Saturday, April 22, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Six - Part One

This chapter is nominally about what young women should do when God wants them to be single for a time in their lives.   Practically, the chapter is very, very vague; that's rather sad since Sarah Mally had started a ministry for tweens and teens called "Bright Lights" that's still extant today.  Some actual details about how she started "Bright Lights" would have made the chapter interesting and useful.

Instead, we get some more anachronisms.....

For anyone who remembers the beginning of the book, the reason the Princess is going out among the People is so that she can be of use to them.  This was the idea of the King since the Princess will be ruling them - or another suitable Kingdom - next to her future husband.  (Actually, I added the part after "since".  The book never spells out what the endgame of succession in the Kingdom is.)  This plan started when the Princess was 16.  At the beginning of this chapter, the Princess is now 18 - and has "helped" her People by picking up the vegetables of one old woman.  The narrator tells us that the King and Princess have another heart-to-heart talk and the Princess decides to start serving her people in a more active fashion.

  • There is never any mention of the fact that the King's plan has been a total failure at this point.  The graduating seniors at the school I taught at were required to put in more volunteer hours in a single trimester than the Princess has pulled off in two years.  
After that rousing start, we learn what the Princess is up to now:
Much was being accomplished during the time of her life. The princess often represented the royal family on important occasions, and she spent many days caring for orphaned children in the nearby villages - even beginning the courtyard club for them. Sometimes she would hosts tea parties, teaching godliness to village girls. God was also teaching her much during these years and filling her with understanding and ability in all manner of workmanship. She was gaining skill in many kinds of fabric work, weaving and tapestry, candle and soap making, as well as fine artistry with dyes, paints, and gold. She did not neglect her writing, archery, or equestrianship, and she also made it a goal to learn in the useful talents of floral decorating & baking. (pg. 103-104)
  • I don't really want to know how the Princess was representing the Royal Family.  Her skill set is so meager at this point that if she has to do anything harder than looking pretty in a dress and smile someone will get hurt.
  • Sarah Mally's insular life - and lack of critical thinking skills - shine out in the half-sentence on orphans.  
    • If there are enough orphans in the surrounding villages that the Princess is being co-opted into caring for them, this means a large percentage of the working age population is dead.   The Princess' Kingdom is in the earliest stages of a demographic collapse like Europe during the Black Death or sections of Africa due to AIDS.   Disease is here; famine, war and invasion are fast approaching.
    • The response of the Royal Family is to send their least competent member out to create a "courtyard club" for orphans.  That's..... wow. Future historians will be using that as an example of leadership failure for generations to come.
  • The whole bit about tea parties and teaching godliness is a wonderful example of how Christianity often conflates following Jesus' teaching with demonstrating middle-class culture and activities.  Bluntly, the Gospel never mentions tea parties - or the concurrent obsession on manners, image and fashion.
  • The section on "skills" makes my head hurt.
    • There are lots of types of fabric work - but this book manages to miss all of them except one.
      • Weaving is a type of fabric work - but "tapestry" is a noun, not a verb.  Weaving is the process used to make a tapestry.  Learning to weave well enough to make a tapestry was done by artisans that could be guild members.  In other words, the dilettante Princess isn't going to be whipping off finished tapestries in two years - even if she put all of her time and effort into learning the trade.  
        • Also, weaving is a TRADE - there is no way a Princess would be learning weaving.  
        • There is a much less anachronistic option: embroidery.  Queens, princesses, ladies-in-waiting and other court members often embroidered all the freaking time.  Katherine of Aragon brought a specific type of embroidery from Spain to England at the time of her marriage and it created a fad of blackwork for a few years.
      • Most importantly - weaving could be used to help people if she was weaving cloth to be distributed for free.  A tapestry, though, is the definition of a decorative object.  If the Princess wasn't a Protestant from the frill-free Calvinist persuasion, I guess she could weave a tapestry for a church - but I don't see Ms. Mally taking kindly to making her protagonist a Catholic.....
    • There is no damn way the Princess learned either candle-making or soap making.  Back during these times, there were no cute scented melt-and-pour candle or soap kits at the local arts and craft store for her to use.  
      • Candle-making was a guild craft - a full-time job for some of her People.  Candle-making in N. Europe was a rather gross proposition since most candles were made of rendered fat.  That means the first steps the Princess would have learned involved boiling animal fat until the collagen, water and other non-lipid parts floated to the top.  It's not the glamorous and feminine occupation that Ms. Mally dreams of.
