With all the fairy tale lists I’ve been doing, it seemed like a good idea to bring up a book that isn’t based on a fairy tale, but that has many elements of fairy talew written into the plot. (Hmm. That may be another booklist. Oh dear.) Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede is a fun, humorous adventure that feels a bit like a fairy tale, with fairy godmothers, princess-taking dragons, magic frogs, and questing princes…but it’s so much more!
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Cimorene is the youngest daughter of the King of Linderwall. Her six older sisters are each beautiful, with long golden hair and sweet dispositions, but Cimorene has jet black hair and…well, people who are trying to be polite say that she’s stong-minded. (In other words, she’s as stubborn as a brick.) Her sisters love their lessons on deportment, dancing, embroidery, and etiquette. Cimorene would rather learn to use a sword, cast a magic spell, speak Latin or cook cherries jubilee. Each time her parents discover her learning something that’s not within the realms of princess behavior, they protest. “It just isn’t done!” they tell her, and stop the lessons. Each time, Cimorene finds a new person in the castle to teach her a new skill, until she’s stopped again.
When she turns sixteen and her tutoring sessions on economics and juggling have been discovered and forbidden, Cimorene is bored again. With only etiquette and dancing lessons to look forward to, she summons her fairy godmother to help her find something interesting to do. But the fairy godmother has been talking to her parents, and instead encourages her to enjoy her heritage of being a princess. Totally disgusted, Cimorene sends her away, and tries to find another new skill or interesting topic to learn about. Causing trouble around the palace doesn’t quite work the way she planned though; Cimorene learns that her parents have arranged for her to be married to the very dull, very boring Prince Therandil…before her next birthday!
What’s a contrary princess to do? After a confrontation with Prince Therandil and an encounter with a talking (and possibly enchanted) frog, Cimorene decides to run away. Following the frog’s advice, she makes her way to a mysterious hut down the road, outside the walls of Linderwall. There, she encounters…dragons.
Although several of the dragons want to eat her, Cimorene argues her case quite well, and ends up volunteering to be the princess of the dragon Kazul. The other dragon’s don’t approve, since “it’s just not done!” but neither Kazul nor Cimorene listen to them. She returns with Kazul to her cave, and sets up housekeeping. Her duties will include organizing and cleaning Kazul’s treasure hoard, repairing those items that need repair, and cooking Kazul’s meals.
Life with Kazul is definitely more interesting than Linderwall! By the end of her first week, Cimorene has already sorted the piles of treasure for further examination. By the end of the second week, she’s dealing with knights coming to “rescue” her. By the end of the third week, she’s met three captive princesses, had a friendly visit from a witch and dealt with some smarmy sorcerers. And that’s just the beginning of her life with Kazul as a dragon’s princess.
When Kazul decides to run for the title of King of the Dragons, Cimorene finds herself in a whole new level of trouble. Now, she has to discourage knights, expose evil sorcerers, and learn magic to protect herself, her new friend Alianora, and even Kazul. There’s also a death curse cast on her, and a bit of match-making to do. It’s a tall order, but Cimorene has the motivation and skills to succeed!
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I just love this book! Dealing with Dragons was originally published in 1990, and was popular right from the start. It is on my personal top ten list of books everyone (but every girl, especially) should read. Cimorene is a great heroine and fantasy character, and a wonderful alternative to all the cartoon movie princesses that seem to be everywhere. And she’s funny! Her dry observations of the magic creatures and situations around her will make readers smile. Cimorene is intelligent, determined and just a little bit sarcastic. Every time something new comes at her, she figures it out how to deal with it in a new and creative way. She doesn’t let anything stop her!
Kazul the dragon is also a great character in her own right, powerful and caring. The supporting female characters like Morwen the witch and Alianora, another dragon princess, are individuals with their own stories and reactions to situations. And even though I haven’t mentioned any of the male characters in this book, they run the gamut from the strong Stone Prince to the goofy but well-meaning Prince Therandil.
There are three other books in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles about Cimorene and her further adventures after Dealing with Dragons—Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. The first two are about Cimorene, the last one about her son, Daystar. Actually, Talking to Dragons was the first story of the four to be written, published in 1985. Although you can read it as a stand-alone, it does work best as the final book in the series. There have been rumors about more stories set in The Enchanted Forest, but so far, nothing. If one ever comes out though, I’ll be first in line to buy it–one copy for me, two for the library!
Dealing with Dragons has been so popular in our collection that we’ve worn out at least three hardcover copies, and several paperbacks. It’s a great read-aloud for groups and families. Some of the elements of fairy tales coming into the story make it familiar to younger readers, and Cimorene’s character makes older readers enjoy the wit and different take on those elements. We have The Enchanted Forest collection in both our juvenile and teen sections, and the story is great for readers in grades four through eight.
Try Dealing with Dragons, and see what you think. I bet you’ll be looking for the next book in the series as soon as you finish!