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The Princess Scale 6: Cimorene of Linderwall

March 5, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I did one of these. I should start doing them more; I like it.

Let’s go over the rules again. What we’re trying to do is examine princess characters in popular culture and give them points for how much they deviate from the helpless-princess stereotype.

1. Qualifications: 1 point for being the daughter of the reigning king; 0 points for being the daughter of a dethroned king, or who is only princess because she marries a prince, or she’s like an emperor’s daughter or something and doesn’t have the exact title; -1 points if she’s just from a non-royal rich or noble family. The idea here is that first we want to pin down whether our character is, technically, a princess.

2. Skills: 0 points if she’s totally useless; 1 point if she can do anything useful at all; 2 points if she’s good at archery or magic; 3 points if she can do something typically masculine like swordfighting.

3. Love Life: If she’s somebody’s love interest, that’s 0 points. If she’s the hero’s love interest, that’s -1 points. If she’s happily single, that’s +1 points. If she’s the main character of her book or movie or whatever, +1, and if she’s gay, also +1.

4. Beauty: -1 points if she’s the most beautiful of all; 0 points if she’s beautiful; 1 point if she’s cute or tomboyish or if her looks aren’t specified; 2 points if she’s described as plain; 3 points if she’s described as ugly.

5. Accomplishments: Does she do anything useful in the story? If no, 0; not much, 1; some, 2; if she’s indispensable, 3; if she starts off dependent but overcomes it, an extra +1. And if she screws everything up she gets -1.

6. If she becomes Queen at any point, another +1.

7. If she has close female friends her own age, +1.

8. If there’s something else cool about her that’s not captured by this list, +1 or maybe even +2.

9. If she’s portrayed, as a character, with particular skill or depth, +1 or even +2.

Note that I eyeballed this whole scale; I’m not pretending that there’s science involved here. And if anybody has any ideas for other points to rate on here,

Today we’re looking at Princess Cimorene of Lindenwall, the main character (more or less) in Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. (It’s a weird series because the fourth book was written first, and then the first three were written as prequels. And Cimorene isn’t even in the fourth book much; her son is the main character. So we get Cimorene’s adventures in the first book, and that’s cool, and then the second book is from Mendanbar’s point of view (Mendanbar being the guy Cimorene eventually marries). And those are both good. But they can be good because they’re deep background for the fourth book. The third book is from the PoV of Morwen, Cimorene’s friend, and it’s full of setup for the fourth book and suffers because of it.)

Princess Cimorene of Linderwall
Fictional Source: “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles” by Patricia C. Wrede (1985 through 1995)

1. Cimorene is a legit princess. (1)
2. Cimorene has all kinds of skills. She tries to learn swordfighting but doesn’t get very far; I give her partial credit for that. (2.5)
3. Cimorene ends the first book happily single, and I’m tempted to give some credit for that, except that the fourth book had already been written so there was never any thought that she should stay that way. She’s the hero’s love interest in book 2, but is arguably the main character of the series, so that maps out to 0 points altogether. (0)
4. Cimorene is specifically described as beautiful, even if it isn’t the fluffy blonde kind of beautiful that they apparently favour in Lindenwall. (0)
5. Cimorene is indispensable. (3)
6. Cimorene does become Queen. (1)
7. Cimorene actually has quite a few friends. Even if you don’t count Kazul, there’s still Morwen, and also Alianora, another dragon’s princess. (1)
8. I don’t think there are any other details that she needs credit for.
9. No, it’s a pretty light series of books; no extra credit here.

So that’s a total of 8.5; let’s put it on the board.

Rankings:

Princess Projectra (9)
Princess Cimorene (8.5)
Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Elizabeth (5.5)
Princess Amy (5.5)
Princess Buttercup (-3)

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The Princess Scale 5: Amy of Phantasmorania

April 19, 2012 1 comment

Been a while since I’ve done one of these.

Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne of Phantasmorania
Fictional Source: An Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye (1980)

I read this because I had read somewhere that it was a Ruritanian romance, which category I’m still kind of intrigued by. It’s not, but it’s a perfectly pleasant little fairy-tale kind of a book anyway, and I’m glad I read it.

Upshot of the plot is that when Amy’s born, one of the fairy godmothers who comes to bestow a blessing on her at the christening gives her the gift of Ordinariness. So her sisters are all good and gorgeous and perfect and Amy’s just kind of normal, but her parents need to marry her off anyway, and you can probably imagine a lot of the rest.

