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Literature / The Princess Tales

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The Princess Tales are a set of Twice Told Tales by Gail Carson Levine, telling about the adventures of fairies and mortals in an imaginary kingdom called Biddle. The stories are usually recognizably similar to the fairy tales on which they are based, but include more humor and give more characterization and agency to the female protagonists.

  • The Fairy's Mistake. A retelling of "Diamonds and Toads". The fairy Ethelinda is initially satisfied with the reward she has bestowed on polite, cheerful Rosella and the punishment she has inflicted on her rude twin sister Myrtle...until she finds out that Rosella is being made miserable by her Gold Digger fiance, and Myrtle has found a creative way to turn her "punishment" into a blessing...

  • The Princess Test. A retelling of "The Princess and the Pea." Prince Nicholas' father decides he must be married, to a real princess, around the time Nicholas falls in love with peasant girl Lorelei. Fortunately, the "princess tests" involve a lot of finding minute details that are off about a particular scenario, which might just help the sweet-but-finicky Lorelei pass.

  • Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep. A retelling of "Sleeping Beauty." The princess Sonora, cursed by an annoyed fairy, decides to use her extraordinary intelligence to figure out when the right time to invoke the curse will be.

  • Cinderellis and the Glass Hill. A retelling of "The Princess on the Glass Hill." An inventive young man named Ellis finds his skills put to the test when Princess Marigold's father has her sit on a glass hill as a test for potential husbands.

  • For Biddle's Sake. A retelling of "Puddocky". Parsley, the adoptive daughter of the fairy Bombina, inadvertently falls afoul of her guardian's penchant for turning humans into toads. Fortunately, it seems her newfound status as a "magical creature" may help her assist her crush, Prince Tansy, in being pronounced heir to the throne of Biddle.

  • The Fairy's Return. A retelling of "The Golden Goose." Robin, a misunderstood peasant boy and Lark, a lonely princess meet and fall in love, to the disapproval of both their families. Can some effort on the part of the young pair and the return of the fairy Ethelinda turn this mess into a happy ending?


