A review of Lindsey Carmichael’s The Prince and the Hedgewitch (in Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, Red Tuque Books, Penticton, BC, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille
To anyone who has read Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series, Lindsey Carmichael’s The Prince and the Hedgewitch will strike a familiar cord. Like Lackey’s series, Carmichael’s short story plays with the idea of a world that is entirely draped in the trappings of fairy tales. Like Lackey’s ‘The Tradition’ that shapes events in her world, making them conform to the traditions of stories that have already been written (i.e. a third son will always become king after undergoing a quest), Carmichael’s ‘the story’ has a similar way of making the world around it conform to story archetypes. In the worlds that both authors create, there is a sense of the inevitability of fate and a fundamental lack of agency.
There are a lot of world-building similarities, but I read Carmichael’s The Prince and the Hedgewitch as a response to Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms, a play on it, a pastiche re-working of the American author’s world into a distinctly Canadian form, showing a Canadian difference in agency. The Canadian character of this short story is shown through the general desire not the be the star of the story, the desire to be on the periphery and able to live a normal life, as well as the awareness that political power can be problematic and can cause the loss of a normal life.
Carmichael’s Canadian identity can also be seen in her creation of a hero who is constantly resisting parental control and who desires to get away from a controlled sense of home. Prince Alaric, the 3rd son of a king, destined to be the next king, desires to challenge the myths surrounding him and to question the idea of a happy ending. The inevitability of his fate and the inevitability of his rise to power is fundamentally shifted when he encounters a ‘maiden in distress’, who he tries to save. She illustrates that she is not in need of saving and provides him with a lesson in the dangers of assuming an inevitable fate.
And, like many Canadian literary narratives, the characters realise that in order to find themselves, they must first escape from the confines of familial control and the comfort and security of home. One’s own identity is often portrayed as being found elsewhere and leaving home is situated as part of the quest for individual identity and escape from an inevitable fate of unchanging monotony.
Canadians (and particularly Canadian authors) often show a discomfort with the idea of the happy ending and suspect that happy endings are preludes to a deeper darkness or more problematic future, and both of Carmichael’s protagonists, Alaric the prince and Nora the hedgewitch are suspicious of any story that suggests an inevitable happy ending, particularly when it propels one into a position of power or a ‘star’ role.
Carmichael’s story asks the question if in a world where anyone can become a star, what happens to those who don’t? Do they live a life that feels perpetually unfulfilled? She also illustrates that stories continue after the happy ending and reminds the reader that when reading a story, they should always ask: “hey, what happens next?”
You can explore Canadian Tales of the Fantastic through Red Tuque Books at http://www.redtuquebooks.ca/