Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Four Favorite Kick-Ass Princesses

by Laurie K., Sara N., Kathy F. and Megan S.

Merida may be the first female main character in Pixar's 26-year history of making movies, but she's just the latest in a long line of kick-ass princesses in science fiction and fantasy. Whether they're wielding a sword or their sharply honed wits, princesses are not to be trifled with and our four favorite royal heroines are no exception...

Princess Ozma of Oz
by Sara N.

I was all about Frank L. Baum's Oz books when I was little, and I think Ozma is one of the most overlooked princesses in children's literature. Of course, all the children of the '80s who were forever scarred by Return to Oz are familiar with Ozma, who helped Dorothy Gale escape electric shock therapy (!) at a mental institution (!!) and defeat a witch with a collection of interchangeable heads (!!!). But Ozma in the books was an even more romantic character for young girls. She was all sparkling eyes and flowing hair and billowy dresses, and she and Dorothy Gale would go on grand adventures in Baum's books. 

I suspect Ozma would come off a bit goody-goody to today's audiences; she mostly resolves issues through peacefulness and diplomacy and chin-up optimism, and she doesn't possess any of those delicious shades of gray that make the wanna-be monarchs on Game of Thrones so intriguing to watch. Still, she was a fairy who could do magic and had an enchanted mirror that would let her view what was happening anywhere in the world. Plus, the turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau illustrations in the books were old-fashioned and beautiful. This was all quite heady to 10-year-old me.

Hey, Hollywood: I think a modern interpretation could do quite a lot with Ozma's backstory. In 1904's Marvelous Land of Oz, the witch Mombi has transformed baby Ozma into a boy, Tip. Ozma lives for years as Tip before Glinda discovers the trickery and changes him back into a girl. Keep in mind that readers have spent the whole book following the story of the scrappy boy Tip, who at the end of the book emerges as a dainty, beautiful princess. This is pretty trangressive stuff, flirting with issues of transgenderism and social roles for boys and girls. Can you imagine the potential? Seriously, people, I'm holding out for Ozma! The Movie! 

Princess Elizabeth, The Paper Bag Princess
by Megan S.

Do you know the story of Princess Elizabeth?  The Paper Bag Princess has been in print for over 30 years but the ultimate feminist fairy tale never seems to get its share of the limelight.  Seriously, anytime I mention the book to someone who has actually heard of it, their face lights up and they squeal, "Wait, you know about The Paper Bag Princess?  I thought I was the only one!"

by Janellabell
In Robert Munsch's book, Elizabeth is a normal princess who wears beautiful, expensive gowns and is in love with her handsome fiance, Prince Ronald.  One day, everything she knows and adores is decimated by a thoughtless dragon.  He burns all of her clothes including the dress she's wearing, destroys her castle, and absconds with her prince.  So, Elizabeth does the only thing any self respecting princess should do a situation like this - she grabs her badly damaged crown, covers herself with a paper bag, and sets off to rescue her prince.  The princess manages to use her budding detective skills and track down the scaly monster to his lair and, after playing to his vanity, she tricks him so she may free Ronald.  When the dragon is so tired he can't wake even when Elizabeth yells in his ear, she attempts to free the prince from the lair but Ronald will have none of it.  Elizabeth is no longer pretty, clean, nor dressed in finery so Ronald tells her to leave and come back when she looks like a proper princess.  Elizabeth calls him a bum, ditches the ungrateful prince, and happily dances off into the sunset by herself.

by Alisha Schick
I've always loved The Paper Bag Princess but I don't think I really grasped how awesome it was until yesterday when I dug out my 27-year-old copy to write up the summary for this post.  It's been years since I've even cracked it open and I didn't remember the beginning of the fairy tale.  You see, the best part about the story is that Elizabeth wasn't a headstrong, kick-ass princess from the very beginning.  She was just a normal girl until life as she knew it was cruelly yanked away from her.  Elizabeth rises to the challenge, does what she needs to, and that new found inner-strength gives her the freedom to ditch the jerk who tells her she isn't good enough.  I think that's why the tale resonates with so many girls and women.  It tells us we can become kick butt even if we never have before.

