Monday, June 20, 2011

P is for Princess . . . or Prince, if you like!

Would you believe me if I told you that, not all that long ago, I determined to never write a story about a princess?

I didn’t think so.

It’s true, though. Back in high school, in particular, I was very against the notion of making my storybook heroines princesses. I always thought, “Hey, why does she have to be royalty? Can’t ordinary girls have fun or adventures?”

I still think this is a legitimate point. And I have every intention of writing many novels that do not feature princesses (or princes) as the main protagonists. But what made me change my mind for my very first novel?

Easy. It’s a Fairy Tale.

Granted, not every Fairy Tale features as princess heroine. There are those precious few that don't (though, I’m racking my brains right now and can’t think of a single good one). All the best Fairy Tales have princesses or Deserving Merchant’s Daughters who become princess in the fullness of time.

I, in my early excursions into the realms of Fairy Tale writing, did not at first understand the reason for this. Why princesses? I mean, think about all those great Fairy Tales . . . Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Glass Mountain, Twelve Dancing Princesses (TWELVE of them, no less!), The Goose Girl, The Little Mermaid . . . all princesses.

And when I sat down to pen the first short-story version of Heartless, it didn’t make sense to write: “Once upon a time, there was this girl.” It was meant to be: “Once upon time, there was a princess.”
I broke my anti-princess vow that day, and the rest is history.

But still, I have to ask myself: Why princesses? What makes them so special?
Here is my current theory on the topic, and granted, it’s just a theory. But I think it’s because Princesses are on their way to becoming Queens.

It’s a subconscious connection. We know that a princess is in a state of transition. She is born into this position, but she is not meant to remain there. She is a idealized representation of Girlhood growing into Womanhood. We put it in romantic terms like “Princess” and “Queen,” and our imaginations can immediately latch onto the concept.

A princess is automatically associated with growth. It’s not that she isn’t interesting and beautiful and romantic as she is. But despite everything she is now, she will have to grow into completion.

Fairy Tales are all about symbols. I’ve already written about the importance of True Loves First Kiss . . . Princesses are another symbol kind of like that. The idea of a princess is very little like reality. The idea of a princess is a girl who is the center of her world, just as we are the center of our perceived worlds. Everyone in the story revolves around the princess, but she is the core. So we relate to that. But to be a princess means to be in a transition of youth to maturity. A princess must grow to become a queen. We relate to that as well.

In the case of my Una, she has to grow out of herself, out of this fixation on her own desires. When she finally reaches that point of humility, she steps out of childish girlhood into the beginnings of real womanhood. She empowered by means of humility.

Technically, Una’s story would work well in the context of any strong-willed young lady wanting her own way. But by making her a princess, I grabbed hold of the universal connection we feel to Fairy Tale princesses. I felt the bond myself as I wrote her. I hope my readers will feel that bond too and recognize the ways the Una, while a distinct personality, represents all of us.

So there you have it. Princesses = Growth Symbol. It’s a theory anyway!

Note: I think this theory works pretty well with princes too. They, too, are in a state of transition and growth. But for some reason, I never really minded writing about princes like I used to mind writing about princesses . . .


Anonymous said...

Wow, I never thought about it that way. I am now trying to think of a good fairy tale without princesses. It's not working.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I know, a couple of days later, and I STILL can't think of a good fairy tale without a princess! It's obviously a vitally important symbol! :)