Friday, 16 December 2011

A princess for my daughter

My daughter met three princesses this year. Their names are Tough, Ordinary and Paper Bag.

The Tough Princess has great swinging fists that slay monsters and beat up fairies, sometimes good ones, accidentally. My daughter discovered a copy of The Tough Princess - in a rather battered condition - after a swimming lesson, towards the bottom of the book box in the spectators' area. This princess has parents who are stuck in the past and who are pretty useless really; she has to take her fate into her own hands. She helps my daughter (and me) remember that girls can be strong and fit and are perfectly capable of taking control of their own destiny.

Another day we were in our local teashop, which has an entire wall of china teapots. 

The owner emerged from behind a tower of cakes with a book in her hands. 
"You'll enjoy this," she said with a wink, passed the book to my daughter, then vanished in a puff of smoke. Once the smoke had cleared, we saw the title: The Paper Bag Princess. Paper Bag has enough native cunning to outwit a dragon and enough wisdom to walk away from a dud prince even when she's under the pressure of a conventional ending - to marry him. When hard times come, I hope my daughter will remember Paper Bag, use her brains and not worry about what others think.

Feminist fairy tales never fail to delight me. The originals are so ingrained on my consciousness that these surprise me and cheer me up every time. As for my daughter, I'm not sure how deep the archetypes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the rest have gone yet, but she accepts these latter day versions quite matter of factly.
How my daughter met the third princess is a bit of a mystery. The Ordinary Princess simply slipped into our lives from the internet one day while we were looking for someone else. Ordinary doesn't fancy sitting around doing embroidery before being married off to some pompous prince; so instead she runs away and becomes a kitchen maid. She works hard, saves up her pennies to buy a new dress and meets a footman who is just as ordinary as she is. Just like Ordinary, I hope my daughter will learn the value and the pleasure of earning a living for herself and of treading her own path.

If I was looking for a gift for any girl, or was drowning in a sea of pink, these three princesses would come to the rescue.


  1. Wonderful! I love these princesses! And so happy that your daughter has made their acquaintance. I remember as a girl being drawn to clever, independent fairy tale heroines in books, but this got utterly confused by the passive, sweet, male-dependent, technicolor versions in the classic Disney films I also loved as a child. Even today, when writing female characters, I still have to fight back against that deeply formative influence! Yes, I also hope your girl remembers these strong and self-possessed princesses as models - in addition to her own strong, brainy, and hard-working mum. :)

  2. The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye is possibly the book I have borrowed most from the library in my life (I read it and re-read it throughout my childhood, but now happy to say I own my own copy!) The Paper Bag Princess is currently one of Molly's favourite bedtime stories. We haven't met the Tough Princess yet but look forward to it. Beats the hell outta Disney.

  3. Kate: happy reading - The Tough Princess is hilarious. I also love the Ordinary Princess; I didn't read it as a girl, but I wish I had ...

  4. Dawna: It's hard not to love Disney, and I don't even think we should necessarily try. After all, Disney didn't invent Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White, only popularised a version of them in our imaginations. There's a reason these particular tales have endured for hundreds of years in many versions - they are satisfying tales that speak deeply to us, which resonate in some way with our experience. But I want my daughter to know that Disney princesses are not the only kind.