I was going through my old children’s books the other day to make room on my bookshelf for new books when I came across The Paper Bag Princess and, naturally, I had to read it. It was one of my favourite stories when I was younger, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Was it the illustrations? The storyline? The dragon? All of those contributed to my enjoyment of the story, but the main reason I loved it was, in fact, Princess Elizabeth herself.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the story, it goes like this:
Princess Elizabeth is engaged to be married to Prince Ronald when a dragon attacks the castle and kidnaps her fiancé. Left with only a paper bag for clothing, Elizabeth tracks down the dragon and tricks him into falling asleep. Instead of expressing joy at his rescue, Ronald is displeased with Elizabeth’s appearance and tells her to come back when she looks like “a real princess.” Elizabeth replies that he may look like a real prince but he’s really just “a bum,” so it comes as no surprise that that they don’t get married after all.
The story itself has so many important messages. I love that The Paper Bag Princess flips the princess stereotype on its head and teaches young women that they don’t always have to be the damsel in distress; they can do the rescuing, too. It also reminds us that vanity can be our downfall — whether we lose our lunch, like the dragon did, or lose the girl, like the prince did.
Elizabeth is such an excellent role model for young girls (and those of us who are slightly older but still love reading children’s books). She’s brave, smart, and resilient, and shows that physical strength isn’t necessary to defeat even the toughest enemies, whether these dragons are real or of the proverbial variety. She understands that character is more important than appearance, and that you shouldn’t settle for someone who doesn’t appreciate you — you deserve someone who loves you for who you are, flaws and all.
It’s safe to say that I’ll be dressing up as Princess Elizabeth for Halloween this year, and this story will definitely be read to all of the children that I encounter. Okay, maybe not all the children… but the ones in my family and the ones that I babysit will certainly be exposed to it.
On a slightly unrelated note, The Paper Bag Princess gets bonus points in my eyes for inspiring this song, which is rather cute: