Writings: The Bronze Ring (Blue Fairy Book)

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

My favorite thing in the world is fairy tale retellings, which is probably why I toy around with so many and wrote an entire book about Beauty and the Beast in the wake of my own messy divorce. Earlier this month I was thinking about new story ideas for Patreon--in addition to Harken, which I'm very much still working on!--and I remembered the colored fairy books I had as a child. And my brain just screamed yes.

Wait, but no, I have to back up and explain what these are! The color fairy books ("The Blue Fairy Book", "The Pink Fairy Book", "The Red Fairy Book", and so on) were written by Andrew Lang, who was a Scottish poet and rabid collector of fairy tales. But he 'collected' fairy tales the way Doctor Frankenstein collected body parts: stealing them in the dead of night and sewing them together in grotesque defiance of natural order. The 'fairy tales' in the color fairy tale books contain pieces of tales you've heard before in more sensible stories, now recombined in absolutely batshit ways.

They're also in the public domain. *cue gleeful rubbing of hands together*

I wanted to do an Ursula Vernon-esque reading of each fairy tale along with a retelling, but then I hit the first story (The Bronze Ring) in the first color fairy tale book (The Blue Fairy Book, 1889) and I cannot with this bad boy. It is a dense pile of what-the-fuckery. There's elements stolen from the 1,001 Nights' Aladdin (the ring, the genii, the sorcerer who convinces the wife to 'sell' him the genii's container, then kidnaps her and the palace); there's also bits stolen from the Greek Medea myth (though the "cut up a sick dude and throw him in a pot" gambit works better for the king here than it did for Pelias). There's the trope of a group of animals helping out because their queen takes a liking to the protagonist, and the trope of the magical helpers arguing over who was most useful in retrieving the MacGuffin and ironically nearly losing the MacGuffin in the process of arguing. Oh, and there's racism and animal cruelty. Yuck.


But here is a summary: A princess falls in love with a gardener's son, instead of with the prime minister's son as her father desired. The king sends both boys on a massive long race (visit another country and come back again, basically) for his daughter's hand. The gardener's son is good and kind to people on the road and thus ends up with ancient magics on his side; to make a (rather muddled) point about his own worth, he allows the minister's son to return first but in shambles. Then he, the gardener's son, shows up in splendor and marries the princess instead. Then a sorcerer causes problems before everything goes back to being fixed.

I realized as I started this story that I can't "retell" it in its entirety because there are too many elements that would go off the rails once my characters made different choices. For example: I know there's always one jerk in a fairy tale story who screws himself over by not giving the time of day to a peasant woman who is actually a witch, but what if... just this once... he wasn't? Reading this, I felt sorry for the minister's son; we never get the impression that he wanted to marry the princess against her will, and I imagined him being sent off by the king with only minimal explanation of what was going on. Once he realized the princess' true feelings, he'd do the right thing (and the smart thing!) and help out the gardener's boy--but if he does that, then the story is a completely different story and no longer a "retelling" of the original material.

So this isn't a "retold story" so much as an "inspired snippet". But I like fairy tales and I like writing fairy tales and I keep thinking we need more good fairy tales to read to kids, ones that aren't mired in 19th century racism and batshittery. So here's something fun that you can read aloud to your kids? I even kept the names easy to change on the fly. I hope you enjoy this one, short though it is.


THE BRONZE RING [Blue Fairy Book]

Once upon a time in a certain country there lived a princess who was sixteen years old and wonderfully pretty. She was in love with the son of the castle gardener, a very handsome young man with agreeable manners who every day carried to her the best fruit of the garden and the loveliest flowers.

Though the king was delighted in his skilled gardener and showered gifts on the man and his family, you can imagine how displeased he was when the time came to broach the subject of marriage with his daughter and he learned her heart was set not on the son of his prime minister but rather on the son of his lowly and common-born gardener. The king railed at her and wept and sighed, but the princess could not be turned from her resolution. Her father was much vexed, but would not carry her forcibly to the altar.

He consulted with his ministers, seeking a solution to the problem of his daughter's heart. After much deliberation, they advised him as one body: "This is what you must do. To rid yourself of the gardener's son, you must send both suitors to a distant country. The one who returns first shall marry your daughter. This contest will have the appearance of fairness, yet can be arranged to your liking. After so much time away from her lover, the fondness the princess bears for him will have cooled and she will accept the winner."

Delighted, the king followed this advice and announced a contest for his daughter's hand: a race to his brother's faraway kingdom and back. The minister's son was outfitted with a splendid horse and a purse full of gold pieces. The gardener's son had only an old broken mule and a purse of copper money. Everyone was quite certain he would never come back from his journey, but the princess met with him in secret the day before he was to set out. "Be brave," she said, "and remember that I love you. Take my ring and wear it always, for you are my betrothed and I am yours. Take this purse of jewels and make the best use you can of them for food and supplies on the road. Come back quickly and demand my hand from my father."

The two suitors left town together, but the minister's son went off at a gallop on his good horse and very soon was lost to sight behind the most distant hills. Presently he reached a fountain beside which an old woman all in rags sat upon a stone. "Good-day to you, young traveler," said she.

