The Death of a “Disney” Princess


As young girls grow up they look up to the ideal Disney Princess, whether that is Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White etc. All these have princesses survive adversity by being beautiful, fragile and have a handsome knight to rescue them. This imagine stayed with me while reading Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. It was the fairy tale plot structure that Disney follows and the image of a woman cursed in a tower, singing. Both of them screamed Disney.


I have re-read it several times since my original reading and the picture of a Disney princess kept forming. However, I have to applaud Tennyson for giving me an ending I did not see coming. I wonder if Tennyson wrote this with the original folklore in mind? Was that why magic, the curses and the knights are involved? Or, what was Tennyson’s influence while writing The Lady of Shalott?


Did anyone else notice the similarities to the Disney princess and/or the fairy tale?





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10 Responses to The Death of a “Disney” Princess

  1. npelletier says:

    I find it really interesting that you linked Tennyson to Disney. To me Tennyson was writing with the images and ideas of original folklore and legends due to the time period, he was a poet during the Romantic Era so it only seems natural that he would focus his topic on a romantic subject. However I cannot make the connection between Tennyson and Disney for myself because the overall story is too sad, especially with an unhappy ending. This is very “un-Disney-esqe”. Even in a movie like Tangled by Disney where it seems almost as if they are going to end it sadly, at the very last second the happy ending wins out. However that is a very interesting way of looking at this poem, perhaps it could have been the inspiration for all the Disney princess movies.

  2. kirstymcg says:

    Great post! I always love connecting literature to pop culture because it provides an interesting comparison.

    I must admit, I also had the image of a Disney princess in my head whilst reading. Although, like you said, the ending is somewhat surprising and unlike that of a Disney story I think the set up of the Lady of Shallot was similar to that of Disney princesses where she is forced to overcome the curse that has been put on her, which is a common theme in Disney movies. I think the depiction of the character is also similar to old Disney movies like Snow White, where the main female is seen as vulnerable and needing to be saved or in search of a male character. I think Tennyson actually takes this characterization a step further with the ending where her vulnerability is magnified because she cannot survive in the external world. I think that Disney movies now have tried to move past that female stereotype of vulnerability, however the classic Disney films definitely portray their princesses as vulnerable and I still think that Tennyson’s character emulates that particular quality of a Disney princess.

    • stephaniestahl says:

      I really enjoyed both this post and this particular comment! I also pictured a sort of fairytale situation, and the fact that you mention above that she is overcoming a curse is really a good point. I guess that would be like Shrek! Which isn’t a Disney movie, but it’s still the same idea 🙂
      Thanks for this post and comment! I love Disney, it’s great to see that many of us are thinking on the same page 🙂

  3. bkmilne says:

    As a huge Disney fanatic, I loved reading your post.
    I completely agree that throughout the reading of “The Lady of Shallot” I pictured the Disney movie “Tangled” in my head.

    It is interesting because Disney is pop culture, usually created out of original folklore. The famous Brother’s Grimm are well known for this folklore. At the same time as I pictured Disney, I understood (due to the time this was written), that the ending would not be the typical ‘happily ever after’.

  4. jddieu says:

    Hey Teresa,

    I have to say that “Lady of Shallot” did bring to mind fairytales, but not the Disney brand of it, more like the classic Germanic lore. This is because the Disney movies don’t really go for the kind of morbid ending whereas the Grimm Brothers often injected shots of darkness and brutality which I find more similar to Tennyson’s Shallot. But I guess you can’t blame Disney for choosing to twist the endings into happier, gore-free closures, although with today’s Hollywood industry of reimagining fairytales with a grittiness and dark realism, I wouldn’t be surprised if it would make a comeback soon. But yes, I did see similarities between “Lady of Shallot” and Rapunzel in particular, and at the end, when Lancelot finds the fair and peaceful and dead body of the lady, it reminded me of Sleeping Beauty.


  5. carlyferguson1 says:

    Ah this is great! I really enjoyed reading your post.

    I thought it was interesting that you had a Disney vision. It wasn’t until reading your blog post that i was able to envision maybe pieces of a Disney story too. If only Lady of Shallot could end the same way 🙂 However, I do believe like mention above, that since it was the Victorian era that Tennyson was writing in, it was merely just the time frame of unhappy endings for women. Sadly, for the life of me i cannot remember a Disney reference to compare the similarities! Great ideas though

  6. Athena G. Csuti says:

    I completely agree. Disney takes old stories (fairy tales, folklore, etc.) and turns them into child friendly films. However, what Disney does not change is the highly traditional role of gender. The Disney princesses we grew up with (I’m not too familiar with post-Lion King Disney) that appeared in the 20th century are really no different than women of the 19th century or even earlier. I personally find this unsettling as an adult because all the waves of feminism during the 20th century had no impact on the reinventing of these characters. All Disney princesses could more or less be based off of the Lady of Shallot (except unlike the lady these princesses all get a traditional happy ending).

    Disney also tends to cling to traditional views of race. There’s a lot of racist and sexist undercurrents in these children films.

  7. mrubling says:

    I agree with an earlier comment, I related this poem more to fairytales (what Disney movie are essentially based on) and not specifically Disney movies just because of the happy endings as opposed to Tennyson’s.
    Its hard to ignore the obvious fairytale motifs in the poem: a fair maiden trapped in a tower, endangered by a curse. We see this in The Lady of Shalott as she does not question or deny her domestic duties of weaving but suppresses her emotions. She must learn to cope with her confinement/isolation and internally conform to the societal constraints set upon her, becoming not only physically imprisoned but internally as well. And when she does attempt to escape after catching a glimpse of the manly knight Lancelot she meets her tragic end.
    Great post overall!

  8. jcdegner says:

    It’s really interesting that you should raise this point in your post, because I noticed the same thing myself while reading the poem! I thought that there were many characteristics, such as the mirror and the curse, that directly pointed to the definition of the fairy tale. This particular poem seems to relate more to the Grimm fairy tales than the Disney ones because of the surprising ending of the poem. In the majority of Disney Princess movies, the woman is saved by her prince and they get married. However, in this case, the Lady of Shalott ends up dying because of the curse, and does not get her man in the end. I am a huge Disney fan, and one of the only examples I can think of that is similar to this is “Pocahontas”. She does not get to stay with her ‘prince’ in the end either; instead, he is injured and forced to travel back to Europe. I have always found it interesting that even though many Disney movies are based on the original, rather gruesome fairy tales, very few of them have a lot in common with the original story. I suppose this is due to the fact that the majority of viewers want a happy ending in a love story, rather than a depressing one. Anyways, I really loved the point you raised in your post!

  9. mdrvodelic says:

    This is a really thoughtful and interesting post! I didn’t make the comparision to a Disney Princess at first but now that you mention it, the parallels are undeniable. As mentioned above, trademark fairytale events are present in the Lady of Shalott: the presence and breaking of a curse, finding the love of her life, being locked up in a tower etc.
    I think it is noteworthy to mention that usually Disney princesses portray a “damsel in distress” position and have to be saved by their prince. However the Lady of Shalott takes things into her own hands and breaks the curse herself to find the prince. That is a deviation from traditional fairytale themes because there is a bit of a reversal. Women being active and changing their own fate is not very common, usually it’s the prince that saves the day.
    Very cool post!

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