Writings: Prince Hyacinth (Blue Fairy Book)

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

I knew when I decided to rewrite fairy tales from Andrew Lang's "color fairy books" what I was getting into. How did I put in in my first post? Oh, right: 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. There's no way I'm going to be able to do a read-along-with-me deconstruction of these stories, so we'll have to settle for summaries in each case.

Today's story is "Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess", and it's really two incomplete stories smushed together in the hopes that you'll be fooled into thinking you read a full one. In the first half-story, a king is deeply in love with a princess but she can't marry anyone Because Reasons. The actual reason is "because she was under an enchantment". What kind of an enchantment? No details are given! We're just supposed to go along, come now, mustn't dwell on little details! The king seeks out a fairy for advice (he just happens to be friends with a fairy, and no, you don't get to know more about that either) and she tells him that the only way to break the enchantment is to step on the tail of the princess' cat. The king is all 'consider it done' and goes home to dig out his best stomping boots.

There's some delay on the tail-stomping plan because the cat is really good at not having his tail stomped, and I find this rather charming because it means the king is trying to do this all on his lonesome rather than having his guards or whatever catch the cat and hold it still for some kingly tail-stomping. ANYWAY, after a week or two of shenanigans, the king finally gets a good stomp in and the cat turns into a man (like you do) who is also an enchanter (as one does) and he angrily declares that okay fine the king can marry the princess BUT as revenge, they'll have a son "who will never be happy until he finds out that his nose is too long, and if you ever tell anyone what I have just said to you, you shall vanish away instantly, and no one shall ever see you or hear of you again."

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Okay then.

The king marries the princess and dies pretty much immediately after knocking her up; we get no details on his death, he's just shuffled off the mortal coil because his story is done and now it's time for the second half-story: Prince Hyacinth, he of the outrageously big nose. His mother the Queen (formerly the Princess with the cat) is distraught that her baby has such a big nose, but her courtiers assure her that big noses are heroic and noble and hot. This flattery sets the stage for a court that becomes like the one in that live-action Alice in Wonderland movie where everyone wears prosthetics around the Red Queen in order to match her physical deformity. By which I mean: everyone in Hyacinth's court wears a false nose and swears big noses are the height of beauty.

When the Prince turns twenty, his mom commissions portraits of all the eligible princesses, including a portrait of "the Dear Little Princess" who doesn't get a name for this story. DLP is pretty and has a "little saucy nose", which means that we now divide the courtiers into the fools who don't notice the Prince is in love and mock the DLP's nose for being tiny, only to be exiled from court by an upset Prince ~versus~ the smarter courtiers who immediately explain that feminine beauty standards are different from masculine ones, so while a MAN needs a big nose, a WOMAN can get away with a tiny one, please-don't-exile-me-sir.

Hyacinth arranges to marry the DLP but the ex-cat (who continues to be an enchanter) kidnaps her just to be a jerk. The Prince swears to find her and rides off on his horse in a funk. He runs into an old woman (who is secretly the fairy the king sought advice from back in the day) who then proceeds to happily berate and neg him about his big nose. Hyacinth is chill about this and super polite but she just KEEPS GOING and this is her grand plan to get him to break the spell and admit his nose is too big, but SHOCKINGLY her neg-strategy doesn't work and he just thinks she's rude and eccentric and overly flattered by her servants. BECAUSE SHE IS.

There's a loooooong dinner (because this is a French fairy tale) with many and varied insults heaped upon the Prince for having a big nose, and: "The Prince, who was no longer hungry, grew so impatient at the Fairy's continual remarks about his nose that at last he threw himself upon his horse and rode hastily away. But wherever he came in his journeyings he thought the people were mad, for they all talked of his nose, and yet he could not bring himself to admit that it was too long, he had been so used all his life to hear it called handsome. The old Fairy, who wished to make him happy, at last hit upon a plan. She shut the Dear Little Princess up in a palace of crystal, and put this palace down where the Prince would not fail to find it."

*record scratch*

Wait, the Enchanter Cat kidnapped the DLP, but the Fairy can just kidnap her back whenever she wants? Anyway, the Prince tries to stick his face between some prison bars to kiss the DLP's hand, but his nose is too big and he says so ("Well, it must be admitted that my nose is too long!") and this breaks... a curse? of some kind? and he gets a smaller nose and marries the DLP and the enchanter never bothers them again. The fairy says: "Now, say if you are not very much obliged to me. Much good it was for me to talk to you about your nose! You would never have found out how extraordinary it was if it hadn't hindered you from doing what you wanted to. You see how self-love keeps us from knowing our own defects of mind and body. Our reason tries in vain to show them to us; we refuse to see them till we find them in the way of our interests."

