We started in on the princess books with gusto.
I read them in an exuberant voice, hoping she would ignore the deliciously difficult words so characteristic of late 19th century British literature.
She most certainly did not ignore those words.
“What does being cross with his wife mean?” she said, after I finished the first page of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess.
“It means he wanted to be angry with his wife,” I replied and tried to trudge through the difficult text.
Why on earth would I read Phantastes, The Light Princess and The Princess and the Goblin to my seven-going-on-eight-year-old daughter?
Because I’ve grown tired of the submissive, hourglass-figured Disney princesses who ultimately change themselves to suit their world rather then strive to change the world around them.
Somehow George MacDonald, one of my favorite authors, managed to create independent-minded, heroic and courageous female characters in his stories in, get this -1872.
It makes one wonder what the hell happened in all the years in between. Why is it taking so long for women to break those glass ceilings?
The answer is men.
The ANSWER, is also men.
Women are naturally fearless, adventurous and tough. It’s not something they become.
Men, on the other hand, have to become something through a process, through time.
MacDonald somehow understood this, and his stories start from the premise that the princess is more developed, while the male character needs to grow into himself. Often with guidance from the princess, or the princess’ rather capable great grandmother.
You could replace the Disney lead female characters with men, and you’d be closer to the the truth than what we are served up every time Frozen comes out.
But no, we’re like children too enamored of the pretty, shiny musical parts to notice anything deeper and more meaningful. We’re already buying next year’s Halloween costumes based on these characters.
By reading Gabrielle these stories, I don’t have to undo modern programming. We start with the correct premise.
The words are tough, and she kicks her feet about on the bed as I read to her. We go for days with little reaction to the drawn-out stories.
“Dad, what does that word mean?” she says.
“What word?” I reply.
“That big word?”
“It means the princess was right,” honey. “And Curdie should have listened to her.”
We are now on our third MacDonald book, and the girls I knew growing up who were raised on a solid diet of MacDonald’s female characters, are all very strong, courageous, independent, warm, funny, smart and fascinating people.
They are what I hope my daughter turns out to be.
And I don’t know how to raise a strong woman, so I found the only commonality I know.
A good princess story from 1872.