With the upcoming wedding of Wills and Kate - ahem, sorry, William and Catherine - taking up most of the tv and radio waves (and the entire market in tatty souvenirs) for the forseeable future, we thought that we'd take this oportunity to celebrate some unconventional royals.
E Nesbit did a great line in surprising monarchs. She imagined kings who were property developers, princesses who married lift men, and Fairy Godmothers who gave the oddest advice to their royal charges. One of the best is Billy the King. Eager to make his way in the world, Billy King answers a job ad at his local employment office. 'Hard-working king wanted; no objection to one who has not been out before.' Sounds ideal, but things - of course - don't go as planned for Billy. There is an ineffective prime minister, a monarch-eating monster and all sorts of trouble. But luckily there is also Eliza, the brand new queen from the neighbouring kingdom.
Margaret Mahy must be sprinkled with some of the same magic dust as Nesbit. Strange and interesting royalty abound in her short stories, too. Like the melancholy king who is cheered up by music made by Selina and her grandmother who live in the dump-diddledump-diddledump (much to the distress of the royal physicians who feel sure the king's ears will be polluted by untold germs). But perhaps most lovely of all is the beautiful princess who marries a clown. 'Princesses don't marry clowns! They marry princes, simpletons, and seventh sons; they marry the youngest of three brothers - but NEVER clowns!' And like all good clowns (and all good princesses!), this clown is made of equal parts humour and melancholy - so lovely - sigh.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Elizabeth begins as a princess princess - all pretty clothes and marrying perfect princes. But enter the dragon, who burns Elizabeth's clothes and generally forces her to look at life differently. Elizabeth outsmarts the dragon, rescues the prince, discovers he's not so perfect afterall and dumps him to pursue her own interests. WIN!
The Princess and the Dragon by Audrey Wood
Rather similar in flavour to The Paperbag Princess - but this one goes a step further. The roaring princess and the ballet-dancing dragon just aren't cut out for the roles society wants them to play. Never fear - I can feel a swap coming on! Aren't the courtiers delighted when the abrasive princess is replaced by the polite-as-pie dragon! And isn't the princess delighted when she can live in a cave and terrorise villagers to her heart's content! Play to your strengths seems as good a moral as any.
Mimus by Lilli Thal translated by John Brownjohn
This is a strange and wonderful book. When Prince Florin and his father, King Phillip, attend a banquet in the neighbouring kingdom, they are greeted with devastating betrayal. After the ambush, Prince Florin is forced to live in the stable with Mimus, the wily court jester. Mimus is by turns cruel and generous, proud and lowly, brave and cowardly. In order to save his own life, Florin must learn the ways of the jester and unravel a secret plot. But can he trust Mimus? An epic mystery: funny, chilling and gripping. No monarch can remain unchanged after living the life of the jester.
The Princess and her Panther by Wendy Orr and Lauren Stringer
'One afternoon... a princess and her panther crossed the desert sand. The princess was brave and the panther tried to be.'
We're all for brave princesses who inspire courage in their little sisters. All for it!
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Just like Kate, Buttercup is a beautiful commoner, plucked from obscurity by the prince of the land. But Prince Humperdinck is about as far from Prince Charming as a prince can possibly get. And poor Buttercup is kidnapped by a swordmaster Spaniard (who is not left-handed), a Turkish giant (who has a sportsman's heart) and a clever Sicilian (who is not as smart as he thinks he is) - who are then outwitted, outplayed, outlasted by the Dread Pirate Roberts whose intentions are...well... more seemly than any Survivor contestant's intentions ever are. So if all the hoo-ha about Wills & Kate's wedding has put you in the mood for a fairytale royal romance - with a happy ending? As you wish.