First thing is she’s clearly a princess; daughter of the king and everything. (The king doesn’t have a son, by the way, and it makes me wonder about how the succession’s going to work. The story doesn’t make an issue of this at all.) (+1)

She doesn’t have much in the way of useful skills. I mean, she’s not incompetent or anything, and manages to survive on her own just fine, including getting and keeping (for a while) a job as a kitchen maid, but it’s still not a very impressive resume. (+1)

Amy does do useful things, though; she runs away from home to prevent a dragon attack, and does dirty jobs without complaining. (+2)

The story’s all about how she eventually gets married to a prince who appreciates her, which is perfectly typical, but at least she’s the main character of the story. (0)

Kaye tells us very definitely that she’s not the beauty her sisters are, but also suggests that she’s still cute in her own tomboyish way. (+1)

No female friends her own age. (0)

It’s a pretty small book and Kaye doesn’t delve any more deeply than she has to into Amy’s psyche, so there are no unusual depths in her portrayal to give any extra points there, but I will give an extra half a point just because the book is working so hard to make the point that there is a stereotype of what princesses are supposed to be like, and Amy isn’t it. (+.5)

Overall Score: 5.5

Puts her right with another 1980 princess. Really it’s interesting how many people have tried to overturn the princess stereotype over the years, and how restrained their efforts are.

Rankings:

Princess Projectra (9)
Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Elizabeth (5.5)
Princess Amy
Princess Buttercup (-3)

The Princess Scale 4: Projectra of Orando

February 6, 2012 2 comments

(Crossposted at Legion Abstract.)

Sensor Girl aka Projectra (or “Jeckie”) of Orando, aka Princess Projectra, Queen Projectra, Sensor, Jeka Wynzorr, Wilimena Morgana Daergina Annaxandra Projectra Velorya Vauxhall. Created by Jim Shooter and Sheldon Moldoff.

There are a number of different things going on with Jeckie’s character, and we might as well hit them all.

First, she was a remarkably different character depending on just which era you look at her in, and some of these changes from era to era have been quite jarring.

Silver Age: Jeckie was most often a damsel-in-distress type, kind of like how they used Dream Girl. It wasn’t often that she did anything useful. This lasted until partway through Paul Levitz’s second run on the title. (Personality: none.)

Baxter Series: Jeckie has ascended to the throne of Orando, been widowed, and killed Nemesis Kid with her bare hands. The iron has entered her soul, and she learned how to extend her superpowers in new and useful ways. She abandoned Orando and rejoined the Legion as Sensor Girl, eventually becoming team leader. (Personality: proud, haughty, secretive, but capable of warmth.)

[By the way, I was considering several different scenes for her signature moment, but eventually concluded that you the readers have already formed the consensus that it’s this one:

]

Five Years Later: Giffen and the Bierbaums didn’t feel like doing anything with her, so they basically reverted her back to her Silver Age status. (Personality: more easygoing than before.)

Reboot: When (as “Sensor”) she was introduced into reboot continuity, she had been reconceived as a giant snake with robot arms, princess of a planet where the snakes ruled and the raccoons were servants. Let’s be clear about this: it’s not a bad idea. It was amazingly unpopular among fans of previous portrayals of the character, but it wasn’t a bad idea. Science fiction! Hey, at least they were trying something. (Personality: kind of motherly.)

DnA: Then Abnett and Lanning took over as Legion writers, and made some changes. One such change was to address Sensor’s unpopularity among readers. They did so by mutating her into a kind of snakewoman with a suspiciously mammalian anatomy. Because, yeah: that was why Sensor was unpopular among Legion fans–her rack wasn’t big enough. Anyway, it didn’t help much. (Personality: withdrawn, resentful of new form.)

Threeboot: At the start of the series, Jeckie was a spoiled rich girl who bought her way into the Legion. She didn’t have any powers and Cosmic Boy was stringing her along so she’d continue to bankroll the team. Then Orando was destroyed, she became more determined, and inherited some superpowers. That was fine until Jim Shooter took over as writer and decided that she’d been kind of unhinged by what happened to Orando, and started to turn her into a villain. We never did see how that played out, and now it looks like we probably never will.

