Princesses to the rescue?
November 3, 2010 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Fairy tales for girls?

Where can I find fairy tales which dont have subservient, useless or otherwise limp heroines?

Where Jane climbs the beanstalk and defeats the giant.
Where Fiona rescues the handsome prince
Or Kirsty saves the kingdom and is crowned the rightful ruler.

I'd prefer re-written traditional tales; there is a depth (and sometimes a darkness) in these which is quite primal. Traditional tales are also a part of childhood. It's just unfortunate that the world has moved on, for women, a long way from the tales original context.

posted by BadMiker to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

And to everyone else - I beat you to it! HA!
posted by Ted Maul at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2010

East of the Sun and West of the Moon - I enjoyed this novel version. The heroine isn't a princess, but she does the rescuing!
posted by timetoevolve at 10:08 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I loved "The Practical Princess" when I was young and probably around 10 or so loved "The Hero and the Crown" about a female dragonslayer!
posted by amanda at 10:09 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Paper Bag Princess.
posted by mhoye at 10:09 AM on November 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

I've always liked Cinder Edna about Cinderella's next door neighbor. It pokes fun of the traditional story - like how glass slippers are impractical and it's easier to just ask the name of your dance partner.
posted by valeries at 10:11 AM on November 3, 2010

How old is the target audience? Are you looking for picture books or longer stories designed for a parent to read to a child or an older child to read alone? Or are you asking for adult books?

As Ted Maul notes, The Bloody Chamber is excellent...if the person in question is, oh, say, at least 13 years old and okay with some rather graphic descriptions. I would not hand it off to a six or eight year old and hope for the best.

There's a fairly extensive series of folklore anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, rewritten for teens/adults: Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears; Black Swan, White Crow; etc. There are also quite a few novel-length rewritten fairy tales (again, teen/adult): Briar Rose by Jane Yolen; Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. The back matter in any of these will lead you to more reworked stuff. These do tend to be pretty dark and often disturbing. Beauty by Robin McKinley is excellent, and okay for a middle-schooler.

I remember really enjoying the "Dealing with Dragons" series (Patricia Wrede) starting around age 8. Likewise "The Light Princess" and "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald.
posted by athenasbanquet at 10:15 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not fairy tales per se, but consider the Pippi Longstocking stories!
posted by hermitosis at 10:16 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams. It was given to me as a child, and I really loved it. It's still in my collection.
posted by kimdog at 10:21 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz seems like a reasonable candidate, as does Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
posted by valkyryn at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2010

The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet by Jeanne Desy is an excellent tale that turns the fairy tale trope of sacrifice for love on its head. It appeared in the book Stories For Free Children, which is a collection of stories that appeared in Ms. Magazine. (There are plenty of other tales that touch on equality and feminism in the book as well.) The story is online here, though the text includes some somewhat distracting errors.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:23 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Robin McKinley (who is a YA author) has a number of fairy-tale-like novels. She also rewrote the beauty and the beast story in Beauty and Rose Daughter, and Robin Hood in The Outlaws of Sherwood. I'm not sure they're as overtly feminist as you may be looking for, but they have dynamic, three-dimensional, non-damsel-in-distress female characters.
posted by mchorn at 10:25 AM on November 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations.

I should have said that it's for a very little girl; pre-school. I'm also looking for good re-writes of traditional tales rather than good children's books.

There's some great stuff here though, and I'll be able to stock her bookshelf to keep her occupied for some years ahead!
posted by BadMiker at 10:30 AM on November 3, 2010

Best answer: Seconding Dealing With Dragons for the 8-12ish set.

For traditional folk tales that meet your criteria, try Tatterhood. My kickass aunt gave it to my sister when she was a little girl and it's still on my sister's bookshelf 30 years later. The Amazon details say reading level ages 9-12, but many of the stories can be read by or read to much younger children.
posted by katemonster at 10:30 AM on November 3, 2010

L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, which he described as American Fairy tales. All but one have girls who save the day.
posted by Zophi at 10:33 AM on November 3, 2010

I thought of another: Atalanta (video), in Free to Be, You and Me (book).
posted by jocelmeow at 10:45 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Princess Smartypants. She'd rather hang out with her animals (and ride her awesome Norton) than get married, but the king wants her to find a husband. The suitors all fail her goofy challenges, then Prince Swashbuckle appears and passes them all! So she kisses him and turns him into a toad, leaving her free to live happily ever after with her animals.

It's a pretty fun story, and was one of my niece's favorite books.
posted by stefanie at 10:49 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not fairy tales per say, but definitely a different world: Little House on the Prairie, especially the stories about Laura Ingalls (Wilder) and her sisters are about some strong young ladies. Ma is relatively subservient to Pa, but Pa doesn't have a heavy hand on the household. While his say is final, Pa listens to Ma's ideas and thoughts before making a decision. But Laura is fantastic - she helps save the house from fire, works a bit on the farm because Pa has no sons, and teaches in a school far from home when she's 15 years old. She gets married at a rather young age (as viewed from modern standards), but she refuses to vow to obey her husband in her wedding vows.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not a re-write, but the original: the one who saved the siblings in Hansel and Gretel was the sister.
posted by galadriel at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Maid of the North is a collection of feminist fairy tales from around the world.
posted by amelioration at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also: Not One Damsel in Distress.
posted by amelioration at 11:52 AM on November 3, 2010

OK, it's a movie, but I really enjoyed Ever After with Drew Barrymore.
posted by thatone at 12:10 PM on November 3, 2010

Disclaimer- I am lost on what you mean about a traditional story with a non-limp heroine. So while I sort that contradiction...(and this may not be what you are looking for)

The first thing that struck me (for whatever reason) was the movie "Elizabeth" starring Cate Blanchett. So here is a really fun idea-

Pick up your real life heroines and make a story tailored to the kid's age and time you have to tell the story.

