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The Enchanted Island of Yew
by L. Frank Baum
Can a sex change take place in a fairy tale? Evidenly, L. Frank Baum thought so. In Ozma of Oz, Baum transformed a mischievous boy into a perfect princess. And in this stand-alone book, recently re-decorated and re-issued by Books of Wonder, a female fairy is transfigured into a dashing young knight. Of course, with immortal fairies, one sex is as good as another; and in the medieval-type setting of the imaginary Island of Yew, boys get to have a lot more adventures than girls.
A fairy can only be transformed by the magical wish of a mortal. This particular fairy asks Seseley, a duke’s daughter, to turn her into a knight for one year. Then, in the guise of Prince Marvel, she/he sets out to make her/his fortune.
All right, let’s go with “his” for the time being. Though he is every bit a boy, Prince Marvel also remains a fairy, so there is really nothing he can’t do and no trouble he can’t get out of. This summons forth the main weakness of this book: the hero is never really in any great danger, and hardly anything troubles him. This isn’t so for his faithful squire, a silly youth named Nerle whose fondest wish is to suffer misfortune, pain, and unfulfilled desire. Nerle is the one thing that saves this book from becoming a bore.
Marvel and Nerle travel through all the kingdoms of the Island of Yew, exploring realms no outsider has ever seen. They compel a band of robbers to reform. They become unwilling guests of a hideous king who is afraid to let them go because he doesn’t want them spreading word of his ugliness. They visit a hidden kingdom where everything and everybody is doubled. (I know you won’t understand that; you’ll just have to read the book!) They free one kingdom from a tyrranical wizard (who rules by threat of turning people into grasshoppers), and another from a terrible red-headed giant. They face war, execution, enchantment, and even a magic mirror before Marvel’s year as a human boy ends.
It’s a charming story with a touch of romance and a very quirky ending. If you can’t get enough Oz, visit Books of Wonder and look up this interesting rarity!