Second, her powers are extremely intriguing and almost never explored to their full potential. Jeckie has the power to project illusions, amazingly comprehensive and realistic illusions. This is a very subtle superpower; it’s tricky to use right. Most often, the Legion writers didn’t have a handle on how to use illusions effectively, and they’d have her conjure up a big monster or something, and it wouldn’t work very well.

At times, on this site, I’ve dragged role-playing games into the discussion as a perspective for understanding this or that aspect of superheroes. I’m going to do it again now, because Dungeons & Dragons players have spent a lot of time figuring out just what illusions are good for. Do you understand why the D&D perspective and the superhero-comic perspective are different? It’s important: in the comics, stuff happens because the writer says so. Illusions work how he or she says they do, and that’s that. If the rules for illusions have holes in them, oh well. But in a D&D game, stuff happens because the players are trying to get an advantage over the opposition provided by the Dungeon Master, and the DM in turn responds to what the players do. Illusions work in a way that’s often negotiated between the DM and the players, and if there’s a hole in the rules, the players will exploit it to the fullest. You really do have to pin it down.

There are some very sensible questions to ask about how illusions work, and you don’t have to geek out about it to be curious about the answers. For instance
Q: are illusions optical images, or mental images? (In other words, what’s being fooled, your eyes or your mind? It’s important: an optical image can be seen by any number of people, but how many minds can the illusionist overcome with a mental image? Plus, an optical image can fool a camera, but a mental image can’t. On the other hand, you have to get an optical image just right, or people might see through it, but your victim will do a lot of the work of the mental image for you.)
Q: how many senses does the illusion cover? If it’s a mental illusion, all of them, probably, but if it’s an optical image, can the illusionist provide sounds and smells to go with it?
Q: what if an illusionary monster hits you? Does his fist go right through you, or does your body “believe” the illusion and react like it got hit for real? If so, can you die from that?
Q: if you realize that an illusion is an illusion, can you still see it, or does it disappear for you? What if you want to believe the illusion for some reason?

And so on. I’m sure that Legion writers over the years have come up with inconsistent answers for these questions when it comes to Jeckie’s powers, so there’s no point in trying to answer them in this case. Basically, when the writer needs Jeckie to be useless, they let the villain ignore the insubstantial phantoms Jeckie sets to fight them; when the writer wants to soup her up a bit, he comes up with an idea like, the illusions get right to your subconscious and won’t let you disbelieve them even if you know better. But Paul Levitz did even better than that when he turned Jeckie into Sensor Girl.

See, the best weapon an illusionist has is to not let her enemies know that she’s an illusionist. Once they know you’re using illusions on them, they’ll be skeptical about everything and it’ll make your plans that much more likely to fail. Even worse, they’ll know that as long as they’re careful, they have nothing to fear, which just about gives the whole game away.

So what did Jeckie do? She wore a mask and adopted another name, thus concealing from her enemies the fact that she was the famous Princess Projectra with the famous useless illusion powers. The name she adopted gave no hint that she could project illusions. And, finally, most importantly, the illusions she did use were never obvious ones.

Three basic levels of illusions:
– big ostentatious ones that are useless if the enemy realizes they’re illusions (like a charging monster)
– all-encompassing phantasmagorias that are still somewhat useful even if the enemy realizes they’re illusions, because they still can’t see what’s really going on (like Sensor used in her tryout for the reboot Legion, or, somewhat differently, like the illusion Jeckie uses to bust Brin out of his cell at the end of the Lemnos arc of the threeboot)
– subtle illusions that the enemy hardly notices and would never think to question (the one I have in mind here is one that my players used during a D&D game some years ago. There were a dozen troglodytes in a room. The room was accessed by a tunnel that ran out to a ledge over a cliff. The illusionist waited on the ledge while the rest of the player characters went to the room and got the troglodytes to chase them. The characters ran back to the ledge and stood there safely while the illusionist cast an illusion that made the tunnel seem longer. And the troglodytes ran right over the cliff to their doom, never knowing what had hit them.)

In the Silver Age, Jeckie mostly used the first kind. As Sensor Girl, she mostly used the third kind.

