Kathryn's Reviews > The Door in the Hedge

The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
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Oct 09, 2011

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bookshelves: fantasy, fairy-tales-reimagined, 2012-reads
Read in March, 2011 , read count: 1

One of the problems with books today is that the literary establishment looks down on genre fiction. If your fiction is fantasy or science fiction or mystery or romance or something else readily classifiable, the thinking goes, it is not literary and therefore inferior. And, of course, modern authors are expected to include any amount of “intimacy” in their novels. So someone like Robin McKinley, who writes fantasy and typically doesn’t get graphic, gets classified as a young adult genre author, which is pretty much the kiss of death as far as “literary critics” are concerned – no matter how good her writing actually is. (She has won a Newbery, though, which counts for a lot.) It’s frustrating.

Anyway, I’m quite fond of genre fiction myself, particularly fantasy and especially retellings of fairy tales, and Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. The Door in the Hedge is a collection of four short stories, two of which are retellings of old fairy tales (“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “The Princess and the Frog”) and two of which could readily be classified as fairy tales themselves* (“The Stolen Princess” and “The Hunting of the Hind”). McKinley is a master of the fairy tale; all four stories feature classic fairy tale imagery and themes. As someone who has unredacted Grimm** on her bookshelf and the whole rainbow of Andrew Lang on her Nook, I LOVE fairy tales and will never get tired of them. I definitely recommend Robin McKinley in general and The Door in the Hedge in particular to fellow fairy tale lovers.

Postscript: A random observation that doesn’t fit anywhere else: The most notable element of these stories is the enhanced role of the female characters (even in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”; it’s subtle, but it’s there). McKinley is well-known for her dislike of the wilting flower type common in older books (*cough*edgarriceburroughs*cough*), and typically writes strong female characters like Aerin and Harry (short for Angharad). Honestly, as a kid, I never noticed this emphasis – I just thought of Aerin as a hero, regardless of gender. Shouldn’t we all strive to be brave and honest and true, regardless of what dangly bits we do or do not have? And I think McKinley generally feels the same way; unlike Tamora Pierce, McKinley can present a female character without having to constantly remind you that LOOK! A GIRL IS DOING STUFF ONLY BOYS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO! LOOK HOW SUBVERSIVE I’M BEING! (Not that I don’t like Tamora Pierce, but I found the “grrl power” motif in the Lioness Quartet very annoying.)

*The definition of the term “fairy tale” as a literary categorization of the broader genre of “traditional stories” isn’t entirely agreed-upon. Me, I know ‘em when I see ‘em.

**If the wicked stepmother gets forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she falls down dead, it’s unredacted. If she’s given a stern warning and sent to her room to think about what she did, not so much.
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05/20/2016 marked as: read

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