  • Accidental Misnaming: The fairy queen, Anura, cannot remember Parsley's name. She also can't remember the name of the village Snettering-on-Snoakes, where Parsley and Bombina live.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: King Humphrey II and Queen Hermione II throw themselves on their knees to beg the fairy Adrianna to save Sonora from the curse the fairy Belladonna put on her.
  • Baby as Payment: In For Biddle's Sake, the fairy Bombina demands that the parents of a child who will only eat parsley (the only parsley around grows in her garden) give the child to her. She privately thinks to herself that this will both punish the theft and make her come off better to the fairy queen, given that the situation could be spun as an adoption. She does become quite fond of the child, though.
  • Batman Gambit: In The Fairy's Return, Robin asks the fairy Ethelinda if there's any area of which he can claim sovereignty. Ethelinda brings up the Briny Islands, but warns him that they're very far away and not very livable. Robin reassures her, saying that he won't have to go there if his plan actually works. Ethelinda proclaims that she is an official of the Briny Islands, who wants to make Robin king. Now Robin is a worthy suitor to Princess Lark, but if he actually accepts the position, King Humphrey won't see his daughter for years. As Robin predicted, King Humphrey gives in and allows them to marry without the kingship.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Prince Harold yells at Rosella's ladies-in-waiting (who are fighting over the jewels) to "SHUT UP!"
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • In The Fairy's Mistake, Rosella's reward is this. Because of her kind nature, everyone, particularly her gold-digging husband, takes advantage of her to get their hands on her jewels.
    • "Princess Sonora knows, but don't ask her." Princess Sonora may have renowned intelligence, but most people, even her parents, quickly get tired when she goes into discussion mode.
  • Brainy Baby: Two fairies bless the newborn Princess Sonora with intelligence-related gifts, resulting in her being ten times as smart as anyone else from a young age. It's also deconstructed; Sonora reacts differently to various facets of childhood than a usual baby would (for instance, getting embarrassed when she spits up on people).
  • Constantly Curious: Christopher, prince of Kulornia, from Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep. He usually asks questions that cannot be answered, driving the people around him to exasperation. Luckily, this results in him being Happily Married to Princess Sonora, because she's smart enough that she always has things she's bursting to tell others, but few others actually want to hear most of it.
  • Curse Escape Clause: After accidentally turning her adoptive daughter Parsley into a toad, Bombina rushes to the fairy queen's palace and throws herself on Queen Anura's mercy in hopes of fixing it. However, Anura reminds her that the only way to undo a spell like this is if a prince proposes to Parsley of his own free will.
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • In The Fairy's Mistake, Ethelinda's attempt to punish Myrtle turns out badly. She at first forces others to bribe her to keep the snakes and insects at bay and ends up opening a snake racetrack and makes money as a bookie. (Although, by that time, she'd already "done a good deed", if largely from coercion.)
    • In "For Biddle's Sake", Parsley is accidentally transformed into a frog. Luckily, she realizes that being turned into a frog means she's now a magical creature and can do magic herself.
  • Deconstruction: "The Fairy's Mistake" is one of Diamonds and Toads. It points out that a girl that has jewels coming out of her mouth would be a target for any Opportunistic Bastard, and that another punished with bugs and reptiles coming out would realize it's a good tool for blackmail. Indeed, Rosella's new husband starts making her read constantly so that he can fill his royal coffers, to the point where she gets ill. Meanwhile, Myrtle coerces the townsfolk to give her things in exchange for not talking. In another sense, Myrtle isn't so evil that she'd leave her sister in a bad situation and agrees to help out.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • The habit of inviting fairies to christenings is discontinued after the fairies get into a magic duel and transform one of the royal family several times.
    • The plot of For Biddle's Sake also revolves around a person being transformed. Parsley's adoptive guardian, the fairy Bombina, has a bad habit of turning people into toads for the slightest offense. At one point, she decides to turn the princes who are riding by under Parsley's window (including the one that, unknown to her, Parsley has fallen in love with) into toads, but when Parsley tries to stop her, she transforms her by accident.
  • Gender Flip: Cinderellis And The Glass Hill (based on a Norwegian fairy tale called The Princess on the Glass Hill), makes Cinderella a boy (Ellis, nicknamed 'Cinderellis'), with two older brothers and a princess as a love interest.
  • Genre Savvy: Lorelei's father doesn't remarry because he knows about the trope of wicked stepmothers being cruel to their stepdaughters. Unfortunately, Trudy, the maid he hires, gets annoyed with Lorelei and fulfills the same position, albeit in "accidental" ways so she doesn't get in trouble.
  • Happily Adopted: Parsley is very happy living with Bombina, except for the times when Bombina transforms the staff.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Princess Sonora's extremely intense intelligence makes interacting with other children difficult, as their interests aren't the same. The one time one of her birthday parties turned out successful occurred when she did all the attendees' homework for them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Myrtle is not the nicest girl, but she is certainly not stupid or overly mean. When she finds out that Rosella's Gold Digger prince is exploiting her sister, Myrtle agrees to cow him for Rosella's sake. She claims it's because she'll get to keep the jewels, but the reader knows better.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Princess Marigold from Cinderellis and the Glass Hill is a good-natured if lonely girl who loves her cat Apricot. When (in disguise as a dairymaid) she hears one of the princes say he plans to drown Apricot if he gets the hand of the princess in marriage, she resolves that she absolutely will not let him win.
  • Liar Revealed: Being a fairy's beloved adoptive daughter, Parsley has a magic telescope that allows her to see and hear things far away. While using the telescope, she sees multiple instances of Prince Tansy's brothers causing trouble and blaming it on him. They even blame Tansy for stealing their materials during the quests. Parsley is indignant. The first chance she gets, she reveals the truth. Bombina confirms it with magic.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Princess Lark has an entire court of children to play with. However, given that she's the princess, none of them will play with her like a normal girl; they all trip over themselves to make sure she always wins and never gets hurt or rumpled. Her two accidental meetings with Robin, a peasant boy who treats her normally, quickly becomes the best times of her life and she falls madly in love, to the horror of both their parents.
