A Couple of Thoughts Regarding the Classic Fairy Tale “The Princess & the Pea” (now that I’m grown up & weirder)…

(picture from garryrogers.com)

I was actually monitoring a class where students had to read a shorter version of “The Princess and the Pea” and then do a writing assignment to fill in the gaps. I hadn’t read this story in forever, and started to remember some things that got me thinking.

One of the young ladies had to read it from scratch because she’d been absent the day before and hadn’t ever heard of the story. She was totally confused about the whole setup, that it was actually a small pea–one you eat–placed in between the mattresses to determine if she’d feel it in there as she slept. If she did feel it, then clearly she was a princess.

She wondered where that crazy idea came from, and I had to dust off my history-brain a bit and (simplistically) explain about how royal ladies weren’t expected to do much other than get married and pop out babies so they could get married and rule countries and whatnot. I didn’t go all the way into it, as my obvious feminism would’ve come out. Then I told her to think about Shrek, and how princesses acted in that series… and then realize Shrek was largely making fun of fairy tales and certainly the “delicate princess” stories. That got her thinking and she kept on writing.

I am too tired to remember everything that went on in those tidbits of Q&A and conversations, but two things really struck me as I was leaving for the day. Well, one thing did, the other I figured out with my most avid questioner.

The first was this: if you could summarize this story from a 21st century perspective (with or without a feminist slant), you could easily put it down as #richpeopleproblems .

Seriously, a pea under dozens of mattresses and covers and whatnot, and she can’t sleep? And she’s gonna whine to the king and queen about it? Sheesh.

I don’t even do the hashtag thing, but I think it fits really damned well.

The big one hit me toward the end of class, when I got to thinking about the end of the story. First of all, the prince was upset that he couldn’t find a genuine princess to marry and then this one comes along by accident. They test her with the pea, she passes, and you get that supposed wedding and happily-ever-after crap.

Or, do they get happily ever after?

Maybe it’s the weirdness that’s me and nobody else has thought of it, but the story makes little to no sense once you’ve become adult and know “happily ever after” is NEVER the end of the story.

It hit me tonight that the pea was to test this woman and how delicate and fragile and such she was, to verify that she was of noble stature because of how she dealt with discomfort. Part of me wondered if the prince was really gonna be pleased with a woman who whined about a little pea disrupting her sleep, but he wanted an “authentic princess,” so he was good with it in the end.

But that’s not it, really. What hit me was this: if this little pea was disturbing her sleep, that she could feel it even through layers of fine mattresses, and she was bruised and hurting because of it… how the hell was she going to deal with her wedding night?

Hmm… any ideas?

(All I can think is, “happily-ever-after, my ass”!)

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