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June 1, 2016

From Glass Slippers to Yucky Pigpens, “Happily Ever After” Princesses

It’s National Princess Week, a time when we give a round of applause for the traditional and not-so-traditional ladies we’ve dubbed “princesses.” When I think of the long and ever-growing list of royal, powerful women who have appeared in renowned works of literature and film, I cannot help but isolate five extremely different princesses: Cinderella, Mia Thermopolis, Isabella, Rapunzel, and the unnamed princess in “The Princess and the Pea.”

Whether you’re a little girl watching Walt Disney’s Cinderella at a slumber party or an English major annotating an excerpt from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, you cannot help but feel a strong connection to this beautiful heroine. She lives with her evil stepmother and stepsisters, who treat her as though she is a servant. I love that after enduring so much hardship and isolation, Cinderella ends up with the handsome Prince Charming and is freed from a life of entrapment. She is finally able to live “happily ever after” because her good karma (and glass slipper) lead the prince right back to her. I will never forget the first image of Cinderella arriving at the ball in her pumpkin carriage and blue gown (after a little magical help from her Fairy Godmother). At that moment you know that the prince will immediately fall in love with her. Every year on Halloween when I was a little girl I’d dress as Cinderella—until the dress didn’t fit me anymore!

I similarly adore Rapunzel because, let’s face it, having hair long enough to stretch from the top of a tower to the ground below is totally awesome! What I love about this particular princess in the Brothers Grimm/Paul O. Zelinsky versions is that the prince is drawn to her when he hears her singing—not initially because of her outrageously long and enchanting hair! Her voice is the stepping-stone for their love, and it is also how he finds her at the end of the story when he is blind and searching for her in the forest. Her tears ultimately heal his blindness, and of course the two live happily ever after. What can I say? I can’t get enough of these classic fairy tales!

To completely steer away from the traditional princesses that we hold on a pedestal, we MUST discuss Mia Thermopolis, aka Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. Perhaps the most kooky and discombobulated princess, Mia is informed of her royal status in her early teens. She is also perhaps the most relatable princess that I have ever encountered in literature (and film!). She’s just your average teen—she’s awkwardly struggling to become comfortable in her skin, she gets into little tiffs with her mom, and she always has her best girlfriend at her side. When she decides to accept her roles as Princess of Genovia, you recognize that she is slowly transitioning from girl to woman, which is a process all girls go through. And what better way to approach womanhood than by becoming a princess!

Like Mia Thermopolis, Princess Pigsty is not your average princess! Cornelia Funke’s Princess Pigsty, a quirky tale with charming illustrations by Kerstin Meyer, stars young Isabella, who is sick and tired of being a princess. She wants to be a normal girl, void of royal responsibilities and etiquette rules. Ironically enough, her wish is granted when her father “punishes” her by banishing her to the pigsty after she refuses to pick up her crown from the floor. While Isabella gets muddy with pigs and forages for food outside, she couldn’t be happier!

Very different from the princesses described so far, the unnamed princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea” is one of the first princesses I remember reading about as a child. The prince in the story yearns for a princess to marry, but he struggles to find a suitable bride. Seeking shelter during an ominous storm, the unnamed princess knocks on his castle door one night. Noticing her disheveled and inelegant appearance, the queen secretly places a pea under several mattresses and blankets where the unnamed woman is to sleep, to determine if she is a real princess. The woman has a horrible night of sleep because of the pea, and the prince and queen agree that the woman must be a princess if she is delicate enough to feel a little pea under many layers of comfort. I appreciate that the term princess is defined by sensitivity and cognizance. Although this theme repeats in several fairy tales, I have not encountered one that does it quite like this story.

I highly recommend that girls of all ages take a peek at these wonderful women to experience something magical—and learn that you may not be so different from them after all! To explore other fabulous, funny, and fearless princesses, check out the following items in our May offers:

Disney Learning: Disney Princess Memory Game in Honeybee

Disney Princess: Sealed with a Kiss in Firefly

Ponyella by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger in Seesaw


Annie Miller joined the Book Clubs staff a few months ago and is a former English major, food blogger, and current children’s book lover!

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April 23, 2012