      • Soap-making was worse.  Making soap requires taking animal fats and adding lye to make the fats transform into soap.  Lye is very caustic, the animal fats are kept liquid by heating, and there is a distinctive smell - or stench depending on your personal tastes - during the whole process.  In this case, not only is the Princess getting filthy from tending a fire, processing left-over animal fats and managing the ashes the lye was taken from, she's sweating like a stuck pig as she stirs the cauldron to keep the reaction going smoothly throughout the liquid.  If she stops or misses an area, she'll get a mass of congealed fat with pockets of lye that will burn the fabric or surface she's cleaning with the soap.  Plus, she needs to know exactly when to pour out the soap into molds or trenchers because if she waits too long it will seize in the cauldron into one giant mass of hardened soap.
        • Also - soap gets everywhere during this process.  I've made soap from tallow and olive oil before at home and no matter how careful I am a greasy half-saponified material ends up all over the place.
    • Oh, Lord.  The Princess became a master dyer?  I call bullshit on that one. Well, to be more accurate, I call human piss on that one.  Old urine was the best form of ammonia available for dyeing purposes.  Reading the recipes from the Innsbruck Manuscript (1330) published on that same linked website can be simplified down to a few easy steps - that are no more sweetly feminine than making candles and soap.
      • Obtain a natural pigment source.
      • Grind it into oblivion if possible or boil until soft, then grind.
      • Boil the prepared pigment in a strong base (lime water), a weaker base (stale urine), a weak acid (vinegar) and/or with a mordant (urine, alum, iron, copper).
      • Place the fibers into the dye for the right amount of time. 
    • Hey, I can't disprove that the Princess learned how to paint in a haphazard manner!  Oh, wait.  Painters were guild members, too. What I find suspect is the idea that the Princess had developed much skill in painting in two years while managing to skills in weaving tapestries, soap-making, candle-making, and dyeing...while also becoming a goldsmith.  
    • The awkward transition into goldsmithing in the paragraph above reminded me of a tangentially related topic: if home-schooling is a superior form of education why is Ms. Mally clearly lacking any understanding of the nature of guilds?  
      • I am not a historian by training or trade; I took three years of high school level history and don't have a particularly deep base of knowledge on medieval or early modern life - but I remember that there were organizations called guilds that covered most skilled trades.  I wouldn't have a member of the royal family attempt to become a member of the weavers', chandlers', dyers,' painters' and goldsmiths' guilds because that is simply bat-shit crazy.
    • Well, at least Ms. Mally didn't include any samples of the Princess' writings.  Let's be grateful for small favors.  Likewise, the Princess didn't join the fletchers' guild so that's a small mercy.
    •  I'm glad we've included the critical skill of floral arrangement.  That's a skill that the villagers needed desperately with all of the adults dying off from something. *rolls eyes*
    • And now we've added a sixth guild membership - the Princess now knows how to bake!  
Many widows and weary mothers were the joyous recipients of homemade gifts or meals from the princess. She tried to use each thing she learned in some way as a tool to accomplish her assignments from her heavenly Father. Each mastery acquired could also then be taught to all the wise-hearted young ladies in the kingdom. Her days were full and fruitful. Many stories, memories, and friendships were hers. In a hundred little ways, she was a candle spreading light everywhere she went, bringing strength and encouragement to many lives that were filled with darkness. (pg. 104)
  • As a weary mother, I can attest that getting a badly completed tapestry or a gnarly-colored hank of wool would not make my life easier right now.  Now, a loaf of bread - or a mass of pottage - may have been nice during this time; anything to stave off starvation.  Of course, what I would have really wanted back then was to stop whatever was killing off my family and neighbors.
  • Let's be honest here: the local peasant girls were well-versed in the skills needed to run their households.  They learned how to keep their home - how to cook, weave, sew, trade, and care for children.  The young women didn't need the beginning apprentice-level Princess parachuting in to "teach" them how to do things they already knew how to do.
  • Notice that the People are supposed to learn life lessons including Emo-Pure from the Princess while the Princess floats unsullied above them absolved from learning anything from the People.  The idea that charity moves in one direction from virtuous paragons blessed with material wealth to the lost rabble with nothing is rife in CP/QF life.  The Princess - and all of the SAHD she represents - are presented as being better people in every way than the People.  
  • I doubt her people viewed the Princess as a light in the darkness.  At best, she'd be viewed as a harmless lunatic; at worst, her naivete and thoughtlessness could end in a revolution.
Well, those two passages have been making me batty since I read them.  I feel better now that I've gotten that out of my system.  Next up - yet another chat with the Alligator.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five-Part Three

Welcome to the last installment of Chapter Five on how to deal with crushes.   The advice and exhortation section in this chapter is pretty formulaic while the anecdotes run the gauntlet between terrifying and sad.

The first chunk of the chapter addresses the fact that most people have crushes during their life and explains that the issues surrounding crushes have to do with how people behave when they have a crush, not the fact that you are attracted to someone.  None of this is particularly ground-breaking, but it's nice that Ms. Mally at least sets a reasonable bar that actions matter more than thoughts.

The first anecdote is a doozy:
"What if I have a crush?

Have you ever made your dad panic?

Once when I was about 8 years old, I scampered into the house and with a mischievous smile I announced, "Dad, I fell in love today!"

Believe me, that got his attention! He looked up at me with a worried expression on his face and said, "You did?"

"Yup! I fell in love with this adorable Dalmatian puppy at the pet store. Can I get it? Please?" Dad smiled with a look of relief. "(pgs. 91-92)

  • I've never made either of my parents' panic before - and Sarah's Dad didn't panic in this anecdote either.
  • If this story is true, Sarah's Dad needs to get a freaking life.  I had a crush on a kid in my first-grade class named Brad.  We were inseparable for a few months and then drifted apart over the summer - mainly because we were EIGHT years old!  That was the same age that I wanted to visit the Starship Enterprise from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" because I thought it existed somewhere.  When my parents tried to explain the idea of movie sets, I just figured that someone built an entire replica of the actual Enterprise and was filming the series inside the life-size replica.  An elementary school crush is very normal - and not something for an actual adult to panic about.
  • I am very skeptical of the authenticity of that story, though.  With Sarah Mally being a few years older than I am, this story apparently happened before 1988.  This either means that the Mally Family was way ahead of the curve on implementing Emo-Pure or the anecdote has been burnished a bit to make the Mally Family seem more like the ideal CP/QF family of the 2000's. 
This leads into a few paragraphs describing how everyone will have crushes from time to time (which is true) and how hard it is to train your mind not to dwell on a crush.  I don't remember my crushes being all-consuming, but I had a lot of things to keep me busy between school and sports when I was in junior high followed by harder classes and extracurricular activities in high school.  This meant that I didn't have a lot of extra time to think about my romantic interests outside of when we were interacting.

"When I was about 13, our family became acquainted with another Christian family who had a son a few years older than I was. I liked him right away. He seemed so considerate and nice. I admired some of his talents, and most of all, he seems like such a strong Christian leader. He was the first guy I ever really liked, and I felt so embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know how I felt about him. After all, I was only thirteen! I wasn't considering getting married for years. I tried to avoid him so that no one would guess that I was attracted to him. I tried not to talk about him with my family or others because I worried that they might be able to figure out that I liked him. "(pg. 92)
  • I find 13-year-old Sarah's attraction to a "strong Christian leader" who is 15 or 16 years old absolutely adorable.  That's such a normal 13-year-old thing to do!  (Well, maybe not the "strong Christian leader" bit, but I've had crushes on equally flimsy footing before.)
  • I was pretty embarrassed about having crushes - but not because I was too young to get married.  A crush is an intensely personal experience and I was acutely aware that my view of Matt or Jason or Patrick was not shared by the entirety of human kind.  The embarrassment phase passed quickly for me because my parents and friends didn't tease or bother me about my crushes.
  • For me, the issue wasn't that I didn't want anyone to know how I felt; it was that I had no idea how to explain how intensely I felt attracted to Scott or David or whoever.  There are just not enough adjectives and adverbs in the English language to describe how floatingly giddy I felt when I was around my newest crush.
  • Like Sarah, I completely believed that I could avoid anyone knowing when I had a crush by keeping my cards close to my chest.   Looking back, the only person that tactic fooled was myself - and I'm willing to bet that no one was fooled by Sarah's tricks either.
"But inwardly I was struggling. Even though I didn't see him very often, I frequently found myself wondering when I might see him again and questioning if he could be the right one for me. I remember that when I would practice the piano, ride my bike, or have spare time, I would frequently be struggling with these thoughts and asking the Lord to help me not be so distracted.

A few years later I got to know this young man a little bit better and realize he was definitely not the right one for me. I lost interest, but I wondered when my next crush might happen and if I would be able to handle it any better (pg. 93)
  • Ironically, 26-year-old Sarah isn't much better at putting the dots together than she was at 13.  
    • The best way to keep a crush going is to never interact with the person you have a crush on at all.  I've had a crush on Geordi LaForge for Star Trek: The Next Generation for 20 years or so.  He's smart, handsome and imaginary so I never have to deal with any of the annoyances of finding out the flaws and irritations that come with real people.
    • Conversely, the fastest way to get rid of a crush is to spend a lot of time with the person you have a crush on.  Everyone has really annoying habits and quirks.  Since a crush is predicated on having the ideal romantic partner, finding out your crush has the table manners of a hyena or sniffles all the time can do a lot to end a crush.
  • The last paragraph is inadvertently terrifying.  First, it implies that Sarah kept a candle burning for this guy for three years at least!  Second, she only had a single crush on that one guy in those three years.  I'm chalking that as another unintended example of how lonely her life was as a home schooled teenager with two siblings in Iowa; it sounds like she didn't meet enough guys to have more than one crush.
  • For me, having crushes on real guys disappeared pretty rapidly in my late teens because I had no exposure to Emo Pure doctrines.  I had plenty of male friends.  When I found myself highly attracted to a guy - friend or not - I could get to know him better without obsessing over giving pieces of my heart away.  On top of that, I could date.  That means I didn't have to keep my expectations low while waiting for my crush to notice me, become marriage-eligible, and get my father's approval before finding out that my crush bores me to death.
The rest of the chapter is how to deal with crushes.  I can condense the gist into a nice bulleted-list for you!
  • When you have a crush, hide your emotions so deeply inside of you that no one - not even you - can feel what's going on.
  • Pray.  A lot.  Pray for him, for you, for your future husband, and his future wife.  (She missed "his future kids", "your future kids" "all of both lines eventual descendants", and "the livestock acquired when you and/or he marry including, but not limited to pets".  May as well be thorough.)  Don't forget to memorize chunks of Scripture.  
  • Get your parents involved.
Ms. Mally shares how getting your parents involved helps:
"The second way to deal with your crush is to talk to your parents about it. This might be difficult, scary, or embarrassing for you, but most likely your parents have already guessed how you are feeling. If you tell them, they will be better able to pray for, protect, and advise you. Confiding in your parents often relieves the pressure on you and may lighten the intensity of your "secret" crush. Sometimes they're able to help you think more realistically about your future and give you a new perspective about what type of man they believe the Lord has in store for you.

