Thursday, January 12, 2012

Will the real Elizabeth please stand up?

The Paper Bag Princess: The Story Behind the Story ~ by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, 2005 (25th anniversary edition), 9/10

Robert Munsch's tale of a dragon, a princess named Elizabeth, and the bum of a prince she rescues has sold over three million copies since it was first published in 1980.  I learned in this "story behind the story" that there really was a girl named  Elizabeth.  She is now an adult, is married, and has two children — a son and a daughter.  And she says (p.14):
"It's amazing to me now that the book is read by so many people.  It's even studied in feminist literature classes!"
Yes, people love The Paper Bag Princess!  I loved it when I first read it in 2010 after Helen of Helen's Book Blog told me about it in a comment:
"I love children's books that go against the norm.  One of my favorites is The Paper Bag Princess where the princess is the strong one and doesn't marry the goofy prince in the end."
It's true.  Princess Elizabeth is a spunky little girl.  The dragon smashed her castle, burned all her clothes, and carried off Prince Ronald (p. 28).  The only thing the princess could find to wear was a paper bag, yet she bravely went after the dragon.  Was Ronald grateful when she rescued him?  Oh, no!  He said (pp. 46-48):
"Elizabeth, you are a mess!  You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag.  Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."

"Ronald," said Elizabeth, "your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat.  You look like a real prince, but you are a bum."

They didn't get married after all.
Girls are more than the clothes they wear, and that's why the original book is studied in college classes on feminist literature.  Bob Munsch, the author, says (p. 51):
"There are no princes but there are a lot of bums, and you don't want to marry one."
The same page (p. 51) of this "story behind the story" reports:
"The story has now crossed generations — those who loved the book as kids are reading it to their own children — and has even traveled around the world.  Not bad for a girl dressed only in paper."
Best illustration, where she ducks but doesn't run away. (Click to enlarge.)

Christopher Garcia, an educator in El Paso, Texas, says (p. 53):
"Our young princess's handling of pesky dragons and arrogant royalty inspired my students and me.  Self-respect and confidence in one's self are her gifts to girls and boys alike."
I rate this book about the book 9 of 10, because it's fun to read.  And I'll give the author the final word here (quoting from p. 62):
"A paper bag
Does not last long,
It burns or blows away.
But now that mine is 25,
I think it's here to stay."
I agree, especially since it has now been seven more years (32 so far) and is still attracting readers like me.


Helen's Book Blog said...

I lOVE this book and read it all the time to my daughter when she was small. When I read other fairy tales I used to change the ending to something like: "and because the princess was so young, she waited many years to get married. She got an education and found a man that was interesting" :-)

Bonnie Jacobs said...

LOL, Helen, I love it!

Joanna Norland said...

Thanks for this -- I was trying to track down the inspiration for Elizabeth, because I use 'Paper Bag Princess' as a model in my workshops on writing for children -- so I appreciated stumbling on this review. Best wishes, Joanna (