Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Proactive Princess: Re-Imagining the Fairy Tale

By Deva Fagan

I’ll admit it: I wanted to be a princess when I grew up.

 But the princess I wanted to be wasn’t Cinderella or Snow White. I wanted to be Princess Leia, rocketing around the galaxy fighting the forces of evil, flirting with the scruffy-looking nerf-herder, and getting to wear the occasional glitzy outfit. It all seemed much more interesting than the lives of most fairy tale princesses, who appeared to spend their time locked away in towers or bowers, waiting to be rescued by someone (usually a prince), or humbly enduring the trials of mundane life until someone (usually a prince) recognized their inherent quality and whisked them away. 

 That’s not to say there weren’t benefits to being a traditional fairy tale princess. You were beautiful. If you weren’t born that way, there was a fairy godmother on hand to grant you good looks (not to mention riches and kindness). You didn’t have to worry about a marrying a husband not of your liking. Even if you had to go into hiding as a peasant maid there would always be a prince or a king kicking around somewhere who would find you out. At worst you might need to drop a gold ring in his soup or appear mysteriously at his ball to give him a hint. And in the end you lived happily ever after. No wonder so many little girls dream of being fairy tale princesses.

 But the power of dreams is that we can believe in them. And that’s where the traditional fairy tale princesses let me down. What, exactly, was I supposed to actually do to find my own fairy tale? I was brown-haired, bespeckled and shy— not exactly princess material. Sure, I could try waiting around for someone to take notice, but what would I do in the meantime? Take a hundred-year nap like Sleeping Beauty? These fairy tale princesses might be lovely and beguiling, yet to me they were as ethereal as a gossamer gown. These girls were defined by their birth, their beauty and by their value to others. Following that dream would mean embracing passivity and putting my happiness in someone else’s hands.

Thankfully, I did have a fairy godmother of sorts: the Library. The gifts she bestowed weren’t beauty or gold. She gave me something better. She introduced me to a new sort of princess. There was Aerin, the gangly and awkward daughter of a king in Robin McKinley’s The Hero And The Crown. With hard work and determination, Aerin makes herself into a dragon-slaying hero, despite the doubt and scorn of others. There was Amy, the titular character in M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess,whose freckles and a snub nose don’t stop her from finding adventure and love. There was Princess Cimorene of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons, who flees boring court life to polish swords, read magic scrolls and cook cherries jubilee for a dragon.  Later on I discovered even more wonderfully subversive princesses, in books like Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, and The Runaway Princessby Kate Coombs. These girls might be princesses, but they definitely weren’t sitting around waiting to be rescued. They made things happen, and they inspired me to do the same.

 That’s the kind of princess I want to be. And that’s the kind of girl I want to write about: someone who feels deeply, works hard, stays determined, and takes action. Her life isn’t about waiting for someone to notice she’s special and put a crown on her head: it’s about recognizing her own strengths, her own worth. It’s about going out and making her own fairy tale come true.

 That doesn’t mean a proactive princess can’t be popular or wear sparkly pink gowns or search for true love. I’m a big fan of true love. If you can find it, it’s a treasure beyond every singing harp and golden ring in all the Grimm’s tales. Yet I’m looking for a heroine whose defining moment isn’t the fit of a slipper, but rather the recognition of who she truly is and her own power to control her life.

There will always be little girls (and big ones too) who dream of being princesses. Let’s give them dreams that they can really believe in.


Read “Contemporary Cinderella: Inner Changes and Transformation Make a Modern Princess” by Erin Dionne

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ari February 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I totally agree with you! Excellent post.
At the end of the day we all want to be princesses, but in our own special way. We want to be beautiful, smart and brave. And make things happen! And yes we all want love but that quest for love shouldn’t define us.
Thank you for writing books that show this, the importance of controlling your own destiny. You will inspire future young readers :)


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