Somehow sunny spring days let me yearn for Northern folk tales… “The princess & the white bear king” was sitting on my shelf for quite some time and I never found the peace and quiet to enjoy it. So what better day to finally read a story set in ice and snow than a warm May day?
According to the author, “The princess & the white bear king” is a combines three classic tales: “East of the sun, west of the moon”, “The black bull of Norraway” and “The white bear king”. I knew the often retold tale of Eros and Psyche, which is the origin of “East of the sun, west of the moon”, so I knew to expect a classic love story. And as our four-year-old daughter was fascinated by the title cover of the white bear king – why not read it aloud?
“The princess & the white bear king” is set in a winterly fantasy world, brought to life by illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, who also illustrated “The tear thief” by Carol Ann Duffy. In “The princess & the white bear king”, the King’s youngest and most beloved daughter dreams of a golden crown, more beautiful than everything her father can give her. Following her dream, the princess has an encounter with a strange white bear, who offers her the desired crown in exchange for her freedom. The girl agrees. Living in the bear’s castle she not only finds his presents acceptable, she even falls in love with the bear king.
But as we know, fairytales never end here… When the homesick girl is allowed to visit her family, she disregards the bear’s suggestion to “not listen to your mother’s advice, for if you do, bad luck befalls us both.” Back in the castle she lights a candle when feeling something sharing her room – and spills hot wax on a handsome prince’s shirt… Doomed to now marry the Troll Queen, who bewitched him, the prince has to travel “to a land east of the sun and west of the moon” without a chance to break the enchantment.
This is when the spoiled and passive princess turns into a heroine. She follows the trail of the bear king for over three years, until finally arriving at the Troll Queen’s castle – and fights for her love…
To be honest, I absolutely disliked the princess in the first part of this new told fairytale. Honestly, which girl goes the way of possible enslavement, just to win a wonderful new crown? Losing her love is a turning point for the spoiled girl though. She turns into a keen and strong willed women, who is not only willing to fight for her love, but also compassionate enough to help those in need during her journey.
The tale itself is kind of long, so more for adult readers or children age 6 and up. Our preschool age daughter seemed to seriously enjoy the story though, although more interested in the emotions of the protagonists and the blacksmith’s children then the meaning of the love story. 🙂
All in all, “The princess & the white bear king” is a wonderful modern fairytale with a not-so-strong beginning, but an even stronger progress. Sure, it has the classic setting: a heroic male, a wicked antagonist – and we know that in real life no one lives “happily ever after”. But that’s how fairytales end, isn’t it? Our heroine is more than a damsel in distress. I absolutely adore Nicoletta Ceccoli’s illustrations, which add great character and atmosphere to the storyline!
The book comes with a story CD narrated by Miranda Richardson.
The princess & the white bear king
Written By: Tanya Robyn Batt
Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli
Publisher: Barefoot Books