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The Paper Bag Princess

Page history last edited by Marie Lewis 9 years, 3 months ago








The Paper Bag Princess

Written by Robert N. Munsch

Illustrated by Michael Martchenko



The Paper Bag Princess,  written by Robert Munsch is a classic fairytale with a twist. In the story Munsch reverses the roles of the damsel in distress and the prince charming.  Since its publication in 1980, the book has been reprinted 52 times, sold over three million copies, and has been translated into dozens of languages.    The illustrations extend and expand the story line created through rich language, working together to establish the mood, setting, characters, and theme of the story.



Textual Elements



In The Paper Bag Princess, Princess Elizabeth is like any other princess, living the high life and dreaming about her prince charming, Ronald.  When a dragon storms in on Elizabeth’s castle, he takes her prince away and burns her castle and all of her belongings. All she is left with is a paper bag for her outfit and a trail to find where the dragon and Ronald went.  Elizabeth sets off on a journey to outsmart the dragon and win her prince back. At the end of the story, Elizabeth is faced with the decision to stay with her ungrateful prince or break the societal norms and be Miss Independent.


The Paper Bag Princessfollows a direct plot line, identifying the conflict early and concluding with a decisive resolution.  The progressive plot revolves around two central conflicts: self against other, in which the struggle is between the main character, and others, and self against society, in which the main character combats societal pressures or norms (Galda 11).  The main character, Princess Elizabeth is able to positively conquer the dragon, outsmarting him with her resourceful wits, and rescuing Prince Ronald.  Princess Elizabeth also conquers an even larger challenge, combating the social norms, not marrying Prince Ronald, and calling him a bum.  Princess Elizabeth challenges the traditional fairytale plot where the Prince rescues the Princess, and proves that beauty can be more than skin deep.


The reader can assume that the story takes place in some medieval place. At the beginning of the story, the Princess is at her castle, but throughout the story she travels through the medieval land to hunt down the dragon and Ronald.  On her journey to find them she travels through “burnt forests” (Munsch 5).  After her long journey, Elizabeth travels to the dragon’s cave, where Ronald is trapped.  Elizabeth sends the dragon on tasks that take place around the world, leading the reader to believe that this story took place on earth. This story would fall under the genre of fantasy, because the actions that occur throughout the story could not happen in a realistic setting. 



There are only three characters in the Paper Bag Princess. Princess Elizabeth is the main character and protagonist of the story. She has the important role of defeating the antagonist in the story and making things right. She is a very dynamic character in the sense that her views and ideas change throughout the story.  Elizabeth is a very stereotypical princess who is obsessed with all princess things, such as nice clothes, and big castle, and a handsome prince.  Throughout the story her castle, clothing, and prince are taken from her. Her journey makes her not only find her prince, but what she really wants in life. She breaks the norms of how a princess is normally portrayed, and Munsch gives her the power in the story to be the hero of the story.


The Dragon is the obvious antagonist in the story. He storms in on Elizabeth and Ronald, ruining her castle and taking Ronald from her. He is a static character because he does not change throughout the story. He plays the typical dragon role, by dominating in the beginning of the story but eventually being outsmarted. 


Prince Ronald is not the typical prince that most readers imagine.  Instead of doing the noble deeds that most princes are expected to do, he is the one who needs rescuing. Munsch does a wonderful job of switching up the stereotypical roles of the prince and princess, making Prince Ronald the one who needs help from the princess! Prince Ronald is a static character throughout the story, and the reader can come to this conclusion by both the text and pictures.  At the beginning of the story he is illustrated as a snooty, uninterested boy. At the end of the story, the author suggests that he is displeased and dissatisfied with Elizabeth and her actions.


Point Of View


The story is written in the third person point of view. The author creates a story in which the reader knows everything that is going on except for the characters thoughts and ideas.  He uses pronouns such as “he”, “she” and “they.”

“Oh, yes, said the dragon, and he took a huge, deep breath and breathed out so much fire that he burnt up fifty forests” (Munsch 11) shows the Dragons actions from Munsch’s third person view point.


The Paper Bag Princess addresses numerous themes, reversing traditional gender roles, exploring the theme that beauty is more than skin deep, and providing a different meaning to happily ever after.  Typical fairytales often portray women as weak characters waiting to be rescued by handsome princes.  This clever and succinct picture book illustrates non-stereotypical portrayals of princes and princesses however, portraying Princess Elizabeth as a strong and wise young woman, conquering a fire breathing dragon and rescuing a prince.    The ending provides a different happily ever after in which Princess Elizabeth is able to take care of herself and does not need to marry Prince Ronald to live happily ever after. 

Prince Ronald challenges the definition of beauty, insulting Princess Elizabeth due to her tangled hair, odor of ashes, and dirty old paper bag she wears when rescuing him.  Prince Ronald’s shallow and narcissistic character is shown as he judges Princess Elizabeth based on her outward appearance.  The story also shows the danger of pride, as the dragon and prince face downfall.  The dragon is tricked by Princess Elizabeth’s wit and intelligence, and Prince Robert is called a bum by Princess Elizabeth.




Artistic Elements 


The illustrations enhance the story greatly.  The character’s feeling and actions are portrayed at a richer and broader level with the help of the drawings.  The artwork is representational because each illustration enhances what the author said through the writing. One of the first illustrations portrays Elizabeth’s feelings through hearts around her head, and on another page, the Dragon’s energy and power is shown by an extreme amount of smoke. The media of art appears to be a mix between water color and pencil drawing.  The illustrator does not make use of the gutter, and there is no interaction between the reader and the illustrations. The use of gutters also creates sequential images, where each image illustrates what is being written on the page next to it. Because of this, there is no drama created with each page turn.  The illustrations solely illustrate what is being written about, creating little suspense.  



Analysis and Critique



The Paper Bag Princess is a quick and easy read.  There is not much substance to the story and what is being illustrated and written about is the basis of the story. The story does address a certain plot that is common to many fairytales but reverses the typical roles that one would expect.  Munsch’s background with storytelling is the reason for the role reversals.  He was so used to telling stories that portrayed typical prince and princess roles and he decided it was time for a change (Galda). Although this book as simple, the issues and themes addressed in the story are important for many young readers. It takes the emphasis off the ideas that money and materials buy happiness, that a girl must be a damsel in distress in order to find her prince charming, and happily ever after means being with prince charming. These themes addressed throughout the story are portrayed in a light hearted and brief explanation.  At the end of the story, the reader sees Elizabeth running off into the sunset by herself, showing that her life does go on.

Munsch’s literally work is not fabulous, but the simple and straightforward tale encourages readers to break societal norms, and it also addresses deeper thought into the stereotypes that folklores usually portray. 





Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess.  Illus. Michael Martchenko.  Buffalo: Annick Press, 1980




Galda, Cullinan, Sipe. Literature and the Child (7th Edition). California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2010, 2006.

The Official Robert Munsch Website. Web. 14 Dec. 2009. http://www.robertmunsch.com/books.cfm?bookid=27.








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