Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Maid of the North is a collection of twenty-one folktales from throughout the world. Ethel Johnston Phelps calls them “feminist” stories because they show women as strong not weak, active not passive.

The young peasant girl in the Norwegian story “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” has all the qualities that Phelps values, especially independence. Although her parents have rejected the White Bear’s offer of a home for her, she decides to accept it, but only after she has observed him carefully enough to make a judgment about his character. She is not rash or irrational. Like Phelps’s other heroines, the peasant girl is brave, insisting, even in the most dramatic circumstances, that she is not afraid.

The same characteristics are evident in the heroine of the English story “The Stars in the Sky.” Once she has decided to reach the stars, she sets off, and whatever transpires thereafter, she always keeps her goal foremost in her mind. When the heroine comes across the Little Folk, she asks for their help instead of fearing their magic. Still unafraid, she rides a horse, then a fish, and finally, although extremely tired, climbs to a dizzying height above the earth and manages to touch a star. Although this story is less complex than “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” it follows the same pattern—as, indeed, do all of these folktales.

The reason that the stories in this collection resemble each other...

(The entire section is 598 words.)