The False Princess / 2011 / Egmont USA /
They’re the third hit when you Google the word “princess.” Snow White, Jasmine, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, and Cinderella. All of them dressed in their golden or blue or pink finery (I guess that Flora won the battle over the color of Sleeping Beauty’s dress), many of them with crowns on their heads. Disney’s Princesses. Looking at them, even though I grew up on their movies and love all of them, I have a bevy of conflicting thoughts.
One of the first things I think about is that there are two generations of princesses here. One the one hand, you have Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella. They’re old school princesses, characters who get by mostly by being “ever gentle and kind” and then are rewarded with a prince at the end of the story. Nice girls, all of them, but products of the time in which they were created. They mainly wish for a new future, rather than going out and doing anything about getting one. On the second hand, you have the more modern princesses: Jasmine and Belle. I can relate to these two much better than the first group, because, when faced with trouble or their own unfulfilled desires, they actually act. (Ariel though I love her falls somewhere in the middle, as a girl who does act, but only to get her prince.)
So, good, I think. We’re making strides. Except that something still bothers me when I look at them. Now I know that the “Disney Princesses” line is all about marketing about selling dolls and toys and dress up gown and not about stories. But looking at them all lined up in their dresses (or seashells), I can’t help but think that it’s the just princess part of them that’s important, rather than them. Because we never see Belle in her blue inventor’s daughter dress, or Aurora in her peasant garb. Outside of the movies, we only see them after the transformation, after the all-important event has occurred. And it’s always a one way street girls turning into princesses, as if this is the only way to become happy, the only way to fulfill a dream.
When I started working on The False Princess, I wanted to turn some of the regular notions of princesses on their heads. Even before she’s kicked out of the palace, Sinda isn’t anyone’s idea of a traditional princess. She’s shy and bookish and likely to trip over her own feet if she isn’t careful, not graceful or at ease in social situations.
And then she finds out that she’s not the princess she always thought she was, rather than the other way around. She’s a false princess, a stand-in to protect the real princess from a prophecy that predicted her death. The “important” thing in Sinda’s life gets stripped away, leaving her floundering and unsure. That was what interested me about her her journey to figure out who she is at her core once the princess title is taken from her, and how to be happy with that person. And it’s not an easy road (though it is one filled with magic, treachery, a witty earl’s son, grave-robbing, and a very eccentric mentor).
So it’s the reversal of the classic princess story that I like most about the book. But not just because it changes things up. I like it because it let me look beyond just the ball gowns and the tiaras, and figure out what makes being or not being a princess, or just a regular girl, important.
I want to thank Eilis O’Neal for visiting Windowpane Memoirs. It’s been a pleasure.