Review: The 'Tales of the Frog Princess' series, by E. D. Baker
Technically, “fractured fairy tales” is a TV cartoon series by Jay Ward, originally part of Ward’s Rocky and His Friends from 1959 to 1961; but it has become a popular generic term for any modernized, satirical story in a traditional European fairy tale setting. This certainly fits Elizabeth D. Baker’s Tales of the Frog Princess novels. Although published for the 10- to 14-year-old age group, they are witty enough that adults will enjoy them, and they contain enough talking animals and humans transformed into animals to please the average ‘morph fan.
The narrator, Emeralda (Emma), is a tomboyish 14-year-old princess of the stereotypical fairytale Kingdom of Greater Greensward. The kingdom is supposed to be protected from conquest by a princess who becomes a kindly, guardian Green Witch in each generation. Unfortunately, a fairy’s curse has turned any princess who touches a flower after she turns sixteen into an ugly, nasty hag, which disqualifies the Green Witches. When Emma’s grandmother, Queen Olivene, fell under the curse, she turned her daughter Grassina’s fiancée Haywood into a frog (they think). Emma is despondently sure that she is too inept to ever become her generation’s Green Witch. Also, her mother, Queen Chartreuse, is trying to marry her off to handsome but unlikable Prince Jorge.
While hiding in a local swamp from her mother, Emma meets a talking frog who claims to be Prince Eadric of a neighboring kingdom under an enchantment. Unfortunately, instead of Eadric turning back into a prince when kissed, a glitch turns Emma into a frog, too. She has no intention of eating flies for the rest of her life, and she attempts to lead Eadric to Aunt Grassina, the current Green Witch, to be disenchanted before they are both squashed or eaten by frogs’ natural predators. Practically every animal they meet (including spiders) can talk, although the only animals with significant roles in The Frog Princess include Fang the friendly snake and his mate Clarisse, Eadric’s charger Bright Country, and Li’l Stinker the bat who becomes one of Emma’s best friends.
In Dragon’s Breath, Grassina has found Haywood (he is an otter), but he is not yet disenchanted and he feels more like a pet than a lover. Emma’s untrained magic turns her and Eadric back into frogs every time she sneezes, although the next sneeze turns them human again. Emma hopes that Grandmother Olivene, in the Old Witches’ Retirement Community, can be persuaded to turn Haywood human again. Much happens, including meeting lots of talking animals:
Something rustled in the rafters overhead, and I looked up. Li’l was hanging by her feet amid dangling bunches of herbs.
‘Li’l!’ I said. ‘It’s me, Emma!’
‘It’s about time,’ the little bat squeaked. ‘Where did you go? One minute you were making breakfast, the next you were gone – poof!’ (p. 28)
The cat sneered, then sat up to lick the base of his tail. I turned to leave and was halfway out the door when Herald spoke up. ‘Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. You’ve never treated me the way I deserve to be treated. No self-respecting witch’s cat wants to be cuddled and called baby names!’ (p. 35)
The mouse looked over its shoulder as if expecting to see someone else standing behind it. When it realized that there was no one there, it turned back to stare up at me. ‘You’re talking to me? No big people ever talk to me!’ (p. 39)
Other talking animals in Dragon’s Breath range from a manta ray in the ocean, to Shelton the crab, to Octavius the octopus, to Shirley the horse, to a giant spider, to Ralf the dragon (and lots of other dragons at the Dragon Olympics).
In Once Upon a Curse, Emma travels into the past with Eadric and Li’l to break the family curse. This book is not very ‘morphic except for Li’l the bat, but there are more transformations of people into birds and bats. No Time for Magic features Li’l, Shelton, and Ralf once again, along with Gwynnie the horse, a butterfly, several cockatrices and various talking sea monsters as Emma finally prepares to marry Eadric but must rescue his brother Bradston from trolls first, while overcoming Eadric’s royal parents’s aversion to magic.
Emma’s story seems to be told, because the latest novel, The Salamander Spell, is a prequel featuring Emma’s Aunt Grassina and her older sister, Emma’s mother Chartreuse, when they were teenage princesses. Everyone expects Chartreuse to become the next Green Witch eventually, but when the family curse strikes their mother and Greater Greensward needs a new Green Witch immediately, Grassina turns out to have the magical talent in their generation just in time to confront an invasion of werewolves. Talking animals do not enter the story until around page 45, and are only incidental characters except for Pippa the snake. Despite knowing how The Salamander Spell is bound to turn out, the story is fun for fans of the previous four novels.
These five novels are light, breezy reading for Young Adults but adult anthropomorphic fans should enjoy them also. Readers can get the first three books together as Tales of the Frog Princess, either as a single thick paperback in the British edition, or as a three paperback boxed set in the U.S. edition.
“The Frog Princess”, by E. D. Baker.
London, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, September 2002, paperback £4.99 (214 pages).
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, November 2002, hardcover $15.95 (214 pages).
“Dragon's Breath”, by E. D. Baker.
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, October 2003, hardcover $15.95 (292 pages).
Bloomsbury Publishing, November 2003, paperback £5.99 (304 pages).
“Once Upon a Curse”, by E. D. Baker.
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, November 2004, hardcover $15.95 (244 pages).
“No Place for Magic; Book Four in the Tales of the Frog Princess”, by E. D. Baker.
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, September 2006, hardcover $15.95 (250 pages).
Bloomsbury Publishing, February 2008, paperback £5.99 (256 pages)
These first four books are also available in $11.89 trade paperback or in $6.95 regular paperback editions.
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, August 2007, hardcover $16.95 (248 pages).
“Tales of the Frog Princess”, by E. D. Baker.
London, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, November 2007, paperback £7.99 (768 pages).
NYC, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, August 2007, v. 1-3 paperback boxed set $20.85.