I was a strange little girl—who’s grown up to be a woman proud to fly her freak flag high. I don’t remember a time when I wanted to be a princess. I did not covet the pretty gowns or the glass slippers or the ballrooms and the banquets. I had no interest in princes either—give me a bad boy every time. As a tween and then a teen, my heroines were Eleanor of Aquitaine (does anyone remember A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by the great E. L. Konigsburg?), Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I (I was very affected by an early viewing of Anne of the Thousand Days and innumerable historical romances that took place in Elizabethan England). I had no idea (still don’t, in fact) why anyone would want to be a princess when one can be a queen?
In fact, to continue my rant against Walt Disney, I feel he singlehandedly propelled the whole princess meme into the viralsphere. I thank God regularly that I don’t have a daughter and so can avoid explaining to her that princesses and their dresses are not the most important things in life. It’s an independent woman’s nightmare. The only princess I want to be is Laurell Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry—and only because she kicks butt!
Queens rule, princesses wait. No freaking contest. I was reminded of this dynamic by fantasy author extraordinaire, Robin Hobb, whose Farseer series continues to capture my interest, despite the glacial pace of the plot progression (have I mentioned my need for speed—and fast-paced action?). But I find myself coming back again and again because of the detail of the world building and the incredible depth of the characters and their relationships. In Ms. Hobbs’ world, there are no princesses (or princes, for that matter), only queens and queens-in-waiting (this applies to kings as well, lest you think her imbalanced). I found myself quite taken with the concept of the queen-in-waiting, who is considered a queen in her own right, but without the authority to rule.
And really, who wouldn’t want to rule? In Ms. Hobbs’ world, the current king-in-waiting, actually, would have preferred to remain the second son and serve his elder brother when he ascended the throne. Didn’t work out that way, though, so the younger brother became the king-in-waiting, his wife the queen-in-the-wings and the widow of his brother… Well, she doesn’t seem to have a title any more besides “lady.” Sad for her. Because there is no reigning queen, the queen-in-waiting is the de facto feminine power in the realm. She is good with that, and she comes from a place where women are allowed to rule, which is rightly understood to mean service to the people.
But she is not allowed to assume the mantle of leadership she would naturally wear as if it were bespoke. First, she is still in waiting. Second, she must take her place behind both her husband and her father-in-law. She’s going to be waiting for a long time. What’s worse, she’s like me, with no interest in being ornamental. Quite a pickle for her, poor thing. She is confused, frustrated and not a little betrayed. She was meant to rule, not live in a perpetually gilded cage and sing sweetly.
What to do? Well, I haven’t finished the series, so I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t be content in such a circumstance. I hope she figures out how to break free of her bondage and find a way out of the static waiting. You know how I feel about Dr. Seuss’s dreaded waiting place. Not the place to see and be seen. A complete waste of time and talent. But I’ll let you know how it all works out.
Back to the problem of princesses. Really, unless you’re the Paper Bag Princess (who I love with a burning passion—if you don’t know her, look her up), what’s the point? The point seems to be to look pretty, smile in a simpering manner, and make sure you look like a million bucks hours after giving birth to the heir to the throne—which is your true purpose in life—brood mare. Gag me. I much prefer the current Queen Elizabeth, who isn’t so pretty, but appears to be doing a bang up job of preserving the British monarchy during a time when there are many who believe it to be an anachronistic relic that the country can ill afford.
Queens wield power. I like power. Power is the ability to affect change—hopefully for the good. Power is necessary to maintain peace—although please don’t think I mean that power is necessarily might or weapons-based. I think people like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa all wielded tremendous power in different ways. Power can influence people to achieve great acts of compassion and construction. Power implies self-reliance, or at least reliance on the divine rather than others. Power speaks to control and security, at least for me.
I have a coffee mug that reminds me it’s good to be queen. And it is. I’m the only female in my household (except for one of three dogs). I expect to be treated with deference and respect—because I’ve earned both in service to my family. Such deference and respect confer influence and power to build and to make things happen, both necessary aspects of lives well lived. And power also conveys pleasure, of the potentially corrupting variety, as anyone who’s read George Orwell knows well. But pleasure and enjoyment are not intrinsically bad things, and experienced with forbearance and in moderation are among the blessings of a generous Universe.
So, to be clear, I aspire to queenhood of the non-consort variety. With no waiting involved. And I encourage all girls to do the same.