The Door in the Hedge
Once again McKinley employs her magical prose in this collection of four short stories. Two of the stories are traditional — “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” — while two of them are original — “The Stolen Princess” and “The Hunting of the Hind”. The stories are very traditional in feel — all four of them deal with the perennial fairy-tale theme of the dangerous attraction of the Land of Faërie and its mysterious magic, treating this theme delicately and beautifully. The tales are traditional in other ways, too. They all feature princesses who find their true loves in typical fairy-story fashion — she’s gorgeous, he’s perfect, and love occurs at first sight. However, McKinley manages to make even this clichéd motif fresh and pretty, its predictability only adding to the stories’ gentle charm.
McKinley’s prose is beautiful, and never more than in this set of tales, in which she can allow her straightforward narrative voice to shine, almost echoing Lord Dunsany in its beauty. The language creates a mood in which it is easy to lose oneself and enjoy it. Three of the stories are similarly well-crafted in their plots; “The Hunting of the Hind”, however, disappointed me in its contrived, unbelievable premise. The story just wasn’t long enough to make me believe in the magical situation involved; it would perhaps have worked as a full-length novel or at least a novella, but in 32 pages it felt artificial and lacking. If it weren’t for this I’d give the book an A in writing quality, but the premise of this one story just didn’t work.
The magic in the book is very traditional and not worked directly by the main characters — the stories take place very much in the world of Faerie. Traditional fairy-tale morality — good versus evil at its most elemental — fills the book; and there are none of McKinley’s occasional sexual innuendos here. I found the book very beautifully written and enjoyable to read.