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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Arnica the Duck Princess
by Ervin Lazar
Age Range: 9-11
What a treat this book is to read. Completely original and extremely funny, it breathes life into the traditional fairy tale model bringing a very modern twist.
Princess Arnica lived with her father King Tirunt in a royal palace with 36 towers and 300 windows. Arnica has a very sensible and understanding father because he believes his daughter should choose who she wants to marry. So when two knights arrive claiming they will fight a duel to the death for the hand in marriage of the princess, they are completely astonished when the king tells them firmly that it is not for him to decide who she marries.
Princess Arnica only has eyes for Poor Johnny, who has nothing apart from his staff, pocket knife and the shirt on his back. The king, while happy for Arnica to choose whom to love has one condition: Johnny must go off wandering for half a year while Arnica must wait for him. This does not seem like a great hardship when they can spend the rest of their lives together. However, they hadn’t bargained on the Witch with a Hundred Faces, who can create hundreds of different guises, casting a spell on Arnica and Johnny resulting in one of them always being a duck and the other always human! There is only one person who can help them – the Seven Headed Fairy. But that is only if they can find her …
Award-winning Hungarian author Ervin Lázár (1936-2006) is one of Hungary’s much loved children’s writers, and although he has been translated into many languages, Arnica the Duck Princess is the first to appear in English, translated by Anna Bentley.
This unusual and witty classic tale draws the reader straight into the story from the very first page with the narrator’s chatty dialogue between himself and his young offspring. Together with lots of amusing characters and quirky elements that give the tale a real modern feel there are also nuggets of wisdom.
Lázár’s ability to turn the conventional fairy tale format on its head is so refreshing and Bentley’s adept and clever translation renders it extremely funny. The constant question and answer interludes between the narrator and his young listener is delightful: King Tirunt never orders anyone to do anything when he is in a temper. When he is angry is it the Chief Royal Counter’s job to count to 1,000 and the Peekers’ job is to see whether he’s still angry before anyone can approach him. Where does the anger pass to? the child asks the narrator. Angerland where the Angers live comes the reply. They like to get into people’s hearts and are always on the lookout for one to enter.
“Is there no such thing as good anger then?”
“Of course there is. Absolutely there is. ”
On another exchange the child asks “Is love like magic then?” the child asks. “Yes it is” the narrator replies. “ But only in stories, right?” “No. Not only in stories. In real life too.”
The comedic aspect is further enhanced by the wonderfully rich and colourful artwork by Jacqueline Molár which captures so perfectly the humour and larger than life characters. At heart, it is still a tale about true love and friendship but with the added ingredient of what happens when your fiancé is turned into a duck.