Friday, June 29, 2012

Prince Darling

This one is another that I first heard through “Fractured Fairy Tales” and was astounded to find was an actual, real fairy tale. This one also comes to us from Andrew Lang, though there’s no telling where he heard it. Halfway through writing my version, I realized it made a pretty good practical demonstration of “irony,” which some people (I’m talkin’ to you, Ma!) still have a hard time with.

A lot of people are confused about irony. Basically, it means to use words to mean something other than their literal meaning or when things are the oposite of what you’d expect. So, for instance, if a professional woodcutter found himself with nothing to build a fire, that would be ironic. If a hairdresser was bald, that would be pretty ironic. If it rains on your wedding day, that’s not ironic, just unfortunate. Or, if, for example, a man’s name was Darling but he was actually cruel, selfish and unkind, that would be very ironic. It would also be what this story is about: Prince Darling.

Prince Darling’s father was, as you may have been able to deduce for yourselves, a king and he was known to be an honest, benevolent, merciful king who gave a care. In fact, he actually was darling (which, if his name had been something like “Meanie” or “Jerkface” would have been ironic, but since his name was Dennis, it wasn’t. Are we pretty clear on irony as a concept? Good. On we go). One day King Dennis was out walking in the woods, thinking about all the nice things in his life.

“I like my castle…I like my court jester…I like spaghetti…I like sitting in the big, comfy throne…I like rabbits. Like that one!” And sure enough a little white rabbit ran straight up to him, terrified by something and leapt right into the king’s arms. “There, there, little bunny,” said the king. “You can come home with me. I’ll take care of you.” So the king took the bunny home and saw to it that she was well taken care of.

That night the king was awoken (awakened? Awokened? How the heck do you say this?) by a strange visitation. A beautiful woman in a white gown appeared to him. “Good King Dennis,” she said in a voice that was nothing short of angelic. “I am the Good Fairy, Melisande. I heard that you were very kind, so I disguised myself as a cuddly bunny, knowing that only a real jerk could be mean to a cuddly bunny. Because you have proved yourself worthy, I will grant you a wish.”

Well, the king thought about it for a moment, but in the end it was clear what he should wish for. “Nothing in my life is more precious to me than my son, Prince Darling. Unfortunately, I’m worried that he might be on the wrong path. For my wish, I would like you to look after my son and do what you can to make him a good man and a good king.” The fairy agreed to do this and, a few years later, when the king passed away, she set to work.

Prince Darling loved his father very much and missed him terribly. Other than that, he was super-psyched to be the king! It’s worth mentioning at this point that kings in those days didn’t usually take a very active role in their kids’ upbringing. Darling had been raised by a governess (which is like a nanny) who was not very strict with him. She gave in to his every tantrum, his every slightest whim was granted. As a result, Prince Darling as a young man was very, very spoiled and selfish. And his idea of a king’s duties basically involved doing whatever he wanted all the time and arresting anyone who tried to stop him.

Clearly, Melisande had her work cut out for her.

She appeared to King Darling as she had appeared to his father: as a cute, cuddly bunny. When Darling drew his crossbow, however, she knew this wasn’t gonna work, so she turned back into a lady. “I promised your late father that I’d look out for you,” she said, sternly. “Now I can’t force you to be a good person, but maybe I can help you to realize when you’re being bad.” With that, she slipped a gold ring onto Darling’s finger. “Everytime you do or say anything you shouldn’t, that ring will prick your finger like a needle. Hopefully, that will teach you the difference between right and wrong.”

And, really, that should’ve worked. When Darling did something small, like get into a temper for not getting his way, he felt a small pinprick on the ringed finger. When he did something worse, like shouting at the servants, it was more like the tip of a knife pricking him. And when he did something really awful, like kicking a puppy (seriously, who kicks a puppy?) the ring actually made his finger bleed. At first, when he felt the pain, he stopped what he was doing and tried to do the right thing. But after a while he got really sick of it.

“I’m the King!” he shouted to no one in particular. “Why should I let some stupid fairy tell me what to do?” So he pulled the ring off his finger and hurled it into the lake. There it was promptly swallowed by a fish who, two days later, was caught by a fisherman who found the ring and gave it to his wife who had an unfortunate habit of judging her neighbors and gossiping about them. But now, every time she did, the ring pricked her finger and she learned to be kinder to others, which just goes to prove that the ring bit would’ve worked on anyone but Darling.

At any rate, the now un-ringed king was riding through his country one day, when he saw a beautiful shepherdess by the side of the road. Captivated by her great beauty, he rode up to her and announced that she would marry him.

“No, sire,” said the shepherdess. “I am in love with another. A young man from my village. I will marry none but him.”

“But I am your king and I have great love for you.”

“If you truly loved me, sire, you would want me to be happy and marry the man I choose.”

“Nonsense!” said King Darling. “I’m the king, I want you, so I get to have you. That’s how this works! Now marry me or be put to death.”

