It’s been a long time since I did a Princess of The Week; a series where I look beyond Snow White and Beauty, to the Awesome heroines who are just as strong and adventurous as their male counterparts Last time, we looked at a dragonslayer and a woman who used her wits to become the Sultan.
So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.
The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.
This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.
The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.
Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?
Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..
The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.
The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.
Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.
Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5
Okami really was a unique game; it drew you into an epic Legend of Zelda like quest through a world of Japanese myth, rendered in a stunning visual style to make all the inhabitants look like they jumped straight out of a traditional water painting. But it’s not just the game that’s wonderful; it’s the fascinating use of Japanese myth which makes it a brilliant experience. This week we look who Amaterasu really was, why was she associated with wolves, and what was the inspiration behind our canine protagonist. If you’re not all that familiar with the game, then that’s fine, as we’ll learn a little bit about Shintoism and Japanese fairy tale.
Amaterasu is the most central figure of the Shinto religion. The Sun is always a really important part of any religious mythology and Amaterasu is one of the only examples of a female being given the exulted role of sun deity.
It is from her divine lineage that the Emporors of ancient Japan used to support their claim of divinity and divine right to the throne. However, although there are a number of myths surrounding her, none of them have anything to do with a wolf. Which brings us onto the next question…
Why is Amaterasu a wolf?
The real question should be ‘what excuse did the game makers use to portray the Shinto sun Goddess as a wolf?’ Well, traditionally Amaterasu does not have anything to do with wolves, and though a sacred animal, wolves are not the most prominent creature in Japanese mythology. The reasoning (or rather excuse) that they used to make Amaterasu a wolf is explained in this Quora article:
Amaterasu is called Amaterasu-ōmikami（天照大神) which means the Great God(dess) Who Shines A Light From the Heavens. The 大神 part can be read a ōkami (oh-kami), which is the same reading as the word for wolf, 狼. It’s believed that the reading for the kanji 狼 does come from the word 大神 which means ‘great god(dess)’
This gave the creators the perfect wordplay to justify making the sun Goddess a wolf. The real reason they made her a wolf is because they wanted to use a wolf as part of game play and because there are a few interesting myths surrounding dogs in Japan, and a wolf is a more powerful form of a dog. Most of Ammy’s wolfish traits are inspired by the Japanese fairytale ‘The Old Man who made Withered Trees to Flower’, a story the creators would have grown up with the same way we grew up with Sleeping Beauty.
Mr Orange and The Man who made the Withered Trees to Flower
I spoke about this story briefly in a previous article about being too nice in fairytales. Mr Orange’s dance and the importance of Ammy’s ability to make cherry blossoms bloom all come from this Japanese fairytale. It centers around an old man who owns a dog called Shiro (maybe this influenced the name Shiranui?) because: ‘Shiro means “white”, and he was called so because of his color. He was a real Japanese dog, and very like a small wolf in appearance.’ I think we can see that Shiro is more the influence behind our four legged friend than the sun goddess Amaterasu.
In this myth, the old couple who own Shiro have a very jealous neighbor. One day, Shiro digs under a yenoki tree and finds a heap of valuable coins (like how Ammy can tig up treasure in the game). The old couple are overjoyed, but the scheming neighbor is jealous. The old neighbour asks the old man to borrow his dog, and because the old man has all the spine of a jelly fish and would rather lend his dog to an abuser than cause a fuss and grow a backbone, he acquiescences. Of course, when Shiro digs up a pile of refuse instead of gold
(symbolising the state of the neighbor’s soul), the neighbour loses it and kills the dog and buries him beneath his yenoki tree. When the old man finds out, he asks for the neighbour’s yenoki tree and proceeds to cut it down to make a mortar. The mortar produces eternal rice cakes and again the neighbour borrows it and it doesn’t work, thought his time the elderly neighbour chops up the mortar and makes firewood.
This time, the old man asks for the ashes of the firewood, and he scatters them on his own yenoki tree. Surprisingly, it causes it to burst into full bloom and the old man gains a talent for it.
He is eventually called in by a Daimo (an earl) and is tasked with making his withered tree bloom. He acquiences and is rewarded. The neighbour tries the same but is humiliated and justly punished.
Clearly, this is the inspiration behind Amaterasu and her two most basic spells from the paint brush; the sun comes from Amaterasu’s connection with the Shinto Goddess; meanwhile, her ability to make the ccherry blossoms bloom comes from the fairytale of Shiro the dog and the old man. But Amaterasu isn’t the only character loosely based on Shinto mythology.
Next time, we’ll look at the other central figure of this game: Susanoo. We’ll explore the mythology behind the eight headed dragon, as well as Kushi and her magic sake. If you haven’t read it already, in part one we looked at the secret sparrow kingdom and the moon people, you can check it out by following this link.
