If you’ve been on the internet in recent years, you’ve probably seen some version of the sentiment, “teach your girls to be warriors, not princesses.” Particularly popular after the release of 2017’s Wonder Woman (which is especially ironic, given that Wonder Woman is both a princess and a warrior, but I digress), this quote is often seen in the context of de-valuing fairy tales, a sentiment that continued and gained even more popularity during the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. During that time, many, many of the internet’s biggest kill-joys wrote think pieces and tweet-storms about how we shouldn’t call what happened to Meghan a fairy tale, because fairy tales are apparently vapid and reliant on magic, whereas Meghan’s story was all about hard reality.
The kill-joys and I agree on one thing: Meghan’s story is about reality. Meghan Markle’s path to becoming a princess was filled with hard work and courage and determination. Where the kill-joys and I differ is that I see every single fairy tale– those stories about ordinary women who become princesses– as stories about hard work and courage and determination.
For awhile, I thought that I and the community of romance writers and readers were alone in feeling this way, in feeling that fairy tales are powerful tools for all people (but especially young women) to learn about their own power and their own strength.
But then, this weekend, I visited Kensington Palace in London. After exploring the wings of King William and Queen Mary, as well as the exhibition of Princess Diana’s fashion, I trudged up the stairs to the wing devoted to Queen Victoria.
The second (and largest) room in the entire Victoria wing was dedicated to her love story with Prince Albert. It detailed their first meeting (including a quote from one of Victoria’s letters, where she swoons over how handsome Albert was). It showed off letters they’d written to each other, gifts they’d commissioned for one another and even a song he’d composed for her. The room was filled with the loving words they’d shared.
The rest of the exhibition detailed both her private and public lives, emphasizing her strength, intelligence and tenacity as a ruler, but it was the room about her and Albert’s love story that has stuck with me.
The museum showed Queen Victoria in her fullness: showing off her girlish crush for the man who would become her husband while also celebrating that same woman for her brilliance as the devoted ruler of a nation. It reminded me why I write romance novels. It reminded me why I believe in the power of love stories.
Because whether we are queens or peasants, royalty or commoner, love can (and often does!) make us better and stronger people. And in the same way, fairy tales aren’t really about magical pumpkins or fairy godmothers, but about the magical, transformative power of love itself.