Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A feminist fairy tale?

I was sent this post as an email recently:

This is the fairy tale that we should have been reading as little girls!

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog as she sat, contemplating ecological issues on the shores of an unpolluted pond in a verdant meadow near her castle.

A frog hopped into the princess' lap and said: "Elegant Lady, I was once a handsome prince, until an evil witch cast a spell upon me. One kiss from you, however, and I will turn back into the dapper, young Prince that I am and then, my sweet, we can marry and set up housekeeping in your castle with my mother, where you can satisfy my needs, prepare and serve my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children, and forever feel grateful and happy doing so."

That night, as the princess dined sumptuously on lightly sautéed frog's legs seasoned in a white wine, onion and cream sauce, she chuckled and thought to herself:


It makes you laugh, for it subverts the traditional expections of the "fairy tale" quite nicely. There are some points, however, where it falls down.

Firstly, this is still a fairy tale reality where princes can be turned into frogs. Despite what David Blaine proclaims, in this real world, magic is all sleight of hand and misdirection. And princesses are not always beautiful, no matter what small girls think, wearing pretty dresses and lightweight crowns. Think Princess Anne, here, and you're getting my point (though that's not to say that Princess Anne is not an admirable person in many ways).

Secondly, no princess would have to prepare the prince's meals and clean his clothes: that's what servants are for, even now. And no fairy tale ever claimed that the princess would ever have to do that for him. The other bits, however... well, those were always skated over by saying that the couple fell in love.

Thirdly, and this is the point that started me thinking, if the prince has been changed into a frog by magic, isn't the princess in the end actually eating the prince? Which is pretty gross, if you think of it like that. Cannibalism is not necessary, even to make a point.

So, if you want a fairy tale re-told, you can't do better than read the stories and novels of Robin McKinley. McKinley is one of my favourite writers: she has written original fantasy ("The Blue Sword" and "The Hero and the Crown"), and one of the most fantastic vampire novels ever published, "Sunshine", as well as her fairy tale retellings. These include The Princess and the Frog (in which the princess and the frog save each other) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses as short stories; Beauty and the Beast, twice (as "Beauty" and "Rose Daughter"); Sleeping Beauty (as "Spindle's End"); and, most movingly and horrifyingly, in a re-telling of the usually-bowdlerised Donkeyskin, "Deerskin". Not all are in print in the UK, except her most recent books, but most seem to be available from Amazon.

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At Fri Feb 23, 09:48:00 pm, Blogger First Nations said...

ever read 'Enchantment' by Orson Scott Card? excellent re-telling of Sleeping Beauty.


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