My life is full of princesses at the moment. And that’s okay with me. Last weekend, my 16-year-old daughter starred as Princess Fiona in her high school production of Shrek the Musical. I adore this musical, and I love the spunky, silly role of Fiona. I know I’m her mom, but I swear my daughter was perfect in the role. She was beautiful and hilarious all at the same time.
(BTW, if you’ve never seen Shrek the Musical, the Broadway version is on Netflix).
While she was busy rehearsing her show, I was busy cleaning up an old fairy tale of mine about a feisty princess who makes a dangerous bargain with her father to escape an arranged marriage. Her name is Faith, and her story is called The Royal Deal. I wrote this story back in my twenties along with several other original fairy tales. I decided to pull these stories out of their hiding spots on my computer hard drive and revise them. My plan is to release them (and write a couple new ones) as a series of novelettes every few months over the next year or so. I had a version of The Royal Deal on Wattpad for the last couple years, and it got a lot of votes and positive comments. I think people liked it because Faith is not your average princess.
This brings me back to the point of this post. Here’s the thing about princesses in fairy tales: typically, they aren’t very self-sufficient or strong. They’re often kind of trapped or stuck in hopeless situations and don’t know how to get out of them. (I’m writing all this as a BIG FAN of fairy tales, mind you.) If you look at the most famous ones from the Grimm Brothers tales – or Disney movies – what you’re mainly seeing is a bunch of really sweet, kind, lovely young ladies doing their best to remain so despite their circumstances.
When my daughter was little, I used to tell her things like “Cinderella would never yell at anyone” or “Snow White would keep her room clean” or “Belle would always say please and thank you” or “Sleeping Beauty would go to bed without arguing.” See? I’d use them as role models of good behavior. Princesses had manners. They were clean. They were helpful.
This worked pretty well until my daughter turned eleven and got a mind of her own.
I don’t care for the argument that all princesses do is wait for a prince to rescue them. I find that to be a very simplistic way to explain these old stories.
Cinderella stayed kind-hearted and worked hard despite her dismal treatment, and that is why she was honored with the gifts from the fairy godmother that allowed her to attend the ball and meet the prince. Meeting and marrying the prince wasn’t ever Cinderella’s goal. She just wanted to survive and maybe have the nice night out at the ball that she deserved. Having a prince fall for her was a bonus.
Snow White, according to the Disney version, did dream of marrying a prince. Big deal. Lots of girls hope to have a great boyfriend or a husband one day. This is a pretty universal feeling for teen girls. However, Snow had bigger and more immediate problems. The biggest was surviving in the woods after her stepmother sent her there to be murdered. Getting married to a prince wasn’t on her mind when she was earning a place to live by helping the dwarves.
Beauty (or Belle in the Disney version) traded places with her father to stay in the Beast’s castle. Obviously, she didn’t know he’d wind up to be a handsome prince if only she fell in love with him. Marrying a prince was never a goal of hers. She was a peasant, after all. This is another story about how a person with a good heart gets the happy ending she deserves.
Sleeping Beauty (Aurora in the Disney version) thought she was a peasant. She'd been raised as one. Yes, as she wandered through adolescence she ponders how nice it would be to meet a prince (or any man, she’s not specific about it being a prince in her big song) and not have to live in the woods with her crazy aunts anymore. I don’t think she believed those dreams would come true for her. She thought she was stuck. Yes, we can put 2018 ideals on her and say she should've figured out her own way to escape the woods (and the curse she didn't know about) and lead her life, but this story wasn’t written in 2018, was it? Plus, that story isn’t really about her. It’s about the prince’s adventures to rescue her.
