2 Reviews: “The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight”

For the love of books

Two reviews of the same book: personal and impersonal outtakes.

Review #1

Once upon a time, fairy tales originated somehow and were passed down from storyteller to storyteller until their outlines and characteristics changed.  Transmitted before only by word of mouth, the tales were finally pressed into paper with ink through written words.  Since that time, fairy tales are the kind of fiction that are taken for granted and their messages don’t change despite being re-told again and again in a novel, an e-book, or by a storyteller’s voice.

It is only natural that the climatic twentieth century held dramatic modifications in regards to literature; writers soon developed ideas that overturned known classics like fairy tales and “modernized” them with a firm dose of realism.  One definite paragon of how fairy tales can be successfully updated and improved is the anthology entitled The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight: A Treasury of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Jack Zipes.  Moreover, the inward revolution of concepts and character upheaval these modern fairy tales present within their plots not only demonstrates clairvoyance on the part of their respective authors but also accentuates the rising issues and needed morality in modern society that indirectly demands a shift of perspective in fiction, especially works of fiction like fairy tales whose themes are accepted many times without question by children and adults.

In this collection, fifteen tales by individual writers are highlighted in order to give a “taste” of the many excellent modern fairy tales and contemporary authors in modern literature.  Naturally, most retellings have roots in renown fairy tales, but these fifteen exhibit originality and creativity without being redundant or trite.  The title stories, like the rest, address various issues that echo throughout modern times. Richard Schickel gently reproves typical ideas about hero and villain stereotypes in his story The Gentle Knight, which is similar to Kenneth Grahame’s short satirical story, The Reluctant Dragon.  Dov Mir’s The Outspoken Princess is the opposite, taking its subjects seriously while giving a political overview of class society and tyrannical government in contrast to idealized democracy.  As suggested by its title, the tale’s heroine is not the weak, dependent princess expected in archetypal fairy tales, but refreshingly independent and strong willed.

Interestingly, the majority of fairy tales in The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight feature female protagonists in a decidedly feministic point of view.  Jack Sendak’s The Signal, Patricia Coombs’ Molly Mullett, and Antonia Barber’s The Enchanter’s Daughter are a “group” of stories that share the same themes. Molly Mullett and The Signal are piquant, anachronistic adventures driven forth by the ingenuity and courage of their heroines, both young girls, against the stupidity and ignorance of their elders.  On the other hand, The Enchanter’s Daughter may have a young girl as its lead character and incorporate the same concepts, but its does not focus on an adventure per se.  This time, the heroine desires to escape her easy lifestyle and all that is familiar for the most innocent and worthy of motives: she wants to be with her mother.

Deviating from simplicity, the two most bizarre selections in The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight have no similarities except for the idiosyncrasies of their storytellers.  The first is the very poignant The Faithful Bull, a rare “fable” by Ernest Hemingway about loyalty that can only be severed by death.  A.S. Byatt’s The Story of the Eldest Princess is the second; it is a fairy tale that is determined not to be a fairy tale.  Deliberately avoiding typical fantasy situations, Byatt uses every character not to fashion a silly narrative about living “happily ever after” but to emphasize more profound interests and a sense of wonder.  Tragedy has its place in the anthology as well in two decisively dramatic tales, Jane Yolen’s The White Seal Maid and Richard Kennedy’s The Dark Princess.  While one ponders about self-sacrifice for a nation and the other centers on the heartaches of a beautiful blind princess, both are still inquisitive about the purpose of human life, love, death, and immortality.  To match the shadow of contemplation that surrounds these tragedies, five fairy tales are distributed throughout the anthology as the epitome of satire, comedy, and parody in such works of fiction.

