley. It was published in 1981 by Greenwillow Books. It is a collection of four fairy tales, two original, two retold. McKinley’s website can be found here.

Genre: Fantasy

Summary/Blurb:

“She took a deep breath and stepped through the door of the hedge.” Thus does Robin McKinley take her “lost princess” into Faerieland—and the reader with her. Of the four stories included here, two are original: “The Stolen Princess,” a story built around the foundling theme, and “The Hunting of the Hind,” which deals magically with love and enchantment. “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” are superb re-creations of two favorite stories.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“The trees that surrounded her meadow and met over her head grew to a great height, with the proud arch of branches that reminded her of elms; but the luminous quality of the bark was like no elm she had seen. They stood in a ring around her, although she lay near one edge, the nearest tree being only a child’s somersault away, while the one opposite was several bounds distant for the fleetest deer; and she wondered if deer ever came to this graceful tended meadow. Beyond the ring of trees was a hedge: perhaps she was in a kind of ornamental garden; a very grand and ancient garden indeed, that had trees laid out as lesser gardens had flowerbeds, and had been watched over and cared for during so many years that the trees had grown to such a size and breadth. The hedge grew higher than her head, although no more than half the height of the trees; and it was starred with flowers, yellow, ivory, and white; and she thought perhaps they were responsible for the gentle sweet smell that pervaded the air.

There were arches cut through the hedge, each of them tall enough for the tallest king with the highest crown to pass through without bending his head: four arches, as if indicating the four points of the compass. She looked at each of them slowly, and through them saw more close-trimmed grass, and flowers; through the third a fountain stood in the middle of what looked like a rock garden of subtle greys and chestnuts; and through the fourth she saw—people.”

~McKinley 39

“You’re quite welcome, I’m sure,” said the frog mechanically. “But I wonder if I might ask you a favor.”

“Certainly. Anything.” Even facing Aliyander seemed less dreadful, now the necklace was quenched: she felt that perhaps he could be resisted. Her joy made her silly; it was the first time anything of Aliyander’s making had missed its mark, and for a moment she had no thoughts for the struggle ahead, but only for the present victory. Perhaps even the Crown Prince could be saved….

“Would you let me live with you at the palace for a little time?”

~McKinley 87

“The sighting of the Golden Hind had troubled the Hunt several times in the past two years; troubled, because the sight of her ruined the dogs, deerhounds tall and fleet and rabbithounds resolute and sturdy, for the rest of the day of that sighting. The dogs would not then follow her, nor any other game, but cowered to the ground, or ran in circles and howled. Thus it was that all realized that this Hind, although she was of a color to bring wonder to the cruelest eyes and tenderness to the darkest heart, was not a canny thing; and so mean feared her, and feared that sight of her might prove an omen for more ill than just of that day’s hunting.”

~McKinley 107-108

“What business do you seek at the castle of the King?”

The soldier walked on till he stood inside the barred shadow, in the twilight of the courtyard. He replied; “I seek the twelve dancing Princesses, and their father the King; of him I see the favor of three nights in the Long Gallery, that I may discover where his daughters dance each night.”

~McKinley 161

Cover Art (this cover is way better than the one that was on the book I read)

Warnings: None.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

All four of these stories were wonderful. I enjoyed “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” more than the two original (“The Hunting of the Hind” and “The Stolen Princess”). Perhaps it was the familiarity, perhaps it was the way McKinley handled those two stories, but I did like them more. I liked the way she rewrote them, with stories and events set in the background or in the past that the original fairytales did not have (for example, the back story of the soldier in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and a sinister twist to “The Princess and the Frog”). The original stories were very good as well, for the most part, with that fairytale feel to them. “The Hunting of the Hind,” I think, was based on several fairytales, as the Hind plot itself is not original, I think.

Of course, all four were full of romance and love and rainbows and unicorns (okay, maybe not the last two) and were very cute and warm-feeling-inducing. The signature Robin McKinley style of writing is present in all of them and although I have had my issues with her writing style in the past (such as in Rose Daughter and the Damar books), it fits well here.

What I Didn’t Like:

The romance present in McKinley’s two original stories is not very well-developed (but then again they are fairytales and they are short stories). It’s more of “love at first sight,” which I tend to dislike in general, and it’s very abrupt. I enjoyed “The Stolen Princess” up until Linadel sees Donathor (by the way, these names are totally reminding me of The Lord of the Rings) and then, while I still enjoyed the rest of it, it was to a lesser extent than before. “The Golden Hind” had an even worse “love at first sight” since it happened twice, and the ending was a bit dissatisfying.

I wish we could have seen a bit more of what was going on in the princesses’ heads in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” I would have liked to know more about what the eldest princess thought at the end.

By the way, do you know what “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (which I almost wrote as “Prancing”) reminds me of? That’s right! Entwined!

Overall Review:

The Door in the Hedge is a great collection of fairytales. The romance is abrupt, but it fits the “love at first sight” theme that fairytales generally have. McKinley has a knack for retelling fairytales that carry all the familiarity of the original and yet still have an originality of their own.

Coming Up Next: Physik by Angie Sage

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