1. The kid's friends will have no idea which story their friend is talking about. (But do we really care?)
2. The kid could seriously turn out to be like a lot of idealist, misfit women in the world (and possibly on Metafilter).

1. This should be really fun.
2. Someday when she learns about the real life character, she will appreciate the story all the more, and you for coming up with the brilliant idea. (You are welcome!)
3. You can end it with "What can we learn from Elizabeth"
4. This is going to be fun.
posted by xm at 12:15 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gail Carson Levine's Princess Tales have clever, resourceful heroines who are rather fed up with sitting and sewing (well, except the one who loves embroidery not too wisely, but too well).

Good: Funny, good as read-alouds, and people generally get what they were hoping for.
Less Good: The stories, like the original tales, end up marrying the hero and heroine.

Otherwise, seconding Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters. The Wizard of Oz might also work; there are many short storybook versions, and Dorothy's definitely got gumption.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 12:51 PM on November 3, 2010

The Ordinary Princess is wonderful.
posted by sparrow89 at 1:06 PM on November 3, 2010

Also, Ella Enchanted is a reworking of the Cinderella tale with a very take-charge heroine (she tames ogres!). There's also a movie with Anne Hathaway but I've been boycotting that because it got pretty bad reviews and I didn't want anything to mar my lovely memory of reading the book. As a kid, I loved reading it because it took me a surprisingly long time to figure out it was actually based on the Cinderella story--the plot leads up to it so naturally that you don't realize "Hey, I guess those are going to be her evil stepsisters then," or "Yep, there are the glass slippers."

Although looking at your update, this and The Ordinary Princess are probably too old for her. I think I read Ella Enchanted in 5th grade.
posted by sparrow89 at 1:21 PM on November 3, 2010

Second Ella Enchanted. And not quite a fairy tale per se, but the musical version of the Princess and the Pea, Once Upon a Mattress, has an unconventional princess heroine.
posted by runaway ballista at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another recommendation for Tatterhood and Other Tales. They're not re-written, but that's because they're traditional folk tales from around the world that already feature strong female characters, like Kate Crackernuts and Tatterhood, both of which have that darker edge to them I think you're looking for. I had the book growing up and still remember those stories vividly.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a collection of girl-based fairy tales in which the girls are anything but demure. Works very well either read aloud or read.
posted by Danf at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really loved Molly Whuppie when I was a girl.
posted by sandraregina at 2:17 PM on November 3, 2010

The Polly and the Wolf stories by Catherine Storr.

In each story, the wolf recreates a traditional fairy tale and Polly has to subvert it.

It assumes pre-existing knowledge of traditional fairy tales, so it's not quite what you're looking for, but it does question some of those fairy tales in a way that's age-appropriate. It also has a great role model in Polly who repeatedly takes down the big bad wolf armed with nothing more than common sense.

Not bad at all for a series from the 1950s...
posted by the latin mouse at 2:53 PM on November 3, 2010

Best answer: Rapunzel's Revenge, wherein Rapunzel rescues her own dang self and then goes on to have awesome cowgirl adventures! This one you'd have to read to her, or maybe wait a couple years, but oh man is it great!

The Snow Queen is my all-time favorite fairy tale. Gerda's best friend, Kay, becomes enthralled with the beautiful Snow Queen, who kidnaps him away to her icy kingdom. Gerda, broken-hearted, decides to rescue him and has to overcome many challenges along the way using her wits and her strength (physical and emotional). Plus, she does it all without killing or maiming--she's a lover, not a fighter! The first few versions on Amazon look beautiful, though if you can find the Dulac edition last printed in the 70s, it's sort of the gold standard. I wish they would reprint it. Yay girl heroes!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:46 PM on November 3, 2010

Princesses are Not Quitters is a very cute picture book about three princesses who switch place with the palace servants.
posted by Sukey Says at 6:11 PM on November 3, 2010

The Runaway Princess is exactly what you're asking for.
posted by jander03 at 7:37 PM on November 3, 2010

Early teen: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. I still read them on a yearly basis... Particularly great for kids who love animals.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:00 PM on November 3, 2010

Don't Bet On Thre Prince, The Books Of Enchantment by Wrede and some of the Tanith Lee stuff ( a bit more mature then I think you'd want, not graphic but things are alluded too) are all female- centric fairy tales that hooked me in.
posted by The Whelk at 7:01 AM on November 4, 2010

Oh! And Don't Bet On The Prince is all reworkings of old tales
posted by The Whelk at 7:03 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not quite a fairy tale, and certainly not a re-write of a fairy tale, but a wonderful, magical book starring a 6 year old heroine nonetheless: The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book.
posted by n'muakolo at 10:38 AM on November 4, 2010

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