It’s already been a month and I’ve reviewed a lot of different books. Below are just a few of the novels and short stories I’ve looked at. Most of them have been of such an excellent quality , and filled with so many great characters, that choosing my favorites was difficult. However, there were some stories that absolutely blazed while the others merely glittered, so without further ado, here’s my pick for the best stories of the month.
Okami was an absolutely brilliant game. It had a very traditional Japanese feel, and took you on an adventure through a land of asian fairy tales full of blooming cherry blossoms, Dragon kings and bunny princesses. However, to us Westerners who grew up with the fairy tales told by Brothers Grimm,Hans Christian Anderson and (more to the point) Disney, some of the references were baffling in this game. Well be baffled no more, as I’m going to explain the mythology behind the game. Continue reading The Japanese mythology of Okami (part 1)
Single mother Queenie Hayes struggles to support her two young children and tells them stories of a world filled with sunlight instead of concrete, a world called the Veldt where magical creatures are abound and her family roams, free from the trials of the real world. As a social worker threatens to break apart her family, the Veldt offers her family a chance to escape if she can find the courage, and imagination, to reach for it.
The Scent Of Sunlight is one of the best short stories that I have ever read. Forget the sexy ‘strong independent sassy ass kickers’ , Queenie is a far more real and admirable woman than the legions of ‘grrl power’ protagonists who populate urban fantasy. Continue reading REVIEW: The Scent of Sunlight- by Annie Bellet
I’m going to put it bluntly: Thakane is awesome and it’s a crime against childhood (most notably mine) that she was never a Princess that every kid grew up with. Not only is Thakane amongst the strongest female leads I’ve come across in fairy tales – but she’s one of the toughest females in fantasy as well.
Thakane is the heroine from an African folktale who travels across Africa on a mission that is usually reserved for male leads only: slaying a dragon. Let’s have a look at her story and why she is so awesome.
Poor Thakane didn’t have an easy life. At the beginning of her story, her parents are dead and so she’s landed with the work of ‘two wives’ in raising her kid brothers.
When boys came of age, it’s one of her tribe’s customs that they receive a leather jacket and a shield made from the hides of animals their father killed;but the hide of a buffalo or wild cat isn’t good enough for the pampered princes. They want their gifts made from the hides of dragons.
Of course, the other villagers think her brothers are being spoilt little wee leeches and tell her not to go, but Thakane’s having none of it.
“If they lack anything, these sons of a chief, I will not be to blame for it. I will go and hunt these dragons.”
She asks for brave men of the village to accompany her on her quest, but no man will step up to the challenge;more and more men refuse to accompany her, and eventually news of this request spreads all over Africa…
Eventually, prince Masilo hears of her strange request and is intrigued.
‘When Masilo heard of this brave girl who decided to go on a hunting expedition for the sake of the family honor, he felt a strange excitement at such a bold plan. He also felt ashamed that no man in the whole country could be found willing to go with her to the land of dragons to kill one for her.’
LET’S JUST TAKE A STEP BACK AND THINK HOW REVOLUTIONARY THIS IS
What a badass! This is makes Misalo a pretty revolutionary prince, because a prince admiring a princess because of her strength is uncommon. Even in the modern fairy tale ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, the main character , princess Elizabeth, is rejected for being strong and ends up dumping the ungrateful prince because of it. This is a glorious subversion of fairy tale conventions and an act of strength on the Princess Elizabeth’s part, but … Quite a sad message lurks underneath. For both women and men, finding someone to love is a pretty important part of happiness in life; it isn’t weak, it isn’t patriarchal, it’s human nature. Presenting woman with the choice of being strong or being condemned to a life of loneliness is a horrible message.
But in this story, her courage doesn’t make her less feminine or desirable; its what brings the prince into her life. Centuries before ‘The Paperbag Princess’, the message behind Thakane is even more positive.
The Prince takes a leaf out of princess Jasmine’s book and escapes the palace and an overprotective father to seek out this intriguing lass. He falls in love with her at first sight (this is pre-Frozen and three pages long, it’s to be expected), and they head off on their journey. All good Princesses seem to like singing and have some kind of magical animal affinity, so hey, might as well use it for practical purposes. Using a magic song, she summons magical animals and asks them to recce the dragon’s locations. They should probably be more confused by the talking eels, but this is African myth, so getting animals to talk is pretty par for the course.
They then arrive and meet an old lady in a ghost town. When they ask her why no one’s there, she tells them ‘that her skin’s too tough, so they prefer to use her as a housekeeper.’ I like this description,
The old lady then tells them to set an ambush while she’s feeding the dragon and when they do that, Misalo drives a spear through the beast’s hide.
The old lady thanks them and then gives them a magical stone that will protect them from dragons on their way home, which raises so many questions: where did this stone come from? How long did she have it? Why didn’t she use it to save the villagers in the first place? Why didn’t she use it to escape? Why is she staying alone in an empty village instead of coming… okay, old woman, magical plot device- turn brain off; it’s a fairy tale, and this is hardly the biggest plot hole I’ve come across.
