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by Heather Dixon

by Heather Dixon

My second to final retelling was Entwined by Heather Dixon. While the month started out a little bit weak with my first retelling, it is finishing strong. Both Entwined and Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier (the fourth and final retelling that I’ll be discussing) were very good.

Entwined shares some similarities with Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It is pretty much a straight retelling, that does not include elements from other tales. In this retelling, the 12 princesses are – again – all named after flowers. Ms. Dixon used a rather pleasant little conceit to keep them straight – their names are in alphabetical order. So, we have Azalea, the eldest princess, followed by Bramble and Clover. The remainder of the princesses have names ranging from Delphinium down to Lily.

Entwined is quite a long book, at 472 pages in length. As a result of the length, there is a lot of character development, and matches are made for the three eldest princesses. Each princess has a distinct personality. Azalea, the Princess Royale, is the responsible one, Bramble is wild and unpredictable, and the beauty of the family, Clover, is kind and self-effacing. Even the younger princesses get their own personalities in this retelling.

The story essentially begins with the Queen fading and dying. The King is devastated by the death of his wife, and handles it very poorly, essentially withdrawing from his daughters. His lack of sympathy drives a wedge between him and the princesses, and when he tells them that there will be no more dancing until the year of mourning is over, they rebel and find their way to a secret ballroom beneath the castle. The villain – the Keeper – draws and repels Azalea simultaneously, as he entices the princesses further and further into his web of deceit and magic.

One of the things that I liked about this story is that there is much less princess-saving going on in this book than in many fairytales. In the end, there is collaboration between the princesses and the heroes that results in the saving of the kingdom. But none of the older princesses are the type to sit around fainting and waiting for their prince to save them, thank you very much. They are quite capable of doing at least some of the saving themselves.

Dancing is a significant part of Entwined. All of the princesses love to dance, and Azalea is the most accomplished dancer of the group. Some of the dance names I recognized as traditional dances, some, like the Entwine, I did not and therefore assume that Ms. Dixon made them up. The magic blends well with the story. Overall, I really loved this retelling and would read it again. This may actually be my favorite of the four – which is saying something, because I thought that three out of the four were quite entertaining.

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Princess of the Midnight Ball My second retelling was Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. Full confession time: I had previously read this book, along with the sequel, Princess of Glass. I am a fan of Jessica Day George’s books – they straddle the line of middle grade and young adult quite nicely, in my opinion.

Anyway. Princess of the Midnight Ball is far superior to the first retelling. It is a straight retelling, doesn’t attempt to incorporate elements of other legends or fairy tales, and is the better for it. The twelve princesses in this retelling are all named after flowers: the eldest, Rose, is the most complex. This is a rather odd coincidence, because the princesses in the third retelling – Entwined – are also all named after flowers. However, that is just an aside.

One of the difficulties of a book with TWELVE dancing princesses is that it is difficult to develop twelve distinctly different characters. All of the books essentially chose two or three of the princesses and really focused on them. In this retelling, Rose was the focus of the books, along with her sister, Lily. The middle princesses rather blended together, and the younger princesses were noteworthy mostly for their need to be taken care of by the older girls.

The story is set in the imaginary kingdom of Westfalin, and concerns the long-suffering King Gregor and his twelve daughters who disappear each night to dance for the King Under Stone. The story itself maintained the “supernatural opponents” aspect of the original tale as the main conflict. In this retelling, the princesses do not dance by choice, but because they have been essentially enslaved by their well-intentioned but deceived mother. The main hero, Galen, is a returning soldier. Knitting also plays a rather large part in the tale itself, and the book includes some knitting patterns. Manly or not, our hero, is the knitter. The romance between Rose and Galen develops sweetly and convincingly, and is lovely and age-appropriate. I would not hesitate to allow any fairy-tale loving young reader to read this book.

There is now a third book in the series – Princess of the Silver Woods – which takes place 10 years after the original story, and which presents the youngest princess, Petunia, as the heroine. According to the book description, this one takes elements from Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. It looks like a lot of fun. The cover is just beautiful as well.

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So, I’ve already reviewed one of my retellings for this project, but it occurs to me that I should discuss the original Grimm’s fairytale itself. So, here goes:

Twelve Dancing Princesses

The general story, in summary, involves twelve problematic princesses, each prettier than the last, who sleep in twelve beds in the same room. Each night, their long-suffering – and confused – father, the king, locks them into their room. Each morning, their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king, perplexed, promises his kingdom and the opportunity to wed the daughter of his choosing to any man who can discover the secret within three days and three nights. While this sounds like a potentially good deal, there is a downside: those who fail within the set time limit will be put to death.

An old soldier returned from war comes to the king’s call after several princes’ have failed in the attempt. While traveling he comes upon an old woman, who gives him an enchanted cloak that he can use to observe them unawares and tells him not to eat or drink anything given to him in the evening by any of the princesses and to pretend to be asleep until after they leave.

The soldier is kindly received at the palace just as the others had been and, in the evening, the eldest princess comes to his chamber and offers him a cup of wine. The soldier, remembering the old woman’s advice, pours the wine into a sponge that he has tied around his neck, and pretends to fall asleep. I have attempted to picture how this would work without being observed, and have failed. Nonetheless, this whole sponge trick seems to be an important part of the tale.

