The princess industry is lucrative: DVDs, dresses, crowns, theme parties. But the story of going to the ball and waiting for Prince Charming is outdated.
So one Southern California mom has created a new princess series with modern sensibilities. Creator Setsu Shigematsu recasts princesses as environmentally conscious and not waiting around to be rescued.
At the heart of her series, The Guardian Princess Alliance, is what animates any fairy tale: simple storytelling.
"Once upon a time, there was a princess named Vinnea," begins the first book, Princess Vinnea and the Gulavores. Vinnea, a member of a collective of diverse heroines more active than their traditional counterparts, is of African descent and is the guardian of plant life.
She protects the kingdom from unwholesome food grown by magic instead of nature.
Shigematsu, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside, thought the typical fairy tale needed an overhaul.
"For my daughter's fifth birthday, I decided to write an alternative princess story," Shigematsu says. "The kids really enjoyed it. But what was really surprising was the way the parents responded."
Parents told her she should publish, she said. Avoiding the years-long process of going through a major firm, Shigematsu is self-publishing the initial run of books, available in January.
Role Models For Independence, Still With Nice Dresses
A pair of 6-year-old fairy tale experts, Saya and Ivana, join Shigematsu at her home for an informal reading. When asked to describe princesses, the girls name the typical accessories.
"I think of princesses that have long hair," Ivana says. "They have pretty shoes."
"I think of princesses who have colorful dresses," Saya says.
But Risti Marco, Ivana's mom, says the Guardian Princesses provide better role models for her daughter than the traditional version.
"The Guardian Princesses, they are more like, go there and do it for yourself," Marco says. "You can do anything you put your mind into it. You don't have to wait for anybody. You can work together with Prince Charming and do stuff for the world, but you don't have to sit there and wait for him to rescue you."
Common Core, A Key Selling Point
While the books are already taking on a serious challenge — overhauling the princess archetype — Shigematsu says they're also written to align with Common Core, the educational standards adopted by 45 states.
"This shift that's happening across public education, with the Common Core standards, is to go beyond rote memory," she says. "So we're designing our books to be fun and visually appealing, but beyond that we want our books to teach important moral and ethical principles. There are the Common Core language standards, but the environmental theme will also help connect our books with the sciences."
Gay Kolodzik, owner of Frugal Frigate children's bookstore in Redlands, Calif., says for those in the world of children's literature, a Common Core designation is a pretty big deal.
"When I read all the publisher's magazines that I read every day, if they say 'Meets Common Core,' instantly I go right to it and look through it and see if it's something that suits the store and suits the people that shop here," Kolodzik says. "It gets my attention quickly."
The Guardian Princesses face no evil stepmothers or dangerous spinning wheels. Instead, Vinnea leads a life of social activism against unnaturally modified foods.
"These fruits and vegetables are not natural," Vinnea accuses a villainous gulavore in the book. "They contain a dangerous chemical, admit it. ... Dolo, you've ruined our garden in order to feed the people this unhealthy food."
Glass slippers might be impractical for getting the job done, but just because she's working hard doesn't mean Princess Vinnea can't wear shoes that are practical and pretty.
Throwing a perfect holiday party is no simple task. Do you want a swanky cocktail party, an intimate dinner party, or a huge New Year's bash? A whole host of decisions revolve around the menu — and don't forget your gluten-free or vegan invitees. Then there's the decor (is tinsel too much?), the music (festive, but not cheesy) and, of course, the guest list.
To offer some inspiration for a memorable holiday gathering, NPR's Rachel Martin chats with Suzette Field, author of A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction. A party promoter based in London, Field has compiled a guide to literature's most famous and fabulous hosts and their soirees — from Plato and Proust to Jay Gatsby and Winnie the Pooh.
On deciding which parties to include in her book
I wanted the mix to be as eclectic as possible. I didn't want to deal with all 19th-century balls, so I wanted to sort of have Proust rubbing shoulders with [Winnie the] Pooh and to make sure I went as far back as medieval Japan and as far forwards as Jackie Collins and Hollywood Wives.
On Jay Gatsby's legendary parties, from The Great Gatsby
Well, of course we're going back to 1926 and the age of Prohibition, and Jay Gatsby threw a series of parties in the hope that his girlfriend from the past, Daisy, would drop in. And Jay throws these lavish parties, and puts on a large midnight feast. He serves cocktails that people have forgotten and that the younger guests have never even tasted before. And they don't know who the host is, and he sort of stays in the background.
