One of Canadian author Robert Munsch's most famous children's books, The Paper Bag Princess was written and published in 1980. The picture book stars Princess Elizabeth, who's going to marry the handsome Prince Ronald. Unfortunately, an evil dragon snatches Prince Ronald and incinerates everything around Elizabeth in the process — including her clothes! Undaunted, Elizabeth finds an old paper bag, puts it on and pursues her prince.
She finds the dragon in his cave, and brings him out by appealing to his vanity: "Is it true that you are the smartest and fiercest dragon in the whole world?" When he says yes, Elizabeth cunningly puts him through a series of trials to test that claim. He's so exhausted by the end that he falls right asleep.
She then opens the door of the cave to find Prince Ronald — but instead of being grateful, he's criticizing her for her appearance: "You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess." Elizabeth decides that she doesn't need a prince who'll treat her that badly, and dumps him, running off into the sunset to live life on her own.
The Paper Bag Princess is often cited as a classic feminist fairy tale for its subversions of gender roles, and is well loved worldwide, but especially in its native Canada. It received an Animated Adaptation in 1994, which expanded its story considerably. Universal announced plans for a film adaptation in 2017.
This book contains examples of:
- An Aesop: You don't have to get married to be happy, especially if the one you're engaged to is a jerk.
- Anachronism Stew: No, they did not have paper bags in medieval times. And while tennis does indeed date back to the medieval period, Ronald's very '70s tennis outfit is clearly not period either.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: While the lower half of Elizabeth's naked body is covered by steam, her exposed top half is drawn without any nipples.
- Bittersweet Ending: Elizabeth manages to defeat the dragon and rescue Ronald, but he doesn't thank her for saving him and instead criticizes her appearance, thus she ends their engagement and leaves.
- Cardiovascular Love: The illustration on the first page shows Elizabeth with hearts floating around her head as she looks at Ronald.
- Censor Steam: Steam is used to censor Elizabeth's nudity after the dragon incinerates her clothes.
- Cultural Translation: In the original Canadian version of the book, Elizabeth dumps Ronald by declaring, "You look like a real prince, but you are a bum." In Scholastic International's British English version of the book, Elizabeth instead calls Ronald "...a toad."
- Did Not Get the Girl: Gender-flipped and played as a Happy Ending, to boot. Elizabeth breaks off her planned marriage to Ronald after seeing what an Ungrateful Bastard he is and seems content with remaining single for the foreseeable future.
- Distressed Dude: Prince Ronald gets captured by the dragon and has to be rescued.
- Fallen Princess: Her castle is destroyed, and her dress is replaced by a paper bag. She didn't happily marry Prince Ronald after all.
- Follow the Chaos: Elizabeth is able to follow the dragon because of the trail of burnt forests and horses' bones he leaves behind him.
- Guile Hero: Elizabeth only has her wits to rely on in her adventure.
- Heavy Sleeper: Once the dragon is fast asleep, Elizabeth sticking her head into his ear and yelling as loud as she could doesn't so much as stir him, though it's not stated if this is how he normally sleeps or if the dragon is really just that tired.
- Improvised Clothes: After having her clothes burned off, Princess Elizabeth makes do with wearing a paper bag, hence the title.
- Prince Charmless: Prince Ronald. Way more obvious in the Animated Adaptation, which establishes him as one of these from the beginning. In the book, it's only at the end that he reveals his true colours.
- Princess Classic: Princess Elizabeth, at least in the beginning.
- Save the Princess: Gender inverted by having Elizabeth having to rescue Prince Ronald.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Prince Ronald's reaction to being rescued is to insult Princess Elizabeth's appearance and tell her to "come back when [she's] dressed like a real princess."
The Animated Adaptation contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: And how. Elizabeth's journey is greatly expanded, with her meeting the witch from Hansel and Gretel among others.
- Adaptational Modesty: Rather than being left naked by the dragon's fire, this version has Elizabeth left with a charred dress before changing into a paper bag. Of course, this only raises the question of why she considered wearing a paper bag preferable to wearing an intact charred dress.
- Anachronism Stew: Even more so than the original book. In the first scene alone, the narrator drives by, chatting on his cell phone, while elves come out of trees.
- Broken Aesop: The story's feminist Aesop is undermined by the ending, which has Elizabeth leave with the dragon, effectively relying on a male character.
- Defeat Means Friendship: The dragon quickly develops considerable respect for Elizabeth after she tricks him into knocking himself out.
- Fractured Fairy Tale: More so than the original book, the cartoon features parodies of "Goldilocks", "Hansel and Gretel" and other stories.
- Heavy Sleeper: The trope varies in the cartoon, as the dragon wakes up instantly when he hears Elizabeth being angry and Ronald.
- Heel Realization: Downplayed with Ronald. He sings that he's kind of flawed but says he's not a perfect guy.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Elizabeth becomes this as a side effect of Ronald's jerkiness being obvious from the start.
- "I Am" Song:
- The dragon continually raps about himself, and Prince Ronald basically echoes Elizabeth's song to establish his narcissism.
- After losing Elizabeth at the end, Ronald has a reprise in which he sings about not being perfect, suggesting he may have experienced Heel Realization.
- "I Want" Song: Elizabeth sings a little ditty about her "perfect guy", Prince Ronald, in the beginning.
- Magic Skirt: That paper bag has a really high hemline and Elizabeth presumably doesn't have any underwear.