When my sister was younger, one of her favourite movies was Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Based off of Meg Cabot’s bestselling Princess Diaries book series, the film follows Princess Mia of (fictional) Genovia as she prepares for a hasty wedding in order to keep her throne. It employs multiple rom-com tropes (“person leaves fiance at altar for someone they just met” and “enemies to lovers”, as well as the adventure trope of “evil uncle plots to steal throne”), so I never enjoyed the movie as much as my sister, but I always wondered how accurate the movie was compared to the book series it was based on. When I came across a set of Princess Diaries books at the library, I was eager to find out. Let’s just say that Mia ending up with Chris Pine’s character is the least of the differences between the book series and the second Princess Diaries movie.
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot:
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot consists of a compilation of diary entries written by Princess Mia Thermopolis Renaldo, a teenager who discovers that she is the heir to the throne of the small European principality of Genovia. Through her diary, Mia details her adventures as she deals with paparazzi, lessons in royal etiquette from her grandmother, having a crush on her best friend’s brother, her poor math grades, and a romance between Mia’s mother and Mia’s algebra teacher. It’s a lot for a teenager to handle, but Mia’s awkward, nerdy, and passionate personality guides her through it while also making her experiences relatable to young readers.
To put it simply, I LOVED the Princess Diaries series! Mia is the same age as I am in the first two books, and as a result I’ve been able to relate to her like no other character before. (Yes, I know that Mia was created by a middle-aged woman, but that doesn’t change how I feel.) Love of writing? Check! Stark height difference compared to classmates? Check! Nerdy and passionate about global issues? Check! Failing algebra? Hopefully not-check!
Besides Mia’s personality, I also enjoyed the whole “royalty” element in the series. Fancy dresses, special privileges, revered status- the mere mention of royalty in a book almost guarantees that I’ll read it, and the Princess Diaries were no exception. Sure, it wasn’t always fun and games for Mia at times (years of etiquette training, paparazzi, fake friends, having to choose between her royal duties and her friends, etc), but I was still invested the whole way through. It was also interesting to see these elements of royal life playing out in Greenwich Village rather than a royal palace, which gave Mia a chance to still experience a relatively normal life. When her “normal life” crosses paths with her “royal life”, the resulting shenanigans create funny, emotional, and interesting plots that breathe life into the overused “royalty” and “teen drama” tropes.
The Princess Diaries series concluded in 2015, seeing Mia marry her long-time boyfriend Michael(who happens to be one of my current literary crushes) and assume the throne of Genovia. Though Mia’s diary entries cease to reappear in book form after that, fans of Mia need not worry: Mia, her family, and the country of Genovia make plenty of appearances in the Princess Diaries spinoff series From The Notebooks Of A Middle-School Princess.
From The Notebooks Of A Middle-School Princess series by Meg Cabot
Aimed at tweens rather than teenagers, this series introduces readers to the Princess Diaries universe through the eyes of Olivia, Mia’s newly discovered half-sister. (Click here and scroll down to the bottom for a more detailed synopsis)
Like Mia, Olivia relates her experiences as a new royal to a diary(or “notebook” in Olivia’s case), taking readers along with her as she deals with a snobby cousin, a crush of her own, becoming an aunt to royal twins, and much more. Readers are introduced to characters from the Princess Diaries universe in a way that makes them seem brand new, and gradually prepares them for the transition from Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess to the Princess Diaries.
Although the reading level is targeted towards people in, well, middle school, I ended up liking this series just the same. Olivia is a sweet character that I loved to root for, and I was again struck by how much I was able to relate to Olivia’s coming-of-age experiences. It was also interesting to see familiar characters from the Princess Diaries through a new lens. When I was first introduced to the original series, I thought that it would be cool to have Mia as a friend, but thanks to this new series, I want her as my older sister, too!
Now that you’ve been brought up to speed on the Princess Diaries universe, I can return to discussing the Princess Diaries movies. Like most book-to-screen adaptations, many of the details that make up the Princess Diaries books have been changed in favour of catering to a wider audience. Some changes, like casting Julie Andrews as Grandmere, are understandable, even if the original character’s personality was lost in translation because of it. Other changes, however, like switching the setting from New York City to San Francisco, do not. Regardless, despite the inaccuracies, the first Princess Diaries movie still contains the essence of the book series. The second movie, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, shares only a title and a few of the main characters, as it’s a brand-new story that has no plot origin and removes any growth for sequels that involve source material from the book series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily a bad movie, but Princess Diaries fans are sure to be disappointed if they’re looking for a accurate adaptation. Mia doesn’t even end up with Michael in that movie! That hurts the most, seeing as how great of a couple they were in the books.
For all its flaws, the Princess Diaries movies aren’t the worst book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. (That prize belongs to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians movies… the less said about them, the better.) Sometimes writers choose to adapt the base material for their own purposes when working on a book adaptation, and while I do understand that they’re trying to do what will earn them the most profit, book adaptations constantly strike out with book fans because of it. I shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers, though; majority of Anne With An E isn’t canon(true to the original work), but still remains one of my favourite shows. I think that in order for a book adaptation to be successful, the writers need to find the right mixture of old and new material. If you copy everything exactly from the source material, audiences will lose interest because they’ve already seen this story before. Change too much of the story, and audiences won’t recognize what’s going on. The Princess Diaries movies missed the mark for me because too much of the material from the series was changed; I couldn’t always see the story I knew, which disappointed me. No matter what you do, you can’t please everyone; I only wish that writers and producers would at least attempt to stay true to source material if they’re going to all the trouble of adapting a book in the first place.
I know I missed the hype during the Princess Diaries book series’ heyday, so do any of you have comments on or opinions about the series? What are your thoughts on book adaptations? If you have any feedback about my post or my blog, I’d appreciate hearing what you have to say. Thank you for reading this post.