On whether hosts can have fun at their own parties
Compare [Gatsby] to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, and you're looking at Inez Bavardage — she's the natural hostess, and she kind of makes sure everybody forms conversational bouquets, which is just wonderful imagery in terms of how parties congregate into these little circles of friends, while she flits about and plays the hostess. So some people enjoy it, some people don't.
On the guests at the Bavardages' parties
All the men are white and over the age of 35 and have a certain bank balance. And all the women, they come in two varieties: they're either social X-rays or lemon tarts, and the social X-rays are being slowly supplanted by the lemon tarts, who are shapelier versions of the wives [of the men] ... A social X-ray is a woman who is emaciated and normally married to a high-net-worth man and is kind of trying desperately to hang on to her looks ... It's not a particularly appealing description, but it certainly is a humorous one.
On how to approach a party which, like the Bavardages', might not sound like fun
The advice I would give is probably just to keep the conversation light and fluffy. Otherwise, the one piece of advice I learned out of looking at the Bavardage's party was more the idea that there are these conversational bouquets and at one moment, Sherman McCoy is kind of ostracized from the bunch, and he describes the agony he's going through at being a social outcast.
And I'm sure we all kind of can recognize that moment, where we're somehow left out of the party and we can't quite talk to anyone, or when we first arrive at a party, and waiting for our friend to arrive. And I think the really good thing that Inez fails to do at this point but one should always do is to look out and make sure that this doesn't happen to any of your guests, and to just kind of go, "Oh!" and introduce them to someone. Because that's what parties are about, end of the day, is everybody getting to meet new friends and start new lives, and all the things that parties can bring.
On the best bash she found in her research
My favorite party is [Mikhail] Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and it's Satan's Rout. And he basically allows all the denizens of hell one night off eternal damnation once a year and chooses a different city in which to host it in, and he chooses Moscow. And Satan is the perfect host — all the women who attend are naked, but you get this cream, beforehand, delivered to you. And if you put it on, you look the most beautiful you've ever looked. So I think, with that, all of us would be quite keen to partake. And all the men are in black tie, and there's a full symphony orchestra, and fountains of cognac ... Actually, I recreated this party for my book launch in London.
On the appeal of more subdued affairs
Dinner parties are perfect. If you think back to something like Plato's Symposium, which is one of the most beautiful parties where not much happens and everyone gathers together and talks about love, and each person comes forwards with a different conversation. So, you know, that's my ideal dinner party. I don't need anything else, and it's one of my favorite literary parties, which isn't at all excessive and very easy to recreate.
In a surprise move, the Indian Supreme Court this week ruled to uphold a ban on gay sex. The ban, instituted under British colonial authority more than 150 years ago, had been repealed in 2009. With its reinstatement, the law, also known as Section 377, once again makes homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In order to understand the effects of this law, we turn again to literature to acquaint us with the lives the ruling touches. Below, Manil Suri recommends reading a book that brings light to the secret lives of many men in India, and Ruth Franklin remembers a literary icon brought low by a similar law more than a century ago.
This Week's Must Read
Love in a Different Climate: Men Who Have Sex with Men in India, by Jeremy Seabrook
To understand the significance of a law like Section 377, one has to first have an understanding about the people it affects. Indian society is amazingly diverse in terms of class, language, caste, skin color, religion, among other factors, and its homosexual population is no different.
It sounds like a daunting task to get all of that into one book — but Jeremy Seabrook did it in his brilliant book, Love in a Different Climate: Men Who Have Sex with Men in India. He went to a park that's a popular cruising spot in Delhi, a place that attracts men from almost every background. And he started to interview the people he met there.
Through these conversations, Seabrook constructs a picture of gay India that is at once vivid and heart-breaking. The men talk about their physical needs, their emotional aspirations, the loneliness of discovering their attraction to other men.
Seabrook is a talented writer, and the book brings out the innocence and aching sweetness of its subjects. Several have left behind their families and villages in their quest. Many are married — a few have reached open accommodations with their spouses, but the majority lead double lives. The section where they describe their feelings of shame and guilt, and the terrible effects that their clandestine behavior has on their wives, is perhaps the most harrowing.
"I do not even like to touch her," says one young man. "She becomes wild and then she weeps. I cannot tell her the fault is not hers, but mine."
These are the kinds of lives that Section 377 forces men into — along with the unfortunate women they might marry. Rather than a healthy, loving relationship, men are forced to express and appease their same-sex attraction solely through sex.
Indian society has been slow to change in this respect, so even though this book was written in 1999, it's as relevant as ever. Clearly, India deserves better.
