I’ve been talking and emailing books with my good friend Dr. M lately, and what’s been coming up for both of us is the Twelve Dancing Princesses. We’ve both been coming across multiple novel retellings. When I tried to retell the one below as a two-night bedtime story for the Boy*, he was fascinated, but wanted a picture book version, too. I’m looking at a couple of those and will weigh in about favorites.
*The boy was first known here as Mr. Froggy Pants or Mr. FP. Once he outgrew the froggy diapers, he made up Lightening Bolt. Now he gives me a funny look if I call him that, and his personal interests are so varied and variable that I don’t know what nickname to give him here anymore.
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell This is a Romanian version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. 13-year-old Reveka is an herbalist’s apprentice, newly reclaimed by her father from a nunnery and brought to the castle where he works as a gardener. The princesses in this version include a number of legitimized bastard daughters as well as serial wives, rather than twelve daughters all from the same mother, a rather thoughtful touch. When Reveka learns about the curse on the princesses, she is initially scornful: “It’s a curse of shoes and naps!” But it turns out that those who try to rescue the princesses from the curse never come back the same way. Some vanish forever, some fall into a deep sleep from which nothing can awaken them, only to slip into death after months or years. As the vanished and sleeping include nobles from other countries who don’t believe in the curse, the small kingdom of Sylvania is in danger of war from multiple sides. Reveka, though, resolves to break the curse for a much more personal reason: the king has promised a dowry to any woman who breaks the curse. That would allow her to buy her way into a convent, where she could set up her own herbarium and write an herbal like her heroine, Saint Hildegard. She turns to the herbals she has access to, and a list of potential herbal sources of invisibility. Things heat up as Reveka meets a mysterious stranger in the woods, dressed in red velvet and calling himself Prince Frumos, the traditional hero of folk tales, and when her fellow apprentice Didina is discovered trying to follow the princesses. She seeks help from the mistress of the baths, who tells her that only a zmeu, a kind of humanoid maiden-marrying dragon of legend, could have caused such a curse as the princesses are under. When Reveka finally discovers a way to follow the princesses, the plot took a very sharp and unexpected plot turn, one which provided a lot of discussion fodder for the Boy and I at bedtime as to whether or not Reveka made the right choice. Reveka is a bright, stubborn and likable character. I liked learning bits of Romanian mythos, something I know very little about. Dragons in any form are a plus. It’s good fun appropriate for middle-grade students and other lovers of fairy-tale fiction, with a few reflective notes. And on a small world note, Haskell works at the library of the university from which I got my library degree.