Several times when I've told my dad or brother that I've noticed a certain young man, they have said that if they get a convenient opportunity they will try to get to know him better. Often they're able to come up with interesting observations that I didn't see, and they will come to me saying,"Sarah, have you noticed this area?" Dad usually say, "I question "such-and-such". My brother Stephen will say, "He's kind of weird!" But I'm serious - dads and brothers can be great analytical agents! When they notice an area of weakness in a young man, it gives me a clearer perspective of the whole situation and makes it easier for me to stay focused on the Lord, rather than dreaming about the possibility of "so-and-so" . It frees me from any pressure or temptation I might be feeling to try and get to know him better, and keeps my emotions from getting involved unnecessarily. (pg. 94-95)

  • I don't think that it is a good idea to chat with your parents about a crush if you feel scared at the prospect of doing so.  That's a sign something the kid is picking up on something being off in their family dynamic.
  • I know lists are supposed to have at least three items, but the prayers of a parent do not become magically more effective when the parent is sure that their kid has a crush on their classmate instead of being mostly sure.
  • Talking about your crush may lighten the intensity - but so will doing almost anything!  Crushes are most intense when a person sits around and broods on the subject alone and least intense when the person is doing a captivating activity.
  • Crushes do not require a chat about your kid's future since crushes dissipate once your kid gets to know their crush better.  Plus, that's bringing an AK-47 to a longbow archery demonstration in terms of overkill.  
  • When your children are infants, parents can plan just about every aspect of their lives.  By the time your children are teenagers, parents guide and facilitate the teen's plans for their lives.  If your kids are old enough to be considering marriage, parents need to have stopped planning their offspring's lives for them - and that includes detailing who the parents thought the kid should marry.  After all, CP/QF is a small, insular community.  Describing the type of person a parent thinks the kid should marry has a huge overlap with saying "I've always thought you would marry Billy-Bob's son Jimbo".
  • Nothing says placing your daughter's interests first like trying to get to know her romantic interest if an opportunity happens to appear.  Getting to know a person with the undeclared intent of figuring out if they are good marriage material for your child is so creepy - and generally a case of putting the cart before the horse since the other person has not expressed an interest yet!
  • Taking your brother's advice on dating can make sense if your brother has enough life experience.  Sarah Mally was 26 when this book was written and Stephen is about 6 years younger than her.   I might have taken my younger brother's advice on if he liked my boyfriend when he was 20, but only in terms of "my boyfriend is non-crazy, right?"  Since this book seems to be written for girls in their teens, I would hope that Sarah Mally wasn't sending her 13 year old brother out to do recon on her crushes when she was 18 because that's just odd.
This whole book is about ways to avoid interacting with guys, honestly.  There is a palpable sense of relief in each anecdote when Sarah has collected enough negative information from her family to shut down any more contact with a specific guy.   That theme reaches back into the allegory for the last few chapters as well; Sir Eloquence's main flaw was that he was attracted to the Princess - the rest of the negatives about Sir Eloquence were based on the King's gut feeling that Sir Eloquence was not telling the truth.  Likewise, Sir Valiant's only demonstrated virtue is that we are not certain he knows the Princess exists.   That's one of the largest flaws in raising kids to value Emo-Pure.  When a person has been raised to fear accidentally giving away a chunk of their heart, reaching out to form a bond with a romantic partner can be impossible.

The next chapter is titled "When God Says To Wait" which feels redundant to me; the Princess has spent five chapters waiting around the castle daydreaming already.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five - Part Two

In the last post on this chapter, the Princess was still worried - and pining a tad - over Sir Eloquence.  The Queen told her to get over him.  The Princess voiced her concerns about how the People viewed her obsessive purity with a surprising amount of insight; the Queen declared that the Princess was wrong since the silent majority of people supported her...silently.

Now, at this point, the book has been pretty clear that the Princess doesn't really have any friends among the locals.  The Princess has mentioned that she worries about what everyone else thinks of her; her parents and the narrator insist that the Princess really doesn't give a shit about what anyone else thinks - but either way there has been no sign that the Princess has real friends who she sees on a regular basis.

