7.30.2011

On Princesses, and other things


With little girls, I find myself in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by princess language and costumes.  Thankfully, my girls aren't too heavy on pink and glitter, but they do love to wear tutus, dresses, and crowns and be Princesses.  I guess it's unavoidable.

I've spent hours looking for girl heroes - not girls who are rescued or kissed, but girls who do heroic things.  I finally realized that I wasn't finding what I was looking for, because I was looking for girls filling the role of boy heroes - acting aggressively and violently.  Of course, girls can do those things, too, but in most traditional stories they don't.  So, I finally realized I needed to redefine for myself what a girl hero is.   

You already know I love the legend of George and the Dragon.  Here's one version:
A town was held captive by a dragon.  The people tried to appease the dragon with sheep, but one day they ran out of livestock.  With no other options, the princess Elizabeth went out to the dragon as a sacrifice for her people.  Before the dragon could take her, however, St. George appeared and wounded the dragon.  Then, George took Elizabeth's sash and tied it around the dragon's neck, now a tame beast.  Elizabeth took the leash and lead him back into the city, where the people cared for their former enemy. 
 St. George is the hero of the story.  It's true.  But, I'm finding I love the role the princess plays too.  She is brave and self-sacrificing.  She didn't have the strength or swordsmanship to rid her people of the dragon.  But she gave what she had - herself.  And that is a heroic act.


 I also love, in this version, that George doesn't kill the dragon.  He wounds and tames it.  I could write a whole post about how beautiful and redemptive the transformation of the dragon is - but there's more about the princess.  George ties her sash around his neck, and she leads him home where the people care for him.  Nurturing is a thankless task at times, but when someone depends upon it, like a wounded dragon, that's heroic, too.


I made Louise a little Princess (and a whole series of George and Dragon brooches, too).  As she watched me sew the other night, I told her this story.  Later, I heard her retelling it to John.  That was priceless.

I recently stumbled across this beautifully illustrated children's book about the version of George and the Dragon that I love so much.  In this post, the author Jim Forest beautifully explains how true stories turn into legends and myths, even within Christianity.   I love the way people have always used stories to talk about beautiful and true things.  Isn't that just what art is?  What a beautiful thing to give to our children.  It looks like you can pre-order the book here

I'd love to hear about your favorite female heroes.  My sister has talked about princesses some, too.   I'll link to it if I can find it...Here it is! She's excellent.

4 comments:

mary said...

I didn't know that story. Love it! Hopefully you've read "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch? A must have for raising princesses! :)

Vanessa said...

I too was going to suggest "The Paper Bag Princess". A friend bought it for me when she found out I was having a girl and we absolutely love it in our house. If you haven't read it, you must check it out at the library.

Chara said...

Interesting. You should try reading some folktales, too. Molly Whuppie is a good one to start with. I have a whole book of folktales that center around girls doing the heroic thing, even when it doesn't seem all that heroic. For instance- the original version of Red Riding Hood, where it doesn't just end with the huntsman saving the day, but later RRH is traveling to her granny's house again and is approached by another wolf. She successfully tricks him and demonstrates that she has learned how to navigate danger.
I feel a post coming on.

Stacy said...

A few strong girl hero books: The Dragon Slipper series, and The Dragonslayers by Bruce Coville. I'll ask my boys if they know of any others. As you can see, though, the stories will probably involve a dragon. :)