The Hamish Hamilton Book of Princesses

Continuing the  “Once Upon a Time Challenge” with a review of  The Hamish Hamilton Book of Princesses

Title: The Hamish Hamilton Book of Princesses
Edited by : Sally Patrick Johnson
Series :
There are many of these Hamish Hamilton collections – about Dragons, Goblins, Heroes, etc.

Illustrated by: Fritz Wegner
Rating:  stars_04

In Short: A collection of short stories about Princesses, by eclectic list of authors including Somerset Maugham,  Oscar Wilde,  James Thurber and AA Milne.


I expected this book  to be like a chocolate box of stories.  Lots of variety, certainly, but fundamentally …sweet.   But I was wrong.  A  better culinary metaphor would be a medieval banquet table, with sweet confections  next to the bizarre dishes- a boars head, maybe? 


I recently read a similar collection – “A Dragon Lovers Treasury” edited by Anne McCafferey.   All the stories in that book had dragons in them.  But most of them were not about dragons. Which leaves one feeling  unsatisfied. With this Hamish Hamilton collection however,  there is no such problem.  Each story presents a different aspect of the Princess.  In the introduction, the Sally Patric Johnson explains that “Princesses represent our dreams of beauty, wealth and privilege most perfectly.  In fiction, at least, she is free to be pampered, adored, enchanted, kidnapped, rescued and won in all enviable combinations”


Some of the stories are the familiar classics retold:  Walter De La Mere’s “The Dancing Princesses” or Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Princess and the Pea”.  Some are strange and sad, like Oscar Wilde’s “The Birtday of the Infanta”.  A humpbacked boy  falls in love with a princess of the Spanish court.  Oscar Wilde sets the innocence of the little boy dwarf, who knows of nothing but the beauty of his forest and its creatures,against the artificial splendour and corruption of the court of royal Spain.  Here is a description of the lost boy  looking for the princess, wandering through the royal rooms:

“But where was she”  He asked the white rose, and it made him no answer.  The whole palace seemed asleep, and even where the shutters had not been closed, heavy curtains had been drawn across the windows to keep out the glare. He wandered all round looking for some place through which he might gain and entrance, and at last he cauth sight of a little private door that was lying open.
He slipped through and found himself in splendid hall, far more splendid, he feared, than the forest, there was so much gilding everywhere, and even the floor was made of great coloured stones, fitted together into a sort of geometrical pattern.  But the little infanta was not there, only some wonderful white statues that looked down on him from their jasper pedestals with sad blank eyes and strangly smiling lips.

It has a suitably Wildean tragic ending.  I was strongly reminded of this painting by Velasquez:


from the amhpub

Many stories play upon the common themes of fairy tales.  One of my very favourites is by Edith Nesbit.  This tells about a King and Queen who decided that it was too risky to have a christening party for their baby daughter, as someone was bound to be left of the guest list, and everyone knows what happened when a fairy godmother was forgotten.  But of course – instead of only one angry fairy god mother, the lack of a christening party meant that the little Princess Melisande had 13 angry fairy god mothers, all queueing up to give her a vindictive gift…

Here is a picture which hints at her fate:


Also included is James Thurber’s “Many Moons” which must surely be one of the best stories to read aloud.

“Once upon a time, in a kingdom by the sea, there lived a little Princess named Lenore.  She was ten years old, going on eleven.  One day, Lenore fell ill of a surfeit of raspberry tarts and took to her bed.  The Royal Physician came to see her and took her temperature and felt her pulse and made her stick out her tongue.  The Royal Physician was worried.  He sent for the King, Lenore’s father, and the King came to see her.

“I will get you anything your heart desires,” the King said.  “Is there anything your heart desires?”  “Yes,” said the Princess.  “I want the moon.  If I can have the moon, I will be well again.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of silly, fierce, haughty and fantastical Princesses.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deslily
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 20:48:42

    glad you enjoyed this book.. i too wish there would be one out about dragons where the stories were about dragons..i do love anne mccaffrey!

  2. mashadutoit
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 06:53:16

    Oh yes I do love Anne McCaffery too. Or at least, I love her Pern books. Some of the others I wonder if she even wrote them herself.

  3. deslily
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 10:12:38

    Funny you should say that…
    Over many years I have found people who love Pern..but not any of her other sci fi books… and then I have found many who love her sci fi books and not the pern books. She seems to have managed to separate sci fi and fantasy (with an oh so small amount in the pern books) and brought about two groups of fans to her. Pretty amazing when you think of it, most people write one type of book well… Anne seems to have over come that!

  4. mashadutoit
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 10:18:09

    that’s true 🙂
    I actually really liked “the ship who sang” – but somehow never got into any of the others. I think there were more “ship” books too?

  5. deslily
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 22:16:21

    i think so.. but like you I am one of the PERN people and rarely read sci fi books. Though there was a little sci fi attached to the Pern series it was minimal.. i loved the pern characters and the dragons! gawd, how I want to go to a hatching!!!!.. and.. I am in love with masterharper robinton!

  6. mashadutoit
    Apr 25, 2009 @ 11:28:06

    Yes he is a great character. Powerful without being arrogant or dominating. I liked the books which focused on the harpers most. Esp Dragon Singer and Dragon Drums.

  7. GeraniumCat
    May 10, 2009 @ 19:23:57

    I love this anthology too, and I wrote about Melisande here:

    I agree that we need a book of dragons about dragons. I like the Pern books, but I also liked the Crystal Singer series – might be worth a try? I’m not sure about the latest of the Pern books, written with her son, Dragonsblood – I found it quite upsetting when the dragons got ill.

  8. mashadutoit
    May 10, 2009 @ 19:52:01

    Hmmm I thought so. I’ve avoided reading those latest Pern books.

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