“I think…neither!” And in a flash, the shepherdess had turned into Melisande, glaring angrily at King Darling. “I thought I would give you one last chance to do something right. But, I daresay, after all these years of thinking only of yourself, you’ve forgotten how to do anything right. You may look like a man on the outside, but on the inside you are a monster! And I think it’s about time you looked the part!” The fairy waved her hands and cast a spell on King Darling. Another flash and she was gone, and the king was transformed into…into a…a sort of…he was. Well, he looked kinda like this:

Not so much pretty, huh?

Melisande had made it so that Darling looked as nasty on the outside as he was on the inside. He couldn’t even talk anymore. All anyone heard was a horrible snarling sound. He couldn’t go home in this state, so he ran deep into the forest, to hide from all the world.

At first, Darling simply cursed Melisande's name and blamed her, and his father, for everything that had happened to him. But solitude is great for self-reflection, and after a few weeks of living in the woods, hiding from all other living beings (except, I guess, trees and stuff), Darling began to understand that some of the fault was his…a few weeks later, it occurred to him that most of the fault was his…after six full months, he accepted that it was all his fault. He had thought only of himself and treated others with cruelty and what had happened to him was all he deserved.

As luck would have it, it was on this day that Darling, feeling so sorry for himself that he didn’t look where he was going, fell into a deep, dark pit that hunters had dug to catch bears and the like. When the hunters saw Darling in the pit, however, they didn’t know what to make of him. Or even what to call him. In the end, they decided that he would make a great addition to the royal menagerie, so they packed him in a cage and took him to the palace.

Darling was apprehensive at the thought of returning to his palace after all this time. True, he’d only been gone three months, but he didn’t know what to expect when he got back. He thought maybe his people would still be looking for him, wondering what had become of him. Maybe they took him for dead and were still in mourning over their lost monarch. He certainly didn’t expect a coronation to be going on.

“WHAT?!?!” he shouted, though it sounded like a horrible growl to everyone around him.

“Yes,” repeated one of the hunters to the palace guard. “A brand new kind of animal, just discovered in the forest. We’d like to give it as a gift to the new king.”

Darling’s cage was taken into the throne room and presented to the man who would soon be crowned king. To Darling’s surprise, it was his old tutor, a kindly old man who had always loved Darling like a father. From the conversations he’d overheard upon his arrival, Darling surmised that he had been made steward of the throne once he, Darling, had gone missing all those months ago. As steward, his job was to keep the kingdom running in the absence of her rightful monarch. But, as it turned out, he was a much better king than Darling. He cared about other people, he was unselfish, he was generous, merciful, compassionate. He was very much like the late, great King Dennis, in fact. So the people of the kingdom had decided to make it official and crown the steward king. None of them even seemed to care what had happened to Darling!

“Please, please, my people,” said the steward as he addressed the assembled. “I accept the throne of this kingdom only because you demand it, and as king, I am nothing if not a servant to my people.” This struck Darling as odd, but he kept listening. “In my heart, however, I know I am only filling in for our true king, young Darling, who went missing only three months ago. I know he wasn’t perfect.”

“That’s for dang sure!” cried someone in the crowd.

“But I knew him all his life,” continued the steward, unperterbed by this interruption, “and I knew his father before him. And I saw in Darling the potential to be a great king. I would give my very life to see him in his rightful place on this throne.”

“Works for me!” growled Darling and with the great animal strength he now possessed, he tore his way out of the cage and lunged straight for the steward. But before he could strike a killing blow, he looked into the old man’s eyes. And he saw the eyes of the kindly tutor who had patiently taught him for all those years. And the eyes of the good, wise fairy who had given him so many chances to change, each of which he had ignored. And the eyes of his dear, departed father who had one wish, and used it to make his only son a better man.

Darling realized that he couldn’t do it. The country was better off without him. He wanted to be a good king, but the first step was putting the needs of his people ahead of his own. So he went back into his cage and covered his face with his paws.

“Darling,” came a familiar voice. “You have finally proved yourself worthy of the crown. Now get up. Your people are waiting for you.”

As Melisande’s voice faded away, Darling looked up. The first thing he saw were his hands. Not paws, mind you, but hands. He was still in the cage but he had turned back into his old self. All the guests at the coronation were shocked at what they had seen, but they knew their long lost king when they saw him…and they also remembered what a jerk he was so, fearful for their lives, they all started to cheer.

“No!” cried Darling. “I don’t deserve applause or cheers. I have not been the king you deserve. The king my father wanted me to be. But I have learned a lot recently, and I want a second chance to serve you all better, even though I know I don’t deserve it.”

“If that’s how you feel,” said the steward. “You do deserve it. Hail, King Darling! Long live the King!” And so, the coronation went ahead as planned, with only one slight change: It was our old friend Darling who was re-crowned king. Only by giving up the throne could he prove himself worthy of it, and only by becoming a monster could he learn what it was to be a man.

And it doesn’t get much more ironic than that!


