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King Charles III is a peace-loving man of the people. He is also clumsy, elitist and not entirely sure of what he’s doing. But that’s all right, because he’s our king, and therefore he’s brilliant, because being British is about being great (and laughably, horrifically, posh). This is the message being drummed into the nation’s little people in a slew of newly released books ahead of Saturday’s coronation of the monarch formerly known as the Prince of Wales.
The lavish, pomp-filled ceremony — which could be costing the taxpayer as much as $125 million (we don’t know the real figure, as the British government refuses to comment) — comes as Britons struggle with a worsening cost-of-living crisis. But who cares about that, really? Hooray for the king of England!
There are at least a dozen new children’s titles centering on King Charles adorning the shelves of bookstores up and down the country, including innocuous hide-and-seek and pull-the-flap books searching for either Charles’ crown, which seems to go missing quite easily, or the king himself. There are also royal updates to household names like “Peppa Pig” and “Mr. Men and Little Miss,” which see the world’s favorite hog gleefully anticipate the “corry-nation” and a cast of characters pull out all the stops for a gala ball banquet for the new king.
“One loves being royal,” Peppa Pig tells her friends on the playground after they have all had turns being crowned king or queen and getting a chance to sit on a throne.
One also loves being British, it would seem.
“God Save the King: A Guide to the National Anthem” says it celebrates all things British, including “our unrivaled ability to form a queue.” Inside, people are shown having street parties, toasting the king and waving British flags. In “Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been? I’ve Been to London to Visit the King” (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the classic), a gray cat is pictured dashing through the sights of London, from Big Ben to the Globe Theatre, with either a camera round its neck or a small Union Jack flag in one of its paws. The feline describes the spots of London with enormous enthusiasm, saying the lions guarding Nelson’s Column are “proud” and the king’s guard band plays “with pride.” As for the coronation, the puss is blown away. “It’s a magical scene.”
Even Eeyore, the hapless, bedraggled donkey friend of Winnie the Pooh, is transformed by being near such greatness, as he trots beside royal horses at the coronation. “Never before had Eeyore looked so grand. Gone was his normal slightly sad and soggy plod,” we are told.
“The King’s Hats” shows a gormless King Charles wrestling with his various duties and identities. It begins with Charles thinking that his crown — and with it, the book seems to hint, his new role of king — is uncomfortable and heavy. (“His dear mama had worn it well; on her it looked just right.”) Clad in a diaphanous pink dressing gown, his wife, Camilla, the queen consort, appears and tells him, “Do not worry, dear, I know your job is new, but go and find your Happy Place and work out what to do.” Charles then dons a helmet to climb aboard a lifeboat, a wide-brimmed rain hat to visit farmers, a cap to comfort patients in a hospital and a hairnet to walk through a factory, where the workers are piping the cream into cakes decorated with, of course, the red-and-blue Union Jack. Eventually, he gets the hang of his bejeweled new headgear, guided by some encouragement from his gardener, Tom, who reassures him, “Kings are brave.” Here we are introduced to another leitmotif running through the coronation books: Charles is different from common folk but needs to engage with them in order to do his job.
In the same vein, but covering very different anatomy, is “The King’s Pants,” the male version of the enormously popular book by the same author called “The Queen’s Knickers.” On these pages we are introduced to all the underwear that Charles owns, from the organic pants made of Welsh wool and Scottish oats (in case you were wondering, they are edible and are to be used in case of emergencies) to his “meeting the people” pants, his “war pants,” his “peace pants” and, of course, his “coronation pants,” which feature five royal portraits, including one of Elizabeth I, the Tudor queen. “The King cannot be crowned without these,” we are told. But all is soon torn asunder when Charles’ pants get mixed up in the mail and end up — gasp! — in the homes of common folk. Confused members of the public emerge from their small, Victorian terraced houses, scratching their heads in confusion while holding on to the underwear. Luckily, MI5 manages to find them and “thoroughly washes” them before returning them to the king. Phew.
Reading the books, which also include children-friendly biographies of Charles and a “Rainbow Magic” special edition with a character named “Charles the Coronation Fairy,” who is depicted as a young boy juggling golden orbs, I was struck by their projection of a certain kind of Britishness. This is a country where its layfolk are forelock-tugging, deferential and tradition-loving. It is multicultural but only when it comes to those on the streets cheering on the king and queen as they ride down The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace on coronation day in a gilt-laden carriage. This is a country that believes in glory, that reveres a family that represents a country that once ruled the world through trade and mass exploitation. There are no regrets, no inclusion and, most markedly, no change.
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