It’s been more than 5 years since I read Dealing with Dragons, the first book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES. I loved the way the story, written in 1990, ridiculed and subverted the princess stereotype. It stars Cimorene, a teenage princess who runs away to avoid marrying a handsome but dull prince. She ends up working as a housekeeper and librarian for a dragon. (Housekeeper and Librarian seem like “female” roles, but at least these are the jobs Cimorene wants to do and she doesn’t shy away from “men’s” work.)
In my quest to finish all the series I’ve started, I read the rest of the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES this week. Searching for Dragons, the second book, gives us a new protagonist. Mendanbar is the young king of the Enchanted Forest. Just as Cimorene isn’t your typical princess (though she’s beautiful), Mendanbar is not your typical king (though he’s handsome). He’s humble, laid-back, and hates pomp and ceremony. He also hates princesses. They’re silly and dumb. They’re blond and blue-eyed. They’re always in distress. And they all want to marry him. And their mothers are obnoxious.
One day while walking through the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar notices a patch of forest that is dying. The magic is gone. Concerned, he seeks help from the forest denizens which eventually leads him to the home of Kazul, the (female) King of the Dragons. There he meets Cimorene. As you’d expect, Cimorene isn’t impressed with the King of the Enchanted Forest, but she ends up working with him when she discovers that Kazul has been captured by some dastardly wizards, the same ones they suspect of meddling with the forest. Armed with an unreliable magic carpet, a leaky magic sword, and some buckets of soapy water, Cimorene and Mendanbar set out to rescue Kazul and get the magic back.
Like Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons is a cute story with an enchanting fantasy setting and a cast of unusual but likeable characters. I expect that most readers, especially children, will wish they could explore Mendanbar’s odd castle (it’s like a lite version of Hogwarts) and the surrounding forest which is full of talking animals. They’ll also wish they could meet the abusive gargoyle on the wall in Mendanbar’s office, the persnickety steward who wants to spruce up the dungeon with a new rack, the giant who’s thinking of retiring from a life of pillaging to become a consultant, a descendant of Rumpelstiltskin who has managed to accumulate a lot of babies to take care of, and the man who’s hoping to abandon his royal nephew in the forest so he won’t get kicked out of the Wicked Uncle Society.
I found all of this fairly entertaining and often quite funny, but not quite as wonderful as Dealing with Dragons. I think that’s because I was no longer surprised and delighted by the feminist slant and the ridicule of fantasy clichés. While that worked so well in the first book, the novelty had worn off a bit and here it was expected rather than surprising. Still, I think most children, who are the target audience, will be pleased with Searching for Dragons.
The 6 hour long audio version of Searching for Dragons features a full cast of actors who perform the story with appropriately silly voices. Kids should love it.
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.