Today’s fairy tale (from Andrew Lang’s Yellow Fairy Book) is a weird mashup of a traditional eastern European story with a dash of Greek myth (Persephone and Demeter) thrown in for good measure. The main motif is a young man who must tend a witch’s mare and foal despite her evil and tricksy attempts to thwart him. He accomplishes this task with the help of the animal kingdom, and is rewarded with the hand of a beautiful princess (natch)—the Flower Queen’s daughter. My favorite part is when the Flower Queen causes an impenetrable forest of flowers as high as the sky to grow up around her castle.
There’s a longer, stranger version of it here, which makes up for being WAY too long by employing such satisfying imagery as: a man who keeps two lions tied to his beard, magical fruit trees grown from the stolen seed of a woman who died after the theft, and an evil magician who rides around in a carriage drawn by owls.
Welcome to Friday, everyone. We made it. Let’s celebrate our good fortune with…
THE FLOWER QUEEN’S DAUGHTER
A young Prince was riding one day through a meadow that stretched for miles in front of him, when he came to a deep open ditch. He was turning aside to avoid it, when he heard the sound of someone crying in the ditch. He dismounted from his horse, and stepped along in the direction the sound came from. To his astonishment he found an old woman, who begged him to help her out of the ditch. The Prince bent down and lifted her out of her living grave, asking her at the same time how she had managed to get there.
‘My son,’ answered the old woman, ‘I am a very poor woman, and soon after midnight I set out for the neighbouring town in order to sell my eggs in the market on the following morning; but I lost my way in the dark, and fell into this deep ditch, where I might have remained for ever but for your kindness.’
Then the Prince said to her, ‘You can hardly walk; I will put you on my horse and lead you home. Where do you live?’
‘Over there, at the edge of the forest in the little hut you see in the distance,’ replied the old woman.
The Prince lifted her on to his horse, and soon they reached the hut, where the old woman got down, and turning to the Prince said, ‘Just wait a moment, and I will give you something.’ And she disappeared into her hut, but returned very soon and said, ‘You are a mighty Prince, but at the same time you have a kind heart, which deserves to be rewarded. Would you like to have the most beautiful woman in the world for your wife?’
‘Most certainly I would,’ replied the Prince.
So the old woman continued, ‘The most beautiful woman in the whole world is the daughter of the Queen of the Flowers, who has been captured by a dragon. If you wish to marry her, you must first set her free, and this I will help you to do. I will give you this little bell: if you ring it once, the King of the Eagles will appear; if you ring it twice, the King of the Foxes will come to you; and if you ring it three times, you will see the King of the Fishes by your side. These will help you if you are in any difficulty. Now farewell, and heaven prosper your undertaking.’ She handed him the little bell, and there disappeared hut and all, as though the earth had swallowed her up.
Then it dawned on the Prince that he had been speaking to a good fairy, and putting the little bell carefully in his pocket, he rode home and told his father that he meant to set the daughter of the Flower Queen free, and intended setting out on the following day into the wide world in search of the maid.
So the next morning the Prince mounted his fine horse and left his home. He had roamed round the world for a whole year, and his horse had died of exhaustion, while he himself had suffered much from want and misery, but still he had come on no trace of her he was in search of. At last one day he came to a hut, in front of which sat a very old man. The Prince asked him, ‘Do you not know where the Dragon lives who keeps the daughter of the Flower Queen prisoner?’
‘No, I do not,’ answered the old man. ‘But if you go straight along this road for a year, you will reach a hut where my father lives, and possibly he may be able to tell you.’
The Prince thanked him for his information, and continued his journey for a whole year along the same road, and at the end of it came to the little hut, where he found a very old man. He asked him the same question, and the old man answered, ‘No, I do not know where the Dragon lives. But go straight along this road for another year, and you will come to a hut in which my father lives. I know he can tell you.’
And so the Prince wandered on for another year, always on the same road, and at last reached the hut where he found the third old man. He put the same question to him as he had put to his son and grandson; but this time the old man answered, ‘The Dragon lives up there on the mountain, and he has just begun his year of sleep. For one whole year he is always awake, and the next he sleeps. But if you wish to see the Flower Queen’s daughter go up the second mountain: the Dragon’s old mother lives there, and she has a ball every night, to which the Flower Queen’s daughter goes regularly.’
So the Prince went up the second mountain, where he found a castle all made of gold with diamond windows. He opened the big gate leading into the courtyard, and was just going to walk in, when seven dragons rushed on him and asked him what he wanted?
The Prince replied, ‘I have heard so much of the beauty and kindness of the Dragon’s Mother, and would like to enter her service.’
This flattering speech pleased the dragons, and the eldest of them said, ‘Well, you may come with me, and I will take you to the Mother Dragon.’
They entered the castle and walked through twelve splendid halls, all made of gold and diamonds. In the twelfth room they found the Mother Dragon seated on a diamond throne. She was the ugliest woman under the sun, and, added to it all, she had three heads. Her appearance was a great shock to the Prince, and so was her voice, which was like the croaking of many ravens. She asked him, ‘Why have you come here?’
The Prince answered at once, ‘I have heard so much of your beauty and kindness, that I would very much like to enter your service.’