A Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley. Fantasy short story collection.
This was McKinley’s second book. It continued her practice of re-telling familiar fairy tales. Her re-tellings are not modernizations nor are they deconstructions. What all of McKinley’s books have in common is that they are very personal stories. Instead of the grand, sweeping narrative, she focuses on the experiences of individual characters. She is illustrating a perspective on events rather than the events themselves. The story is seen from a different angle. None of the mystery or magic is lost, as often happens in re-tellings that become deconstructions.
A Door in the Hedge has both traditional stories and completely new works. The titular story is thematically old – baby princess is fated to be stolen by fairies, is stolen by fairies, meets fairy prince, their intense love breaks spell. The presentation and the resolution of the story are unique. The prose creates a dreamlike world and unlike many traditional stories, the land of fairy is not a perilous realm of false charms but a land contentment. It is not altogether human but sometimes being altogether human is not necessarily the best thing to be.
McKinley’s versions of The Frog Prince and The Golden Hind were especially striking. They both touched on a theme she returns to in her later works; the idea that beauty can be terrible. That a beauty too great and too pure would be a bad thing and that people or objects that seem too perfect are to be mistrusted. The corollary to this is that plain people, in both appearance and character, are the real people in any world. Those who have simple and pure motivations are capable of the most powerful redemptive actions.
A Door in The Hedge is a must for any McKinley fan. It shows a new author beginning to grow into her own and find confidence in her persistent themes and style. If you have yet to read any of her work this would be an excellent introduction.