Oh, wait.

Here's Maiden Flirtelia - a young woman who appears out of nowhere and is apparently unobjectionable enough that the Queen is fine with the Princess hanging out with her unaccompanied and unchaperoned while also being worldly enough that she gets the virtue signal name of "Flirt".
"Maiden Flirtelia and the princess spent the next few hours looking around Market Street, visiting the tapestry shop, and picking up some pastries at the bakery. They then sat down at Fountain Circle to talk." (pg. 87)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five - Part One

At the end of Chapter Four's allegory, Sir Eloquence disappears from the story.  I find that disappointing for a few reasons.

First, for all that he was portrayed as brash and probably lying about his exploits, he's the real person to have shown up so far.  The King and Queen have no negative traits at all; the King is the ever-benevolent, all-knowing Father and the Queen is a nebulous figure in the background.  The Princess allegedly has some negative traits, but the only one we've seen so far is that she's lightly questioned her Father's dictates without rebelling openly in any way.  Sir Eloquence was more like a real teenage boy in that he misjudged the right way to approach the Princess, bragged about exploits that he probably didn't do, and had the audacity to be more interested in the Princess than her parents.  (How shocking!).

Second, I've always liked it when rejected suitors simply disappeared from my life.  Alas, that's only happened twice - and mainly because I met them online for the express and sole purpose of dating to find a marriage partner.  (God, that sounds so romantic, I know....)  In real life, dating - and courting - often involve people who are going to be in your life even if the romantic relationship ends.  I've yet to see a CP book for unmarried singles deal with that outcome so that's a niche waiting to be filled.

Well, now that Sir Eloquence is gone, the Princess has returned to her usual activities which seem to be standing near the moat and daydreaming.  In terms of the King's goal of having her help the people, we are still at "picked up some veggies for an old woman once".

There's a saying that a stopped clock is right twice a day.  In this allegory, Ms. Mally write a few surprisingly insightful moments along with the usual tripe.  Here's one:
"The Princess was glad that the knight had stopped pursuing her hand, and she did not expect him to be bothering her in the village anymore. Yet, now that he was gone, she did miss him just a little bit - or maybe it was simply his affectionate words and attention that she sometimes wished for..." (pg. 85)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Four - Part Two

In this chapter, Sir Eloquence followed the Princess home to ask the King if he could marry her.  In short order, Sir Eloquence realized the family was absolutely insane and took off to find greener pastures.

What do you mean that wasn't the point of the allegory?

The exhort and encourage section of the chapter is absolutely mindless.    In one section, readers are given a list of questions to think about when courting - or pre-courting or whatever term is used for the run-up to a courtship - and some of the questions aren't half bad.  If you ignore the insanely high number of questions based on theology, I agree with Ms. Mally that a girl should view him as decent father material, see that he's capable of supporting himself, and that he's truthful, generous, kind and loving.  That's about 30 words of material I agreed with out of a 20 page chapter.

The beginning of the chapter rehashes that "MARRY A GOOD CHRISTIAN" should be tattooed on the foreheads of anyone reading this book because this topic has been covered too much in this book already - but Ms. Mally seems to think that her readers need yet another reminder.  After all, a wife serves her husband and if he's not a GOOD CHRISTIAN (TM), she's pretty much going to be miserable her whole life.

Sarah Mally shares this captivating anecdote:

Vicki, for example, started to date a nice young man named Christopher. She wasn't sure if he was a Christian - he certainly wasn't a very strong Christian, but she was hoping to have an opportunity to lead him to the Lord. Soon they were best friends. They did everything together. At first, Vicki didn't realize how attached they had become, but one day she faced reality and determine that she couldn't stand the thought of breaking up now. Vicki decided that since they loved each other so much, everything else would work out. She assumed that after they were married she would be able to encourage him to get involved in church and grow in the Lord.

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.