So, Adult Misty and Actual Child Misty walk into a library... stop me if you've heard this one before...
Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
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Published July 1st 1992 by Scholastic, Inc. (first published September 18th 1990)
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.
Over the winter, I just wanted something purely fun and enjoyable to read, so I posted a picture on Instagram asking for people to help me decide between Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle. It was a pretty fiercely fought battle, but in the end, I ended up weighing what everyone had said, reading the first lines of each book (which just made it harder), and somehow deciding to go with Dealing with Dragons. It was really a coin-toss, and I think I would have been happy with whichever way I'd gone, but having read Patricia C. Wrede before, I know that she's able to create characters with personalities that make me smile, and I needed some smiling.
Dealing with Dragons did not disappoint on that score.
Princess Cimorene flips all the fairy tale tropes on their heads. She doesn't want to be a stuffy, staid, safe princess; she wants adventure. She wants to use her brain, use her physicality and do something. She wants adventure, and she's going to have it, dammit. Though the story of Cimorene apprenticing herself to a dragon and being bold and bright and fitting right in in this world that's not thought safe for general humans, let alone girls is a plot that's not really going to surprise today's savvy readers and movie-goers — this is what we look for nowadays, to the point of cliche. I doubt the reader will ever doubt that things will come out right for Cimorene in the end, and that her bravery and left-of-center style will win her friends (and enemies) and accolades. NOW, we're used to this sort of story, but when this was published in 1990, and for many years beyond that, when I was on the hunt for stories like this, they were sadly hard to come by.
Which is why I so very much wish I'd read this as a kid. Adult Misty wanted more, craved a little more development, a little gray area, a little less obviousness, etc. Adult Misty was too busy asking questions like, Well, if she wants to avoid getting married and told what to do all her life, why is she signing up to be a dragon's Princess, where she'll basically be a servant and be told what to do all her life? Adult Misty argued with herself ‐ myself? — that it was all in having a choice, and having a change of scenery, and someone who resepcts her abilities, etc., etc., and when the internal arguing was done, we all agreed (just how many of us are there in there?) that it was about all those things, and adventure besides, and we really didn't care because we liked it, BUT THE THING IS, Actual Child Misty wouldn't have cared one little bit. Actual Child Misty would have eaten this up. Even when I was wanting more from this, I always fully recognized that what was there was exactly calculated to be just right for a young reader. I have a feeling this would have been high on my list of childhood loves and rereads, and I'm disappointed that I didn't have the chance for that to happen when I was a kid.
But regardless of the fact that I would have liked it more as a kid, the fact is, I liked it now. Wrede's style leaves me feeling happy, and this was aided by the surprising humor that is heavily sprinkled throughout the story. Dealing with Dragons helped me reconnect with Actual Child Misty (or, Non-Actual, Inner Child Misty, at least); it made me feel young and adventurous and silly and happy... The characters were all ones I'd want to get to know, each of them — and Cimorene most of all — plucky, brave, vibrant, and so, so very spirited. I would want to go on adventures with each of them... And what more can you ask for of a children's adventure tale?
I suppose it's time I get my hands on the second book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, so I can continue the adventure...