NEXT WEEK: "The Enchanted Bridegroom"

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Velveteen Rabbit

This story comes to us from a book by Margery Williams, which bears the alternate title “How Toys Become Real.” It is interesting to think about how many stories there are out there that concern toys becoming real. It seems that as long as children have played with toys, they have fantasized about their being really alive. From Colloddi’s Pinocchio to Milne’s Winnie the Pooh all the way through to Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and the phenomenally successful Toy Story films of Pixar. Only a few months ago, I shared a story of live toys (and a certain penguin of which I know of) with you all. What sets this story apart from so many of these others is that, in this story, the titular rabbit is destined to become real not merely a living toy.

Velveteen, before you ask, is a kind of fabric usually made from cotton which is designed to look and feel somewhat like velvet. It was this material that a toymaker once used to make a lovely little rabbit which was bought by a nice lady and subsequently given to her son as a Christmas gift. The boy was very happy and absolutely loved his new Velveteen Rabbit…for about two hours. By then, he had unwrapped other gifts. Clockwork trains, electric soldiers, and the very latest in video games: 8-Bit graphics and everything!

Okay, that last one’s not right, but I think you get the idea. The rabbit was just velveteen stuffed with sawdust, he didn’t make a noise or move on his own or light up or anything. So, after the Christmas festivities were over, the rabbit was tossed carelessly into the toy chest with all the other toys the boy hardly ever played with but would throw a tantrum if you even suggested giving them away.

Of course, the other toys looked down on the rabbit for being so old-fashioned. They had moving parts and wind-up keys and could move and walk and talk. Some of the fancier toys even pretended to be real.

“And look at you,” said one particularly nasty toy boat. “Have you ever even seen a real rabbit?”

“Real rabbit?” asked our velveteen friend. “What is that?”

“Sort of like you,” said a kind voice from outside the chest. “Only very, very different.” The Velveteen Rabbit looked out of the chest and saw that he was being addressed by a rocking horse, who was perhaps the oldest toy in the room and was very kind and clever. “Don’t let those fancy toys get to you,” he said with a friendly smile. “I’ve seen hundreds of toys come and go in this place. They’re top of the heap one day and the maid is picking up their gears and springs the next.”

“What is real?” asked the Rabbit.

“Not like those toys, I can tell you that. It’s difficult to explain, but when you are real you can move and think on your own. You can live and breathe and eat just like live animals do. There are no toy chests if you’re real, no little boys poking and pawing at you. It means you’re alive and that’s the best thing to be.”

The Velveteen Rabbit wasn’t sure he understood the Rocking Horse’s words, but they did excite him. He thought he’d like to try being real. “How can I be real?” he asked.

“For toys, it’s not easy. It takes love. The love of a child. And I mean a great love. You must be real in his eyes, and then you’ll be real in everyone’s eyes.”

“You’re crazy!” chimed in a toy car. “That’s just an old toys’ tale. Toys don’t become real. We’re built, we’re played with, we wear out, we’re thrown away. That’s the best any of us can hope for!”

Now the Velveteen Rabbit was very confused and he didn’t know who to believe.

The next night, the boy was throwing a fit because he had lost his china dog. This was a little toy dog that he always took to bed with him and he couldn’t sleep without it. The woman called “Nanny” didn’t know what had become of the dog but knew she had to get the boy to sleep soon. So she looked through the toy chest and there she found the Velveteen Rabbit. “Here,” she said. “Remember your bunny? I’m sure he’d like to spend the night with you.”

The boy was hesitant at first, but he gave in eventually and from then on, it was not the china dog, but the Velveteen Rabbit the boy called for when bedtime came. Of course, the fancy, wind-up, clockwork, electric, etcetera toys were shocked and appalled at the Rabbit becoming the boy’s favorite toy, but the Rocking Horse was very proud of his little friend. “You may turn real yet,” he said one night.

But in the meantime, the Rabbit was having so much fun playing with the boy that he hadn’t noticed he was changing. His pretty brown coat was getting duller and shabbier. The pink paint from his nose was almost rubbed off. A few of his seams were getting loose and stuffing began to peek out. He was beginning to wear out, just as the toy car had said he would. One day, the boy had been playing with the Rabbit out in the garden and left him there, so when bedtime came, Nanny had to go get him, clean him off (as best she could) and hand him to the boy.

“I don’t see why you make such a fuss over this toy,” she said as she handed the Rabbit over.

“He’s not a toy!” insisted the boy. “He’s real!”

Real? Thought the Rabbit to himself. Am I real? The boy said so, and the Rocking Horse did say that a child’s love could make me real. If he says I’m real…I must be! I’m real!

That summer, when he and the boy were playing as they always did, the Rabbit found himself left temporarily alone on the lawn. As he sat there, patiently waiting for the boy to return, two very strange creatures hopped over to him. The Velveteen Rabbit didn’t know what they were, but they were, in fact, rabbits. Real rabbits. They stared at the Velveteen Rabbit, who stared back at them, trying to figure out where the wind-up key was.

“Hello,” said the rabbits.

“Hello,” said the Rabbit.

“Would you like to run and play with us?”