Moving on, they go use this stone to protect them from future dragon attacks and go on their merry way.
It all ends with Thakane and Masilo arriving home to a hero’s welcome, the spoilt brats getting their dragon hide coat, and Thakane marrying the prince and spending the rest of her days as Queen leading a life of luxury.
Even though this is an old African myth, this is one of the most revolutionary Princess stories out there.
She went further than Elizabeth in that she got to be both strong and beloved.And not just by any prince, but by a prince who loved her for her courage and who possessed more personality in this short story than most of the princes I’ve come across in most other stories.
WHERE TO FIND THIS
Why hasn’t Disney jumped on this? When did African myth feature Dragons? (except the creation myth of Kweku Tsin) and since when did African myth star creatures other than Anansi because we all know the greedy bastard took all the stories for himself? Why haven’t I heard of it until now?
Well, this story, is really, really obscure and really hard to find. It took a lot of work to find this story in the first place, and the only source is an out of print book on Swahili myth. It is worth checking out and a preview of the book can be found on this website:
Now that we’ve had a Princess teaming up with her Prince, how can we match this? Well, next week we’re looking at a Princesses who does the unthinkable- a Princess who saves her prince. Here’s a hint as to what story we’re looking at…
This week we travel to Ghana, to look at the Akan tale of Princess Yaa aka the proud princess. I’ve read a few versions of this story, where sometimes the princess is referred to as Princess Afiong or Ewabunmi; sometimes she marries a wolf, other times a skull monster, but in each version, she’s portrayed as spoilt and arrogant princess whom believes no man is good enough for her. In every version her parents want her to marry, but she rejects numerous suitors because they’re not handsome or rich enough until she meets one who deceives her and turns into a monster. The moral of the story is that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
EXAMINING THE DOUBLE STANDARD
Yet… it has to be said… the gender double standards are strong with this one. Let’s look at what the Princess is punished for. She’s condemned for being vain because she wants to marry someone who’s extremely handsome and rich … yet she is so sought after because she is beautiful and rich herself. In some versions, they know her reputation for being ‘haughty’, but flock to marry her anyway because she’s an exceptional beauty (and her parent’s wealth couldn’t hurt either). But are they ever called out for it? Not at all.
It’s expected that a male lead (even if he himself is ugly) is entitled to marry a girl who is pretty, no matter what the situation. He will sometimes be called out if he falls for a woman who is pretty but nothing else, but even then, it’s usually she who is condemned for being vain, cold etc, while he is never called out for loving her solely on looks. In the end he will always meet another woman who is kind and equally pretty (although usually in a less glamorous, more understated ‘girl next door’ way).
It’s always women who are hit with the ‘looks aren’t that important in a partner’, when with men its a given that his potential partner has to be pretty even if he’s not. Because of this, I can’t help but salute this princess; she wants a prince that does it for her, and she’s not accepting anything less.
WHAT MAKES THIS PRINCESS SO STRONG?
Yet, if this story is so negative, then why is it included on the list of strong princesses? Simple: Farida Salifu’s retelling is amazing.
Salifu is an absolutely astounding writer who retells dozens of Akan myths on her website, most notably the Anansi tales, all of which are brilliantly written. She injects so much character into this princess that you can’t help but love her. She’s vain, spoilt, mischievous and she doesn’t just know it; she revels in it. She rolls around her luxurious bedchamber, wrapping herself with jewels and musing about all the trouble she’s going to cause her poor future husband; even the servant girls can’t resist giggling at her exploits. Princess Yaa’s just too much fun and oozes too much charisma.
And the wolf is excellent as well, and shatters the traditional fairy tale convention a way that is reminiscent of a certain Disney film:
‘Is it funny how you never even asked me my name, but you agreed to marry me?’
He just cuts right to the core. Seriously, that’s a good point that’s never really been brought up in fairytales until Frozen (at least Anna got her intended’s name and knew he liked pudding).Whatever we have to say about the treatment of Princesses in Western fairytales, half the time the Prince is so forgettable we don’t even know his name.
All in all- this is a very, very well told story. I can’t praise Farida Salifa enough as a storyteller, and it’s worth checking out all her tales- especially her retelling of the Anansi stories, Africa’s most prominent funny and infuriating fairytale antihero.
If you know any children, I would strongly recommend reading her work- all of her stories are lively and entertaining, and has the added bonus of teaching them a little about African culture.
But now we’ve had an African Princess who epitomizes bad judgement and selfishness. Next week I’m going to look at another African Princess- this one who exemplifies self-sacrifice and wins the attention of her Prince by her extreme courage and determination. Also, she charms mermaids and slays dragons.