on March 17, 2004
This was one of my very favorite books as a child, and I was crushed when it went out of print and I lost my own copy. When I learned a few years ago that it was being re-printed, I was overjoyed.
"The Ordinary Princess" is a delightful fairy tale with a bit of a twist -- the herione is NOT the mind-bogglingly gorgeous fairy tale princess we have come to expect. At birth, she is cursed by an ornery fairy..."You shall be ORDINARY!" Much to the embarrassment of the royal family, the curse immediately begins to manifest itself, and continues to do so throughout the course of the princess's life. She is overlooked in favor of her six extremely beautiful and perfectly-princessy older sisters. No matter what the royal court tries, Princess Amy remains as normal as any peasant.
"The Ordinary Princess" follows the quest of Princess Amy to make something of an ordinary life for herself, to go along with her very ordinary appearance. During which time, she meets -- and falls in love with -- a young "man-of-all-work" named Peregrine.
I shall not reveal to you how splendidly it ends, but it is absolutely charming. There are very few perfect books in this world, but this just happens to be one of them. It is clever and witty in its writing, charming in its story (as all fairy tales SHOULD be) and simple and sweet in its execution. It is every little girl's dream to be a princess, and this is an excellent princess story. Delightful from start to finish.
I admit to not being overly fond of the reprint's cover -- I preferred the original cover art -- but at least all of the orginial illustrations are included in this. M.M. Kaye not only wrote this book, she also illustrated it herself, and the drawings only augment the tale, making it even better than it already is.
I would recommend this book to anyone who asked me, and have, in fact, hooked quite a few of my friends on it. You don't even have to be a little girl to love it, my college buddies have adored it just as much as I always have.
Read it. You won't regret it.
Tired of the usual Disneyfied blonde, sweet, graceful, elegant princesses? Read this book, in which we see a princess unlike any other. I'm glad that it will be reprinted shortly, as a fantasy story this good deserves to be read again and again.
The story opens in the kingdom of Phantasmorania (great name, no?), where the seventh royal princess is born. At first, Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne appears to be like any other beautiful, good-tempered princess. But then a crabby but well-meaning fairy puts a two-edged blessing on her: "You shall be ordinary!" And she is. To the dismay of the royals and the court, Amy is mousy-haired, snub-nosed, freckled, and thoroughly graceless. She prefers romping in the woods to drifting around playing with a golden ball, as her sisters do.
Dismayed, her parents try to rig up a crisis to get her married off. But Amy doesn't want to be treated in such a way, and has no wish to embarrass her family. So she sets off across the woods, and enters a neighboring kingdom, where she becomes a kitchen maid and has to work for the first time in her life. There she befriends a squirrel and a bird - and a mystery "man of all work" named Perry, who becomes her best friend...
M.M. Kaye, best known for her tales of India and other exotic lands, pens a delightful little fantasy story. This is not an epic, nor does it have ground-shattering impact on the world. Instead it is a smaller, more personal story about an ordinary girl who happens to be a princess. Amy's love story is charming as well, since she and Perry CHOOSE rather than are chosen. It also adds an extra dimension to their romance, since they are friends as well. Amy doesn't give in to fate, she makes her own. I know this sounds like a feminist retelling, but it isn't. Believe me, there is no preaching in it - rather it glories in ordinary but overlooked virtues.
The kingdoms in this book are delightfully overstated. The people in the courts tend to be overstuffed, pompous, full of hot-air, and dripping with jewels and impractical clothing. The blonde, beautiful princesses do not have individual personalities, nor do most of the kings and so forth. The more sympathetic characters like Perry, Clorinda, and the crusty water-fairy are both more relaxed and casual, and more realistic. And younger girls will probably want their own Perry.
Writing is fairly un-detailed, but that is in keeping with the fairy-tale motif. Subtle humor is sprinkled through it, such as the fairy godmother's crusty but kindly attitude, and the joke about the prince of Kleptomania, who has to be watched carefully. The dialogue is realistic but never boring, especially when Perry and Amy are talking, or when the courtiers are gabbling among themselves.
Problems? Well, it's way too short. There's no sequel. And the new reprinting -- ay caramba, who chose that cover art? It makes Amy look about five years old - she's supposed to be a teen! I do hope they retain her delightful internal illustrations, including Amy's soggy grandmother, Perry, and the little house in the woods.
This enchanting story will leave you with a smile. One of the best, for people who loved "Ella Enchanted" and "Beauty."
on March 21, 2006
I love this book. I used to get this book out of the library every other time I went just to have it nearby even though I wouldn't have time to read it. The original printing my library has is gorgeous: an elegant cover illustrated by the author and wonderful illustrations with borders around the illustrated pages that tie into the art. Lovely.
