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That Was Then, This is Now guest post: Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

2013 March 22
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Dealing-with-dragons-first-editionMarch is Women’s History Month, and in honor of this I asked Sarah Debraski if she would let me use her “That Was Then, This is Now” series to talk about a book that helped make me a feminist. After all, what’s more appropriate for Women’s History Month than a man taking over something that a woman created? Wait, that’s not right.

Anyway, the book is Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, and it was one of my favorite books as a youngster. I still remembered most of the basic plot: the princess Cimorene is tired of being a princess, so she runs away and deliberately gets herself kidnapped by a dragon, which turns out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to her. She gets into swordfights, foils the plots of sinister wizards, uncovers a conspiracy at the heart of dragon society, and ends up having quite a lot of experiences that just aren’t proper for a princess. It’s a parody of fairy tales and the fantasy genre, but a gentle parody, poking fun at some of the logical flaws in these worlds while still acknowledging the fun you can have in them.

I was delighted to find, on rereading Dealing With Dragons, that it was just as good as I remembered it. Wrede’s writing is clear and droll, with a great deal of wit in her dialogue. The plot is clever and unhurried, with a nice balance between humorous diversions and a gradually building main story. Best of all are her characters: wise dragon Kazul, tidy witch Morwen, and our heroine, the thoroughly sensible Cimorene.

Cimorene is a rare kind of character: she’s not the damsel in distress of fairy tales, nor the overly-violent warrior woman you find in terrible fantasy books where the author is trying to make a “strong female character.” Although she knows how to use a sword and can cast some basic spells, Cimorene’s greatest asset is her common sense. When confronted by a djinn who declares he will kill her, and only offers her a choice of how she will die, Cimorene immediately says, “Old age.” When she’s offered a magical gift, she asks about the technical details of how it works, just so she knows what its limits are. She solves problems not through luck, or violence, or even necessarily great intelligence (although she’s certainly not lacking in brains), but by being sensible.

There are several sequels, and if my memory is any good, they’re just as enjoyable as the first book. If you’re interested in other fractured fairy tales, Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted is another classic, as is pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett. For a more serious take on improper princesses, Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy is an excellent read. And for another fantasy heroine who taught young me about feminism, check out Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series.

— Ted Anderson, currently slogging his way through Breaking Dawn (with a much less interesting heroine)

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10 Responses
  1. Jessica M permalink
    March 22, 2013

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Pierce’s Alanna series!! I always wanted to learn how to wield a sword, though in slightly less dangerous circumstances… LOL. I love Wrede’s Dragon series, too. Great books about girls taking charge of their own lives!

  2. katie permalink
    March 22, 2013

    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS I love(d) this book so much–I must have read it over 100 times when I was growing up. The rest of the series was kind of meh, but this gem will go down in history as one of my all-time favorites.

  3. Amanda permalink
    March 23, 2013

    Dealing with Dragons was one of my favorite books in middle school. 17 years later, my torn up paperback copy is still sitting on my bookshelf. I was so excited to find another series by Patricia Wrede a couple years ago, the Kate and Cecelia books. Not quite as wonderful, but still good reads.

  4. Library.Lil permalink
    March 23, 2013

    Loved these as a teen and love them just as much now. I have all four on bookshelf and they are among my absolute favorite re-reads. When reading how King of the Dragons and Queen of the Dragons were different jobs with different titles and gender didn’t matter for holding one, and that “dragons are quite sensible about such things,” that made so much more sense to me than the way it happens in the “real world!”

  5. March 23, 2013

    So glad to hear it holds up! Dealing with Dragons and the rest of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles were favorites in middle school. I hope generations of readers continue to discover these awesome books.

  6. March 23, 2013

    Well, weighing in as the oldest person here…I discovered Patrica Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons in my first Youth Services position a very long time ago…when the book cover was no way near as inviting. I adore the book and continue to place it safely in the hands of many readers to borrow and enjoy.
    I am a fan of Levine’s Ella and Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy but truly…Dealing With Dragons is something so very special. A delightful surprise to see it on my dashboard this morning! Thanks Ted and bravo to that feminist voice! Much appreciated ~ jane

  7. March 25, 2013

    I absolutely agree that Cimorene’s greatest asset is her common sense! Not a lot of written heroines (or even heroes for that matter) lately have this. I’ve loved Patricia Wrede’s books ever since my best friend introduced me to them in our school years :)

  8. March 25, 2013

    Great post, Ted! I’m so glad to hear that the book held up and was a joy to reread. You’ve definitely made me want to read it.

  9. March 27, 2013

    I loved this series growing up. Was there ever a conclusion to it? I seem to remember the series ending on kind of a cliffhanger.

    • Carla Land permalink
      March 27, 2013

      There are four in the series that I can remember and I don’t think it ended on a cliffhanger. I loved this series SO much I bought it (the true test of whether or not this librarian thinks a book is outstanding is if she adds it to her personal collection).

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