The twelve princesses, believing that the soldier is asleep, dress themselves in beautiful dancing gowns and escape from their room by a trap door in the floor. The soldier, seeing this, puts on his magic cloak and follows them. The passageway leads them to three groves of trees; the first having leaves of silver, the second of gold, and the third of glittering diamonds. The soldier, wishing for a token, breaks off a twig of each as evidence, which causes a loud cracking sound that the princesses ignore. They walk on until they come upon a great clear lake, and twelve boats appear with the twelve princesses are waiting. Each princess gets into a boat, and the soldier steps into the same boat as the twelfth and youngest princess. On the other side of the lake stands a beautiful castle, into which all the princesses go and dance the night away.

The twelve princesses happily dance all night until their shoes are worn through and they have to return home. When it comes time for him to declare the princesses’ secret, he goes before the king with the three branches and a golden cup which he has stolen, and tells the king all he has seen. The princesses know that there is no use in denying the truth, and confess. The soldier chooses the first and eldest princess as his bride for he is not a very young man, and is made the King’s heir.

So, there you go. A couple of thoughts:

First of all, for people who haven’t studied folklore, it might come as a surprise to learn that there is a classification system for fairy tales called the Aarne-Thompson Classification System. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is classified as fairy-tale 306, in the “supernatural opponents” category. Other well known “supernatural opponents” fairy-tales include Rapunzel, Bluebeard, and Little Red Riding Hood.

In addition, the original tales have varying levels of murderousness. In the bowdlerized versions, the poor princes are merely banished or disappeared, rather than actually beheaded. However, it is important to note that, at least in the Grimm’s version, the princesses are complicit in the demise of the princes. They are prepared to allow them to be killed before revealing their secret.

I also love the part where the old soldier chooses the oldest princess. Way to go for the age appropriate one, instead of the more youthful one. Thank you, Grimm Brothers, for acknowledging the superiority of the mature princess.

Finally, as is often the case with fairy tales, there are multiple versions from many different cultures, from France to India. The one with the best name is Scottish, and is called Katie Crackernuts. Which is hilarious.

This fairy tale has always appealed to me. I don’t know if it is the strongly visual nature of the story, with the gorgeous dresses and dancing slippers, and the groves of trees, or what, but I remember reading this one in my original Grimm’s fairy tale book as an adolescent. Not surprisingly, every dance I have ever attended has failed miserably to live up to the standard set by the Brothers Grimm.

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by Suzanne Weyn

by Suzanne Weyn

Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend this retelling. I found it to be fairly mediocre at best. There was way too much telling, not nearly enough showing, and the story itself I found weak.

Essentially, The Night Dance is a mash-up of Grimm’s Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale and Arthurian legend. I am a huge fan of Arthurian retellings, and consider myself – if not an expert – certainly well-read in that particular genre. This one was only mildly interesting, occurring during the aftermath of the battle of Camlann, in which Arthur is killed in combat with Mordred. Vivienne and Morgan Le Fay are both characters in this retelling, as is the knight Bedivere (or Bedwyr) who is tasked by a dying Arthur with returning his sword, Excalibur, to the Lady of the Lake.

This is a YA retelling, and falls into a lot of the usual traps of not-very-good YA. There is insta-love between a couple of characters on the strength of a meeting. There is weak characterization. There are girls who are behaving like total idiots. There is mooning over kisses. It was a quick little read.

I often enjoy mash-ups, but this one – rather than using the two legends advantageously – in my opinion used the Arthurian legend to try to cover up weaknesses in plotting and characterization. I don’t give star-ratings because I prefer to just talk about books. But this was the weakest of the four retellings that I read for this project.

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Alison over at The Cheap Reader (http://thecheapreader.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/project-fairy-tale-master-post/) proposed Project Fairytale what feels like ages ago. It was really sometime in November, but when I signed up to review retellings of my personal favorite fairytale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, it seemed like February was a long, long time in the future.

And yet, here we are!

The terms of Project Fairytale are pretty simple: each participant (and there are a lot of us) agreed to read at least 3 retellings of their assigned fairytale and then review them on their blog. I have been a fairy-tale retelling collector for many years, and will be reviewing the following retellings:

by Suzanne Weyn

by Suzanne Weyn

This is one of the Simon Pulse Once Upon A Time Series of fairy-tale retellings. These tend to be quite short, and this one is no exception, clocking in at about 200 pages.

by Heather Dixon

by Heather Dixon

Entwined is Heather Dixon’s debut novel. It also has the most gorgeous (in my opinion) cover of all of my chosen retellings.

by Jessica Day George

by Jessica Day George

I love Jessica Day George. Princess of the Midnight Ball is the first in her Princess series, followed by Princess of Glass (retelling of Cinderella) and Princess of the Silver Woods (Little Red Riding Hood).

by Juliet Marillier

by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing was one of Marillier’s first attempts at YA fiction, and is a retelling set in Eastern Europe. The sequel to this one is called Cybele’s Gift.

Finally, I am not sure that I will get this one read, but Winterston’s Sexing the Cherry has been on my list for a long time. It looks quite bizarre. I hate the title and the cover, but I hear the book is good.

by Jeanette Winterston

by Jeanette Winterston

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