Just coincidentally, today I finished two princess-y books: Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, published in 2000, and M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess, published in 1980.
Let me tell you, The Ordinary Princess has aged a lot better. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but Wikipedia lists it as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, which I guess makes sense. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne of Phantasmorania is given the gift of “ordinariness” by a fairy invited to her christening. She has adventures running away into the woods and finding work as a kitchen maid, eventually meeting a man-of-all-work who turns out to be a king and they get married and live happily-ever-after.
OK, I was kinda hoping she would settle into happy spinsterdom in the Forest of Faraway, but maybe the book is a little too old for that.
I’ve said before that I’m a little tired of fairy tale retellings. They feel a bit stale, but this one was fun. Some of the jokes were a bit hokey – the Kleptomanian princes who would steal all the cutlery? – but the simple, silly names added to the delightfully straightforward fairy tale feeling, while at the same time, telling a bit of an unexpected story about Princess Amy, who is very ordinary, especially in comparison to her six beautiful older sisters.
I liked this story. It was short and sweet, a nice escape from the crowded train I crush into on the regular.
Meanwhile, back at home, I was reading a paper copy of The Princess Diaries. Usually when I feature cover images here, I pick my favorite. This one is kind of ugly and outdated, which is actually how I felt about the book itself.
At first, it was kind of fun. I mean, how many of my students will “get” why Mia can’t call her bff Lilly while her brother is online writing for his webzine? Hint: probably none of them. So that kind of thing, and references to Leonardo DiCaprio being so 1998, made me laugh.
Then it just got boring.
I never read these books as a kid, although I would have been about the right age (11, when the first volume was published). I’m glad that I didn’t; the relentless heteronormativity and Mia’s obsessing over her flat chest and her crush on dreamy whats-his-face would have turned me right off. There’s nothing wrong with a character who wants to be beautiful and date boys, but it’s not for me and it got old, fast.
So when I got sick of that, I started comparing changes from the book to the movie, which I actually really like – but of course, trust Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews to make two unlikeable characters your bffs. Grandmere was a completely different character in the movie from the book, and I like Julie Andrews’ version better, to be honest.
There were changes in the plot, too: like Mia’s father being deceased in the movie and infertile in the book, and Mia living in Manhattan in the book, but San Francisco in the movie, or basically, Mia being a snotty little brat in the book and a likable if awkward girl in the movie.
I did not enjoy this book and I really had to slog through it at the end.