Princess Academy:The Subversion of Princess Stereotypes

Shannon Hale’s Princesses are not just another derivative of “pretty, pretty” princesses

Note: This book is not just geared for girls, though some insipid stigmas might tell you otherwise…..

        Scoff if you want….the word “princess” has long been denigrated by others, and we cannot help but project this conventional image onto this book. Our preconceived notion of princess keeps us from daring to ever read a book with such a subversive title. The very nature of a princess book just brings us chills because we cannot help but expect inane conversation, discussion about frilly dresses, and thrills as epic as the suspense about whether or not the prince reciprocates the obsessive feelings that  the princess has for him (This is usually futilely achieved through coy glances in the targeted prince’s direction).

     Of course, this is all women are, right? Not at all. You have been reading the wrong books.

Thankfully, Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy subverts the following “empty” women archetypes.

Powered on making coffee/tea for weary cowboy hunks looking for shelter in the oppressive heat of the desert…Not crafty enough to operate like a James Bond girl….    

Exhibit A: Sally of the Desert: Her only ambition in life is to search  the horizon far beyond her homestead in the desert for a  cowboy hunk that will appease her deepest desires. She is hollow for now, a ghost wandering the desert of a dull existence, waiting impatiently for that “man,” the epitome of the classical model of heroic masculinity… 

Her favorite Quote: “Craft me an identity … I want to bear your children, Wandering Cowboy!”

Exhibit B: Porcelain Housewife-Operates on Feminine Submission to an order of superior males

Favorite Quote: “The world is so lovely, look at the animals prancing everywhere….Oh my… A Huntsman!” (chokes suddenly) Screams, Flails, Cries, Simpers… Waits to be reset by seven dwarves…


         These are women who  are so grossly objectified that they resemble pottery, rather than real women. Snow White  epitomizes this caste of fragile women, so breakable by sudden danger, that they normally face impossible odds by doing the “submissive  wife maneuver”- (A) Scream hysterically/Faint/ Sob monstrously till they are about to choke on their own phlegm (B) Rescued by a group of reclusive dwarves, each with their own unique foible-this kidnapped woman will obey them unquestionably-she’ll make them pies, tuck them to bed, do all the labor;so they can make merry and drink to their heart’s content C. Deceived by ugly,”kindly” old women- encased then within a glass casket- Of course, she’ll now be eternally useless and immobile, until the radiant/one dimensional prince kisses and “saves” her………….

Purpose of Life-Similar to Exhibit A-

Amazon (Kindle)/ Barnes&Nobles (Nook)

Exhibit C- Princess Academy Princesses

Powered by True Ambition and Respect for their Sense of Individuality

     Unlike the latter two examples of powerless women, Shannon Hale writes a story about courageous princesses, who have princess training that makes them  both literate and worldly  Essentially, they are equipped with diplomatic skills because being a princess requires intellectual skills that go beyond selecting the “right dress”  to gain the interest of men. It is their intellectual skills and their personality that will ultimately help them to earn the right to possibly marry the prince (this becomes a secondary goal/distraction later on.. there’s a larger, less insubstantial plot at hand).
     Of course, Shannon Hale deftly takes the book beyond another feminine quest that is solely focused on women vying to earn the favor of a dull,male love interest, this is one of the other ways that she effectively subverts the largest barrier for female characters. She does also without weakening the male characters as well; this is not “women power” to the extent of mocking/demeaning the male characters. Instead, the book has a much more egalitarian vibe, as it concentrates on the aspirations and gifts that individuals have that transcend gender.
      This book rightfully earned its Newberry Honor by going beyond the stereotypes,yet not becoming a feminist polemic at the same time. Rather, it is a story that like any effective story makes us become emotionally invested in the conflict that these young girls and their whole village becomes involved in after their village is chosen by a richer kingdom to become eligible for a “princess contest.” Moving beyond the “quest for the male love interest,” the conflict moves into socioeconomic problems that the village faces. Meaning, if one of the princesses is selected, will their candidacy help the sagging economy of their village improve?

          If you are looking for a female empowerment story in the vein of Pixar’s Brave,this is the book to read. Without becoming a one-dimensional “shero,” a doting princess, or a subservient housewife, the female characters within Princess Academy find power through their intellectual skills and their ethical determination. This is the model for other books, trumpeting themselves as female empowerment novels, to follow!

(Also, if you think sexism is extinct, just try observing how people will react if male readers admit to liking this book.(Little do they know.. these princesses are not just pretty, but are smart, resourceful, diplomatic, and resilient)
If you’re interested in Shannon Hale’s other books, Check out her Website and Blog for more information!

If you have unabashed appreciation for female characters, check out this message from none other than Joss Whedon (one of my favorite writers!)

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