“I can’t until my boy comes back.”

“Can’t you move on your own?”

“No. Why can you?”

“Certainly. Because we are real rabbits, whereas you are just a toy rabbit.”

The Velveteen Rabbit was taken aback. “But…but the boy said…he said I was real.”

“Well, look,” said the rabbits patiently, “this is very easy to settle. Can you jump?”

“Not unless the boy tosses me in the air.”

“Can you run?”

“Not unless the boy is holding me.”

“Can you wiggle your nose?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” He tried. “No, I can’t.”

“Then, I’m sorry, but you’re not a real rabbit like us.” And with that, the rabbits hopped away as the boy came back to play with his now crestfallen toy.

The boy went on loving the Velveteen Rabbit for quite some time. He loved him so hard that he was now quite worn out. He was more gray than brown, he had been repaired by Nanny seven or eight times, and his stuffing was so bent out of shape that he hardly even looked like a rabbit anymore, except to the eyes of the boy, and that’s all that mattered to the Rabbit. No matter what anybody else said, the boy said he was real so real he must be…but that’s when the boy got sick. Very sick.

The Velveteen Rabbit heard snatches of grown-up conversation. Words like “fever” and “scarlet” and “deathly ill.” It was decided that the boy would be taken to the sea-side for some fresh air. But on the day he left, something terrible happened: He left the Velveteen Rabbit behind. And once the boy was well out of the house, in came Nanny and a few maids, all wearing white handkerchiefs over their mouths.

“Okay, you heard the doctor. Everything must be destroyed so the virus can’t spread.” The Velveteen Rabbit, unable to move, watched as they gathered up the boy’s clothes, his bedsheets, his blankets…and his toys! “That rabbit especially,” said Nanny. “He played with that thing morning, noon and night. It must be infected.”

And so the Rabbit, along with many of the boy’s other possessions, were taken outside, far from the house and thrown onto a big pile. Some kind of smelly liquid was poured over it all and then the matches were struck and the fire set.

This is it, thought the Velveteen Rabbit. The toy car was right all along. I was made, played with, I wore out and now I must be destroyed. I shall never be the real rabbit I was when the boy held me close. And as he thought about his horrible fate, a most remarkable thing happened: A single tear, a real tear, rolled down the Rabbit’s cheek and onto the earth below. Suddenly, he couldn’t feel the heat from the flames. And all he could see was a bright, white light, that seemed to be surrounding him. A moment later, he felt that he was not on the bonfire after all, but in a warm, safe place, like when his boy used to cuddle him at night. He didn’t feel quite so shabby anymore, either…

When the next springtime came, the boy went out to play. His scarlet fever was quite gone and he carried with him a fine, new toy rabbit he had been given when he was sick. As he was playing, he saw two real rabbits, one of which looked like any old ordinary brown rabbit. The other, however, looked…familiar.

“That looks just like my old velveteen rabbit,” the boy said. “The one I lost when I got sick.”

The Rabbit smiled in his heart as he looked at the new toy rabbit being held by the boy who had helped bring him to life. But that was the last he ever saw of the boy. He went off with the other real rabbits like himself, and lived very happily ever after.


NEXT WEEK: "Prince Darling"

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Selfish Giant

Last week, I looked at the stats for this blog and discovered that I do have quite a few more readers than I expected in quite a few more countries than I would've imagined. But I don't know how many of you are really reading the blog, or if you just browse here by accident and close the window almost immediately. So if you are a loyal reader, let me know. Post some comments on the blog, send me an email or a Tweet, find me on Facebook. I'm mainly doing this for myself, but it would be nice to know that there are a few people out there who dig what I'm doing here. So, c'mon, internet. Let's hear from you every once in a while!

There are three kinds of people in the world: The ones who know Oscar Wilde for his most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest; the ones who know him best for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; and, sadly, the ones who don’t know him at all or, at best, know only the (shall we say) controversial elements of his all-too-tragic life story. Putting aside for the moment the fact that he was considered criminally perverse by many people during his lifetime (it was Victorian England; it was almost impossible not to be criminally perverse in those prudish days), Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest writers ever to bless the English language with his custom. His marvelous, imminently quotable plays and stories have been tickling audiences for generations and will continue to do so for many years more.

Though best known for the works listed above, Wilde proved himself a master at writng fairy tales with his book “The Happy Prince and Other Stories.” I have, therefore, taken on the task of adapting what might be his best known short story, which I for one find enchanting in its simple beauty. Thanks for everything, Oscar.

The bell rang and the chidren were released from school. Of course, all children look forward to getting out of school, but the children of this community looked forward to the final bell more than most. Because once school was out, they all went to play in the garden. It was a huge, beautiful garden, full of the most remarkable flowers and trees you ever saw. The children would run through the grass, chase each other around the flowerbeds, wade in the pond and climb the trees for hours on end, until they finally had to go home at the behest of their parents.

