Friday, June 05, 2009

The Truth about Princesses, plus: a Public Opinion Poll

In spite of my total lack of self-control, I managed to check out one fewer book that I returned yesterday, bringing my total count of books out of the BPL system down to 11. This is really intimidating, but I'm doing the best I can with it. The YA summer reading shelf was calling to me.

I grabbed something there called Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and on page 2 I'm already a little disappointed. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and I liked this one--Cinderella is carried off to the palace by the prince and given lots of boring sewing and etiquette lessons, and realizes that the prince may be charming but he's not all that bright. Sounds great, right? Sadly, within the first five pages you can see that the story is going to depend heavily on nobility being snobbish.

Now, I am college educated and read a lot of fantasy, so I have a lot of ideas about being a princess. Before I had a son, I had long since decided that if I ever have a daughter, she's going to understand what it means to be a princess. It means sitting very still for long periods of time and being perfectly polite to everyone. It means not talking back or running around or doing anything fun or interesting most of the time. It means thinking of others--the whole kingdom, in fact--before you think of yourself. My daughter will only want to be a princess if she has an overdeveloped desire to serve her nation/family.

But that doesn't mean that nobles are snobs. The fact is, at the time when there were princesses and peasants, that was not only luxury you were born into, it was responsibility. You were in charge, and running a fiefdom is not going to be easier than running a business. You don't get rich running a lousy kingdom--a good king/queen/noble is going to be thoughtful, problem solving, hard working. Maybe they'll be a jerk, and likely they'll know their place, but in the real world of nobility and servants, there's no need to be a snob. Everyone's working together in the system, and it's no more snobbish to be a noble than it is to be the principal of a school. Do you think the principal turns up his nose if the cafeteria lady needs to talk to him? No, he converses with her, even though they both know that he's in charge.

So when, on page three, the etiquette instructor tells her that when she screams for a doctor to save the life of Lord Reston, she should scream, "His Excellencey Lord Reston is dying!" I was immediately turned off. I think I'll keep trying, because it looks like it could be fun. But I'm sick of the raw deal nobles get in fantasy. Of course, I'm equally sick of the idea that a nice or goodhearted noble doesn't want to be noble, and asks everyone to call them by their first name and doesn't stand on formality. The Queen can't act as a person, she has to act as a head of state, and so it is important that people be reminded that she's queen. Including her.

Wow. Who knew I had a rant in me on that subject? Okay, let's be quick on the public opinion poll: is it okay to go back and change a review? Not in the blog--I can do a new post if I want to change my opinion. But I was cruising through Goodreads recently and realized I only gave three stars to a book that, in retrospect, was better than that. At the time I read it, I didn't understand what the author was doing, but now that I've read more of her books, I get it and appreciate it. I wouldn't change my written review, except to include an addendum, but can I change my star rating after the fact? Discuss.


Brenda Pike said...

I say yes. I change ratings on my iPod and Netflix all the time. But you can't do it if I've browbeaten you into pretending to like a book that you don't.

JMLC said...

yes, change is good. change with a small explaining bit is also good.
I think I started Just Ella and ended up skimming through it. I honestly can't remember which would suggest I didn't think it was that great....

LibraryHungry said...

I'm glad to hear it. And for the record, it was Ursula Leguin's Gifts. I found it kind of brooding, but it was one of the first Leguin books I ever read. After reading more of her, I realized that her books are very much about ideas, and if looked at that way, the stories actually make more sense and are even more enjoyable. Go figure.

Mr. Russell said...

Just to say, if you do have a daughter, try watching Roman Holiday as an antidote. There's great stuff in there about how dull -- and how much responsibility -- being a princess is.

And with regard to the straw poll, one of my favourite things to read is a critic talking about revisiting a work and comparing former judgements to current ones. Not only does it help illuminate the process of criticism, but it helps show how much perspective and worldview can have an effect of the review of a work, and how a work can withstand multiple exposures and viewpoints.