A smart retelling of Cinderella, Tanith Lee’s Princess Dahli has almost no magic but it compensates with its characters.  How can the original Cinderella story compete with one where the princess and the prince are paupers who must live through their wealthier relatives’ abuses before they can live “happily ever after?”  John Gardner takes the same popular fairy tale and re-models it into the delightful Gudgekin the Thistle Girl, when the moral is “Moderatio in omnia” and how to control one’s sense of respect and compassion.  The Wrestling Princess spins around any thought of a weak princess as a heroine while Judy Corbalis laughs at the insecurities of her weak male characters. One of the most interesting modern fairy tales in all of The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight is Petronella.  Here, Jay Williams twists and turns his storyline as his princess attempts to rescue a prince from a “wicked” enchanter, only to be utterly surprised at the end with the character she chooses to “rescue.”  Another amusing satire with a steadfast heroine is Lloyd Alexander’s romantic story, The Cat-King’s Daughter, which exemplifies his signature writing style, his wit, and his fondness for cats.  Last but not least, the tale which does not fall into any “group” is Catherine Storr’s humorous Little Polly Riding Hood.  As can be deduced, this extraordinary take on Little Red Riding Hood has exchanged its rustic settings for a modern one as well as its senseless main character for a clever little girl named Polly.  It’s fun to watch Polly outwit the Wolf, who not only embodies all of the original wolf’s “personality” but also adds persistence to his list of traits.

Humorous or heart-breaking, serious or ironic, each fairy tale in The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight is truly outspoken.  Diverse, straightforward, and profound are three of many adjectives that can be used to describe this anthology.  Zipes has wisely chosen and sorted his samples of modern fairy tales and has opportunely directed the reader’s thoughts toward the many topics discussed directly and indirectly in the fifteen presented.  The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight is enjoyable and ruminative fiction that never gets old; it is eternal and one of the best fairy tale anthologies ever compiled.

Original review: Part 1: Sample the best modern fairy tales herePart 2: Sample the best modern fairy tales herePart 3: Sample the best modern fairy tales herePart 4: Sample the best modern fairy tales herePart 5: Sample the best modern fairy tales here, Examiner.com

Review #2

We all know fairy tales…fairy tales are perhaps the most popular branch of literature in the world.  Naturally, popular stories like those are written and re-written countless times, whether it’s to brighten a gloomy tale or spark a boring narrative with some action and wit.  There are also many collections (anthologies) of fairy tales, each story having been selected by a single editor or group of editors as a pointed example of all the themes the anthology is trying to convey to its audience.  If there is an introduction to the book, it usually is very revealing in that respect.  I have many favorite fairy tale collections, but one in particular always comes to mind first: The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight.

Every time I read this treasury or re-tell its selections for a skeptical listener, many memories remind me just what I love about it so much.  First of all, this book has the unexpected and its content is very diverse.  Jack Zipes did an excellent job in choosing the best modern fairy tales by contemporary writers.  Each story gives a singular taste of the respective author’s writing style, and the bibliography at the end is helpful in case you want to pursue a particular tale to its source.  Secondly (and most importantly), it is the fairy tales themselves—they have so much to offer.  Some of them always reach out and grab my heart, while others are hilarious renditions of classics that make me think twice about common ideas and modern notions.

Remember the character of Little Red Riding Hood and how nonsensical she was when dealing with that wolf?  How about a clever Red Riding Hood instead, like the young heroine of Little Polly Riding Hood who outwits the wolf even in a modern setting?  Then there’s Princess Dahli, where a poor princess and a poor prince both have to live through the story of Cinderella and snub their wicked relatives before they can realize that they’re meant for each other.  Gudgekin the Thistle-GirlThe Cat-King’s DaughterMolly Mullett, and Petronella are more examples of stories in this anthology that have some things in common.  Smart and resourceful heroines take charge of classic fairy tale scenarios and get themselves (and their kingdoms if necessary) out of trouble, occasionally learning a few lessons and administering the best doses of fairy tale humor.  I mean, how many fairy tales feature a princess who rescues the prince herself and ends up marrying an enchanter or who tricks her father the king into approving her engagement to a dismissed suitor?

Of course, the book also has tragic fairy tales—The White Seal Maid and The Dark Princess are two of the most dramatic.  Sad and very romantic in their own way, these stories make bold statements and reflect on how life is not a fairy tale and does not always have happy endings for its participants.  Even if I have my favorites among the fifteen tales that are in The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight, I still like all fifteen in different ways.  Ernest Hemingway’sThe Faithful Bull is a poignant fairy tale that I can’t forget to read, as are the two title stories.  The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight has romance, wit, charm, and action—it’s one of the most irresistible modern storybooks I have ever come across, and it does, as its title suggests, speak for itself.

Original review: Review of “The Outspoken Princess and The Gentle Knight”, Equus4ever.wordpress.com

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