Rereading: ONCE ON A TIME by A. A. Milne

Cover and illustrations by Susan Perl

Before Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne had a successful writing career, including this book from 1917, a humorous, light-hearted fairy tale aimed at adults, but certainly fine for children too. It reminds me of some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, the ones that take place in small rural kingdoms with just enough magic to get people into trouble.

King Merriwig of Euralia and his daughter Hyacinth are having breakfast in their favorite place in the royal castle, atop the wall enjoying the view of their country, when an odd disturbance happens. The King of Barodia has been given a pair of seven league boots, and decides to try them out in the direction of the Euralian castle. He suddenly soars over the breakfast party, startling them, and a moment later soars back to Barodia. This becomes his morning routine, which outrages King Merriwig. He orders his guard to shoot arrows at the interloper, and soon the kingdoms are at war, and Merriwig marches off to the border with his guards. Hyacinth is technically in charge of the kingdom, but she’s dominated by the strong-willed Countess Belvane, who soon has her signing all kinds of money away for her pet projects, most of which simply enrich the countess. Hyacinth feels she needs help, and sends for a potential suitor, Prince Udo of Araby, but on the way he’s transformed into an odd creature that’s part rabbit, part lion, and part sheep. This makes his chances of helping Hyacinth small, but he agrees to try anyway, until Udo realizes that he’s more attracted to Countess Belvane than he is the princess. Meanwhile, King Merriwig is having some trying times on the battlefield, even with his invisibility cloak and his magic sword, because the king of Barodia also has one of each. Hyacinth and her lady in waiting Wiggs don’t know what to do, but then a stranger appears in the woods outside the castle who might be able to help.

Fun and funny, recommended.

Once On A Time by A A Milne

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