Every little girl wants to be a princess. Just browse the little girl sections of your local department store and you’ll find apparel of all types adorned with tiaras and bling, usually with the word “Princess” emblazoned on them. But let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen– bling does not make a girl a princess.
Look at the princesses of our day– the Paris Hiltons, the Kardashians et al, and our newest obsession– The Duchess of Cambridge– who isn’t really a princess, but don’t tell that to the gazillions of folks who tuned in to watch her wed the world’s most eligible prince a few months ago. I like to think of myself as a princess– I am, after all, a daughter of the King of Kings. And yet, there are many, many times during the day that I fail to behave as a princess should.
Would that more little girls behaved like Sarah Crewe, the title character in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale of The Little Princess. Admittedly, my Star Wars-obsessed boys were none too thrilled when I pulled out this pink-covered book to begin reading to them. “That’s a girl book! We’re not girls!” my youngest protested.
“It’s cool,” I assured them. “There’s a monkey in it.”
Why I have not read these books myself before now is beyond me. I’ll confess that I have all too often relied on the movie versions of some of these classics, knowing full well that the movie is never as good as the book. I hope I’m not alone in this. When we finished reading The Little Princess, we borrowed the Shirley Temple movie from the library. Even the boys were disappointed at how different the book was from the movie, though my oldest insists that the movie version of Lavinia is exactly what he had envisioned in his own creative little brain.
You’ll have to read the story for yourself to get the full scope of the differences. But let me point out to you the difference between today’s divas and the princess-like character traits depicted in Sarah Crewe’s character. It can be summed up in two words: self-control.
Little Sarah, spoiled by her doting, widowed father, was unaffected by the riches she was privy to. When praised for her even temper, she mused that any girl so well provided for should be well-behaved. She hoped that she might be as polite, thoughtful and generous if she were penniless. THAT, she reflected, would prove whether her character came from her money, or from her heart. Oh, the foreshadowing.
The inevitable happens when, in the midst of her birthday party no less, word arrives that Sarah’s father has died, leaving her an orphan and a pauper. In the midst of her sorrow, she refuses to cry. Refuses to let the changed circumstances affect her. The little princess, though she is poor, resolves to try, very hard, to continue to behave like a princess, even in her too-small clothes and inadequate shoes. Despite her circumstances, the abuse she suffers, and starvation she endures, Sarah lives up to her nickname. She bites her tongue when she is unfairly scolded, doesn’t complain when she is forced to skip meal after meal, and graciously does as she’s told even when treated with disdain by the same girls who used to be considered her equal. It isn’t easy. She struggles with her flesh, with her desire to lash out verbally and physically. She is human, after all. In the book we get to peek inside her heart and mind to find out just how hard it is to continue behaving like a princess. But it’s her determination to retain her dignity that sustains her.
Even when she is half-starved and happens to find a coin in a gutter– enough money to buy four warm rolls to fill her achingly empty stomach– she wears an invisible tiara. As she walks into the baker’s shop, she notices a street waif whom Sarah supposes is even hungrier than herself. The baker generously gives the malnourished Sarah six roles for the price of four, and is astonished when she watches the princess give five rolls to the starving child crouched beside the bakery, knowing full-well that Sarah could have easily eaten all six. The noble act inspires the baker woman to do something magnanimous as well, ultimately providing a stable home for the homeless orphan.
THAT is what a princess should do. You would be hard-pressed to find a modern day “princess” who isn’t more diva than dignified. Kids today think a hardship is not having the same cool gadgets as “everyone else,” or perhaps going without cable. I love giving my boys the opportunity to suppose what life would have been like for Sarah– and what it’s like for so many children today who perhaps are orphaned or living in foster care with no one to genuinely love them unconditionally. We are so blessed.
Despite the pink cover and talk of dolls, my boys really enjoyed The Little Princess– especially the few scenes with the monkey. My oldest even asked if there was a sequel we could read next. I’m glad they were able to put aside their prejudices and enjoy a story that has so timeless an application. Because I want them, too, to be Little Princes– children of the King, practicing self-control, and putting the needs of others ahead of their own. We need more princes and princesses like that.