While the story remains intact, the artwork has been slaughtered in this reprint. Inside, most of the author's artwork is there but it has been rudely hacked off from the lovely borders giving it a very choppy feel and the art isn't very gracefully placed within the text. I especially detest the cover. This is a romance story, you know boy meets girl. The cover gives her the impression of being 8 years old...not the given age in the book during which the majority of the story takes place and definitely too young to be married off and live happily ever after...rather disturbing. In the old version, the story and artwork were one, and flowed together beautifully. Now the chopped up artwork in a sense chops up the story. Sad...really pitiful. I hope if this story is ever reprinted in the future, care will be taken to restore it to how the author intended it.
The actual story...it's a wonderful, innocent romance. Sigh. Makes my girly heart go all fluttery.
When the seventh daughter of King Hulderbrand and Queen Rodehesia is born, the kingdom of Phantasmorania is in a state of extreme excitement. The birth of the seventh in a line of beautiful, blonde, angelic princesses, all named after precious jewels, is a special occasion. Baby Princess Amethyst is set to receive several virtues from the good fairies of the land, despite her father's misgivings, and the entire kingdom is celebrating.
But things do not always go as planned, as one fairy in particular is in a bit of a grumpy mood, and not at all eagar to dish out any more Wit, Charm, Courage, Health, Wisdom or Grace - instead she bestows the infant with Ordinariness, and at once Amethyst's golden curls are mousey, her perfect nose is covered in freckles, and her previously cooing baby-talk changes into a very loud scream. As she grows, the stately name of Amethyst drops to the simple "Amy", and her days are not filled with embroidery and harp-playing, but exersions into the Forest of Faraway.
Yet each of her sisters is eventually married off, and soon her parents despair of doing the same to her. A plot is hatched: to hire a dragon to ravage the land in the hopes that a Prince will come to rescue Amy, trapped in a high tower. Amy is disguisted at such a plan, and takes off for the forest, where she begins her own adventures...
M. M. Kaye's "The Ordinary Princess" is without a doubt a charming book, made all the more so by her simple, realistic, and often whimsical illustrations. The creation of an ordinary princess is a welcome to the world of literature in which beauty is predominant among descriptions of heroes and princesses, and it was one of the first of many similar journeys into "ugliness" as a virtue (the most well known being "Shrek"). Amy is a good-natured, intelligent, polite girl, and her love story is natural and realistic (well, as realistic as a love story set in a fairytale kingdom can be).
However, though the story will appeal very much to young girls, older readers might find the sheer simplicity of the story a little too easy for them. For them, the true identity of Peregrin the man-of-all-work is almost painfully obvious from the word go, and the somewhat cliched descriptions of palaces (marble, diamonds, chandeliers) may be a little well-used. Furthermore, Amy's "adventures" are not exactly adventurous - there is no dragon-slaying or evil-fighting, she simply spends time in the forest with her animal friends, before seeking out work in another kingdom and meeting her true love. Though M. M. Kaye made the first step back in 1980 in creating a strong female character without the vice of beauty upon her, there was still a fair way to go before women's quests in literature were not defined solely by finding their true love.
Yes, I feel a bit mean critising such a sweet, harmless story, but blame my English lecturers and their lectures on the history of feminity in literature - they've made me analyse everything I read! On the whole, there's not a lot to truly dislike about this classic fairy tale, but for those who want to go a bit deeper into the issues raised in "The Ordinary Princess", try: "Ella Enchanted" by Gail Carson Levine (which will appeal more to the older readers I mentioned earlier), "The Lioness" Quartet by Tamora Pierce, for even older ones, "A Frog Prince" by Alix Berenzy, a new take on the old fairytale, "Which Witch?" by Eva Ibbotson, who shares a similar sense of humour as M. M. Kaye, and of course "Shrek!"
on July 2, 2003
The Ordinary Princess is a delightful respite after reading the Gail Levine "Princess Tales" series. One of the things I like the most is the princess is a rich character and very three dimensional. As is expected, she'll fall in love with someone eventually, but -- surprise -- we get to see her develop as a real, ordinary person first. This is a contrast from many of the books in the Gail Levine "Princess Tales" series.
The language is fairly rich, also a pleasant treat, but the chapters are a bit too long for reading aloud as a bedtime story.
on November 14, 2007
One may know the story of the servant girl who gets to go to the ball, the story of the beautiful girl that falls in love with the beast, the princess that is finally awakened by a kiss from a dashing prince. But, it is quite possible that one may go half of her life before ever hearing the story of another girl, a princess in fact, who was born once upon a time in a land called Phantasmorania. She was christened Her Serene and Royal Highness Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne--a name fit for the most beautiful and exraordinary princess in all the land. Special gifts were bestowed upon the baby at this christening celebration by the magical fairies of the land. All seems to be heading straight for happily ever after until the last fairy bestows her idea of a gift on the princess: "You shall be ordinary!" The kingdom is turned upside down. An ordinary princess?
