Dealing with Dragons – Patricia C. Wrede
Sandpiper - 9780152045661
probably the luckiest people in the world, Julie. We lined up two more terrific
guest bloggers: Michael Dobbs, yet another illustrious
Michael: THE ENCHANTED FOREST
CHRONICLES is one of the *truly great* middle-grade fantasy book series.
A pre-Shrek (movie) fractured fairy tale filled with pre-Harry Potter
witches and wizards, and possibly the best antidote to the Disney Princess
phenomenon, the first book in the series, DEALING WITH DRAGONS, is funny,
charming, exciting, and filled with amazing characters. Sheila, you
actually loaned me these books in fifth grade (I don't know if you remember),
and I've loved them ever since. I suspect the book had a lot of influence
on both of us, since we're fantasy fans. Of course the book is driven by the awesome
Princess Cimorene, who runs away to be a dragon's princess rather than marry
the idiot prince Therandil. Cimorene is one of my favorite female
protagonists: smart, conscientious, and tough. What do you think:
Should we blame Ms. Wrede for our current libraries? And how awesome is
Well, I don't know if I can blame Ms. Wrede for my library, but I can
probably blame her and the illustrator of her hardbacks for my dragon figurine
collection. I agree that Cimorene is awesome. Her awesomeness as a
character lies in both her extraordinariness and in her ordinariness.
Although she is smart, it is common sense that is prevalent. She is
not a hard-core rocket scientist. It makes her easy to identify with.
You can imagine yourself in her shoes. Plus she likes to cook.
Overall, she's a good female role model. In general, I think this
is a great book especially for young females. In addition to a good female role
model, you have the entire dragon society, which has zero gender
Michael: Exactly! The
idea that the dragons got to chose whether to be male or female was pretty
shocking to me as an 11-year-old. In fact, I think it may have been the
first thing you ever told me about the book! I would say almost all the
female characters in this book are just brimming with common sense, including
Kazul, the dragon Cimorene stays with, and Morwen the witch. But I love
that Cimorene is always trying to improve herself: learning new recipes,
working on her Latin declensions, and taking fencing lessons. She even
finds all the boring protocol she was forced to learn helpful! But she does use
others' expectations of princesses as weak or silly against them, playing
stupid or injured to trick the evil wizards or get rid of Therandil. How
do you think these moments fit into our idea that Cimorene's a great role
model? Is it just that the men are stupid and she's smart? Or is
she really being deceitful?
Sheila: I don't think deceitful is the right word. She's not lying to them to hurt them. I think "strategic" might be a better description. And the wizards aren't really stupid...just handicapped by their arrogance, which Cimorene is able to use against them. It's like a giant chess game. Underestimating your opponent can be your undoing.
Michael: People seem to keep underestimating Cimorene the whole book. First her parents, then Therandil, then some of the dragons, then the wizards. But I don't think the reader ever doubts her. Another thing I love about the book is that, unlike so many Disney Princesses (tm), Cimorene says she doesn't want to get married and that she wants an adventure; and she actually goes on an adventure and doesn't get married. Especially if you look at the "modern" Disney princesses (Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan). All of them except Ariel have either proposals or parents trying to get them married. Belle, Jasmine and Pocahontas all claim they want some sort of adventure or freedom, but that adventure just seems to be falling in love and getting married. Ariel is a bit more honest about chasing down a man, at least. I feel like Cimorene not even having a love interest in DEALING WITH DRAGONS may be the most subversive thing in princess lit.
Sheila: Hmmmm... if they could use the hardcover art I like so much as a base, this would make an interesting Disney animated feature, actually. So let's sum up what we have so far...a great story, a good female role model, and an interesting perspective on gender roles. I guess that leaves us with your favorite wrap-up question: Who would win in a fight, Cimorene or Hermione Granger? If it's one on one, my money is on Hermione. Cimorene is still, after all, a princess. But if it's tag team and they can each bring a friend... well, I wouldn't want to challenge a centuries-old dragon with a love of cherries jubilee. What's your take?
I don't know....Cimorene's got an enchanted sword. And she seems to
have all the common sense that Hermione sometimes lacks. I'd have to say,
in a straight up fistfight, I'd put my money on the princess. After all,
we know what happens to people who underestimate her!