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The Fear of Fairies: Wayback Wednesday

Rumpelstiltskin and Queen by Warwick Goble
Rumpelstiltskin and Queen (Warwick Goble)

Fairies, in modern-day stories, have more in common with Tinkerbell from Walt Disney’s Peter Pan than anything else. They’re portrayed as cute, fun-loving little creatures proficient in the use of magic who stay in the wilderness. The wilderness part is in keeping with older legends while the fun-loving is a twist.

Prior to Walt Disney’s interpretation, the fey as a whole were not things to be trifled with. The fairy court, as shown in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a collection of capricious and powerful beings. Oberon has no issue in tasking Puck to make Titania look bad. This leads to Puck choosing a hapless human to become part of the overall plan to humiliate Titania. Poor Bottom becomes embroiled in the doings of the fey through no intent of his own.

According to the old stories, the fey will, just for their own amusement, wreak havoc on each other and any person who happens to be in sight. Pixies like Tinkerbell, for example, were purported to take great glee in leading lost travelers astray and frightening young maidens. The magics fairies control are powerful. These magics can be used to create or destroy, and many times there is little thought about how the magical creations could be misused. Queen Lulea warns of such problems at the beginning of Chapter I in Queen Zixi of Ix.

In older literature, the dangers of the fairies and elves are quite clearly described. Even the term fairy tale was originally meant to ensure the reader or listener knew the ensuing story would be cautionary. These tales contained warnings and lessons about how to avoid getting a changeling in the crib, that following strange creatures under the hill was dangerous, or why making deals that seem too good to be true is a bad idea.

When Baum wrote his book, the idea of the fey as, if not dangerous creatures, at least beings that should be given caution was still in the general consciousness of his readers. He doesn’t go out of his way to make the fairies scary. In fact, he turns them into the overseers of humans. But since they fill the role of guardians, they also have the power and responsibility to make sure their charges are doing the right things. Which means they have the authority and right to punish wrongdoers. In some respects, Baum is intentionally softening the older view of the fey but still keeping them in a semi-parental position in the story.

As we look at the next two chapters, we see that Baum was proficient in using tropes from fairy tales and folklore throughout his story. This ensured both the children who were listening to the stories and the parents who were reading them aloud all had common ground to understand what was happening and why.

Chapter III: The Gift of the Magic Cloak

The tropes start immediately. We are introduced to two new characters, Meg and Timothy. Of course, each has a cute nickname. Meg is Fluff since her father loved her fluffy hair, and Timothy is Bud because when she was young, Meg couldn’t say brother and said bud instead.

Then we find out their mother died when both were very young. Their unnamed father, who was a ferryman, did a good job of raising them acting as both mother and father. His job as a ferryman is interesting since the concept of the ferryman as the bridge between the mortal realm and the afterlife is common in myth cycles. We don’t get much about him other than he died while taking a merchant across in a storm and his body was found the next morning on the river’s bank.

We then are introduced to the stern Aunt Rivette who decides to take the children in. Baum describes Rivette as “not a bad-hearted woman”, but “had worked hard all her life, and had a stern face and a stern voice.” She is childless and has no understanding of childrearing. She uses corporal punishment for every infraction. She focuses on Bud more than Meg, and he becomes surly because of this.

Here Baum gives us a possible Biblical allusion. On the way back to living in the city of Nole they end up stopping for the night at an inn. The inn is full and it is suggested the three can sleep in the stable. This mirrors the Christmas story with Mary and Joseph not finding rooms and ending up in the stable for the night. Baum even includes the donkey. There is no suggestion of divinity in any of the characters, but the similarity to the story is there.

The next morning Meg meets Ereol, the fairie from earlier. Ereol gifts her with the magic cloak after Meg answers that she is “the most unhappy person in all the world!” