Once upon a time, a publisher reached out to a blogger and asked her to review a short collection of fairytales. She agreed but unlike the fairytales, the review did not end in Happily Ever After.
If there’s one thing that you must know about me, it’s the fact that I love fairytales. The adventure, the romance, the struggle between good and evil! I love it all. They are a fascinating part of our culture and a reflection of our morals. Which is why I was pretty psyched to have a chance to review “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist Fairytales”. The idea of some of the most beloved fairytales of all time getting a 21st century spin immediately appealed to me.
Some background information before we begin, the stories in this book are plucked from Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Charles Perrault, and a legend that’s been passed for centuries and doesn’t have a true author to claim to. Many of these stories were put to paper roughly two hundred years ago but they were kept alive by oral tradition for centuries.
Since it’s oral tradition, the stories have shifted and changed to reflect the culture, ideas, and qualities of the time. Things have been cut out or removed depending on the speaker but one thing always stayed the same: the moral. The purpose of a fairytale was to give a moral in a way that was easy for people to remember.
Author Erin-Claire Barrows, an Australian writer and illustrator, has decided to put her spin on these well-loved stories in her book, “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist FairyTales”. The stories she has chosen are as follows: The Princess and the Pea, Cinderella, The Swan Maiden, Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Snow White, Allerleirauh, the Goose Girl, The Little Mermaid.
Because each story has been revised to fit with modern times, I will be doing a mini review for each one and then an overall review of the collection.
Without further delay, let’s begin!
The Princess and the Pea
We start off the story with an upset King and Queen who are worried about their son, the Prince. They are given no names. The King and Queen want their son to focus on warfare, the state of affairs within the kingdom, and taxes. They are fine with adventure but as long as it’s for a goal. The Prince doesn’t really care about any of that and prefers to “play his lute while imagining the lands beyond the sea and the strange creatures that might live there” or “write a story about it”.
Honestly, I can’t say that I blame the King or Queen for being upset with their son. A ruler should know about what wars are being waged, the state the kingdom is in, and taxes. The Prince is totally checked out and I can’t root for him as a protagonist when he’s neglecting his duties.
Eventually, the titular princess shows up. She’s soaking wet from the storm and needs a place to stay. The King and Queen let her stay, have dinner with them, and show her to her bedroom. The Prince explains to the unnamed princess about the pea under the mattress scheme. The princess finds it ridiculous and instead of sleeping, she stays up with the Prince all night telling him her adventures. The Princess encourages the Prince to go and have his own adventures but instead he laments, “Oh no, I couldn’t. I have to stay here and practice all manner of dull and princely things.”
Ah, yes, the dull and princely things that go into running a country. How tragic for our hero. I don’t like the Prince. Not everyone wants to be royalty but his parents are cool with him going on adventures and in a land wherein dragons do exist and there are people in danger, I don’t see why he hasn’t tried to go out and do it or why he’s so reluctant to know how to keep his kingdom running smoothly.
When morning comes, the Princess fakes her bad night’s sleep and the Queen and King are overjoyed at it. They deem her worthy to wed the Prince and welcome her into the family! But there’s a twist. The Princess explains that her family has their own standard when it comes to princes and the Prince has not gone on enough adventures to qualify for her hand in marriage. The King and Queen do acknowledge that the Prince hasn’t done anything adventurous.
She refuses marriage to the Prince and rides off while the Prince decides to finally go on an adventure to parts unknown without a goal in mind.
I don’t have the slightest clue as to why I’m supposed to root for the Prince or sympathize with him. He doesn’t care about his duties as a ruler and finds the whole idea of running his own kingdom to be dull. The Prince himself is equally dull having about as much of a personality as a single cell organism. The only things I do know about him is that he likes to imagine and play the lute which does not a personality make. Other than that, he makes no effort to take control of his own destiny or to change his life even though the means to do so are right in front of him.
His parents attempts to engage with him and show him the adventures of others is pitiable. They’re making an effort to try to get him to see that there is a very exciting world out there but alas, our flat Prince doesn’t really care about anything. Their push to have him marry a real princess feels less like trying to force him into marriage and more like a desperate attempt to make sure that the kingdom falls into safe hands since the Prince has no interest in it.
This tale isn’t modern, diverse, or feminist in any way with the sole exception of a black princess who shows up, tells a couple of stories, and then immediately moves on. The characters are boring, the plot is nonexistent, and for a fairytale, it’s got the basic tell tale marks but doesn’t do anything with it.
The original Princess and the Pea was about a prince who wanted to marry a true princess but didn’t know how to tell which one was a “true” princess. That’s when the pea comes into play because surely, going by all princess standards, a real princess would be able to feel it. The Prince gets an unexpected guest and although she doesn’t look like one, the woman proclaims herself to be a princess. He puts her to the test and to his surprise, she passes it! They marry and live happily ever after.
The moral of the story has been taken into different directions but I believe that the overall moral of the Princess and the Pea is actually a subtle jab at the lengths that royal families and other noble branches go to in order to prove that they are the real thing. Considering Anderson’s stance on the upper class and his own upbringing plagued by poverty, I would say that this is a fair assessment.
Comparing the two stories, the original and Barrow’s take on it, I would say the original is more modern than the remake. Making fun of the upper class has never gone out of style. There are still plenty of people who will whip out their ancestry charts and bloodlines to show who they are related to and how that makes them important.
The single upside to the story are the illustrations. They are beautiful but they aren’t enough to save the story. What’s more, if it weren’t for the illustrations, you wouldn’t have even known that the titular princess is black. She could have been Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Polka Dot.
I understand the need and want to make a more diverse story to appeal to a wider audience, but the Princess and the Pea falls flat. There’s not enough character development for anyone, there’s not a single piece of dialogue or humor that’s great, and I still find myself questioning why I should care about the Prince, the protagonist of the story, at all. Overall, if there was a story here, I didn’t feel it.