Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Magic Fishbone

Did you know Dickens wrote fairy tales? Until I started researching fairy tales for INTO THE WILD, I had no idea that Dickens wrote anything shorter than 3,000 pages. Today's obscure fairy tale is called "The Magic Fishbone." The original Dickens version is full of fabulous details so I recommend checking it out. But if you don't have time, here's my abridged version:

The Magic Fishbone (from Charles Dickens)

Once upon a time... a king is worried about money.
He has nineteen children and a lot of bills, and it's a long way from payday.

Hold up a second. Bills? Payday? What sort of king is this?

He stops at the market and buys a salmon from Mr. Pickles.

Mr. Pickles??

Not your usual Dickensian character

On his way home, a grand old lady stops him and says he should offer the salmon to his eldest child, Princess Alicia. After she eats it, he should tell her that the leftover fishbone is a magic gift, which will grant a single wish if she wishes at the right time. The king obeys.

Usually you think of fairy godmother magic as a
ll sparkles and rainbows. I love that this fairy's magic involves fish guts.

The next morning, the queen faints. Princess
Alicia fetches a bottle of smelling salts, helps her mother to bed, and then proceeds to both nurse the queen and take care of her eighteen younger siblings for the duration of the queen's illness. The king asks Alicia if she still has the magic fishbone. (She does.) He asks her if she's forgotten it. (She hasn't.)

But she seems to have forgotten to call a doctor...

She then rushes upstairs to confide in her best friend, a doll who is really a duchess.

Yikes. Freaky. Living doll. Was she always
a doll, or did she get turned into a doll for some misdeed? Does she like being a doll, or does she resent all the afternoons spent at tea parties with Alicia's teddy bears? Is Alicia keeping her prisoner?

Another day, a fierce terrier frightens one of th
e little princes so badly that he sticks his hand through a glass door panel. As soon as his siblings see the blood, they begin to wail, but Princess Alicia quiets them all and then cleans and stitches up her brother's wound. Her father again asks her about the magic fishbone. She says she still has it.

Um, I know Mom is sick, but what's Dad do
ing during all of this? And if the wound was deep enough to need stitches, shouldn't a professional look at it?

Later, the baby falls onto the hearth and cries. While she comforts him, she directs her siblings in making dinner, since they
recently lost their cook. Seeing his royal daughter cooking and nursing and keeping house and so forth, the king again asks about the magic fishbone. She says she still has it.

Yes, I know I should be impressed at how self-sufficient she is, yada yada, but I think it's a bit reckless of her not to go to the emergency room. And shouldn't they have baby-proofed the hearth?

Even fairy-tale characters should babyproof.

The king then sighs sadly and says that they ha
ve no money at all. She asks if he has any way of getting any, and he says there isn't. He has tried all he could.

Can't he just raise taxes? What's the point of being king if you can't tax the poor to feed the rich?

As soon as he says this, Alicia draws out the magic fishbone and says, "If you've done everything in your power, then it's time to ask others for help." She then wishes it's payday.

I think Princess Alicia shows a real lack of im
agination here. Given that she only gets one wish, she should have used it for more than just a single payday. Plus she really didn't think through how she phrased her wish. Note that she doesn't ask for the money from payday; she asks for it to actually be payday, i.e. she's asking for time travel. This could really cause all sorts of problems.

Suddenly, it's payday, and the fairy godmother arri
ves. She scolds the king for wanting Alicia to have used the fishbone sooner. He promises he's learned his lesson, and the fairy godmother rewards the family with riches. She then goes to chat with her friend the duchess.

What's up with the duchess? How does she know the fairy? What are they talking about? I want her story!

She has secrets.

After whispering with the duchess, the fairy godmother then announces she is going to fetch Prince Certainpersonio.

How much do I love that name?

A half-hour later, Prince Certainpersonio and Princess Alicia are married in a lavish ceremony. The duchess is the matron-of-honor.

Ooh, more about the duchess! She's a matron, so that means she's married. Where's the duke? Does he know she's a doll? Is he a doll too? And can I just say how impressive it is that the fairy godmother pulled together a "lavish" wedding in a half-hour? A half-hour to pick out the band, taste the wedding cake options, fit the dress, send the invitations, select the flowers... Maybe she just stole all the trappings from Cinderella.

And the fairy godmother blesses them with 35 children, none of whom will ever have the measles.

Thirty-five children?!? And this is a reward?

She then takes the fishbone and throws it to the terrible terrier next door. He chokes on it and dies. The end.

I'm thinking she's not a dog person...

For more obscure fairy tales, please check out: Devil with the Three Golden Hairs,
Snow White, Godfather Death, The Tinderbox, The Princess in the Chest, The Juniper Tree, Molly Whuppie, Tatterhood, Jack My Hedgehog, and The Wishing Table.



At 8:39 AM, Blogger Faith said...

How funny--I'm going to have to track that one down! I'm still wondering how the 13 dancing princesses got off without being arraigned on multiple counts of homicide.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Faith: Well, there was that court case with Gretel and the witch-in-the-oven, but that was ruled self-defense...

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Thanks, Erin! :)

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, Dickens is just plain WEIRD.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Arilou-Skiff: Seriously. That doll duchess is just plain creepy.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger Q said...

This is BIZARRE. I still don't get the doll-duchess.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger David T. Macknet said...

Sounds like a curse to me: "here're 35 kids, none of whom will ever die off." Yikes!

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Q: I agree. As much as I wanted my teddy bears to talk when I was little, I still find the doll-duchess a bit disturbing.

DaviMack: It is a LOT of diapers.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weirdest story ever. Even though it's a fairy tale. About the 30-something children, talk about Labor Day.

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

My favorite magic doll story would have to be Beautiful Vasilisa.

At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a celebrated article as they all are. I have been wondering less this an eye to some measure now. Its notable to note down this info. You are fete and balanced.

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

blesses? are we sure 35 children isnt a curse?!


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