Recently, I re-read one of my favorite intermediate series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. The first book is Dealing With Dragons, and explores the life of Cimorene, a princess who is very tired of being lectured on “proper” princess behavior. She runs away to be a dragon’s princess because she can’t take dancing, sewing, or etiquette lessons any longer. Throughout the books we meet a peculiar cast of characters including Kazul the dragon, Telemain the magician, Morwen the witch, and Morwen’s nine cats. Honestly, the cats might be my favorite characters.
There are several reasons why I love these children’s books so much and keep reading them, but I won’t go into full detail in just one blog post–it would be more like a 20 page paper! One of the reasons is that it’s very to the point. There’s no unnecessary details or fluff, but at the same time we still get rich backstory and characters. In just one chapter, we quickly realize how uncommon Cimorene is, how dreadfully common and proper her parents are, and that something must be done or else she’ll end up having to marry a silly prince who only wants to talk about tourneys. By the second chapter, Cimorene’s journey has begun. And the pace keeps up thoroughout the books. Each chapter has a similar problem/solution set up that leads one after another. Now this may sound very simple and boring, but it’s actually quite genius how Wrede pulls it off. The extraordinary humor and wit on each page helps as well.
All of the characters are very likable as well (er, the ones you’re supposed to like at least). Morwen is my favorite. She’s a tart little witch with nine cats and a sign that says “None of this Nonsense, please” above the door of her tidy little house. And she’s very much a no nonsense character which is where most of her humor comes from–that and the one-sided conversations with her cats. Kazul is a very practical dragon with a dry sense of humor. Cimorene is a princess who is extremely bored with proper princess skills and wants to learn things like fencing, magic, Latin, and how to make cherries jubilee. She’s always pointing out people’s faulty logic, especially when they’re doing things just because it’s “proper,” and she’s very helpful to everyone she meets even when she doens’t mean to be–except wizards, of course.
I also adore that all the characters use correct grammar. They say “to whom” when appropriate and “may” instead of “can.” I believe that it’s especially important to get these details right in children’s lit, that way correct English comes more naturally to a younger generation.
And then there are all the quirky things that stick in your head once you’ve read the books. Every chapter title begins “In Which” and then describes it–a trait I often use in blogging and emails now. Soapy water with a hint of lemon melts wizards; not only is it good for cleaning, but it protects you from your enemies! Because of these books, I’ve always thought that a kitchen was cleanest when using lemon scented products. I know, I’m impressionable, but the smell really does just smell cleaner! And whoever heard of a dragon who’s favorite dessert was cherries jubilee?! Also, almost all of the famous fairy tales/nursery rhymes have a cameo in the quartet with a quirky spin on them. McDonald is branching out and growing magic hay for the magic animals that he wants to add to his farm to make things more exotic. Riponzelle really let down a chair, not her hair to haul guests up her tower with no door. And the list just goes on.
Basically, these books are just wonderful in every way imaginable and should be a required bed-time read for all parents and children. Oh, and the most important lesson in the whole series: ALWAYS be polite to dragons.