Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Naughty Princess by Anthony Armstrong, illustrated by A.K Macdonald 1946

This is a glorious book. A collection of short stories that were originally published in The Strand magazine (defunct long before I had ever glimpsed it) It’s a true delight. It’s that rare thing, a book that can be appreciated by children, but has been written for adults.
Royal fairy stories, with a martini drinking fairy godmother, a court magician and a court poet fighting with verses and spells to woo the princess Lillia, a magic looking glass that goatishly looks at the owner as she coquettishly changes clothes, a frog that upon being kissed reveals himself as a very unattractive young man, albeit a prince, and is promptly turned back into a frog by a world weary woman who wants some peace from the hurly burly of royal romance and would rather flirt with the gardener. Saucy Princesses, knights that liked a drink and were quite terrified of dragons, and enchanted Royal rose gardens.

I thought it the height of sophistication and rather daring when I was a child, demanding to know what a ‘stenographer’ was, and was a Grand Vizier a job that I could apply for when I was an adult? (It still seems like a great career move to me, even now)

The book has the flavour of the wise cracking, fast moving New York in the forties and fifties. If it were a film it would undoubtedly star Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It’s glamorous and very funny.

In ‘The Pack of Pieces’ His Majesty King Plimsoll of Waterline despairs of ever getting in the royal bathroom, beaten as he is every morning either by the Queen, his daughter Princess Helia or her pack of saucy ladies in waiting, dubbed ‘The Pack of Pieces’. The court is full of troubadours and Princes from neighbouring kingdoms, vying for the Helia’s hands in marriage. He is reduced to hauling a chair outside the bathroom to wait for the Royal bath. “Quivering Dragonsblood’ he swears whilst yet another lady in waiting, clad only in flimsy silk manages to nab the bathroom. He gloomily puts on his week day crown and saunters off to breakfast for a strong coffee and a perusal of the local paper The Waterline Daily Palace Guardian and Royal Recorder. His friend, the Acting Vizier, Malan, is a shrewd operator and has a rather charming stenographer that he was dictating to when the King interrupts him, demanding that something be DONE about the overcrowding of the royal bathrooms.
The turning upside down of the standard fairy tale is an absolute delight, and has the added advantage of feeling subversive, too. It also very cleverly avoids being at all whimsical or knowing.

Portly Kings and knights rub shoulders with magicians and knight, Queens keep a firm Royal hand on the gold, and princesses frolic with unsuitable suitors. A dragon called Pongo that lives in a supersized dog kennel made me long to own this exotic creature, especially as he would obligingly start a fire if you were feeling chilly. The illustrations are a joy, I would thoroughly recommend this for some uplifting and enchanting reading.

Second hand on Amazon it seems a bargain to me for a fiver. A keeper – I think. What about you?

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