Since it's throw back Thursday, I thought it would be fun to do a short review of a fantasy series I loved back in the day, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patrica C. Wrede.
In the past I've been a bit disparaging of high fantasy (after it frankly peaked with The Chronicles of Narnia), but The Enchanted Forest books circumvents this judgement entirely with its fun take on the genre. On top of its novelty, it's a well written middle-grade book with excellent female role models that avoid the tired and unrelatable strong woman = warrior trope.
The setting of the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is almost comically on point for high fantasy, so much so that the series often borders on satire. There are princesses, knights, dragons, witches, wizards, talking frogs (you get the point), which could sound really boring, except Wrede is very talented at turning fairy tale convention on its head. She's also quite good at maintaining the spritely, yet somewhat stern tone of the story.
The series begins (chronologically anyway) with Dealing with Dragons, in which we are introduced to the Princess Cimorene, a young woman who'd rather learn fun skills like latin, fencing, and cooking than mope around waiting to marry a prince. On the advice of a frog, she runs away with an ample supply of handkerchiefs in search of a dragon to work for as a sort of housekeeper/librarian. She meets such a dragon, the great Kazul, and finds that she's quite good at the work. As she makes new friends, she also helps uncover a conspiracy by a society of wizards to take control of the dragon kingdom.
The subsequent books in the series focus more on Cimorene's future husband, the king of the Enchanted Forest (a land that is made of magic itself), her good friend, the witch Morwen, and finally her son Daystar, who returns back to the Enchanted Forest after it has been taken over by wizards.
One of the things I always liked about The Enchanted Forest Chronicles was the series's emphasis on being polite and practical. In Wrede's universe, you don't really get ahead by being smart, or powerful, or brave. You mostly have to remember to offer your handkerchief to that troll so he might be thankful enough to not eat you. I guess common sense and decency isn't something we see valued very often in literature, but those traits are what distinguishes the most fundamental rules of The Enchanted Forest. It's not a heavy handed lesson, but it's still a good message. Want to get ahead in life? It pays to be polite.
I also enjoyed the range of magic systems, which were simple and varied enough to be quite interesting. Dragons have their own intrinsic magic that can't be learned by anyone else. The Enchanted Forest is magic itself. The King of the Enchanted Forest can see this magic as a collection of interconnected threads and webs that he can tug and pull to make things happen. And the Wizards are always trying to sneak inside the Enchanted Forest, because although they can't make magic, their staffs can physically absorb it to give them powers. Unfortunately, this absorption property sucks the magic dry from the Enchanted Forest, physically killing it. Morwen and her magician friend, Telemain, use magic in the Harry Potter sense; they learned it at school.
Anyway, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are fun, different, and well-written. I started reading them when I was in the 4th grade and I think that was a very age-appropriate time to read them. I picked them up again, a few years ago, and they still held up really well because of the strength of the fantasy concepts.
I think girls, ages 8-12, would enjoy these books the best. With Christmas approaching (!!!!!!!!!!) I may give this set to a friend of mine who has a young daughter. They read voraciously together, and I could see it as the perfect set of books for them to share.
Did you read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles when you were a kid? Were you as obsessed with those books as I was?
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