The king and queen may consider this gift a curse indeed, but it is what makes the story so endearing to readers. Traditional views of what makes someone noble and special are tried, especially what makes a woman beautiful and of worth. In a classically fairy-tale setting, a mythical land ruled by Oberon, king of the fairies, new-age ideas are considered and ultimately proven plausible. M.M. Kaye's story, The Ordinary Princess, is a refreshing new take on classical fairy-tale stories that enamors readers with its relatable characters all the while enchanting them with a somewhat fantastic plot and imagery. Because Princess Amy is so believable, readers are better able to walk along side-by-side with a princess and vicariously experience all her adventures instead of gazing longingly from afar.
Kaye's story brings ordinary and fantasy into beautiful harmony: it is what makes this story the most enchanting fairy-tale you might've never heard of. It's never too late for this kind of magic.
A princess is supposed to be fair, with hair golden, skin like wild rose petals and cream, and eyes as blue as larkspurs (3). A princess is supposed to be graceful, well-tempered, always behaving with the utmost dignity and poise. Kaye characterizes all six of Amethyst's sisters by nothing more than this description of what a royal princess should be. But, because of the gift bestowed on the little princess to be ordinary, Amy, as she was thereafter called (for "what could be more ordinary than that?"), is hardly those things at all (21). Amy was much more like us: she was imperfect. She had a stubbed-nose, freckles. She was gawky and had the "distressing habit of standing with her feet apart and her hands behind her back" (22). Already, an ordinary audience has come to relate to this ordinary princess. The audience can relate to physical imperfections, but the audience is inspired by the way Amy reacted to her imperfections and lived her life. It wasn't that Amy never was discouraged. Indeed, no. This facet of character makes her all the more relatable, realistic. But, she was optimistic about looking at things though and she enjoyed life, trying to look at the bad in a positive light. Amy was such an ordinary sort of girl that she would sneak out of her window to play in the Forest of Faraway. It is easy for the audience to like Amy for themselves and it is natural for them to empathize with her, but the people in the kingdom don't seem to like Amy and her manners very much at all. The reader finds acceptance and an embracing of his imperfections through the character of Peregrine, the "man-of-all-work" she meets a neighboring kingdom. He grows to love her for her ordinary self and her ordinary habits. She is not timid and delicate like a princess is expected to be and he loves her and all of her "imperfections," without even knowing that she is a princess. It is human, it is ordinary, to want to be loved for what we really are and Amy and Peregrine's story gives the reader hope that it can happen.
Their relationship manifests the harmony of the ordinary and the fantastic that Kaye uses to enthrall readers. Amy meets him in a very casual setting and they decide that they would like to be friends. They talk as friends. They are informal and playful in their dialogue. One day, when they are lounging in the forest as they often liked to do, he talks of having seen the princess that had come to visit the king of this far away kingdom where Amy had runaway and where she met Peregrine. She asked him, "What's she like?"
He answered her, "Like a princess." She didn't like this answer saying that it was silly, so she threw a blackberry at his nose. That's not the sort of thing Cinderella would do but it seems an ordinary thing for a modern girl today to do. Their conversations are full of silly, friendly dialogue and they almost always end their rendezvous walking hand in hand and laughing together. But, the fantastic part about it is that they truly love each other. This ordinary relationship turns into something real and something that can last. Even when the plot takes an unexpected turn, they still live happily ever after together. The coming together of the ordinary and the extraordinary in their relationship uplifts the ordinary reader, giving him or her evidence that fantastic is in the realm of possibility.
In addition to character development and plot in bringing a refreshing harmony to the work, M.M. Kaye cleverly and naturally manipulates simple, every-day words and assembles them in an enchanting way that creates the sweet, lovely undertone of the entire work. Instead of using extraordinary, sophisticated words to describe the beauty of a baby, she says simply, "she was as pink and white and gold as apple blossoms and the spring sunshine." In these simple words, the reader receives almost an entire idea of what this baby is like because the reader is able to imagine the softness of the babies skin like the petals of the blossom, the babies sweet smell like the scent of the blossom, and the warmth of the babies skin like clean spring sunshine. Kaye takes advantage of the readers' minds ability to make relationships to words and bring up images without the image being explicitly laid-out by the author through unnecessary wordiness. The images that Kaye creates using such simple words are so brilliant that it would seem that she were a fairy herself. Because she uses this simple diction to color her piece, all, young or old, are able to read her story as if it were meant for them, gleening from it what their mind imagines all on its own.
Even the illustrations that enliven the pages of Kaye's fairy-tale are enchanting. The simple and sometimes amusing black and white line drawings add a childlike intrigue to the book. The images look simple enough but they are beautiful and oftimes delightful caricatures of the people or the situations Kaye is describing, adding to the humorous, casual, friendly aspect of The Ordinary Princess.