  • Missing Mom:
    • In "The Princess Test", Lorelei's mother Gussy falls sick and dies, much to the grief of her husband and daughter.
    • Marigold's mother, Princess Hermione III, passed away when she was young.
  • Must Make Her Laugh: Much to his displeasure, King Humphrey finds out that his daughter, Princess Lark, has fallen in love with a peasant boy named Robin. When he asks her why she likes him, Lark responds that "he makes me laugh" — which results in the remainder of the plot, as King Humphrey decides to declare a contest that whoever can make Lark laugh may marry her, and Lark tries to keep herself from laughing at any contestant but Robin. To ensure she doesn't, she spends her days thinking about and reading miserable things.
  • My Greatest Failure: Ethelinda's failure to punish Myrtle and bless Rosella made her scared of interacting with humans for years, to the degree that the fairy queen has to order her to try being among humans and impacting their lives again. Luckily, her interaction with Robin and his brothers goes much better.
  • Neologizer: Robin's brothers from The Fairy's Return invent new words all the time, and their father thinks they're very clever for it. At one point, Robin tries in an attempt to fit in, only for his brothers to dismiss his efforts.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Oddly enough, Princess Sonora seems to be in some ways based on Aristotle. Her Law of Purposeful Behavior of Everything Everywhere and her theories about categories and essences (e.g, "a dragon does not burn the roof of its mouth because its nature/essence is fire") are reminiscent of Aristotle's teleology. In addition to teleology, she writes about politics and virtue, and tries to tell people how they can best flourish (for instance, telling the dairymaids how to milk more efficiently).
  • Odd Name Out: In The Fairy's Return, the hero's two brothers are named Nat and Mat. His name is Robin. Guess which one winds up being the hero of the story.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Parsley from For Biddle's Sake is actually named Patsy, but after she developed a craving for parsley such that she didn't eat anything else, her parents started calling her only by the nickname. Her adoptive mother Bombina likewise calls her "Parsley", despite being aware that it's a nickname.
  • Overly Long Name: In For Biddle's Sake, we get both Princess Alyssatissaprincissa and Countess Marianabanessacontessa.
  • Platonic Kissing: In For Biddle's Sake, the fairy queen, Anura, is ecstatic that Bombina has "adopted" a human girl, as she thinks that this will increase her patience with humans. She kisses her multiple times on the face, but it's more a sign of Bombina gaining her favor than anything romantic.
  • Recurring Character: The fairy Ethelinda appears first in The Fairy's Mistake and is also an important character in The Fairy's Return.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: In Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, the king and queen don't invite one of the fairies because they think she's dead. Unfortunately, she isn't, and turns up anyway, completely furious, to curse Sonora in revenge.
  • Secret Test of Character: At the end of The Princess Test, it's the morning after Lorelei and the last contestant have been sent to sleep on the mattresses with the peas under them. Then a peasant man comes running into the courtroom, begging the royal family to help his ailing son. Prince Nicholas, in a last attempt to sway his parents toward Lorelei, asks what should be done. Lorelei mistakenly thinks this must be the final test (rather than an interruption). Despite thinking it's not the answer the king and queen probably want, she helps the boy.
  • The Sleepless: Princess Sonora knows that she will fall asleep for a long time at some point after pricking herself with a spindle, so in the meantime she refuses to sleep and uses the time to read even more books. She admits after her hundred-year nap that she enjoyed the sleep and revises her Theory of the Purposeful Behavior of Everything Everywhere to accommodate the idea that it actually has a place.
  • Tongue-Tied: The Curse Escape Clause for Parsley's toad transformation will come into play if Prince Tansy proposes to her. However, she can't explain that she's actually a girl transformed into a toad. When she tries, her voice simply refuses to come out. According to Anura, it's part of the spell.
  • The Unishment: The fairy Ethelinda's attempt to punish Myrtle for being rude unintentionally wound up being a reward instead, given that Myrtle creatively applied her "curse" of having bugs and snakes come out of her mouth whenever she talks to manipulate people into doing anything to please her. When Ethelinda has to enlist her help late in the story, she threatens her with punishing her by taking her punishment away, which gets Myrtle's instant cooperation. This failure haunts Ethelinda, making her afraid to interact with humans.
  • Too Unhappy to Be Hungry: After the fairy queen orders her to try interacting with humans again, Ethelinda disguises herself and asks Robin's brothers for some of their food. They both fail miserably and get punished. When Robin gets sent in their place, he's too depressed to want his food and tells Ethelinda she can have all of it. This panics her because of how poorly her last attempt at "blessing" a human went.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Parsley loves to eat parsley everything.
  • Verbal Tic: A running gag is the royals having some sort of verbal rule that they apply over and over again:
    • King Humphrey, Nicholas' father (The Princess Test) habitually talks using synonyms in the same sentence (for instance, "we beg to differ or disagree").
    • King Humphrey, Princess Lark's father (The Fairy's Return), has a tendency to use "harrumph" or variations thereon in sentences, to the degree where he has been nicknamed "King Harrumphrey."
  • What Have I Done: When Bombina inadvertently turns her beloved adoptive daughter Parsley into a toad, she rushes to the palace, begs an audience with the fairy queen, Anura, and begs her to do anything she wants to punish her, as long as she brings Parsley back to normal. Anura is sympathetic, but she can't do anything about it.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!: In The Fairy's Mistake, Ethelinda substitutes Myrtle for her twin sister Rosella. Myrtle-as-Rosella tells the Gold Digger prince that the snakes and insects come out of her mouth when she's angry, which gets him to start treating Rosella better.