by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

Silda Spitzer, Princess Diana, beautiful young women who married for love and entered, as if through a magic wardrobe door, treacherous territories: Their lives are evoked by a new book, "The Commoner," by John Burnham Schwartz.

Set in Japan, it calls itself a historical novel, but reads like commentary on current events.  The narrator, a young girl from a stable, loving home is pursued by the charming, accomplished, determined Crown Prince of Japan. Eventually, she agrees to marry him — and enters a bizarre world of ritual and power, so intense that, for instance, no one can even look directly at a member of the Royal Family. 

And that, at least at first, is what the Crown Princess misses most — real contact with anyone.  She learns too late that the seduction that lured her into the family, the structure devoted to perpetuating power, is a form of living death.  She discovers that she has given up what she calls her country to enter another she doesn't know that saps her humanity, her free will. Her only function is to deliver a son to perpetuate the lineage.

When we think of Princess Diana, we thing of our own childhood dreams of riding off with Prince Charming. I bought it. And I got lucky. Certainly my twin granddaughters are swept up by the Disney Princess machine.

Even our soon-to-be 3-year-old grandson picked the Princess table decorations for his mother's 34th birthday party. Why? "Because," he explained patiently, "Mommy's a girl."

And we can't help but think of currents events. The narrator of "The Commoner," now Empress, in hopes of making her son happy, convinces the accomplished young women he loves to marry him. The bride is miserable. Is this a novel? Or a commentary on our current state of affairs? Are we complicit in perpetuating the Princess Myth?

I think back to the morning I woke my daughter years ago, to watch a fairy tale wedding broadcast round the world, taking place in real time with real people in London. We sat in our PJ's, cross-legged on the floor — bedazzled by the myth of happily ever after. I was complicit. 

But I understand more now — at my age — than I did then. I have survived a lot of life-stuff. We all have. And we should encourage those who come after to choose what is really best for each of them.

"The Commoner" got my juices going. It's a fine example of a cautionary tale and a great read.

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