The Real Princess

  Image: Ladybird Books

In the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Princess and the Pea, Anderson demonstrates that true nobility is innate; only a Real Princess would be able to detect a pea under twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. This quality is found in protagonists in many children’s books: Sara Crewe in The Little Princess and Septimus Heap in Angie Sage’s Magyk and sequels, and most clearly in Harry Potter. No amount of mistreatment can twist these children’s characters, but instead makes them seek to protect bullied children and animals. 

By contrast,Merrin Meredith, one of the antagonists in the Septimus Heap books, does not have the fundamental goodness of Septimus, the seventh son of Silas Heap the magician. Stolen as a baby from his midwife mother, he is unable to rise above the cruel treatment of his sorcerer master.

I have been thinking about the qualities associated with “royal blood” as I am reading Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy at the moment. Fitz, as Royal Bastard, inherits Skill (telepathy) from his father, Prince Chivalry, but is unable to control it. At the same time he has the Wit, a despised form of magic that enables him to communicate empathically with animals. Hobb does very interesting things with the Real Prince(ss) trope as a way of exploring Fitz’s anomalous position as not quite a member of the royal family, but with sworn loyalty to the King, Shrewd. 

In a country where our passports design us subjects of a Queen, the qualities that are designated noble are often considered the antithesis of those at the bottom of the social heap, the so-called feral youth. I always consider social class when I read. As a teacher it doesn’t surprise me that white working class children don’t read. If books tell them that they’re worthless, why should they?

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