• Nina Clare

The Door in the Hedge by Robin Mckinley (1981)

Updated: Jul 10

This is a collection of four stories of various lengths. Two are original fairy tales, and two are retellings. I generally prefer full length novels, but I’ve read so many good novellas of late that I thought I’d give these short stories a read, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Stolen Princess is the first of Mckinley’s original fairy tales: In the last mortal kingdom, before Faerieland begins, there is a blessing in the land that makes it richer in produce and more beautiful than other mortal lands, but there also lies a shadow of fear and grief, for now and then a child disappears. Baby boys vanish from their cradles, and daughters disappear from their beds when they reach a marriageable age. No one knows where the children go, whether they are treated well or if they suffer and grieve for their families. The only thing that is known is they have been taken by faeries. When the beloved princess is taken from her palace bed, the king and queen refuse to accept their loss, and they venture forth to find their daughter in the unseen land of Faerie.

I thought this was an enchanting tale, bringing to life the fairyland that I longed to see as a child - not a dark faerie world, but a beautiful, magical one, reminiscent of the mystery of heaven - the place of otherness that stirs the imagination. In this story it is the power of the love of mother, daughter and sister that breaks through the invisible boundary between the worlds, bringinging unity and ending the cycle of grief.

The Princess and the Frog is a short retelling of The Frog Prince. There’s no frog-kissing in this version but the familiar motifs are present, such as the frog aiding the princess in return for the right to live with her at the palace. In this story there is a malevolent force at work that only the princess and the frog can overcome together to achieve a Happy Ever After for themselves and the kingdom.

The Hunting of the Hind is another original fairy tale, and tells the story of a beloved prince and an overlooked princess: When the crown prince and his men go out to hunt, their hunt is sometimes brought to a fearful end by the appearance of a golden hind. Beautiful though the hind is, terror and madness are in her wake to afflict those who attempt to ride after her. When the prince himself is brought to the brink of death by his pursuit of the hind, only one person in the kingdom - the young princess - has the courage to seek to unravel the mystery of the hind and try to break its curse that the prince might be saved.

A romantic tale of virtue, and of true love as the power to end curses; it's the third story in this collection where it is the princess who does the saving.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is the final and longest of the stories: A retired and lonely soldier hears of the mystery of the twelve daughters of the king. A chance encounter with an old woman, who gives him a cloak of invisibility, causes him to take his chances and attempt to solve the mystery. The reward for achieving this is the hand of a princess and the inheritance of the crown. Every man thus far has failed, and has never been the same again.

The familiar and beloved story is retold from the point of view of the soldier. Mckinley’s version employs her usual striking, sensory language, creating the mystery and atmosphere of the story while presenting the soldier as a humble and true hero.

Four beautifully written stories set in magical, fairyland worlds, and suitable for all ages.