Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cinderella #183 The Mouse Princess

The mouse jumped up on the back
of the black cock and rode
for the palace.
Illustration by Kiddell-Monroe, J.
"In the days that are passed, there lived a king who had three sons. He had ruled well and wisely for more years than he liked to remember." He was grown old, he had to admit, and it was time to make plans to bequeath his kingdom. But which son should be his heir? His two elder sons were "gay, gallant young men, at home in any company." His youngest was "a quiet, shy youth, well-meaning and kindly enough but given too much to thinking and reading." He pondered and pondered, and at length, found himself reflecting on the Queen, his own dear and departed wife. He said to hiself," Whatever a man is, it is his wife who helps him to be what he will become."If his sons found good wives, he reasoned, they would be "half-way to being good kings". Therefore, decided the king, the son which found the best wife would be the next king. The qualities he had so admired in his own wife were patience, deftness of hand, and that she did not "despise the simple, neccesary things in life." Most importantly, a bride must have "beauty and dignity and noble bearing,and above all, she must be gracious and truly royal." To measure these traits, the king decided that he would begin a contest among his sons. He called for them and told them," I would know what manner of maiden she is who may one day be queen in your dear mother's place. Go, each of you," he told them, handing them a wad of flaxen fibers. "Give this flax to the lady of your choice, bid her spin it into thread, and when seven days are passed, bring me the thread she has spun." The two older brothers both fancied noble maidens, and they brought the tows of flax to them. These two, "the Countess and the Duke's daughters were both proud and beautiful; indeed, there was little to choose between them for looks and arrogance." Each was eager to spin the flax, hoping to become queen by the skill. "But the youngest brother had no lady whom he loved. He was shy and confused in the company of maidens, feeling that they despised him for his lack of gallantry." So he took his wad of flaxen fibers and walked deep into the forest, ashamed to ask any maid for help. Meanwhile, in a kingdom not far away, there lived "a King and Queen who had had the misfortune to displease a witch". This witch punished them by turning their daughter into a mouse, and declared, "A mouse you shall stay until you have made me laugh." Everyone knew that this witch had never laughed once, though she was centuries old. The poor princess seemed doomed to stay a mouse forever. Now the good King and Queen "would have been ready to care for their daughter in the form of a mouse for the rest of their lives". They were quite prepared to feed her "the best cheese for every meal" and give her "a room with ample holes in the wainscotting. But there were too many cats in that palace." The mouse-princess had fled in terror, and found comfortable lodgings in a crumbling stone tower in the woods nearby. As it happened, these were the very woods in which the timid young prince now rode. Passing a crumbling tower and feeling that "it was well fitted to his mood", he stopped his horse and dismounted. He sat down on a large stone block. "Seeing him so dejected, the mouse ran down the wall and went to him." She sat up so prettily on her little legs, and asked his troubles so sweetly, that the prince told her all. And she said, "Give me the flax and return here in seven days, and you shall see what you shall see." This the prince did, and, in seven days, returned to the very spot. The mouse handed him a small box, and bade him present it to the king. When the three brothers came before their father, each presented his lady's spinning. The king examined the eldest brother's thread, and then that of the middle son. Then he "sighed and laid them by. For the Countess' thread was as thick as hempen rope, while the thread spun by the Duke's daughter was so thin and uneven that a child could easily have snapped it." Then he opened the last box. In it was thread as "fine as hair, and as bright". Well and good, the king said, it was time now to show the weaving skills. So each brother carried hid lady's thread back to her, and the youngest took his back to the pretty little mouse. Once again she told him, "Come back in seven days and you shall see what you shall see." Seven days later the prince came back, and the mouse gave him a little box. They spoke quietly and easily together, there among the trees and the fallen stones, and the prince felt no hesitancy in his conversation. At last, he left, taking the box to his father, the king. When his brothers displayed their ladies' cloth, "the king took each length in his hands and sighed and laid it by." One bolt was "so coarse and stiff that it could almost have stood up by itself". The other one could have been used "as a fisherman's net". But when he opened the box from his youngest son, and drew from it, "yard by yard, a length of cloth so soft and fine that the small box could easily contain it. Yet it was strong, with the warp and the woof even and smooth." Now the king commanded that each son bring his lady, in the flesh, to the palace the next day at noon. The two elder brothers went off to prepare their two ladies, who spent the rest of the day "trying on their best gowns, choosing out their finest jewels, and strutting and preening themselves before their mirrors." The youngest son headed to the woods. Today, even the little mouse could not cheer him. Even though her thread was the finest and her cloth the softest, there was no way she could fulfill the command to appear as a lady. She was not one. "Alas, little mouse,' sighed the prince, 'there is no lady" to come before the king. Still, to show his gratitude for her help so far, he gave her a golden ring. She curtsied daintily, and watched him ride away. All night long she tried to think of a way to undue her enchantment. Alas, she could not. When dawn came, the only plan she had was to be by the prince's side when his brothers scorned him. She had nothing to offer but her friendship. So she set off for the palace. Yet she had been trotting for hours, and was scarcely near. "At that moment, a man came by,with a crate of chickens for the market." The mouse maiden surprised him by asking, "Good friend, give me your black cock, and make me a bridle and saddle, that I may ride on him." And he was so surprised to hear a mouse speak that he did its bidding, no questions asked. Then "the mouse thanked him, took up the ring in her mouth and mounted upon the back of the black cock, and away they went." They passed a small stone castle, and at the window was the servant girl of the witch who had cursed her. As the little mouse upon the big, black cock rode past, the serving wench guffawed. The witch slapped her and told her she was a fool, and then she looked out the window herself. And then she chuckled and then she groaned and then she laughed "until the tears ran down her cheeks". And suddenly, "the mouse became a princess, in silk and velvet and pearls, with a crown upon her head, riding on a black horse with green and golden trappings."She arrived at the palace just as the king was giving his blessing to the noble ladies his older sons had presented. Just as the youngest prince was about to stammer that he had no maiden to present, "the chamberlain hurried in and whispered to the king." That's when the princess came in. The king beamed at the lovely girl, and the older brothers slapped him on the back. But the youngest prince said, "This is not my bride. If any should be my bride it should be the little mouse who spun the yarn and wove the cloth for me." Then the princess told him that she had been the mouse all along, and showed his ring. Now he took it and "put it on her finger and kissed her and that is the end of the tale."
From French Legends, Tales,and Fairy Stories, retold by Picard, B.L. (1955) Oxford University Press
Notes: Interesting to find again a mouse as an important character, and one very much associated with witches. More evidence, it seems, as to Charles Perrault's decision to use mice as an animal transformed by the fairy godmother. Here again we have an enchantress, this time evil rather than good. The golden ring and the spinning and weaving are fairly common Cinderella elements. 
Montessori Connection:
1. Read this story and think about why the king wants to see how well his sons' girlfriends can spin and weave.
2. Think about how important this would have been. Remember that in the olden days, if you wanted clothes, you had to grow the fibers, spin them into thread, weave them into cloth...and then make the clothes. 
3. Learn more about spinning and weaving: Finger Weaving: Indian Braiding or Spinning And Weaving At Home: The Essential Guide On Home Spinning And Weaving With Helpful Tips On Where To Begin, How to Make Your Own Cloth And Your ... Smart Ideas On Dyeing Fabric And Many More! or Beginners Guide to Home Weaving and Spinning or