So it went for many months, until the owner of the garden returned. He was a giant! And he had been away for the winter but had returned home now that the weather was getting warmer. And when he saw that his garden was crawling with children he was furious. He roared at them to get out and scolded them for being there in the first place. Terrified of the giant, the children all ran away.

The giant felt he was perfectly in the right demanding that the children leave. After all, he said to himself as he prepared bricks and mortar for a wall, it is my garden. It’s my property. I have the right to protect what’s mine, don’t I? Of course I do. So he built a wall around his garden which, while small by his standards, was more than sufficient to keep the children from coming back. He also hung a sign on the front gate which read “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

There, he thought. Now I can enjoy my garden in peace.

The weeks passed and the wall was having its effect. No children came to play in the giant’s garden anymore. The giant himself was free to look out his front window at the garden whenever he wanted, without having his view obstructed by a laughing child in a tree. Indeed, he was quite content, except for one thing: It still seemed to be winter in the garden. By all accounts, it should have been spring by this time, but spring refused to come to the giant’s garden. Looking beyond the wall, the giant saw that spring had sprung outside his property.

So why is it still winter in here?

The giant pondered this for many days until that fateful afternoon when he looked out his window and saw that his garden had changed. It had transformed overnight. It was spring! The trees were green and full of beautiful blossoms and there was no snow or ice anywhere. And playing under or in each and every tree were the children! He saw a large hole in the wall thorugh which the children had crept in order to play in the garden without being seen by the giant. That’s why it had remained winter for so long. The garden was lonely for the children. And, after all, what good is a garden if there’s no one to enjoy it.

Just as the giant was beginning to think he had behaved rashly, he looked out and saw one tree that was still shrouded in winter. A chill north wind shook its branches and its bare trunk was covered in snow. Then he saw a very small boy at the base of the tree, who was too small to climb up into it like the others were doing. It was the only tree without a child playing in it, and the only tree which had not yet bloomed.

The giant made up his mind and walked straight outside to his garden. The other children saw him and immediatley ran away through the hole in the wall. But the little boy who couldn’t get up into the tree was crying too hard to even notice the giant. The children watched through the hole in the wall, certain that something terrible was about to befall the poor boy…but instead, to their utter amazement, the giant gently lifted the boy up into the branches of the tree. The little boy was so grateful that he flung his arms around the giant’s neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek.

At last the giant saw how selfish he had been to try to keep this garden all to himself. How much grander it was when he shared it wih the children. He took down the trespassers sign and knocked down the stone wall he had built. Then he turned to the children and said, “This is your garden now!”

And so, for the rest of his days, the giant let it be known that all children were welcome to play in his garden. And even when he passed away, he left the garden as a gift to all the children of the world, to come and play among its beautiful trees and flowers and to use their incredible gift for bringing springtime to the bleakest winter.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:

  • Wilde (1997) This biopic of the author’s life (starring the incomparable [except perhaps to Wilde himself] Stephen Fry) uses this fairy tale as a storytelling device, and it is heard throughout the movie, which also stars a very young Jude Law.


"The Velveteen Rabbit"

Friday, June 8, 2012

Leroy Goes To Disneyland

After last week’s somewhat macabre offering, I thought this week we all needed something a little lighter. To that end, I present this adventure of my good friend and frequent collaborator, Leroy the Penguin. About this time last year, he went on his first trip to my favorite place on the planet, Disneyland. And, true to form, he got into trouble. 

(I should mention here, just for legal reasons, that I claim no ownership of any of the copyrighted images, names, places and so on contained herein. Disney owns Disneyland, and I hope they don't sue me or Leroy over this silly little story)


Oh my gosh, you guys! Disneyland is so great! There’s so much awesome stuff there! I could go every single day for ever and ever and also ever!

Of course, the first time I went things didn’t exactly go the way I had hoped.

The adventure started out promising enough. I went through the front gate and saw the big Mickey Mouse floral arrangement. I went through the archway and saw the cool posters for the rides. And then I was in another world! Specifically, Main Street, USA, circa 1900. There were horse-drawn carriages and a barbershop quartet and lots of old-tyme stuff everywhere I looked. And Donald Duck was there! I went to see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and was moved to tears.

I will admit that it wasn’t easy making my way down Main Street. There were a lot of people there and I am sort of on the small side. But I’ve gotten used to moving through crowds without getting stepped on…much…so all things considered, everything was going swell.

The next thing I saw was what they call “The Hub” where they have this big statue of Walt Disney holding hands with Mickey Mouse. I was looking at the statue thinking about how all this wonderful stuff around me was all born in the imagination of this man, when a voice behind me said, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

I turned around and there was a Disney cast member looking at me. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you, little guy?”

“Er…what?” was all I could think to say. Apparently, he didn’t hear me because the next thing I knew he had picked me up and was taking me somewhere! I tried to shout but he was holding me funny so I couldn’t even talk. He carried me through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle into Fantasyland. My first glimpse of King Arthur’s Carousel and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was in the arms of what was essentially a kidnapper! Before long, we had gone through Fantasyland and were going into a sort of access door in “It’s a Small World.”

