Special Edition: The Princess and the Pea Retold by Xanthe Gresham and Illustrated by Miss Clara

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Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday! Today’s post is a special edition in two ways. First, it is part of my Fairy Tale February 2020 event. Second, instead of looking at a retelling, we’ll be looking at an illustrated children’s book. I’ll be using the same two section format for today’s post instead of the usual three section one. So let’s dive into this beautiful version of The Princess and the Pea!

My Rating: 5 stars

Warning: Contains spoilers

My Thoughts:

First and foremost we have to talk about the illustrations by Miss Clara. Aren’t they absolutely gorgeous?! They’re the whole reason I bought the book in the first place. I picked up a copy of The Twelve Dancing Princesses illustrated by her and fell in love with her style, so I immediately ordered The Princess and the Pea. Apparently they aren’t actually illustrations; it says in the back that she makes maquettes of paper, photographs them, and adds in details digitally. The results are these beautiful images that pop off the page and give off the perfect whimsical vibe for a fairy tale. I’m absolutely obsessed with her art now and I have to buy her version of The Snow Queen.

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I was pleasantly surprised with how much the author actually reworked the story. Most fairy tales illustrated for children stick with the original text or a slightly altered version of it. But Xanthe Gresham uses all her own text, and she adds lots of details. While Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale just tells us the prince traveled all over looking for a bride, this version takes us to each country he visits and describes the princesses there. This is more akin to variations of the story from different cultures, including the Italian “The Most Sensitive Woman” and the Indian “The Three Delicate Wives of King Virtue-Banner: Which Is the Most Delicate?” I enjoyed that since it made the story longer and gave an excuse for more beautiful illustrations with lots of varied colors and styles.

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Most importantly (at least to me), Gresham gives an explanation for why a true princess must be so sensitive that she can feel a pea under twenty mattresses. I balked at that even as a fairy tale loving child. At the start of the story, we learn that the prince has an incredibly sensitive heart to the point where he isn’t even able to talk in front of the other princesses. He needs to find a partner who is just as sensitive as he is so he can be comfortable in their relationship. I thought this explanation was wonderful! I loved the portrayal of the prince in general. It’s great to see a sensitive boy since most media portrays men as tough and stoic. He also has a close relationship with his mother, which I found very sweet. And Gresham makes it clear even before the princess passes the pea test that the prince likes her and is comfortable with her. He’s able to immediately let his guard down and smile in front of her.

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Other Reading Recommendations:

This section is a little different today too. Instead of retellings, I’m providing a list of other illustrated versions of this tale. And there actually aren’t any starred titles because this is the first illustrated version of this tale that I remember reading.

This review is also posted on aliteraryprincess.tumblr.com

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