This story is attractive to modern audiences because of the idea that what is traditionally valued by society is not always the most valuable thing to have. What Amy lacked in beauty and elegance, she certainly made up for in warm, gentle kindness and friendliness. Amy, like other fair-tale princesses, was so gentle that she had animal friends that kept her company, a crow and a squirrel. She was able to look past herself and think of others because she was not caught up in her appearance. She was straight-forward and sometimes rambunctious about the way she did things, something contrary to the traditional idea that a woman should be demure, and in this way attracts the modern reader whose idea of woman may be different. This story has the fantastic, enchanting aspect of a fairy tale but because Kaye chose to combine that with the ordinary aspect of humanity, it can attract and resonate with a wider audience.
The title of the book itself, The Ordinary Princess, brings too dissimilar things, ordinary which connotes mundane or down-to-earth, homely and the idea of a princess which is basically everything extraordinary, beautiful and noble and sophisticated. The title intrigues readers because of the juxtaposition of these two seemingly paradoxical ideas; the reader may question or dare to hope that these two characteristics aren't so contradictory after all. As the reader turns the pages of Kaye's tale, absorbing the character of Amy, the fun and childlike humor of the dialogue and the characters, and the mesmerizing illustrations one comes across every so often, they are increasingly enchanted with the idea that fantastic is in the realm of possibility. Amy is loved for her ordinary self. Being true to one self is more important than living by society's norms and that is when happily ever after can really happen.
on September 3, 1998
The Ordinary Princess is a delightfully humorous response to the typical handsome-prince-marries-beautiful-princess fairy tale. The princess in the story receives the gift of ordinariness at her christening. She then, in contrast to her beautiful princess sisters, grows into quite the normal little girl: brown hair, freckles, love of adventure, and a sometimes not-so-nice temper. Her horrified royal parents try to ammend the situation by marrying her off to some unsuspecting prince or duke, but no one will have her. So the King devises a desperate plan which leads Amy on the adventure of her life. This book is funny, innocent, and refreshing as it looks on the true worth of a person apart from her outward appearance.
on February 24, 2006
The Ordinary Princess was one of my favorite books as a young girl. I lost my original copy long ago, but remembered the story. When my daughter (3 yrs old) became interested in princesses (obsessed may be a better word), I began looking for the book again.
I had become very concerned because so many of the princess stories out there (and by this I really am pointing to the Disney movies along with all their paraphenalia), the heroines are remarkable for their beauty and their helplessness. Not qualities I want my daughter to value.
I remembered the story of Amy and wanted to share it with my daughter. Amy isn't beautiful; she doesn't always do what is proper; and she doesn't need to be rescued by some silly prince. Yes, she does eventually fall in love, but it is a love based on friendship and kindness, rather superficial values of beauty and the heady thrill being "rescued". Amy is not a passive princess waiting for life to happen to her; she doesn't do incredibly stupid things (taking apples from strangers, making deals with sea witches); she faces life cheerfully and sensibly; she faces her problems and tries to find practical solutions for them (okay, she does run away from home, but won't you if someone was going to lock you in a tower?); she is an "ordinary" girl who finds happiness in "ordinary" things and her acceptance of herself brings her love and joy. And that is a lesson I want my daughter to learn. In fact, when I found this book on amazon I bought it for my daughter and each of my nieces. A definite must for any girl who loves princesses and fairy tales (regardless of her age).
on February 3, 1999
I was talking to my roommate the other day about the book that has had the most influence on me, and I all of the sudden remembered The Ordinary Princess. I read it years ago when I was in elementary school. I loved the book so much that I read and reread it over and over again. I think this was the first book I ever read as a child where I idenified with the character and looked up to her as a role model. Amy was "ordinary" when compared to her sisters, but she had spunk and feeling and a liveliness that made her a wonderful character to look up to. So many fairytales fall into a trap of convention: beautiful princess meets handsome prince and they fall in love and get married. This book is about two people with personalities who fall in love with each other for the people that they are. I highly recommend this book to anyone of any age as a timeless classic.
Amy (short for Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne) is anything but an ordinary princess. Caring nothing for her royal status and oblivious to the social danger she poses to her family (never before had a Phantasmoranian princess grown up to be a spinster), Amy sets off to live in the most agreeable fashion she knows how--surrounded by nature, or, when need be, with the unpresuming commonfolk in the kitchen of a neighboring kingdom's castle. Amy is refreshing for her simplicity and sweetness, her innocence and her wit, qualities which are apparent in every choice she makes. And the end is absolutely charming, though it shows that, in this genre, not even a non-traditional heroine can escape her fate of ending up as a royal bride.
I recommend reading this tale if you're ready for a "princess of a different color," but don't be surprised if you recognize some of the plot elements... it is, after all, the story of an ordinary princess.