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Literature / Petronella

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A "feminist fairytale" written in 1971 by Jay Williams (published in The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales), "Petronella" is the story of Princess Petronella, a girl who vows that she'll be the one to rescue a prince, as opposed to being rescued herself. After being pointed towards a castle containing a sorcerer and his hostage, a prince, Petronella takes on three challenges that the sorcerer, named Albion, proposes. After three days, she rescues the prince from Albion and the two flee, only for Albion to chase after them.


Petronella drops the gifts Albion had rewarded her with for finishing the challenge: a comb, a handkerchief, and a ring. The comb turns into a dense forest, but Albion turns into an ax and demolishes it. The handkerchief becomes an ocean, but Albion turns into a fish and swims across. Then the ring just lies on the ground until Albion tries to jump over it and it suddenly ensnares him.

Thinking it would be cruel to just leave him there, especially since he never acted wicked, Petronella frees Albion and asks why he held the prince captive and then chased them...but it turns out the prince was never a hostage, just a freeloader that Albion was too nice to kick out, and he was chasing Petronella, not the prince, because he'd fallen in love with her.

Knowing the prince is a lazy freeloader and Albion is much nicer and smarter, Petronella goes with him to his castle, leaving the prince dumbfounded.


"Petronella" contains the following tropes:

  • Affectionate Parody
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Albion is a sorcerer who wears dark colors and a black cloak, but he's actually very kind. Also applies to his animals, who are all dark in color and act wild and mean...but really they only need another friend. After Petronella speaks gently to them and pets them, they all turn out to be quite docile.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: The prince.
  • Distressed Dude: Ultimately averted.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: Both Played Straight and Deconstructed.
  • Impossible Task: The solution is actually easier (and perhaps stupider) than it seems.
  • Jerkass: By the end of the story, the prince certainly qualifies...after Albion is trapped, he simply says "It serves him right" and suggest to Petronella they leave him there. The Jerkass-ery comes in when we find out Albion never did anything to him, the prince was just staying at his castle, uninvited, and mooching off him.
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  • Once Upon a Time
  • Rebellious Princess: Somewhat—Petronella does defy her parents' telling her she's supposed to be a rescue-ee, not rescuer.
  • Rescue Romance: Invoked
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something
  • Rule of Three: And how! Petronella is the youngest of three children, an old man has been cursed to sit in one spot and answer three questions from every traveler, Albion gives Petronella three challenges and three rewards...
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: The prince.
  • True Love's Kiss: Petronella's kiss is the only thing that can free Albion from the trap.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Albion
  • Youngest Child Wins: Interesting variation here. Petronella is the youngest of three children, but her older siblings are brothers, not sisters, and we are never told if they succeeded in their own adventures or not.
    • It's a long tradition - every previous generation there were three princes (always named Michael, George and Peter) sent out to win a princess, and only the youngest returns to become king. Petronella's father is King Peter the 26th.