Well, that and running around in a paper bag leads to some awesome cosplay.

Talia (Sleeping Beauty), The Stepsister Scheme
by Kathy F.

I admit that I do love Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the classical score, the animation style, and the very wicked villainess Maleficent. Prince Philip comes across well too. But for a princess movie, the titular character is pretty much lacking throughout the best parts. Not her fault, of course, she's asleep, but she really doesn't do much.
Talia is on the right. Those dagger's ain't for show.

In Jim C. Hines' Princess world, it is a very different story. Here happily ever after isn't the case, and the most famous stories have a dark side. In the first book of the series, we learn that Cinderella's mother-in-law has taken in two fairytale princesses, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who are persona non grata in their own lands. In return, they are a secret service, protecting the queen's interests.

Talia, a Middle Eastern princess, was blessed by the fairies with beauty and grace, but their "gifts" ruined her life and destroyed her family. Her story isn't one where she is awakened by a kiss and marries her true love. Her tale is much darker and disturbing, and she retains a whole lot of anger. Once you learn why, you really can't blame her either. Even some of the faeries they encounter agree that she got a thoroughly crappy deal.

This Sleeping Beauty is not one to just roll over and take it, though. She uses her faerie-given gifts to the fullest. Her grace and agility transform her into a dangerous opponent in a fight. She likes her weapons too and is more likely to kill first and ask questions later. Kickass just doesn't do her justice. She is also fiercely loyal and is not afraid to sacrifice herself for her friends.  In Talia, Hines has created the antithesis of the passive damsel in need of rescue.

Dejah Thoris, John Carter
by Laurie K.

Who's a kickass swordfighter, Helium's finest scientist, and a smoking hot babe? Dejah Thoris, a princess of  Barsoom. When we first see Dejah Thoris, she's trying to figure out how to present one of the greatest scientific accomplishments Barsoom has ever seen - the effective utilization of the Ninth Ray - to her father, the Jeddak of Helium. Her father barges in, disregards her accomplishments without even waiting to hear them, and announces he's going to marry her off to a villain for peace in the realm. You can imagine how well that goes over. The next time we see Dejah Thoris, she's in a fight for her life against the villain's forces - she ain't marrying nobody, thankyouverymuch. She manages to lose her balance and gets saved by John Carter, who gallantly offers to protect her from the rampaging bad guys. She lets him do his thing, then calmly takes her sword back and proceeds to kick some ass.  She does, however, politely let him know that he can stand behind her, if he so desires.

Apparently, she's more of a classic damsel in distress in the source material, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In John Carter, she kicks a lot of ass and while she's in a sucky situation, she's never one to wait for John to save her.  She's smart, resourceful, and tough, things that are often thought to be extraneous in a princess.

Also, if you haven't seen John Carter, you are missing out. It's awesome in all ways, and it's a damn shame that Disney screwed up the marketing so badly.

Who's your favorite?  Add her to the list in the comments!
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  1. Cimorene from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
    She is bored with the princess life preferring to learn to fence and make cherries jubilee. So she runs off to become a dragons princess. She becomes a trusted friend to her dragon, dodges suitors, and uncovers a dastardly conspiracy!

  2. Cimorene is awesome. So is Leia, but perhaps she's too obvious to mention?

    Aeryn Firehair is one of my other preferred princesses, from Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown. One of my favorite parts is when she's attempting to improve a recipe for a fire-protection potion she's found in an old book of magic, and her series of experiments and mishaps and improvements makes her a great scientist role model as well as a strong-willed warrior type. Plus, I seem to recall she had a very cool horse.

  3. Today is August 21st, which is the official birthday of Princess Ozma!!!