The Problem with Karen Kingsbury's Princess Books
This morning I was a scientist studying lions and a magic doctor healing giraffes. I was a three-year-old girl holding a baby jaguar; I was a pony running through a candy forest. I was friends with a lion, a little girl, a pony, and finally, a princess.
The princess, my 3-year-old daughter Rosie, put on a pink and white nightgown. "I think this twirls," she said, experimenting. "I must be a princess!"
Like any modern mom, I'm wary of Cinderella eating my daughter. I decided it was time to conduct some research. "What do princesses do?" I asked."I don't know," she said, disinterested. "They organize things." Then, she added nonchalantly, "Sometimes people think I'm a princess … because they think I'm pretty. Hey Mom, chase me!"
I'm relieved that Rosie consistently chooses to play tag or lions before playing princess, especially if what makes a princess a princess is just beauty.
Let me be clear: I have nothing against twirly skirts, telling our daughters that they are beautiful, or fairy tales with happy endings. I enjoy love stories, including my own, which, incidentally, began a long time ago in a faraway land and involves a strong man with kind eyes.
I have nothing against princesses, when they are done right. But I do tend to get up in arms when the story told - especially by Christians - to my daughter features a beautiful, silent, passive, nameless teenage princess who needs only a man chosen for her to marry in order to have a happy ending.
Stories matter, and in this formative period in which my daughter can remember the words to a book after hearing it only once or twice, I'm careful about what she hears, especially if she's hearing about God. That's why I find The Princess and the Three Knights (Zonderkids 2009), by Christian romance novelist Karen Kingsbury, so troubling.
After an epigraph from 1 Corinthians 13:4,7, the picture book tells of a King who seeks a worthy knight to marry his daughter, "the fairest one in all the land" whose "greater beauty" comes from within. Many knights engage in contests to win her hand until three suitors remain. In the final competition, each knight is challenged to ride toward the edge of a cliff imagining that he carries the princess, to see who can get closest to the edge. The third knight, however, refuses to take part because he loves the princess and "would never take her anywhere near that cliff." With his answer, the knight wins, for he shows that he understands that "true love always protects."
Perhaps, in summary, the tale sounds heartwarming. Protection is, after all, something every parent desires for her children. But was this princess a protagonist I wanted my daughter to identify with? Was this how I wanted my daughter to understand the meaning of love?
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