Book Review: Feminist Fairy Tales (A Polish Example)

IMG_2095This week’s post was originally inspired way back in July when I was in Poland with my family. We were visiting the Wawel Castle in Krakow, an incredible medieval castle that has withstood centuries of war and occupation (albeit with a few fires and restorations). It is now a national museum. I’d like to use an anecdote from this trip to illustrate the way stories can be retold in a way that is more gender-fair.

While we were walking around the castle grounds, I overheard a tour guide tell a group the legend of the dragon that once terrorized the castle. So the story goes, a dragon was eating all of the villagers’ sheep. This being Poland, sheep were an important economic staple (and also dragons are pretty scary). The king decided that in order to entice a knight to slay the dragon, he would offer his daughter, the princess, as a prize to the winner. Slay the dragon, win marriage to the princess. Knight after knight tried and failed. But, the wily town cobbler had a better plan: He filled a sheep carcass with brimstone and left it for the dragon. The dragon gobbled up the sheep, brimstone and all. The brimstone made him thirsty, so he went to the Vistula river to drink…and drink…and drink, until he exploded (and died). The king made good on his word and the cobbler married the princess.

As you can imagine, there is quite a lot of dragon, sheep, and princess-related merchandise for sale at the castle. During a rain shower, I ducked into a gift shop for cover and wandered over to the English translations of Polish storybooks (this should not surprise you at all, if you know me or have been reading the blog for a while).

Lo and behold, there was a feminist take on the dragon tale!

WawelCastleBookCoverSo, I give you the alternate version (in English, and personally heavily editorialized):

WawelCastleBookThere was a dragon terrorizing sheep, that part is the same.

WawelCastleBookBecause the villagers were so angry and the dragon was such a pain, the king was understandably distraught. BUT! The princess personally has the idea to offer herself as a prize. See, this wise princess knows that the world is a sexist place and sometimes you have to work within the system to change it.

WawelCastleBookA bunch of knights attempt to slay the dragon and fail (same as the original).

WawelCastleBookThe wily cobbler has an idea (again, same, although I think it is interesting that he isn’t the most attractive of cobblers). In this version, the sheep is alive, not a carcass, but that is probably a better plan because I suspect this troublesome dragon knows the difference.

WawelCastleBookTrap is assembled. WawelCastleBook  Dragon is fooled!

WawelCastleBookIn this version, it takes the dragon a long time to explode (years) but perhaps that is more accurate. I don’t really know.

The princess makes good on her word — she is the hero here. As a politician herself (not simply a beautiful figurehead), she sees what needs to be done and comes up with an efficient plan knowing the limits of the situation. I like that she is smart and powerful, and I also like that the cobbler is intelligent. Certainly it isn’t a perfect story, but it is a great feminist re-telling of a legend around which an entire city is marketed. Kudos. The lesson here is that a simple change leaves the storyline basically the same while adapting the moral of the story to be far more gender-fair.

Indeed, there are other feminist princesses out there — The Paper Bag Princess is a Fair Play favorite. Mighty Girl has a guide to Independent Princess books as well.

And, because I can’t help myself, here are few snapshots from the trip — the castle, Fair Play Dad in the Dragon’s Den, and a bronze of the dragon himself!

IMG_2135And with the Super Bowl this weekend, I’ll throw this photo in for good measure as well 🙂

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