That's clearly supposed to be the moral of the story (again, because French) but WAIT?? I call shenanigans because the Enchanter said the Prince "will never be happy until he finds out that his nose is too long" but he was actually quite happy until enchanters and fairies started kidnapping his girlfriend in a weird game which involved negging him until he internalized their criticisms about his perfectly functional body. The criticism doesn't even make sense because a smaller nose wouldn't have helped with those prison bars, and what, the DLP couldn't stick her hand out for kisses a few inches further? NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE.


Except, okay, I don't want to touch the nose thing because it feels anti-semitic and I'm not Jewish and I don't feel like that's mine to reclaim? But you know what I do have that people seem compelled to point out "for my own good" constantly until I admit it? That's right! Body fat! So without further ado than all the much ado we've had already, I present for you: Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess, now with fats. I've tried to match the original language and style as closely as possible, which in retrospect was maybe not the best way to get a good story out of it, but I wanted a "change-as-little-as-possible" rewrite rather than an "inspired-by" rewrite.

[Content Note: Fat Hatred, Diet Culture]



Once upon a time there lived a king who was deeply in love with a princess but she would not marry, as she believed she was under an enchantment. Nevertheless, the king persisted in wooing her and she came slowly by degrees to believe her fears were unfounded. They married and their joy was complete when the queen conceived an heir soon after the wedding. Yet before she could safely deliver of a child, the king her husband fell gravely ill from a chill and died. The queen's sorrow can only be imagined, and she began once again to believe she was under an enchantment, cursed to lose those most important to her in all the world.

The birth of a healthy prince did not assuage the queen's fears; indeed, if anything, she seemed more afraid than before. No child was looked after with more rigor than the royal infant, but even with every precaution in place the Queen Mother would often awaken from nightmares and slip through the castle halls to check on her baby as he slept. Every physician in the land was welcomed to court and exhorted to examine the little prince, and each reported in truth that never had they seen a baby of such resilient health. The only aberrancy any of them could note in his person was that the prince was a somewhat bigger child than others his age, not merely in height but in girth and weight as well.

When it became plain that the prince's size was not a temporary condition to be shed in the growth spurts of youth, the Queen was inconsolable and fixated on his weight as a source of future ills. In vain did her ladies assure her that the boy was not really so large as he looked, that he was big-boned more than fat, and that you had only to open any history to see that every hero bore an impressive girth. The Queen was only moderately pleased by what they told her, but when she looked at Hyacinth again, his body certainly did not seem to her *quite* so large--and quite capable of becoming smaller, with properly applied effort.

The Prince was brought up with great care and as soon as he could speak they told him wonderful stories about people who had large bodies like his. Well might you think there could be no happier chubby baby! Yet for all that the people of the court praised him, their praise rang hollow in his ears. Those chosen to wait upon him--courtiers and servants alike--were selected to fit the Queen's notions of health and beauty. Each were slender to a man among them and unable to see beauty in the Prince, so obsessed were they with maintaining an image which pleased the Queen and met her ideas of a good role model for her son.

When he grew sensible he learned of health from the physicians his mother surrounded him with. Though they were careful to never directly call him fat to his face--he was big-boned, he was robust, he was thick-girthed--they told him in a thousand ways every day that he was unhealthy, that he ate too much, that he took up too much space. Their intentions were good, of course, driven by a desire to help the Prince attain the fullest health and become the best possible version of himself. If he could make himself smaller, the Queen Mother's fears would subside and the Prince would benefit from better health in the bargain.

His room was hung with pictures but what a contradiction they were! Fat models chosen to flatter him could be viewed from every angle, but each possessed the hourglass proportions of slender people. None looked as he did, with rolls of fat about his chin and tum, with arms and legs covered in soft flab. These pictures of fat bodies his Mother found acceptable and hoped he would attain for himself made him feel worse than pictures of thin people would have made him feel. And so the Prince grew up convinced that his fat body was deficient in proportion, and that this was through some error of diet or lifestyle on his part, though alterations to either did little to change the shape and outline of his physical form.

When his twentieth birthday was passed the Queen thought it was time that he should be married, so she commanded that the portraits of several princesses should be brought for him to see. Yet the Prince was too mired in self-hatred he could not even name--so shrouded was it in euphemisms of health and safety--that he could not think of loving someone. If he did not love himself, how could anyone else love him? If he was destined to die an early death bereft of health what right had he to marry only to make his bride a widow?

For some time the Queen and her son quarreled on the topic of his marriage and his refusal to choose a bride. The Prince, finally quite inconsolable, declared he must leave his court and that nothing should induce him to go back to his kingdom. Refusing to allow any of his courtiers to follow him, he mounted his horse and rode sadly away, letting the animal choose his own path.

