The Princess Who Loved Books Too Much. A fairy tale.
See way out there, across the sea? Do you see? Do you see the slight sliver of land just below the horizon… That’s the land of Listentime. And in the land of Listentime, there is a castle. And in the castle is a princess. She lives on the top floor of the tallest tower because… she likes the view. And from her tall tower, she can see you. She can see your bedroom and your bed and your pillow and your… Yes, she can even see your secrets. And this girl, she is very much like you. She reads a lot. She reads books and books and plays and plays and newspapers and magazines and fan letters…
Yes, this princess reads and reads and reads. And when she reads, she says “Ah-ha!” and “Oh no!” and she gasps and laughs and once they saw her crying… The mice. Once they did. So she is a very loud reader. The king wants her to be a quiet reader. He says, “Princesses should be quiet readers. Or they should not read at all.” He says she gets too involved in her stories, like she’s a character, and she gets way too emotional.
So he threatens to take away her books. In fact, he does. He takes away her books. And her plays and her newspapers and magazines and even the fan letters… He takes away her dictionaries and thesaucerouses— Oh, how do you say…?
And he tells her to “Shhhh” all the time and to be quiet and behave. Oh! And he takes away her journals and her diaries too. Oh my. Things are not looking good for the princess. But not for long, because she has her creativity!!! She starts to write stories in the sand and in the dirt and she makes herself laugh out loud. Really loud. Too loud for Kingy. No. The King does not like this one bit. The reading. The writing stories and the laughing. No no no no. It annoys him like fingernails on a chalkboard. It annoys him like a llama in pajamas. Well, a llama in pajamas doesn’t annoy him. But a llama wearing pajamas might be annoyed….
So one day, he yells at the princess. He says “Too Much Reading! Too Much Story-Telling! Too much laughing and crying and overall emotional … things!” And he tells her he wants her to join the war. Join the war and learn about real life. Or. Live in a room without books, paper, pens and pencils. For a year. Her choice. Yes. In the Land of Listentime there were tears that night. Quiet tears. Because the princess did not want her father the King to hear her tears. But there were tears, tears and more tears. Pouring down her face. Soaking her gowns, her robes, her velveteen princess slippers. Her slippers got soggy and she went squishing around the palace gardens all night long.
In the morning, she pleaded with him. She said, “Father, how can I make such a choice? Those are two terrible choices! Don’t you want me to be happy? I’m just a girl, after all.
How can I choose between war or a life without books?”
Her father the king thought about this. He thought and thought and thought. And this gained her a day to imagine and play and write more words in the dirt of the garden, which irked him.
Finally he said, “Fine. I will give you a better one, a better choice.” And she said, “What, Papa?” for she called him Papa. Papa King. “What Papa King? Do tell!”
He said, “I do not want you to be unhappy. So I will give you two better choices. One, that you marry for love and have a family and live in peace and harmony. The other, that you live in the tallest room of the tallest tower with all your books and story things. Forever.” “But how could I live in peace and harmony if I can’t have my books?! My journals! My pens and pencils?!” the princess said, “That would be impossible!” “Then take the room in the tower, if that’s what you prefer,” he said, “You can read about love and romance for the rest of your life.” And he winked. Because he was sure that she would pick the life of love and family. She was emotional but she was also sensible.
“Yes. Yes, I can,” the princess said. “I can read about it. I can imagine it. I can dream about it. Yes, I can,” she said.
So she took off her velveteen slippers. First she squeezed the left one and then she squeezed the right one and then she squeezed them both at the same time and she squeezed every last quiet tear out of them. They were damp, but no longer squishy. And she slipped them back onto her feet and she kissed her father on the nose and she tip toed up the very tall and narrow cold stone staircase, winding up and up and up to the top room in the tallest tower. There she found an endless library of contentment: Pens that never ran out of ink. Fresh cut paper appeared on her table every morning. It was warm when she held it to her cheek. And what Papa King never knew, was this tall room had a view. It allowed her to see the castle grounds and beyond, beyond the borders of the Land of Listentime, beyond all the things she thought she knew, and all the way into… your bedroom. She could see your bed and your pillow and … even your secrets. And this was very comforting to her. And she was happy. And you were happy. And everyone was happy. Even the king. And the mice. And she laid her velveteen slippers on the windowsill to dry and they were warm and happy. Yes. The princess was very, very happy. She was very, very, very, very, very happy.
(A version of this tale is told by ten year old Betty to her mother, Ma, in my play “Ma and Betty Save the Day”.)