The Princess Seduction: Why We Need Fairytales Without Royalty

Elsa Frozen“When I grow up, I want to be a Queen,” my five-year-old daughter tells me.

I am disappointed. I was hoping we could talk about her interests, ones with an actual bearing on the future course of her life.

Then, too, there is the small matter of my deep and abiding passion for liberty. Where have I gone wrong? What has happened to the child who once said, “You have to have a license to drive. You have to have a license to fish. Why do you have to have a license for everything, Mommy?”

A few months ago, she refused to do a lesson at her Montessori school that dictated what color crayons to use to color a butterfly.

“Why do I have to do what a piece of paper says?” she demanded, with all the righteous indignation of five years. “Why does a piece of paper get to decide what colors I use for my butterfly? I want to decide my own colors. I’m a human being and it’s just a piece of paper.”

I saw her point, exalted in her defiance. Always choose your own butterfly colors, Avery.

It is a metaphor for everything I believe.

Back then she wanted to be an entomologist. Now she wants to be Queen. I saw it coming when we went to see Frozen.

As a parent, there are things to like about this movie. There is a lesson about not basing a romantic relationship on a single meeting, a refreshing change from the love-at-first-sight fairy tales of my own youth. Cinderella and The Little Mermaid come to mind.

Then when the heroine, Princess Anna, suffers an injury that can only be cured through an act of true love, there is a wonderful bit of misdirection. At first we think it might be love-at-first-sight-guy Prince Hans who saves her. When that does not work, we root for her friend Kristoff, for whom her feelings are blossoming. But we are wrong again.

The audiences of my generation are conditioned to expect acts of true love to be performed for the heroine and by a man. Snow White and The Little Mermaid come to mind. Frozen reminds us that fairy tales can be about other kinds of love and that a heroine can be saved by her own acts.

But why does she have to be a princess? What does this add to the story?

I had the same thought when I read the book to my daughter before seeing the movie. I kept wondering: What is this kingdom of Arendelle and why does it exist? What do these royal personages offer their subjects? What sort of power do they wield?

I accept that we want our Saturday-afternoon-matinee heroines to be beautiful, want to watch their lives free of the necessity of toil, want them to live in beautiful houses and wear pretty clothes.

But why do they also need to rule other humans?

The movie, for all its attractions, fails spectacularly on this count. When Anna’s sister Elsa, the newly coronated queen, leaves the palace on a rampage, the courtiers and dignitaries turn to foreign royalty to save them, a plot point that implies without saying that to be saved, ordinary people must be ruled.

I found this script online and the dialogue is sufficiently similar to what I remember to quote it:

Hans stands with the dignitaries and guards.

HANS [a foreign prince]: I’m going back out to look for Princess Anna.

FRENCH DIGNITARY: You cannot risk going out there again.

HANS: If anything happens to her –

SPANISH DIGNITARY: If anything happens to the Princess, you are all Arendelle has left.

Hans hesitates, realizing how much this kingdom has come to depend on him. Is he really all they have left?

It is presented similarly in the book:

“I’m going back out to look for Anna,” Hans told them. ***

“Prince Hans,” a man said. “You cannot risk going out there again. Arendelle needs you.”

Hans sank into a chair. “But if anything happens to Princess Anna…”

“If anything happens to Princess Anna,” another dignitary said, “you are all Arendelle has left. Please.”

Why are we teaching children that kingdoms will fall apart unless people with the correct heritage are in charge? Is the entire western experience not sufficient repudiation of this antiquated concept? Did not similar notions underlie the reluctance in the south to free the slaves, thought at that time to lack the necessary genetic material for self-governance?

This is an insidious, destructive message. It is at least as unhealthy as the love-at-first-sight and only-men-as-heros dynamics of the kids’ movies of yore.

I cannot help but relate it to the increasing willgness of people to consolidate power in one charismatic human being, to the unhesitating acceptance of executive branch law-making. Are we predisposed by the fairy tales of our childhoods to romanticize the exercise of power? Are we ceding our right to self-rule because, in a secret part of our hearts, we have fallen for the fairy tales?

It was hard to summon words a five-year-old would understand to convey all the feelings in my libertarian heart about what it means to be ruled by a monarch. I let it pass, resolving to sit down with her later and explain after giving it some thought.

A week later, she asked me what she had to do to become Queen.

I sighed.

“To be a queen, your mother has to be queen, or else you have to force a bunch of people to obey your commands and call you queen. What is it about being queen that attracts you, anyway?”

She was quiet for a long time. Then: “I want the tiara.”

My freedom-loving heart flooded with relief.

“Oh, honey. You don’t have to be a queen to wear a tiara. Anyone can wear a tiara. We can go buy one today if you want. You can have everything a queen has, a nice house, pretty clothes, jewels—all of it except for one thing—just by working hard. You just can’t rule other people. They have to be free, just like you, to wear their own tiaras.”

Anyone can wear a tiara.

It is a metaphor for everything I believe.

2 thoughts on “The Princess Seduction: Why We Need Fairytales Without Royalty

  1. Pingback: Seraphina: Enchanted to Meet You | Hashtag Sarah

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