Case Study #1: “The Improper Princess”

“The Improper Princess”

By Patricia C. Wrede

From “The Year’s Best Fantasy” Short Stories Collection

Some basic notes:

  • story opener: “Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished (mainly for show—it had been centuries since a dragon had come east). There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.”
  • Protagonist: Princess Cimorene; has 6 elder sisters who are beautiful, “normal” princesses; tomboyish
  • A typical protagonist who defies the societal norms and what’s considered “proper”


  • Princess Cimorene defies the conventional role as a princess and secretly learns fencing, magic, juggling, Latin, cooking…etc, but only for a short time because each time she tries to learn something “interesting”, she is stopped by her parents—the King and Queen
  • becomes engaged to Prince Therandil against her will, who has nothing but good looks and won’t stop talking about his prowess in battle
  • follows a frog’s advice and finds the dragon’s lair
  • becomes a dragon’s princess, escaping her dull fate and her dreaded marriage, gets to do what she’s always wanted to do: magic, Latin, cooking, etc

So basically…this is a fairy-tale with a twist. I really enjoyed the first paragraph. A typical fairy-tale opener describing first a kingdom and the “zoom in” to the people in it. Problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers (typical fairy-tale conflicts) are illustrated to be common incidences and described matter-of-factly that it’s humorous.

Overall, it’s a delightful read. Nothing refreshingly original, however. The ending was predictable as the story, despite the twist, still follows the typical structure of a fairy-tale as it involves a royalty, fantastical elements, an unwanted marriage, a guide with specific instructions, a dragon’s nest and a “happy ending” (which is also part of the twist, since it’s not the conventional happy ending—the princess obtains freedom and joy on her own, without the help of a fairy godmother or a handsome, valiant prince.)

The story is linear and simple. There are no flashbacks and no complexities. It’s straightforward. I don’t know how much I can absorb from this and utilize similar story techniques into my story—since it’s not intended to be a fairy tale. However…I can incorporate some fairy tale elements…perhaps when Carlene is dreaming, or when she’s seeing the future. I can also embody a sort of “fairy tale” attitude in her humour, which can be part of her personality, I suppose.

The dragons are very cute—Kazul becomes the princess’ dragon. I don’t know if I want to create a “fairy-tale ending” for Carlene since it’s much much more complicated than that…

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