Princesses. According to some, almost every girl dreams of being a princess. Wearing fancy gowns, attending lavish balls, meeting handsome princes, and of course, living happily ever after. Disney themselves know the power of princesses. Princesses have been part of their studio starting with "Snow White" back in 1938. Since that time, the studio's animation forces were jumpstarted by two other princesses, with "Cinderella" in 1951, and "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. In fact, Disney's successful (but slightly overblown) 'Princess' line has been said to generate profit for Disney in the billions.

Yes, the life of a Princess seems glamorous, but in all fairy tales, the life of one seems hardly 'ordinary.' It seems most are constantly having to avoid being killed by vicious relatives, angry sorceresses, and what not. But imagine having to deal with something that almost no princess has yet encountered: being ordinary.

That was the purpose of M. M. Kaye's wonderful short story, "The Ordinary Princess" (Viking Children's Book, March 2002). In a preface to the story, Kaye notes something rather striking about the fairy tales and stories that she read while staying at a friend's residence:

"All the princesses, apart from such rare exceptions as Snow White, were blond, blue-eyed, and beautiful, with lovely figures and complexions and extravagantly long hair. This struck me as most unfair, and suddenly I began to wonder just how many handsome young princes would have asked a king for the hand of his daughter if that daughter happened to be gawky, snub-nosed, and freckled, with shortish mouse-colored hair? None, I suspected. They would all have been off chasing after some lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing between her ears!"

It was out of these ideas that M. M. Kaye crafted this fine and interesting story. It seems rife in this age where suddenly all sorts of fairy tale conventions are being spoofed or mocked. "Shrek" had several of them, including the idea of turning the story of "Beauty and the Beast" upside down with Princess Fiona's curse. And sometime around 2007 Glen Keane's upcoming "Rapunzel: Unbraided" (which will have the young woman rendered in brilliant 3D animation) sounds like it will also enter into the fairy tale arena. But, I'm going off topic here. Back to "The Ordinary Princess."

In the story, a king, his wife, and their 6 lovely daughters, each one with dazzling and gorgeous features rule the country of Phantasmorania. One day, word spreads that a 7th daughter is to be born unto the King. Sure enough, the seventh Princess has the blue eyes and blonde hair of her sisters, as well as those (dreadfully) long names that accompany many of royal lineages. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne (yes, that is her full title!) is then given a grand christening much like that of many princesses. Of course given what happened to the kings' great-great-great- grandmother (she and her court were forced to sleep for a hundred years because of a mix-up at her christening: shades of Sleeping Beauty), the royal household takes great steps to not have this happen again. On the day of the Christening, 7 fairies come forth to grant the princess such gifts as Wit, Charm, Courage, Wisdom, Health, and Grace. But the 7th fairy (Crustacea, a fairy of water), is quite unimpressed with all the brouhaha around the little princess, and so proclaims to the little girl: You shall be Ordinary.

With these words, the young Princess' life is turned upside down. Within the next few years, the Princess becomes more and more ordinary. Her once curly golden tresses now hang brown and limp, her once brilliant blue eyes are now grayish-brown, and her nose has become upturned. And did I mention that she now sports freckles? And because of her plainness, almost everyone just simply refers to her as Princess Amy. Of course, her mother is dismayed at this supposed 'gift,' and tries all ways to make her daughter beautiful, but none of them can change Amy's plainness.

But while her beautiful sisters do regular princess things (stay out of the sun, play with such baubles as golden balls), young Amy wants to get away from the rather boring and stuffy atmosphere. She is a rather cheerful girl, and enjoys frolicking in the nearby forest, free of any royal constraints. As well, she is not at all concerned about landing a kingly husband.

As his daughters are married off one-by-one, it soon becomes apparent to the king that Amy is not going to be so easy to marry off. The young girl's appearance has a rather negative effect on several princes who stop by to call. At one point, one of the King's staff recommends hiring a dragon, as young princes are always willing to rescue damsels in distress. The payoff would be that it would be a rather 'easy' way to marry off Amy, before the prince could see her and possibly change his mind.

Of course, when Amy overhears this, she is anything but happy. Running away, she wanders into the woods, and stays among some of the animals, of which she befriends a squirrel and a crow (however, neither talk to her), which she names Mr. Pemberthy and Peter Aurelious. But staying in the woods does not hold well with keeping your clothes from becoming tattered. So Amy goes to work in the nearby kingdom of Amber, working as a kitchen maid, doing dishes, peeling potatoes and whatnot.

And that dear reader(s) is as far as I will go. Needless to say, Amy's story is short, but the story is simple and sweet. There is no real threat to Amy, yet it all works nicely, and seemingly, Amy is probably the first princess I've ever read about with freckles.

Besides writing the story, M. M. Kaye also illustrated it. Her illustrations are simple black ink on parchment illustrations, but the style is something that many people don't see every day. Kaye captures an almost 'ordinary beauty' of Amy in her work. When looking at them, the illustrations reminded me strongly of some of those that were done by illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, who did several pre-production illustrations for Walt Disney's "Snow White." They evoke a simple ness, yet make several of the story points all the more expressive, from the illustrations of the dampened fairy Crustacea, to Princess Amy carrying a large stack of washed plates.

But illustrations aside, this story will surely delight many people. I'm just amazed that noone had told me about this before (my girlfriend came across it while doing research for a musical, and when she told me the premise, I had to read it). At just a scant 128 page book comes across as a nice short read. But even so, it's a nice way to escape the ever-increasing autumn weather, and is nice to also see a simple and sweet breaking of the fairy-tale chain, without as much fanfare as most productions today.



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