“Here you go! Home sweet home,” said the cast member as he plunked me down among a lot of other penguins. “I don’t know how you got to Main Street, but this is where you belong.” Satisfied in a job well done, the cast member left before I even thought to read his nametag so I could complain.

It was clear to me now what had happened: this guy thought I was one of the animatronic penguins in the ride and had brought me back. I was surrounded by penguins and children singing a very cheery song which I liked, but got the sense I would like less if I had to listen to it all the livelong day.

“Excuse me!” I called out. “Not a robot! Real penguin right here! Hello!”

“Here,” said a little girl in a passing boat. “Jump in!” I did and rode the rest of the way with Susie and her parents. As we got out of the boat and I was saying thank you to Susie, another cast member came and picked me up.

“Did you get this inside the ride?” she asked Susie and her parents very sternly. She thought they had stolen me!

“He doesn’t belong in there,” said Susie.

“Hmmm. You’re right,” said the cast member, looking me over. “This is a bird. He belongs in Adventureland.” This time the reason I couldn’t protest was because I was kind of exhausted from the ordeal. So I was brought to Adventureland and sat on a perch in the Enchanted Tiki Room. I wanted to just walk out right away…but the show was about to start and I didn’t want to ruin it. So I sat in with the bird glee club for a few choruses of “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” and when the show ended, I took my bows and snuck out with the audience.

It looked like I was free…until another cast member came and saw me, picked me up (my throat was sore from all the singing, so I still couldn’t explain) and carried me to Critter Country where I was deposited among some birds and frogs and turtles on Splash Mountain.

As you can probably guess, I was getting pretty tired of all this by now and was determined to put a stop to it once and for all. So, just like when I was in “It’s a Small World,” I jumped into a passing boat (or, rather, log) and resolved to ride my way out…had I know what kind of ride Splash Mountain is, I might have thought of a different plan.

But, in the end, I emerged, however soggy, and marched up to the first cast member I could find and tugged on her pants leg. “Now listen here, Missy!” I said, uncharacteristically rude, but I was fed up. “I have been dragged all over this park today by you people. First I was in ‘It’s a Small World,’ then I was in the Tiki Room and then I was on Splash Mountain and I don’t belong on any of those rides!”

“No, of course you don’t,” she said. “You’re that penguin from Toy Story 2, aren’t you? Maybe you belong on the Buzz Lightyear ride?”

“No, no,” said another cast member, joining her. “He’s a Muppet penguin. He should be in Muppet-Vision 3-D.”

“Is he one of the ‘Mary Poppins’ penguins? The parade should be starting soon.”

“Maybe we’re doing a promotion for Club Penguin.”

“Maybe he got here all the way from SeaWorld.”


“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” It’s likely I would’ve had a genuine, bona fide, coniption fit right at that moment, but luckily someone overheard and came over. He was a sort of rolly-polly someone with yellow fur and a red shirt. As it happens, we knew each other through a mutual friend, so he recognized me at once. I explained the situation to him and he picked me up in his paws and took me to see the only person who could help me get everything straight: The Big Cheese himself! So, I had a talk with the Big Cheese and everything was sorted out. I was given a special badge to wear indicating that I was a guest of the park and not part of any attraction.

But apart from that, my first trip to Disneyland was a complete success. I liked the park so much I never wanted to leave...but, of course, that's another story.


Next Week:

"The Selfish Giant"

Friday, June 1, 2012


This is another one that I went back and forth on for some time. Despite my misgivings, I’m going ahead with it for what might seem to others like a stupid reason: It’s the only story from Charles Perrault’s original book which I have not adapted in any form. Those who are unfamiliar with this title might wonder why I held off for so long. Before those people read the story, let me make this abundantly clear: THIS ONE IS NOT FOR LITTLE KIDS!!! It is scary and bloody and served as the partial inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula! Read on only if you can take it. Otherwise, I apologize, and next week will give you something about a bunny or a piggie or maybe Leroy. For now, you have been warned.

The lesson of today’s story is to be very careful when entering into a marriage. You are being told this at the outset so that you can benefit from the lesson even if you don’t read the story. Consider yourself warned that this is a scary tale full of terrible secrets and tragic deaths. If you feel strong enough to continue, we shall begin:

In a faraway land, there lived a nobleman who was very wealthy and had many homes in town and the country. His grandest home was his country estate, a mansion that rivaled even the grandeur of the king’s palace. This was the house in which he felt, above all others, that he was truly “at home.” He hunted in the adjacent forest, fished in the river and frequented the nearby village where he never failed to buy a round of drinks for all the men present.

Yes, he was generous, but he was not well-liked. The reason for people’s mistrust of him was his beard. It was long and bright blue, a most unnatural color. It was grotesque to look at so nobody really got too close to the man, and everyone just called him “Bluebeard.”

