Maid Maleen is a lesser known fairy tale retold by the Brothers Grimm. It’s a story about a princess, only she is a more defiant fairy tale princess. She defies her father’s choice of suitor for her, since she is already betrothed to another whom she loves. In anger and humiliation, the king confines his strong-willed daughter and her maidservant to a stone tower with no exits and the entrance sealed in. This spontaneously built prison is meant to last until the princess, “Maid Maleen,” submits to her father’s will and obeys his wishes out of overwhelming claustrophobia and despair. This incarceration lasts several years, but Maid Maleen and her servant manage to escape from the tower, only to discover that the entire kingdom has been destroyed and all its inhabitants, including the king, are dead. The princess then resolves to find her prince; after enduring several mishaps and strenuous circumstances, Maid Maleen marries her true love in a typical “happily ever after” fairy tale ending. Her faithful servant girl disappears from the narrative, with almost no details about her history or why she was so loyal to her mistress on pain of death.
Although the original creator is emphasizing obvious themes, e.g. the cruelty of certain parental objections formed for the wrong reasons and how a reprimand for rebellion and disobedience can go too far, Shannon Hale goes even further with her extension of Maid Maleen in Book of a Thousand Days, where every character has its place and the servant girl becomes the heroine. This is a compelling read, for the settings have been changed into an amazingly similar construction of medieval Asia. Moreover, the story is wonderfully descriptive, for the servant girl becomes Dashti, an intelligent and free-spirited young woman whose obedience to Princess Saren is commanded by her own ideas of devoted loyalty. Dashti is also a “mucker,” a medieval healer and medicine woman who uses the power of healing songs and herbal medicine to cure her patients’ injuries and ailments.
However, Saren, the equivalent of Maid Maleen, is very different. Dashti’s poverty and her personal losses have made her courageous, but Saren has been intimidated by her father and she is spoiled, imprisoned in spirit already by her fears. Her evil husband-to-be, Lord Khasar, is a physically abusive psychopath, a plausible reason for Saren to refuse to marry him no matter what. Although Saren only engaged herself to Khan Tegus through correspondence in an attempt to escape, she defies her father the king out of hatred, not selfishness. Khan Tegus, on the other hand, unknowingly falls in love with Dashti when deception and favorable circumstances bind them together. This is Saren’s own fault by forcing Dashti to lie under her oath of obedience.
Everything about Book of a Thousand Days, which is a “journal” written by Dashti, proves how perceptive and memorable it is—Hale’s colorful scenes are mesmerizing, not to mention fascinating. The revelation of Khasar’s dreadful secret shows that Book of a Thousand Days has graphic violence, but it also has a genuine romance next to the author’s perusal of how rebellion can be expected under the pressures of official (and unofficial) servitude and the ambiguity of the Fourth Commandment. Hale’s expressive contemplation of the confusing natures of good and evil supports the graceful metamorphosis of Maid Maleen into Book of a Thousand Days, the complex journey of two young girls simply searching for freedom from oppression and the ultimate desire—to be happy.