There’s something so anti-traditional, so eminently practical, about “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles,” that both makes them timelessly wonderful and, I think, peculiarly American. I’m not talking about the complicated reality of conflict, contradiction, and prejudice that is the lived experience of Americans. I’m talking about the idealist at the soul of so many of us, who flouts convention and blazes their own trail in the world.
All of the characters who populate Wrede’s world feel real, and many of them are recognizable to practically every American (of a certain class and race, I must admit). We all had a schoolteacher like Morwen, we all knew a firecracker like Cimorene, or a down-to-earth boss type like Mendanbar.
I’d actually argue that the main characters–Cimorene and Mendanbar in particular–are (idealistically) Americans. Cimorene has no interest in the life of a fairy tale princess, so she gets a job, rolls up her sleeves, and becomes good at cooking, cleaning, and Latin. Mendanbar may not argue with being king of the Enchanted Forest, but he isn’t a usual king. He is as careful to be polite as any one of his subjects, he tramps through the woods on his own, and he refuses to let his very British-seeming servant make him behave “properly.”
This practical, get-your-hands-dirty attitude is at the soul of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and this application of “American” values to fairy tale worlds gave us some of the most fun and sensible books ever written.