The minister's son, whose name has been lost to the mists of time but might well have been Kerr and so we will call him that, was not a bad young man. Though he was not beloved by the princess, her disinterest did not stem from any flaw or gracelessness; though he was wealthy and not enamored of the poorer classes, he was not cruel. He did not much like the look of the old woman in rags, but he remembered his manners and nodded to her in greeting. "Good-day to you, grandmother," he said in the most polite way.

"Have pity upon me, traveler," she rasped, her voice like the rustle of ravens' wings in flight. "I am dying of hunger, as you see. Three days have I been here and no one has given me anything."

Kerr hesitated at her request. He did not wish to tarry long by the fountain, yet his horse needed water and he needed food. His bags were filled to bursting with supplies, and he would not suffer if he shared with the old woman. He dismounted and watered his horse, then took out his meal and offered half to the woman. "Share my dinner with me then, grandmother," he said, and the woman was much relieved.

She spoke freely as they ate together, telling the young man about the lands which lay ahead of them. He was so interested in her words that he lost all track of time until a tired old mule staggered down the path to the fountain. Kerr saw his rival, the gardener's son, seated on the back of the mule and realized his headway had been frittered away as he sat by the fountain and let this boy catch up to him. Kerr leaped to his feet and would have mounted his horse to ride away, save that the old woman called out to the boy.

"Good-day to you, favored by the princess. How else come you to wear her ring and carry her jewels?"

Kerr was much astonished by her words. Looking closer he saw that the gardener's son, who we must now name Perth unless you know a better one for him, wore the princess' signet ring on his hand: a clear and unmistakable sign of her favor. Closing his eyes, Kerr imagined the long journey ahead of him and the cold welcome he would receive from his bride when he returned in triumph and her father pressured her to marry a man who was not her choice and wore not her signet ring.

When he opened his eyes again, the old woman was gone. "Where did she go?" he demanded of Perth.

His rival only blinked at him. "Where did who go? I know nothing of what you speak, only please let me water my mule here for she is quite exhausted."

"I cannot stop you," retorted Kerr. The evening sun moved in silence as Perth tended his mount and Kerr stood close at hand, weighing his options. When he broke the silence, Kerr heard defeat in his own voice. "The princess loves you." It was not a question, but the gardener's son nodded. "And you love her."

"I do," Perth said, defiantly lifting his head. "I will beat you in this race, though I have only a mule and you a horse. The king will be forced to acknowledge her wishes when I return first."

The minister's son nodded and fell silent again. He imagined the princess as queen and himself as either her hated and unwanted consort thrust upon her by the king, or as her favored and trusted prime minister as his father was for her father. He imagined the gardener's son as a prince consort, out of his depth among the members of the court and in need of advice from someone raised in the ways of nobility, someone who he trusted not to despise or manipulate him.

Kerr imagined, too, that perhaps even a princess of sixteen years might deserve a choice when it came to husbands--or, at least, that he did not wish to be the sort of man who would marry an unwilling woman driven to the altar by her harsh and demanding father whilst longing for another man not himself.

"My horse is tired," Kerr told the gardener's son as Perth made ready to remount his exhausted mule. "Your mule must be too. We will wear them out if we continue to race like this. What if we traveled together to our destination and back? We could ride at a leisurely pace, and our mounts would not exhaust themselves."

Perth eyed the minister's son with suspicion, well aware this proposal would help him and his slow mount far more than it would help his rival with his quicker horse. "Why should you travel with a gardener's son? I had thought that beneath you, to associate with a commoner."

The minister's son shrugged his shoulders, unhappy with the situation but determined to make the best of it. "There can be no shame traveling in the company of a prince. I had thought from the signet ring on your finger that our princess meant to make you one. Have I misunderstood her intentions?"

His rival's eyes flew wide but he nodded. "She is my betrothed and I am hers."

"Well then," Kerr said, laying out enough supplies to make a camp big enough for two. "Please accept the use of my second bedroll, your highness."


There is not paper enough to contain the adventures of Minister Kerr and Prince Perth and their journey together. I can tell you they rode safely to their destination, the kingdom of the princess' uncle. The king there was deathly ill, but the two men were able to save him with the help of a mysterious old woman who appeared to Kerr and thanked him for the sharing of his dinner. For their help in this matter, Kerr won the love of the king's daughter and Perth won a little bronze ring, within which lived a being of great power.

With the aid of the ring, Perth summoned a luxurious ship of golden sails decked in precious gems. He and Kerr rode home together in splendor, with Perth seated at the front of the ship and Kerr behind him. In this way, with many witnesses to swear it, Perth returned first of the two men. The king was forced to keep his word, not leastwise because Kerr was no longer eligible for marriage, returning home as he did with a bride at his side. The foreign princess was given warm welcome in the palace, her cousin delighting in her arrival almost as much as in the triumph of her betrothed--a thing she never once doubted would come to pass.

Thus is the tale of how a lowly gardener's son married a princess and a minister's son became his best friend and most trusted advisor, and how four young people lived happily ever after to a ripe old age. I have set my tale free and no one may catch it again, however much they try.


Post a Comment