Third, there’s her potential. I was reading a message board once and came across an idea that completely captured my imagination, and I wish I could find my way back to it so I could give full credit to whoever it was who came up with the notion. And that’s this: Jeckie should star in her own cartoon. It’s perfect! You want a young female audience? Here’s the show for them: a magical space princess on a planet of dragons and magic, having adventures and fighting her evil cousin Pharoxx (who’s being advised by Hagga), learning from the Orakills and getting ready to take over ruling the planet from her aging father King Voxv. Her boyfriend is the greatest martial artist in the history of people hitting each other and her best friends are teenage superheroes. Might go over well in a kind of anime style. Isn’t it obvious that Jeckie’s powers could be spectacular when presented in animation rather than comics? Is there no one at DC Entertainment who can see that this would be a license to print money?

Anyway, Jeckie is a princess as well as a superhero, and it’s just as easy to consider her in that role:

Princess Projectra of Orando
Fictional Source: Legion of Super-Heroes comic books

Jeckie is certainly a legitimate princess (1 pt), as the daughter of King Voxv. Furthermore, she does something that the others we’ve seen so far don’t: she succeeds to the throne. And that’s a big thing! Being a queen in a story is very different from being a princess. Princesses are dependent; queens can be formidable and dangerous. (Which Queen Projectra certainly was.) (+1 pt)

Jeckie is pretty, like basically all superheroines, so no points there… except for a couple of things. First, there were those years she spent as a giant snake. Second, there’s the full-face mask she’s been wearing (in original/retroboot continuity) since she became Sensor Girl. Both of those things are admirable portrayals of a princess character for whom beauty is not considered an essential feature. (+1 pt)

Jeckie does useful stuff all the time. Now that the writers have grown up a little and can handle the character, anyway. In many ways she’s one of the most formidable Legionnaires. She’s got notches on her belt corresponding to Nemesis Kid and the Emerald Empress, she busted Timber Wolf out of Lemnos’s jail and was key to winning the ensuing battle, she was one of the only Legionnaires to hold off Darkseid’s control in the Foundations story. Served 2 terms as Legion leader, and very effectively. (2 pts)

Her actual skill set, though, is somewhat limited. It’s not at all revolutionary for princesses to be good at things like archery and magic and similarly “feminine” forms of prowess. Jeckie’s powers are a kind of magic and that’s about all she’s got going on. (2 pts)

Unlike all of our other princesses so far, Jeckie does have female friends her own age; lots of ’em. Not sure how close they are, as friends, but they’re there in quantity (1 pt).

Jeckie certainly did start off as Karate Kid’s love interest and damsel in distress. It was kind of laughable, really. Karate Kid had to go on a giant quest to win her hand that involved him getting his own comic book for a while there. But as it turned out, it was more Jeckie’s story than Val’s, and starting in the mid-’80s, she became by far the more interesting character, while he was just a guy who kept getting killed off by Keith Giffen. (+1 pt)

Overall Score: 9

That’s shocking. I didn’t think anybody was going to exceed Leia. But Jeckie does pull in points from all across the board.

Rankings:

Princess Projectra (9)
Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Elizabeth (5.5)
Princess Buttercup (-3)

The Princess Scale 3: Elizabeth

January 30, 2012 3 comments

So I was reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is a key text for this series of articles, and came across what I consider to be a Good Point. One feature of princesses, and not a good feature, is that they tend not to have close female friends their own age. This doesn’t affect the scoring thus far, as Leia and Buttercup are no exceptions to this rule. For that matter, neither does today’s subject.

Princess Elizabeth
Fictional Source: The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch

There’s a certain kind of fictional princess that’s, you know, spirited and no pushover and maybe kind of tomboyish. This type has become dominant enough in pop culture that it doesn’t get any extra points on my scale; it’s kind of the default. Elizabeth is a good example of it. However, I give Munsch credit for being ahead of the curve here; he wrote the book in 1980.

Far as I can tell, Elizabeth is a legitimate princess who fits the conventional definition of the word; that’s 1 point. No skills that I can see. She’s certainly not just an accessory for a hero, and ends the book happily single; that’s 1 more point. The first sentence of the book describes her as “beautiful”, so nothing there, but the dragon burns most of her glamour off of her, which is a plot point, and she isn’t bothered by it in the least, so I’ll give her a half point of credit for that. She certainly does do useful stuff; she overcomes a dragon through trickery and rescues the prince, all by herself. That’s worth 3 points.

Overall Score: 5.5

I’m a little surprised she scored this high, but hey: you come out on top ahead of a dragon and you deserve it.

