3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon, illustrated by Alex Cox

3 Dead Princes: An Anarchist Fairy Tale - Danbert Nobacon, Alex Cox

So, if any book review ever needed a soundtrack, it's this one. That, and this is pretty much the explanation why I picked it up: Political ideology wrapped up in fairy tale allegory isn't exactly my normal reading fare.


(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTjC6rxHz8g if the embed doesn't work)


Danbert Nobacon is one of the members of the British anarchist punk band Chumbawumba, which most people probably only know from the above song, but they've been around for over 30 years. He's the bald guy with the bullhorn in the video above btw. Anarchist punk doesn't even begin to describe them - they're anti-fascist, pro-feminist, pro gay rights and rather infamous. Notably, unlike many seminal punk bands, they're really good musicians too!


In one of my favourite stunts, they once took £70k from GM to use a song of theirs in a car ad, and gave it straight to an anti-GM lobby group :). Danbert himself is pretty famous for tipping a bucket of ice water over the head of the then Deputy Prime Minister during their performance of Tubthumping at the Brit Awards (think the Grammys) - a performance that also featured them changing the lyrics of the chorus to "New Labour sold out the dockers, and they'll sell out the rest of us".


Alex Cox is equally punk, but he's a film maker: If you're my age, you'll likely remember or at least heard of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, although he's taken to making avant garde/indie films since the 80's. They're quite a pair.


In any case, this is a book I picked up purely because I saw who the authors were, with almost no idea what the book would be about.


So the story itself, here's the blurb again:


Princess Stormy lives in a semi-detached castle with her family and a Fool. When an unhappy neighboring kingdom decides to invade, Stormy must go on her quest, meeting giant Cats, Mermangels, Giggle Monkeys, a Gricklegrack, and Flying Lizards on the way. Oh, and she kills three princes. But that's by accident, and anyway it's their own fault . . .


While it takes the form of a fairy tale, it satirises, subverts and inverts and converts it just as you might expect given the authors. Stormy (a nickname, she's actually Princess Alexandra) lives with her father the king and her stepmother, who is very much not evil. Alex is effectively set up to go on a quest for "an accidental adventure", with the Fool for company, and that's exactly what happens. On the way, as you'd expect, she makes new friends, new discoveries, and eventually returns home and saves the kingdom from invasion. And yes, there's the three princes. But it was totally their own fault.


It's clearly informed by typically British humour, like Monty Python and Douglas Adams, and in places it's very funny. While it purports to be an anarchist fairy tale, it's also a supremely feminist one, and if my daughters were of the age where they still instantly picked up and read things I handed them, they'd both be getting a copy. As they have regrettably passed that age, I'll still send them a recommendation and note they can borrow mine if they want.


The illustrations are fantastic, like a wild cross between Maurice Sendak and a little of the Tenniel Alice in Wonderland illustrations. I loved them, there's a couple I would buy as posters.


Finally, this is actually a serious little book, despite it's gleeful silliness. There's a very easy to read section at the end that lays out Anarchy as an ideology (despite the book itself touting "Ideas before ideology", Anarchy is of course an ideology itself). It talks about Kropotkin and evolution and symbiosis and cooperative behaviour between not just humans, but interspecies examples, and it's actually a pretty good intro.


Actually, I can't really decide what to rate this. The fairy tale itself, before reading the authors note, I think a 3. It's cute, and funny, but I think perhaps I didn't quite "get" it as much as I should have. Having read the note, I realised how much I was actually thinking about the story, and gave it another half star. And just writing this review, I'm thinking about it even more, and wondering if it shouldn't go up to a 4.


It's also a little hard to recommend. I think you'll know just from this review if it's something you would enjoy or not. All I know is, I did - even if I can't figure out how much!