Fairy tale meets Gothic romance in this tale of recent graduated she-bear Ursula Brown, governess to young Teddy Vaughn, the only living child of the rich and well-regarded Vaughn family, who live in a manor house in the woods near Bremen Town. The imposing manor is fondly nicknamed The Cottage in the Woods. As Ursula takes up her duties in the Vaughn household she is frightened not only by the high expectations of Mr. Vaughn, but also by the uncanny footsteps she hears in the hallways of the manor, the inexplicable enmity with which she is regarded by Teddyâ€™s old nurse, and the impending danger that seems to hang over nearby Bremen Town. This novel is more than a re-telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and better than a take-off on Jane Austenâ€™s and Charlotte Bronteâ€™s classics. Hostilities between humans and â€œthe Enchantedâ€ (talking animals) provide the story with a theme and a moral, but the preachiness is decidedly Victorian in tone and so entirely palatable, indeed inspiring.
This 389-page tome was a delight from start to finish. Anyone familiar with Gothic novel tropes will enjoy finding them embedded in the story, and children who are not yet readers and fans of Austen and Bronte will find The Cottage in the Woods a gentle introduction to the genre. The bears worship and pray and sing hymns without apology or embarrassment, and itâ€™s all very Victorian. Yet the fairy tale element adds a whimsicality to the story that will appeal to older children, especially girls. Oh, and thereâ€™s a wonderfully crochety and sarcastic Magic Mirror who never manages to answer a single one of Ursulaâ€™s questions with any hint of helpfulness or straightforwardness.
I think my girls, ages sixteen and thirteen and fans of both video versions of Pride and Prejudice and also avid viewers of the TV series Once Upon a Time in its first season a couple of years ago, will enjoy this amalgam of folk tale characters, Latin aphorisms, sophisticated vocabulary, and 19th century romance. I certainly did.