Rankings:

Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Elizabeth (5.5)
Princess Buttercup (-3)

The Princess Scale 2: Leia Organa

January 21, 2012 6 comments

The second princess up for our consideration is Princess Leia from Star Wars. (For our purposes I’m going to consider the three movies she appeared in and not any novels or comics which may or may not also be part of any canon.)

Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan
Fictional Source: Star Wars trilogy

Is she really a princess? Well, she legitimately has the title, but I don’t get how. Her father isn’t a king, after all; he’s a senator. 0 points here.

Beauty. Well, no offense to Carrie Fisher, but I wouldn’t call Leia a great beauty. She looks perfectly nice, but, especially when you adjust for the fact that she had to be attractive enough to get cast in a movie, not unusually so. That’s 1 point.

Usefulness or awesomeness. Leia is extremely competent, routinely volunteers for the most dangerous jobs, is an effective leader, never backs down from anything, doesn’t break under torture, and was shooting holes through stormtroopers in a movie made in the 1970s. And could someone please get this walking carpet out of my way? The movie doesn’t even start without her. 3 points.

Skills. Yes, sorta. See above for most of them. I guess she also has diplomatic experience although, uh, you’d never know it. Not a lot that you can put your finger on, really. Say 2 points.

In The Empire Strikes Back it turns out that she and Han Solo love each other. And mostly it works. One thing this relationship has in its favour as far as Leia’s portrayal is concerned is that Han is won over to Leia’s cause and not the other way around. The Star Wars trilogy is more Leia’s story than Han’s and their relationship helps attach him to it. So ordinarily I’d give her 0 points for this category but in this case I’ll give her 0.5 of a point. It also doesn’t hurt that Leia and Han are about equal in terms of whether they’re major characters in the movies*.

For things I haven’t taken into account yet… well, she’s got some kind of Jedi potential. That’s worth something, I guess. Give her another 0.5 of a point.

Overall Score: 7

That seems a lot more like it. Leia’s our high-water mark for princesses and I think it’ll be difficult to find too many who surpass her.

Rankings:

Princess Leia Organa (7)
Princess Buttercup (-3)

* Talk amongst yourselves. Luke:Leia:Han::Harry:Hermione:Ron. Discuss.

The Princess Scale 1: Buttercup

January 1, 2012 5 comments

My next list, I believe, will be a survey of fictional princesses. Because, see, on the one hand, I don’t like the whole princess thing, what with this and this and this.

On the other hand, I do like a lot of the books and movies and comics that feature princesses. So what I’m going to do every now and then is feature a princess character and rate her according to how well she refutes the princess stereotypes I dislike. Let’s do one now to explore how the system works.

Princess Buttercup of Hammersmith
Fictional source: The Princess Bride (novel and movie)

The first question is, is she really a princess? The daughter of a reigning king or queen, who officially holds the title of “princess”? See, if she’s just some girl, then who cares if she explodes the stereotype? It’s not meant to apply to her anyway. In Buttercup’s case, she’s a farm girl who has a BS title bestowed upon her so she can marry Prince Humperdinck. No points there.

Second. Is she beautiful? If she’s just normal beautiful, then that’s neutral; so many fictional characters are. That would be no points. But Buttercup is described by Goldman, or Morgenstern, as the most beautiful woman in the world, so she gets a minus 1.

Third. Does she do anything useful or awesome in the story? Quite the opposite! She screws everything up. She lets Vizzini capture her, she pushes Westley down the hill, she catches fire in the Fire Swamp, she sells Westley out to Humperdinck and later almost spills the beans to Humperdinck about how weak Westley is. I don’t know why Westley puts up with her. Another minus 1.

Fourth. Does she have any actual skills? I guess she must be good for something around the farm. She can ride; that’s one thing. But nothing ever comes of any of those skills so I’m going to say no she doesn’t; -1 points again.

Fifth. Does she avoid being the love interest of some male major character? She does not; in fact, she’s the love interest of the hero, so that’s -1 again. However, she is herself the main character of the story, arguably, so that gets cancelled out by a +1, for a zero overall in this category.

Sixth. Does she have anything else going on, not already touched on, that’s worth taking into account? Not that I can think of.

Overall Score: -3

So it seems to me that Buttercup is part of the problem and not part of the solution. All she’s got going for her is her looks, and that’s no way to live. Our next candidate, whoever it turns out to be, has an easy bar to clear.

If anyone has any ideas for how to refine the scoring, feel free to let me know in the comments.