Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Twelve Dancing Princesses Preliminary Thoughts

Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World

Back in August when I was introducing myself on one of the panels at Faerie Escape, I mentioned that Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World would be one of the next books in the SurLaLune series.  I usually flounder through those moments and was surprised when there was an audible audience reaction over this title, definitely from more than one person, of excitement.  The hubby was in the audience and has referenced that moment several times. 

To be truthful, I don't expect this title to ever sell as well as Sleeping Beauties or Rapunzel and especially the upcoming Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast titles.  It's a much more obscure fairy tale, after all.  I'm more surprised when the average person on the street is familiar with it than not. After all, the Barbie movie didn't increase its visibility that much a few years ago.

But I wanted to do this collection as much for me as anything else.  And for all of its fans I've met over the years.  I first added it to SurLaLune out of my own curiosity and due to reader requests.  The research for the book was not easy going since the scholarship is almost nonexistent, especially in English. And what there is is quite derivative. Granted, this is a tale that is not nearly as widespread as others, but it has been fascinating to dig deeper into it. And it doesn't help that almost all of the online searches lead me back to myself.  Really.  Quite flattering of Google to do that, but I don't want to read what I have already published online.  I wanted more breadth and depth.  Then there's the challenge of the tale names which are rather generic word searches when you break them down.  Oh, the woes of the researcher...

So over the next few weeks I will post several times about what I learned while researching and editing the book. There is more breadth and depth and much more than can be found on the SurLaLune site.  I ended up translating three tales for the collection, one I didn't find in any English version at all.  I also received permission to reprint three tales from rare sources, including the one with my favorite title, "The Hell-Bent Misses."  Isn't that delicious?

So my question today is why do you enjoy Twelve Dancing Princesses, if you do?  Is it the locked door mystery? The journey to beautiful and exotic locations? The cold-hearted princesses in the most popular versions?  The cloak of invisibility?  The humble hero?  Why do you think this tale is so popular as a "second string" fairy tale?  It is in the top twenty of the most recognized fairy tales, just not the top ten.  Why did the room gasp in excitement at the thought of a book about this tale?


  1. I have a whole new appreciation of it as an adult than I did as a child (and I did enjoy as a child). I see it as a story about female rebellion. After all, the princesses sneak out and have this wonderful seceret life in another world, dancing the night away. Their father's authority can't stop them. It's something they control. The title "The Hell-Bent Misses" (which IS delicious) says it all. The story's a great metaphor for inner fantasy life, something you keep to yourself though signs of it always peep through--like the worn out slippers. I think most people (esp. girls) spend a lot of time in "hidden kingdoms" during adolescence. That's why the ending is so bittersweet to me. I don't think the princesses want to be rescued, but they're still forced to give up their fantasy.
    I'm sure a lot of people relate to this.

    I'm also attached to the story because I was in a summer drama class in grammar school and we did this as our final play. It was the only play my teacher could find that had roles for 12 girls (the princesses and the fairy--we switched it to The Eleven Dancing Princesses) and 3 boys (the King, the Soldier, and a Prince who fails the task). It was so much fun and I was so happy to be in a fairy tale play. So there's that as well.

    Whatever the reason, I love The Twelve Dancing Princesses and can't wait to see this book. Thanks so much. That audible gasp must have been wonderful.

    P.S. The Hell-Bent Misses would make a great band name.

  2. I agree. I always sympathize with the princesses, especially because there seems to be a thwarted fairy tale going on inside this fairy tale. In the version I remember most easily, when the youngest princess hears the soldier break the first branch, the oldest princess says "It's just your heart breaking for joy because soon we will be freeing our princes" or something to that effect. Clearly, to my mind, there's a story in there about twelve princes who are under a curse until/unless twelve princesses save them by...dancing with them, I guess.

    In fact, I wrote that inside story. Now I just have to publish it.

    Anyway, yeah, I see it as a patriarchal conspiracy to contain female agency and sexual desire ("our" princes). As my friend's boyfriend said when I first told him this story "What's the moral of that? 'Don't be female'?"

  3. I love it so much mostly b/c of the illustrated version I grew up with (Marianna Mayer & K. Y. Craft), and how the story seems built to be illustrated - something about a secret place with trees made of silver and gold, combined with a sister apparently paranoid that someone is stepping on her dress - its like a juxtaposition of the fantastic and regular ol' sibling "shut up you youngest sister" (which I have been guilty of) - even though of course the cause doesn't turn out to be mundane - but that's also the coolest part. The story is like a cycle from fantastic to mundane to fantastic again.

  4. Dearest Heidi,
    I love the Twelve Dancing Princesses because my maternal grandmother whom is now in her seventies is daughter number twelve in her family of fifteen children!
    She raised me and told me all of her family history, then as a teenager, I found the fairytale in the public library and told her about it - she laughed which is why I feel a maternal bond towards the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale! Yours Most Sincerely, Camille Hurlburt