When I was little I always wanted to be a princess. In fact when adults asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I always told them I was going to be a princess. My older siblings tried to dismiss this career choice by pointing out that you had to be born a princess, and besides, queens had the real power.
But I was adamant. I wanted to be a princess.
This is because I adored fairy tales and princesses were always the ones wearing poufy dresses, looking gorgeous, and having fun and adventures. I wanted all of that. Especially the poufy dresses.
One of my favorite fairy tales was The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The short synopsis of this story is: Although the twelve beautiful princesses are locked in their room every night, every morning their dancing slippers are worn through. The King, vexed by this mystery, offers the hand of one of his daughters along with his kingdom to any man who can find out where his daughters go. If they fail, after three nights they will be beheaded. Many kings’ sons come to try and solve the riddle but they all fail.
Finally a soldier comes through town. He meets one of those kindly old magical women who just hang around street corners waiting to help the pure in heart. She tells him not to drink anything the princesses give him (which is laced with a sleeping potion) and gives him a magical invisibility cloak. He follows the princesses to an underground world where they dance with twelve princes (The Grimm brothers don’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure these underground princes all look like the Jonas brothers.) The soldier brings back proof of this magical place to give to the king. Having solved the riddle, he wins the princess of his choice and the kingdom.
If you had asked me what the moral to this Grimm fairy tale was when I was a child, I would have said that it was either a) your father does indeed want to stop all your fun or b) if you are going to dance the night away with secret princes you should get sturdier shoes.
Now that I’m an adult I clearly see that this story is a cautionary tale for men: If you can’t figure out women and their secret worlds, you don’t stand a chance. Your head might as well be rolling on the floor. However, if you can stay awake long enough to discover the inner world of a woman, you get the whole kingdom.
And a very good moral it is too, men, so listen up.
This by the way, is not what Jessica Day George’s book, Princess of the Midnight Ball is about. At least not moral-wise. She does follow the fairy tale pretty closely, except that her version makes a lot more sense than Grimm’s did.
She explains who the underground princes are, why there are twelve of them and twelve princesses, and why they must dance every night. She also explains why the princesses have to keep it a secret, why the princes who fail to solve the riddle end up dying, and why there was that kindly old lady hanging around the street with magically items. (I don’t know about you, but even though I occasionally give money to beggars on street corners, not one of them has ever produced a magic cloak for me.) Jessica Day George even supplies what was missing in the original fairy tale, a villain who is capable not only of dooming the princesses but their whole kingdom as well.
The story is both believable and enjoyable and you will like the twelve princesses—especially the heroine, Rose. Galen, the soldier, is also a great character. (You have to love a man who not only sends flowers to a woman but can also knit his own socks.)
Here are some questions I asked Jessica:
Were you like me as a little girl–did you always want to be a princess? If not, what were you going to be when you grew up?
I did want to be a princess! I had a whole imaginary world I lived in. I had a horse, and a pet wolf, and a dragon, and I had hair down to my ankles (can you imagine actually having to wash hair that long? ugh!), and I lived in a marble palace with a huge pool in my room for bathing. There was more, it was very elaborate.
What is your favorite fairy tale?
East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, which is the basis for my book Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. Polar bears, trolls, and magic, oh my!
Did you imagine any specific person when you wrote about Galen or Rose? If so who?
I didn’t, actually. Galen just popped into my head one day, marching along and wearing about five scarves because he was a knitter as well as an ex-soldier , and then I asked myself: what kind of girl would Galen fall for? What kind of girl would the oldest of twelve cursed princesses be? And Rose came from that.
I know you have small children. What’s your writing schedule like?
Any free moment I can get! Usually the afternoons, now, when my four-year-old is watching a movie or playing, and the baby’s sleeping. I used to write in the mornings, but with the late night feedings, I usually sleep until almost eight, and meanwhile the four-year-old has started waking up at 6:30! He just hangs out in his room, chatting with his toys and monkeying around, until I get up. What a nut!
Dragon Spear, my third and final book about the seamstress Creel and her dragon friends!
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