Author and mathematician Manil Suri is a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His latest novel, The City of Devi, revolves around a bisexual love triangle set in India.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
In a surprise decision this week, India's Supreme Court ruled to uphold a law dating from the colonial era that makes gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Though it is rarely enforced, activists believe that the law is far more than a technicality — it presents a serious barrier to equality.
Oscar Wilde would have agreed. The Irish novelist, playwright, and bon vivant is probably the most famous person ever prosecuted for being gay. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is usually remembered as a charming fable about the folly of vanity, in which a young man, enthralled by the beautiful portrait an artist has painted of him, offers to sell his soul to remain forever young. But its homoerotic implications got Wilde into serious trouble.
Though the novel never tells us that Dorian is gay, the painter is clearly in love with him. And readers had no trouble picking up on the book's allusions to what Wilde would famously call "the love that dare not speak its name."
After an early version was deemed morally offensive, Wilde made some revisions. But his editing was insufficient: passages from the novel were read as evidence in his trial. Convicted of "gross indecency," Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. He died only a few years later, at the age of 46.
"There is nothing that art cannot express," Wilde wrote in one of the many aphorisms from Dorian Gray that would one day become famous. His artistic freedom came at a terrible cost.
With laws like India's still on the books in more than 70 countries, someone else could have to pay it again.
Ruth Franklin is a book critic. She is currently hard at work on a biography of Shirley Jackson.
In his youth, Nelson Mandela cut a dashing figure. He was a revolutionary, an outlaw — by the early 1960s, he was living underground. And he had a nickname to match: he was known as the Black Pimpernel.
The nickname came from the titular character in The Scarlet Pimpernel, a novel set in the French Revolution. Like the original Pimpernel, Mandela was a master of disguise. He'd appear suddenly to deliver a fiery speech, then disappear — as Mandela himself put it, "to the annoyance of the police and to the delight of the people."
Mandela's outlaw years ended eventually. He was imprisoned for decades and went on to become a distinguished elder statesman, beloved around the world; he died on Dec. 5. But it was that young, revolutionary Mandela, the man charged with treason and hunted by the police, whom Mbali Vilakazi had in mind when she wrote an elegy for Mandela — and called it "The Black Pimpernel."
Vilakazi, a South African poet who won last year's Poetry Games on Morning Edition, spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne about her poem. In it, she calls on the next generation of South African leaders to "make [their] own meaning" of struggles yet to come.
On the origin of Mandela's nickname
The Black Pimpernel was a derogatory term referencing a fictional character. And that is how he came to be known by the security forces while they were looking for him. And it charts how he donned various disguises to elude the security forces and, in fact, how much he enjoyed it. Because he writes about, you know, how he would use his tickeys [coin currency] to call media to talk about how sloppy the police were in trying to find him.
On Mandela's wide-reaching impact
What has been interesting for me is the response of just ordinary South Africans, and that speaks to how deeply ingrained he was in the fiber of our homes. We grew up with this man. He is ingrained in our personal stories, too. So the fact that he was away, I think, only served to enlarge the idea of him and what the country was going through, even though we were young — because I was young.
On capturing Mandela — and his legacy — in a poem
Where there are no easy answers, there will be no easy poems, and there is so much that has been said and written about him, and there's so much that I feel has also been reduced in relation to him. So for me, I wanted to begin where I stand. I wanted to look back, but I wanted to also begin with a firm footing in the present, looking toward the future, because as that generation that comes after all of what has happened that has enabled even me to be here and have a voice, it is now up to us.
The Black Pimpernel
This hour upon the horizon is its own song; a dirge
But this is not the hour of yesterday
This is not the time for tears
We have our work to do.
And we have been shown:
Wind of life blown without roots
Into exile and iron fire grieving
Blood and shackled love
And those other things —
Those that remain undone
We have always been reaching
Before the smoke machines
And statues of bronze, and invention
Before martyr and metaphor
Before the truth, and the lies
And surface scraped clean
There were regular swoops on your Orlando home then.
There were the workman's blue overalls and the Mazzawati tea glasses
And there was you —
The Black Pimpernel.
The fearsome shadow of purposeful stride
An AK-47 grip on necessity
A chauffeur's hat and your pocketful of 'tickeys'
You have always had your way.
Black fist of words raised beyond the precipice
You bore the burden:
Hammer, rock and
The lime quarry in your eyes
They say it affected your sight.
'I am not a saint' you said.
A man who seeks the hands of children in the crowd.
The terrorist and the statesman
The paradox comes home here
Where we remain.