But Bluebeard longed for the company of a young woman, to brighten his home and liven his heart. He let it be known throughout the land that he was seeking a bride, but no mother or father would consent to let their daughters marry a man with such a frighteningly blue beard. Bluebeard decided to hold a dance at his mansion and invite everyone in the village to come and celebrate. It was a most successful party, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. But none moreso than a young woman named Kala, who had always heard that Bluebeard was a terrifying figure, but now saw that he was really quite kind, despite his odd appearance. Bluebeard talked it over with the girl’s parents, and in no time the match was made.

The wedding itself was a brief affair held the following afternoon. Very few of the invited villagers attended, out of fear of Bluebeard. Kala’s family was, of course, in attendance. Her mother and father and her three brothers, who were woodcutters by trade. They were very protective of their baby sister and this marriage to this strange, odd-looking man did not sit right with them. But, they kept their mouths shut since Kala seemed so happy.

After the wedding, Bluebeard showed his new bride all around her new home. Every room of the mansion was full of gold, jewels, silver and riches Kala had never dreamed of. She rejoiced to think that her life would be full of such decadance and wealth. She was so excited, she ran to open the next door without her new husband inviting her to.

“Stop!” he cried as her hand went for the knob. “You must never go into that room. Everything else that I own is yours and you may wander this mansion freely. But that door must never be opened. Do you understand?”

Kala said she did, and put the door from her mind.

For the next several weeks, life was good for all concerned. Bluebeard was happy with his beautiful, charming new wife. Kala was happy to be living in so grand a home with so kind a man and to possess such wealth. And her family was happy when Bluebeard and Kala came to visit them and gave them gold and silver. Her parents were then able to repair and even improve their humble home and her hard-working brothers bought new, very sharp axes with which to ply their trade. They began to think they were wrong to mistrust Bluebeard just because of his appearance and were vey grateful to him for his generosity.

Then, one day, about two months after their marriage, Bluebeard told Kala that he was going on a long trip, taking stock of his holdings throughout the land, and that she was in charge of the mansion in his absence. Before he left, he handed her a ring of keys, saying, “These keys open every door in this mansion,” (This pleased Kala because, even after all this time, there were still quite a few rooms she had never been inside), “and you can use them as you see fit. But this key,” he added, holding up a very small, solid gold key, “opens the door I once told you never to open. I remind you that I forbid you from every entering that room. Can I trust you to hold this key and not use it until I return?” Kala said he could and took the keys before saying goodbye to her husband.

Kala spent the next few days exploring the house. She opened doors she had never opened before and saw treasures even greater than the ones she had come to know. Before long, she had opened and explored every single room in the mansion…except one. The more time she spent in wandering through her new home, the more the thought of that forbidden door ate away at her imagination. She tried to imagine what could be so precious and valuable that Bluebeard would protect is so fiercely. Why could she go into every other room, but not that one? He trusted her with his gold, jewels, silver, silks. What prize lay behind that door with which she could not be trusted?

Curiosity is no sin, but it should be exercised with great caution, and the greater the curiosity, the greater should be the caution. Poor Kala was curious but none too cautious, and she decided to open the door. I’ll just peek my head in for a minute, she told herself, turning the key in the lock she had twice promised never to open. After all, he’ll never know what I’ve done. With this thought firmly in her mind, she turned the knob and opened the door.

The room within was very dark and cold. It had no windows and only one door, the door through which Kala had just entered. Dimly, she could see the outline of a candleabra in front of her, so she stepped inside and felt her way toward it. The door was very heavy and, as soon as Kala had let go of it, it swung shut, plunging the room into complete blackness. But greater than the darkness was the smell. It was the most horrific, putrid smell Kala had ever experienced. Between being disoriented in the dark and taken aback by the stench, it is not surprising that a moment later she tripped and fell over something lying on the floor, causing her to drop her keys. She was now close enough to the candle holder to light it with a match from her pocket and she held it up to see what she had tripped over…and what she saw almost made her heart stop with terror.

It was a woman. Once she had been young and dressed in a silk gown, similar to Kala’s, but now she lay dead on the cold stone floor. Kala threw the candlelight all over the room. Corpses piled on top of each other. Hung up on the walls. Some with great, festering wounds, some still with nooses around their necks. Some faces frozen in horrified screams, some with eyes closed who had no doubt died peacefully in their sleep. Some were decayed beyond all recognition, some were merely skeletons, but a few were fresh enough that you might have thought they were only sleeping. But each and every one definitely and unmistakably murdered.

The next moment saw Kala scrabbling wildly for the keys. As soon as she had them in her hands she ran for the door, forced it open and locked it tight behind her. Then she ran to her room, took off her gown, which was covered in the filth of death, and ordered the servants to burn it at once. She bathed and spent a good hour scrubbing every inch of her skin. All the while her mind was racing, trying to make sense of what she had seen.

“Ma’am?” came the voice of a maid at her door. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine!” she yelled with uncharacteristic force. “Everything is fine.”

“Please, ma’am, you are not well.”

“I tell you I’m fine, now leave me!”

But the maid refused to listen. She entered her mistress’s room. “Have you seen it?” she asked.

“Seen what?” asked Kala, although she knew only too well to what the maid was referring.

