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Into the "Door"
on April 5, 2004
Despite her award-winning original fantasies, Robin McKinley will always be known as the lady who redid the classic fairy tales like "Beauty," "Spindle's End" and others. "Door in the Hedge," recently reprinted by Firebird Books, matches two retold fairy tales with two original stories, with mixed results.
"The Stolen Princess" is a the rather rambly tale of a royal family's difficulties; the queen's aunt was stolen to Faerieland as a girl, and when she marries and has a daughter of her own, the young daughter is also kidnapped. Things get more complicated when old mysteries are solved. "The Hunting of the Hind" tells of a deer-woman so beautiful that she drives men mad, and the princess who is trying to free her. And McKinley presents two old fairy tales given a new spin: "The Princess and the Frog," a story of brotherly treachery, and "Twelve Dancing Princesses," given a darker tinge.
Robin McKinley's writing is better suited to novels than short stories. In "The Door in the Hedge," she does a pretty good job. Not a great job, not even a good job -- just a pretty good one. When it comes to style, her writing is nearly impeccable, but it's in the actual stories told that she stumbles over her own quill pen.
"Stolen Princess" takes forever to move past McKinley's lectures about customs and problems in the kingdom, but moves steadily and well once it gets to Princess Lindanel's kidnapping. This one could easily have been expanded into a full-length book. "Hunting of the Hind" is even better, tight and strong. But the two fairy-tale retellings are stilted and too short.
McKinley's writing is detailed and has some moments that are pure poetry, such as Lindanel's first meeting with the prince of Faerieland, or Princess Korah finding the Hind. The biggest difficulty is the characterizations -- the three last stories are too short for her to develop the characters enough for readers to really like 'em.
Flawed but pretty, "The Door in the Hedge" is a nice read for fans of retold fairy tales. Just don't expect anything like McKinley's usual level of storytelling.