Where a daughter will remember how she could not touch you
Behind the glass
Behind your smile
Mortal, man, one amongst many
You led yourself and lead us to the same.
Of what you could not give
We will remember that you did not take.
We will make our own meaning.
This hope, it belongs
It is ours
We claim it.
This is the hour of tomorrow.
And if we have stood on the shoulders of giants,
We are giants still
And giants, we will come again
Because we are all Nelson Mandela
And because the struggle continues.
"The Black Pimpernel" by Mbali Vilakazi. Copyright 2013 by Mbali Vilakazi.
We all know James Bond had a hankering for martinis. But it looks like the international spy threw back far more Vespers, his martini of choice, than was good for him.
Dr. Indra Neil Guha, a liver specialist, and his colleagues at Nottingham University Hospital in England spent a year poring over Ian Fleming's James Bond books and tabulating how many drinks the suave spy drank a day.
Their conclusion? Even just steadying his Walther PPK might have been difficult for Bond.
On average, Bond consumed about 45 drinks a week, or six to seven a day, the authors wrote Thursday in the Christmas edition of BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal. That's way more than the amount considered risky for men by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
It wasn't just chronic drinking that roughed up Bond's liver. He also went on some mean benders. In Casino Royale, Bond knocked back nearly 20 drinks before going on a high-speed car chase, getting in a wreck and then spending two weeks in the hospital. "We hope that this was a salutary lesson," the authors wrote dryly.
"This man clearly consumed what are considered to be harmful amounts of alcohol," says psychiatrist Peter Martin, who directs the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. "There are data that show that drinking like this, about 100 grams of alcohol a day, is highly likely to be associated with liver cirrhosis and also cognitive deficits." It would also be likely to increase risks for depression and sexual dysfunction, conditions that would not be very Bondian.
But Martin says, Bond's habit might not have been quite as bad it first seemed. For starters, the recommended maximum number of drinks is calculated for the average man, weighing about 154 pounds. "Bond was 6 feet 2 inches, or maybe 3 inches, tall, and probably weighed close to 200 pounds. So that would mitigate the numbers."
Martin, an admitted Bond fan, adds, "You have to remember, this was the '50s. People drank more and smoked more." And Bond was hardly alone. "Think about how much a person like Winston Churchill drank," Martin says. "He drank a lot! But yet he ran the effort of the western nations in the world war. So this is not unprecedented."
Duke neuropsychologist Scott Swartzwelder doesn't buy the Bond myth. He thinks all those Vesper martinis over the years would have hurt Bond's career.
"Bond isn't going to be downing three or four martinis, and then winning a fight with five guys," Swartzwelder tells Shots. "He might be starting the fights, but he's not winning them."
The old saw that every drink kills lots of brain cells isn't true, Swartzwelder says. "But chronic drinking does damage neurons and brain circuits over time," he says. "And there are parts of the brain that you don't want to damage if you're an international spy."
First off, chronic alcohol abuse can injure the cerebellum, the brain region involved with coordination, Swartzwelder says. "It allows you to string together a series of athletic movements."
"If Bond is pickling his cerebellum on a regular basis, he's not going to be able to learn fight sequences, jump through windows and shoot at the same time or even learn those dance sequences with his girlfriend," he says.
The second brain region damaged by years of heavy drinking is the hippocampus, Swartzwelder says. Shaped like a little sea horse, the hippocampus is dedicated to forming new memories.
"It is very sensitive to the effects of alcohol," he says. "Bond wouldn't be able to remember all those names, card numbers at poker games or even all his girlfriends' phones numbers if his hippocampus wasn't working correctly. "
"Believe me," Swartzwelder says. "Bond wouldn't have been doing the things that we he was doing in those movies if he drank as much as the study found."
And Swartzwelder thinks the authors of the BMJ study did a pretty good job of accurately calculating the spy's drinking habit.
"The authors astutely counted the martinis as three alcohol units," or 1.5 drinks, Swartzwelder says. "Most college students — even many people — don't know what one drink is. So they underestimate their alcohol intake. A wineglass filled up more than a third of the way, that's more than one drink."
Plus, he says, people have to be careful with beer these days because many of them have almost as much alcohol per volume as wine.
"I went out for a beer with a young friend of mine, who's all into all these fancy beers, and I was drunk after drinking just one," Swartzwelder says. "Then I realized, the beer had more than 8 percent alcohol in it. It was like I was drinking a pint of wine."
Update Dec. 13 at 3:12 p.m. ET: All Things Considered spoke with Dr. Patrick Davies, one of the study's researchers, about the findings. You can listen to the audio by clicking 'play' above.