For me, nearly every discussion of JV fantasy begins with M. M. Kaye’s quiet masterpiece. I think I’ve given a copy to every girl I baby-sat for any length of time.
Its story begins with an author on vacation, whiling her way through the rainbow fairy tale collections of Andrew Lang.
It was only after I had read at least twenty of the stories that I noticed something that had never struck me before — I suppose because I had always taken it for granted. All the princesses, apart from such rare exceptions as Snow White, were blond, blue eyed, and beautiful, with lovely figures and complexions and extravagantly long hair. This struck me as most unfair, and suddenly I began to wonder just how many handsome young princes would have asked a king for the hand of his daughter if that daughter had happened to be gawky, snub-nosed, and freckled, with shortish mouse-colored hair? None, I suspected. They would all have been off chasing after some lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing whatever between her ears!
Apart from the fact that it was my hand that scribbled it all down, I cannot honestly claim to have written her story, for in fact it wrote itself. And at such breakneck speed that it was all I could do to make my pencil keep up with the tale that my head was telling me. … I always write in pencil so that I can rub out my mistakes. Yet I cannot remember using my eraser even once when I was writing The Ordinary Princess, and I sometimes think that Amy herself must have been doing the dictating.
Her Serene Royal Highness, Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne, is the youngest of seven daughters. Much expectation hangs over her tiny head as the seventh is always the loveliest, most charming princess the kingdom has ever seen. Everything proceeds according to plan until a cross fairy at her christening declares that she be ordinary, as it will probably bring her less fuss and frustration in the long run.
Poor Amy grows mousier and more freckled with each passing year. Her nose turns up, and she can never manage the courtly grace her tall, pale, blond sisters achieve effortlessly. In despair at her prospects, the king and queen arrange to have her kidnapped by a dragon, as any prince who rescues here will only see what she looks like after it is too late to back out. Not liking the plan one bit, Amy takes her future into her own hands and climbs out of her window and into the world.
Her adventures aren’t thrilling. Her story isn’t fraught with peril. It is simply charming, and I challenge any heart not to warm at her happy ending.
The Ordinary Princess written and illustrated by M. M. Kaye First published in 1980.
Look for older editions as the illustrations are clearer (and colored in the hardcover) and the cover is more pleasant. I’m not a fan of the new edition, although I’m glad it was reprinted and frequently buy out the copies at the local bookshop.