“The Secret Room, of course.”

“You know about that room?”

“I have served the master for many years. You are not the first bride to give in to curiosity. It’s happened before. The master says he has to leave for a few days and gives his wife the same keys he gave you. Sooner or later she decides it can do no harm to peek into that room. And when she does, she finds the remains of the master’s wives. The women he trusted with his secret and who broke their promise. And soon, they join the others in that secret room.”

It was a horrible story, but Kala knew that every word of it was absolutely true. She was not even surprised when the maid went on to say that Bluebeard had been doing this for almost a hundred years. “Years ago he made a wicked pact,” she explained. “He doesn’t age, he doesn’t change. Only he has to wear that blue beard. That’s the mark of his curse, ma’am. That’s why everyone who looks at it feels so uneasy.”

“What do I do?” asked Kala.

“I don’t know, ma’am. But you’ll have to do it fast. You see, this whole thing is a test. Master isn’t really in another county like he claims. He’ll be back tonight, to make sure you haven’t unlocked that door!”

Sure enough, a moment later, Kala heard the heavy footfalls which she knew belonged to her husband. She was terrified, but she tried to keep a clear head. “Get out,” she said to the maid. “You and all the servants. Take the night off. Go into the village. Don’t let him see you leave. And,” she added as the maid turned to go, “go to my brothers. The house at the end of town, just past the blacksmith. Tell them to come for me at once!” The maid curtsied and left the room quickly. Kala took a moment to steal herself for what was to come and went to greet her husband.

“Darling, you’re home so soon!” she said, trying to act surprised.

“Well, I found I couldn’t stay away from you,” replied Bluebeard. “Everything went well in my absence, I take it?”

“Very well.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And do you still have those keys I gave you?”

Kala was startled for a moment, but shook it off and said, “Yes. I have them right here.” She handed the ring to Bluebeard who inspected them carefully. Kala could not imagine why he was examining the keys until she suddenly remembered that she had dropped them in the forbidden room. Her fears were realized a second later, when her husband asked her, “What is this all over the golden key?”

“I don’t know,” Kala lied. Of course she knew exactly what it was: Blood. She had dropped the keys in a pool of blood and had been so distressed that it had not occurred to her to wipe it off.

I know,” said Bluebeard, all pretense dropped. “And what’s more, I know how it got there. You broke your promise. You betrayed me. And since you were so keen to get inside that room, I will oblige you and see to it that you never leave it again!”

With a roar of fury, Bluebeard drew his dagger and lunged at Kala, who ran faster than she had ever run before. Bluebeard tore after her, more animal than man, now, fueled by rage and blood lust, knocking over decorations, furniture, and candles as he ran after his wife. Kala led the chase all through the house. Luckily, she had come to know it well since coming to live here and found it easy to stay at least one room ahead of Bluebeard. But, in the end, she found herself in the corner of the dining room, backed against the stained glass window by her ravenous husband who stalked toward her slowly, looking even more inhuman in the light of the flames that were rising up all over the mansion.

“Say your prayers, ungrateful wretch!” growled Bluebeard.

Kala shut her eyes tight…until she heard a loud crash from above her. She looked up and saw the stained glass window was in shards and climbing into the room were her three brothers, armed with their new axes. Without a word or even a thought they advanced on Bluebeard and, within moments, had hacked him to pieces with the same axes they had bought with Bluebeard’s gold only a few weeks ago. Then they took hold of their sister and ran from the burning mansion with all their might, not stopping until they were well out of harm’s way. Only then did Kala dare to look back at the mansion she had once called home as it smoldered into nothing but ash.

Bluebeard was dead. All of his possessions, his wealth and treasures, were destroyed. And even if they hadn’t been, Kala, though by all right their legal owner, would not have wanted them. Nothing that reminded her of the terrible man she had been only too eager to marry would be allowed within her sight from then on. And perhaps she grew stronger for this experience and overcame the nightmares that plagued her well after Bluebeard’s death. And perhaps she one day married another, a man with whom she shared a genuine bond of love and friendship. Perhaps she even managed to live happily ever after. History does not relate what happened to Kala after Bluebeard’s death, so we are forced to draw our own conclusions.

Whatever the rest of Kala’s life had in store, you can be sure that she learned to be more cautious than curious, to put her trust in the right people, and to be very careful when entering into a marriage. In which case, I think it’s safe to assume that she did live happily ever after…but, that’s just what I think. How about you?

If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics (1987)(TV) This anime series’ title is a slight misnomer as it featured some stories (this one included) which are not attributed to the Brothers Grimm (although there are a few Grimm stories which are similar, such as “The Robber Bridegroom”). But still, a pretty good show, typical of the kind of 80’s fare we used to call “Japanimation.”
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. One story, entitled “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” reminds me of Bluebeard, and, in the “Wizarding World,” carries the same infamous reputation according to Albus Dumbledore, who, apropos to this story, once told Mr. Potter, “Curiosity is no sin, Harry.”
For More Great Stories, Click HERE