Saturday, April 1, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Four - Part One

This chapter is titled "Is He The One?"

The allegory in this chapter has a set of convoluted plot twists so I'm going to move through it slowly.

The Princess comes home from the Spring Fair and tells her parents that she interacted with Sir Eloquence.  Her parents tell her that she did fine.  Her father, the King, reminds her to be discerning in picking someone to marry.  

"Her father told her that every true knight desires a rose that is pure and has kept itself closed. He advised her that she must not be deceived by fancy words but must learn to look at the life, the actions, and the character of any prince who might seek her hand." (pg. 67)
  • I apologize about bringing this up AGAIN.  The fact that fathers are in charge of giving their daughters purity metaphors that are extremely sexual and extremely degrading in CP/QF families is INAPPROPRIATE.   
    • The metaphors are wrong because girls have value to their future partner for a million, personalized reasons - but being an unblemished virgin in body or emotion is NEVER one of those reasons.  
    • The Princess has a living mother - the Queen.  The metaphors would be messed up coming from her, but there is an additional level of sexualization when a CP man shares this information with his daughter.  
  • When you keep a child systematically sheltered from long-term unsupervised interactions with their peers, that child lacks the ability to judge the life and actions of potential romantic partners.  Most of the skills needed to judge people is based on reconciling verbal and non-verbal messages from the partner and from outside observers in society.  In the last chapter, the Princess went to the Spring Fair with a bunch of village girls.  Some of those young women likely have excellent information on Sir Eloquence's behavior in the world at large - but to get that info, the Princess would have to climb off her high horse and interact as a peer rather than a dignitary.
  • Not all princes are knights - and not all knights are princes.  The fact that Sir Eloquence is contracting his own marriage with the Princess through the King informally is insane regardless of Sir Eloquence's status.  Now, if the Princess was the sixth child of 13 with three strapping older brothers and two lovely older sisters safely married off into the nearest kingdoms, Sir Eloquence might have an outside chance of marrying her if he was a member of a lesser royal branch...but that kind of attention to detail would have created a very different book.
Sir Eloquence starts conversations with the Princess when they meet in the town.  Sir Eloquence comes to the castle and proposes to marry the Princess.  The King invites him to stay at the castle for a day to get to know Sir Eloquence better.  The King is skeptical of his worth because of the state of his armor and because his stories about being a knight don't seem real.  The Princess likes him - kind of - because he pays attention to her and says he'll love her forever.  

The Alligator encourages the Princess to accept Sir Eloquence or at least give him more time to see if they fall in love.  This causes the Princess to realize that she will not accept Sir Eloquence and goes to tell her father.

  • The time scale in this book is confusing.  Mally never explains or implies how much time passes between the Spring Fair and Sir Eloquence's surprise proposal.  
  • I don't understand why the King doesn't just laugh in Sir Eloquence's face and kick him out for popping a surprise proposal.  The Princess doesn't seem particularly invested in the relationship BEFORE he proposed so it makes no sense that Sir Eloquence is now being vetted as a suitor because he offers his hand in marriage.
  • The idea that the best way a King has to get information on a suitor for his daughter is to have the suitor stick around for a day is absurd.  That's what diplomats and informants are for; if Sir Eloquence was a potential suitor of any standing, the King would have a dossier on him, his family, his country and the stability of his crown.  The King wouldn't be looking at his armor and nitpicking his stories for accuracy.
  • If your teenager can't pick up on clothing cues to determine social class, she's been kept far too sheltered.  
  • The Alligator does a great job of being that annoying person who congratulates someone for finding their future spouse when the couple has been dating for two weeks.  (That was one of the more amusing portions of the book - but I don't think it was written to be humorous unfortunately.)  The Alligator's minor point that the Princess needs more time to see if she likes or loves Sir Eloquence is reasonable.  The two of them have only had some minor, rushed or overly supervised meetings.  Maybe he's as much of a self-important blowhard as he seems; maybe he's nervous and improves on further acquaintance.
The Princess overhears the King telling Sir Eloquence that the King needs Sir Eloquence to challenge Mr. Scornful - a store-owning villager who spreads gossipy lies around the kingdom - to a jousting match for the safety of the kingdom.  Sir Eloquence demurs and recommends a debate as the first option, then having a more experienced knight do the joust instead.  The King side-steps the debate option and gives this rationale for requiring a joust.

"True, Mr. Scornful is experienced and skillful with the lance and shield," replied the king "but he is fearful and cowardly. A fight with him will be easily won. There is no need to defer to those you deem greater." (pg. 71)

Sir Eloquence asks for more time to make a decision, wanders off, and out of the story.
  • Ms. Mally is trying to make it clear that Sir Eloquence wasn't worth the hand of the Princess because he was too much of a coward to fight Mr. Scornful - but the entire story is shot with holes that make the King into a despot and Sir Eloquence into the only sane person left. 
    • A basic rule of statecraft under a monarch is noblesse oblige; power comes with responsibilities.  One responsibility of a noble is to not go bat-shit crazy on a commoner (unless the commoner is leading an armed rebellion).  Unfortunately, that's exactly what the King is doing here; the King is responding to a grousing merchant by sending an armed mercenary to threaten him.
    • A more sane - although less historically accurate - way to deal with Mr. Scornful would be a public debate like Sir Eloquence offered.  Mr. Scornful is harming the Kingdom using words so Sir Eloquence will defeat him using words.  
    • No one points out the most obvious problem: a storekeeper will not own a charger and jousting equipment.  This chapter acts like jousting was the equivalent of soccer or baseball where the vast majority of adult men know how to play the basic game.  Jousting was more like racing wingsail catamaran yachts - there were a small group of people who could dedicate the time to learn how to joust. 
  • The quoted bit makes no sense.  Jousting was a physically demanding dangerous sport; Henry II of France was killed when he got a concussion during a joust, refused to stop jousting and had a splintered lance smash through one of his eyes.  If Mr. Scornful had the experience to be a good jouster, he wouldn't be fearful or cowardly on the lists.  On the flip side, if Sir Eloquence is an inexperienced jouster sending him against Mr. Scornful is both stupid and dangerous.
The Princess is wistfully relieved.  The King and the Princess have a chat in the garden. The Princess has a concern:

"But Father, I certainly intended no harm to come to Sir Eloquence. Would a jousting match has been quite safe?"

"Mr. Scornful would never have actually agreed to a jousting match," the king replied with a chuckle. "For though he often boasts of his skill, he is a coward at heart. Indeed, even if he were to consent to the match, Sir Eloquence would have been in no danger." (pgs. 72-73)

  • Up until this point, the story holds well enough to the basic archetype of The Quest where the true knight proves himself worthy of the princess by succeeding in subduing a danger to the kingdom.  Sir Eloquence was offered The Quest of subduing Mr. Scornful in a joust; by refusing to subdue the dangerous person through a perilous activity, Sir Eloquence shows himself unworthy of the Princess.  (Poor narrative choices make this quest rather ludicrous, but the basic structure is visible.)
  • This section is chilling by the implication of the value of the Princess compared to the value of Sir Eloquence.  By giving Sir Eloquence a trivial quest that had no danger in it at all, the King is stating that the Princess is worthless.  After all, there was no major impediment to Sir Eloquence agreeing to take the quest.  He could have challenged Mr. Scornful, had Mr. Scornful refuse to joust, and returned to claim the hand of the Princess as his prize for doing nothing.  
Sections like this illustrate how little unmarried daughters are valued in CP/QF life.  That's depressing.

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