Oh, and Ariel. You know I love my mermaids, but of the princesses Ariel is the one who is most true to the “I want to marry a prince” form. Let’s be clear, though, at first what she wants is just to be human and have a different (perhaps more exciting) life than the one she’s living. The prince thing comes later. Heck, she doesn’t even know the man she rescued from drowning was a prince at first. All she knows is that she loves him, and she will go through all kinds of pain and horror to be with him. Our 2018 ideals attack this way of thinking, but it still makes for good fiction. We want her to get her man after everything she goes through. Spoiler, it actually doesn’t work out for her in the original Hans Christian Anderson story. Disney made it a bit sweeter.
Now, Fiona from Shrek is a parody of the princess stories. Fiona doesn’t wind up with a prince. She longs to be rescued by a knight or prince and is certain they will fall in love. They will be wed and have a happy ending. Of course, her rescuer winds up being an ogre, and all her big plans are dashed. Fiona isn’t the strongest of characters. In fact, she’s a bit whiny at the start. But when she falls in love with Shrek, you realize she has something all princesses in fairy tales possess – a good heart.
In the way back time of my early twenties, I had the wonderful job of doing traveling children’s theater, and I played lots of princesses in fairy tales. One of them was the princess from The Frog Prince. She’s the opposite of all the princesses listed above, because she’s a snot. Selfish and mean to that poor frog. Still, in the end, she kisses him, and guess what? She ends up marrying a prince. Let me remind you that marrying a prince was not the point of this story. She just got lucky.
Since I toured with Lilliput Players in the early nineties and the movie Shrek was released later in the decade, there have been so many retellings of fairy tales both in movies and especially in books. I see new ones all the time. I think these stories keep happening because people want more of our princesses than to be rescued by princes.
One of my favorite authors, Tracy Barrett, (author of fairy tale books The Stepsister’s Tale and Marabel and the Book of Fate) said at a recent book signing, “The old fairy tales are so short that they lack motivation. They don’t tell why the characters behave the way they do. A villain is just evil. A princess is just kind.” That’s why she writes novels that are either re-visiting a tale like Cinderella or playing with the tropes of the genre – to fill in the holes. That all makes sense to me. In fact, I’ve even written my own re-telling based on the lesser known Grimm fairy tale King Thrushbeard. (It will be in my Chasing the Romantics series later on.)
The Royal Deal is an original fairy tale - not a retelling. I wanted Princess Faith to have a lot of the typical trappings of a princess. She’s kind. She’s thoughtful. Despite being pampered and having lots of servants, she tries to be helpful. Unlike the princesses mentioned above, she's fully aware that she’s a princess and that she’s destined to marry a prince. She wants to marry the prince she’s been told her whole life would be her husband, but he’s gone missing and is presumed dead. Now she must marry the younger brother, whom she despises. What can she do? She decides to take matters into her own hands by making a deal with her father. If she can survive for three months in the woods by herself with no help, then she can choose her husband.
So, I’ve written a fairy tale about a princess who doesn’t want to marry a prince.
I’ve also written a fairy tale about a princess who puts herself into peril rather than having it done to her.
You’ll have to read it to find out how it all works out.
Well, that book is in the world now, and I’m starting work on revising the next story for the series, The Tomato Quest. The young lady in this story is not a princess, but she is the daughter of a wealthy nobleman. She’s in love with the gardener’s son. Right now, the story is completely in the point of view of the gardener’s son as he goes on a quest to seek his fortune in order to earn the right to marry the girl he loves. My plan is to add this noblewoman’s point of view to the story as well. She’s not a princess, but she has a lot of the same qualities of one so I shall treat her as such. I’ll make her sweet and charming, but, because it’s 2018 and not 1818, I will make her a little spunky and fiery, too. I hope in the end, readers will be happy with the way this novella ends.
If you love fairy tales (which if you’ve read this far into my post, I’m assuming you do), I have another fairy tale called “The Hallway of Three Doors” coming out in a new book later this month called Mythical Doorways. You can find an interview I did about that by clicking on the book cover image. This fairy tale does not have a princess, but it does feature one determined female protagonist and a rather charming prince.
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D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.