So it happened that he came presently to a great plain, across which he rode all day long without seeing a single house. Both horse and rider were terribly hungry when, as the night fell, the Prince caught sight of a light which seemed to shine from a cavern. He rode up to it and saw a little old woman, slender as a bent stick, who appeared to be at least a hundred years old. She put on her spectacles to look at Prince Hyacinth.

The Prince and the Fairy (for I must tell you she was) had no sooner looked at one another than she went into fits of laughter, disquieting the Prince, and more so when she cried, "Oh, what a fat one you are!"

"Not so fat as some," said Prince Hyacinth to the Fairy, keeping his manners about him despite the lack of her own. "But, madam, I beg you to leave the consideration of my body and be good enough to give me something to eat, for I am starving and so is my poor horse."

"With all my heart will I feed your beast," said the Fairy, "but are you sure you should eat? You are already so very wide, I can't think you could feel hunger at all."

Though a prince is rarely told no in such firm tones, Prince Hyacinth was accustomed to soft refusals when he expressed hunger, always receiving a hundred little "are you sure"s and "could my lord not wait a little longer"s, all of which loudly conveyed to him the shamefulness of his being hungry whilst being fat. The Fairy's refusal was more pointed than those velvety redirects, however, and the Prince in turn found it easier to be direct back. "Indeed," he said in a firm voice, "I beg of you for I have had nothing to eat to-day."

She gave him a dubious look but nodded and waved him into her home. "Well. If that is true, then it is right to give you some supper. While you are eating I can tell you my story in a very few words--for I don't like endless tales myself. Too long a tongue is worse than too wide a stomach, and I remember when I was young that I was so much admired for not being a great chatterer--"

"I really cannot listen to anything until I have had something to eat," cried the Prince, who was getting quite angry; but then, remembering that he had better be polite as he much needed the Fairy's help, he added: "I know that in the pleasure of listening to you I should quite forget my own hunger; but my horse, who cannot hear you, must really be fed!"

The Fairy was much flattered by this compliment and said, calling to her servants: "You shall not wait another minute. You are so polite, and in spite of the enormous size of your body, you are very agreeable."

"Plague take the old lady! How she does go on about my weight!" said the Prince to himself. "One might think I were her own son for how she frets at me." For the Prince had come to believe that the only reason anyone might hate his body was out of concern for his health, and that such hatred was an act of love.

He said nothing throughout dinner, though the Fairy chattered on with more and more egregious insults, cheerily asking if he might "move a little more that way, for your chin casts such a shadow that I really cannot see what I have on my plate" and "what a big stomach you have! I cannot get used to it!"

"Really, madam," cried the Prince, who was becoming quite vexed, "I wish you would leave off mentioning my size! It cannot matter to you what it is like. I am quite satisfied with my body, and have no wish to have it smaller. My father and my grandfather were big men like myself, and one takes what is given one!"

"Now you are angry with me, my poor Hyacinth," said the Fairy, "and I assure you that I didn't mean to vex you. But why should you be so upset when your own courtiers say the very same things to you every night and day? In telling you so plainly that you are fat, am I saying more than they do with their insinuations? Why then are you able to tell *me* your love of your body while you are silent to their faces?"

The Prince was so astonished by this--both in her knowing and in the saying--that he was quite at a loss for words. "My courtiers speak out of love for me, madam! If they are circumspect, it is because they care about my feelings, but the advice they give is still sound. They crave my health and happiness above all."

"Your health and happiness? Is it healthy to hear in a hundred ways how unacceptable your body is?" the Fairy asked. She tilted her head like a dog hearing a faraway sound, and Prince Hyacinth was rattled to realize he had never before questioned the truth of this belief as she did now. "Is it healthy to skip the many meals you miss, to try the painful and disgusting diets they feed you, to exercise until exhausted and weary to no avail? Does their concern make you happy, and prolong a life you enjoy and desire more of?"

Much amazed, the Prince blurted out, "Well, it must be admitted that it does not! I have not known happiness or health for as long as I can remember, and for such reason did I leave home."

In an instant, the prison which had been built around his mind flew into a thousand splinters. The old Fairy, taking him by the hand, said to Prince Hyacinth: "My dear boy, you are the spitting image of your father, as big and bold and beautiful as he was in life. Forgive me, but much good it was for me to talk about your weight! Without your anger at my rude speech, you might never have realize how unkind it was for your courtiers to pester you over who and what you are. You can see how self-love may be killed through a thousand tiny cuts, even from those who care most about us. Let yourself love your self, and be whole."

Prince Hyacinth, whose body was and always had been just as good as anyone's else, did not fail to profit by the lesson he received. He returned home to his kingdom, full of love for himself and his shape, and lived happily ever after.


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