Warning: Contains spoilers for previous books in this series: Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons.
Calling on Dragons is the third book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES series for young readers. I loved the first book, Dealing with Dragons, for its fun quirky plot, but mainly because of the way Wrede turned the princess and fantasy tropes on their heads. Princess Cimorene decides she does not want to do princess things such as etiquette and embroidery, and she doesn’t want to marry a silly handsome prince, so she runs away and becomes the right-hand man of the King of the Dragons (who happens to be female). I found this refreshing for a children’s fantasy story written in 1990.
Wrede does it again in Searching for Dragons, this time with a male protagonist, Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest. He doesn’t want to marry a silly princess. When he meets Cimorene, he knows he’s found the right woman and after they save the Enchanted Forest from the evil wizards, they get married.
Now, in Calling on Dragons, Cimorene is pregnant and those sneaky wizards are at it again. They’ve stolen Mendanbar’s magic sword and a quest is formed to get it back. The usual characters are involved, but this time they’re accompanied by nine talking cats and a bunny named Killer who is 8 feet tall due to a magic spell gone awry. The plot, which takes a while to get going because of all of the talking, planning, and jesting that comes first, is exceedingly silly. The jokes tend to be puerile and have become repetitive. It was funny the first time Cimorene melted a wizard with a bucket of soapy water with a little bit of lemon juice in it, but this gimmick is becoming tiresome. The magical laundry basket seems like just another version of the magic carpet from the last book. I loved it the first time a princess refused to be rescued by handsome heroes, but I’m kind of over that now.
I also didn’t believe the ending at all. I can’t tell you why without spoiling plots, but I’ll just say that the solution at the end was arrived at quickly and it seems like there were so many better options. I think the problem is that the last book, Talking to Dragons, was actually published first and the “first” three books were written as prequels later. So, this bizarre occurrence at the end of Calling on Dragons is a set-up for what is now the final book. It’s awkward and nonsensical, but I guess it can’t be helped. Perhaps the children of the target audience won’t be as disturbed about it as I (a mother) was.
I guess it’s pretty obvious that for me, a middle-aged feminist, the charm of the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES was the way that Wrede subverted gender stereotypes and ridiculed fantasy clichés. Now that the novelty of that aspect of the series has worn off, what’s left is a rather silly story with talking cats, a giant bunny, and a blue levitating donkey.
I’ve been listening to the full-cast audio productions of the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES. Mostly I’m very pleased with the performance, though in this book, I found the voices for some of the characters to be slightly annoying. The bunny, who whines constantly that he’s hungry, grated on my nerves, but this was probably intentional. One of the cats is given a “hillbilly” type voice, which I found completely inappropriate. Cats are much too dignified to sound like hillbillies.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles — (1985-1990) Young adult. A boxed set is available. Publisher: Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart… And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon… and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.