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.
What’s better than a strong princess? A powerful Empress who ruled one of the world’s most advanced civilizations.
Empress Jokwa And The Five Stones is a story that originated from China, but found its way to Japan. It tells the tale of a benevolent Ogress who ascended the throne of ancient China, and the battle that ensued as a result of a power struggle between her and a jealous sorcerer Kokai who tried to use his magic to seize the throne.
IS THIS STORY ANY GOOD?
Yes, yes and yes. It’s one of the most action packed fairy tales you’ll come across, filled with giants, magical battles and a fire king who shows up to deliver a major smack down.
The focus of ‘Empress Jokwa and the Five Stones’ is on the exploits of the Empress’ two strongest warriors, Hako and Eiko, who lead her army into battle against the powerful sorcerer. The main story is an exciting and tense battle between the warriors and Kokai who can only be overcome by teamwork and a little help from their allies…
WHY JOKWA IS SO STRONG
While Empress Jokwa is the titular character, she’s little more than a support character in this story, and only plays a real role in the last three pages.
However, she’s a great figure none the less. In the fairy tale world where lone female rulers are often demonized as witches (ala the magical queen from the Arabian nights tale ‘Prince Beder and the Princess Giauhara’- the most probable inspiration for the evil queen regnants who populate the Chronicles of Narnia), it’s amazing to hear of a regnant queen whose not noted for her beauty but instead described as ‘a wonderful woman, and an able ruler’ and adored by all her people. Especially considering the misogynistic culture of ancient China.
The main reason for the comfort with this example of female power is because of the fact that she’s not human. Typically, the (male) writers of fairytales were far more comfortable with women possessing vast amounts of power if she’s a powerful creature like a fairy, djinn, spirit or goddess. A special, untouchable exception who can’t upset the status quo and doesn’t follow the rules of our world.
Even so, it is unusual to see a female monarch portrayed this favorably. It’s often been the case in history that whenever a woman took the throne, there was a lot of contention from subjects and male rivals about her credibility (as in the case with the historical Queen Cordelia). What’s so subversive is that the main antagonist of this tale is a man who tried to usurp the throne from her after her brother died – something he would never have tried if Jokwa was male- and he is vilified for doing so. In fact, the sorcerer Kokai is portrayed as an opportunist, an illegitimate usurper, while Jokwa is the good and rightful heir to the throne.
Queen Jokwa and the Five Stones is a great action / adventure fairystory which brought us cool, magical battles centuries before Shounen anime came on the scene. Jokwa may be a side character, but she is a rare positive example of female power. If we’re going to read stories where men fight for the sake of a woman, it might as well be about keeping a good female ruler on the throne rather than a damsel in distress.
Source: This story can be found in numerous compendiums, but the one I used was ‘Japanese Fairy tales’ by Yei Theodora Ozaki.
Alternatively, an online version of the story can be found here:
With the popularity of Tangled, Frozen, Cinderella, Maleficent and the long overdue arrival of Disney’s first (and the cynic in me suspects probably the last) black Princess in The Princess and the Frog, fairy tales are as popular as ever.
And it’s no wonder; these tales have captivated us from childhood and stayed with us well into adulthood. There’s something about the sense of mystery and wonder, the crazy objects, the breath taking environments and the idea that anything can happen whether you’re a princess, pauper or knight that only fairy tales can create. And then there’s the princesses.
With the most famous European Fairytales being Briar Rose, Little Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, cemented in our imaginations by the early Disney films, we’ve come to see the fairy tale heroine of old as useless but pretty ornaments; ‘pure of heart’ (not morally good mind, but rather sweet and inoffensive), with little going for them but their beauty and inexperience;the archetypical princess waits for her prince to save her.
It got to the point where Belle, (in spite of the fact that it was her sexuality, rather than her knowledge and intellect, that saved the day), was considered revolutionary just because she had a brain and some semblance of a personality. Princess Fiona’s random kung-fu was subversive because ‘Whoah! A princess did something useful!’
However, what if I told you that the passive, brainless but pretty ‘damsel in distress’ may be the rule, but not the only rule? Even before Frozen, Brave and the Princess and The Frog came on the scene, there were lots of examples of strong and active women in fairy tales and mythology, who were accomplished, used their brains and even fought dragons?
To that end I’m going to begin ‘Badass Princess of The Week’ project, where each week I’m going to look at a different strong female from fairy tale and myth who proves that women were educated, active, strong and capable, way before Elsa, Anna and Tiana came along to redeem them.