Rejected Princesses: A Collection of Fascinating Stories from History, Folklore, and Mythology

Image: Dey Street via EW

Genre: History/Mythology/Folklore

Synopsis: A collection of short biographical stories (accompanied by cool portraits) of women in history, mythology, and folklore who don’t fit the standard narrative–especially the Disney princess narrative, as the author, Jason Porath, comes from an animation background. The main focus is on telling a good story in each entry, so even though a lot of research has gone into them, they’re told in a colloquial style.

The book features characters both well-known and relatively obscure–Hypatia, the famous mathematician. Julie d’Aubigny, bisexual duelist and opera singer. Ching Shih, leader of a pirate fleet–along with some hundred others.

Series: Set of short tales, with many more like them available at the author’s website.

POV: Third person.

Preview: Several of the book entries are available on the author’s website–including Noor Inayat Khan, Julie d’Aubigny, Nzinga Mbande, and Ching Shih.

Rejected Princesses fits into the theme of my blog because, though a lot of history goes into it, the main focus is on storytelling. This is part of why the book is immensely entertaining. It’s supposed to tell interesting, unusual stories, and it absolutely accomplishes that.

It can be a bit hard to talk about in terms of plot and character like I usually do, because again, this is some hundred entries taking up a few pages each. Many of the people talked about in this book were real, which helps with them being complex and three-dimensional–real people generally are. But it’s not like I can take the time to talk about what makes each of these entries stand out–and it might even be faster to check out a few entries on the author’s website.

Tackling the project from the perspective of good storytelling instead of an academic write-up creates an interesting format, and maybe one that’s more widely accessible. Both are important to have, of course. But making a brief story out of a biography and using modernized language to talk about it can capture the imagination of an audience. An academic paper is usually focused on details and won’t have that breadth, while a full biography requires a lot of commitment. The entries in Rejected Princesses can build on the conclusions of much more detail-oriented academic works to ignite interest, pulling out the most interesting parts.

The author has become something of an amateur historian for this project, and while I won’t say everything is accurate or the complete picture–he even stated in a Reddit AMA that he wished he’d gotten more distance from one entry before writing it–he generally points out when the historicity of something is in dispute or when something is likely to be propaganda. The online entries especially get vetted and sometimes corrections are posted.

The book also works to include figures and stories from all over the world–here’s a link to a map showing the geographical spread of entries the author has covered. Disability and LGBT representation comes up in a few of the entries–not many, but a few.

(Also, note that despite the artwork, the book is primarily written for adults–it has content warnings in case the anyone wants to read it to children, but certain entries might be a judgement call even so.)

Overall, this is a collection of fun stories that, whether real or fictional, have existed in history at some point.