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“But Dad, I’m also a girl, and girls just want to…they want to…well, see, that’s the problem. I don’t know what it is girls want.”
– Princess Henrietta, whose serious sequestered lifestyle shows her nescience of Cyndi Lauper
There are more than a few fairytales featuring princesses in need of a good laugh, yet more often not, they’re footnotes that come at the end of the story. The mirthless princess introduced late in “The Golden Goose” cracks up on seeing the world’s first conga line outside her window. One book from my childhood (whose name I sadly can’t recall) centers around a foolish young man named Jack improperly carrying goods to market, culminating in him giving a donkey a piggyback ride, which is what makes “the sad and silent” Princess Melissa laugh for the very first time. Giambattista Basile’s fairy tale collection “Pentamerone” has the framing device of a princess looking for diversion, but that quickly gives way to a story of curses, fetch quests, and some unfortunate period-typical racism. And of course, there’s the Russian fairytale that shares a similar title to today’s episode, “The Princess Who Never Smiled” or “The Unsmiling Tsarevna”. In this story, the protagonist falls in the mud and a mouse, dung beetle, and catfish he helped earlier try to rescue him, which is what ends the princess’ dour streak.
In all of these instances, the princesses are given as prizes to the men who made her laugh. It’s a morally dubious arrangement by today’s standards, but in my experience, a good sense of humor and the ability to make you laugh is a highly desired quality in a partner.
That said, none of these stories ever explore the princess’ side of things. What is it that stole her laughter in the first place? How does she feel about being offered up to the first person to get a guffaw out of her? This episode of Faerie Tale Theatre gives us a deeper character exploration than usual, which makes it a rarity among its peers. In fact, apart from bearing an almost identical name to the aforementioned Russian tale, this episode really stands out by being the only one in the series that’s wholly original. The inciting incident, characters, and resolution are entirely new to the fairy tale scene but still feel like they’re from a traditional story, albeit with some added modern colloquialisms that feel like a precursor to Shrek at times. The outcome in particular bears a touch of modern wit while still adhering to standard folkloric tropes. You may have noticed that I described the protagonists in the other stories as “foolish”. That was intentional; these heroes embody the fool archetype I previously discussed in The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers. And much like the classic fool, the one who comes to the rescue here does so through the simplest of acts…Continue reading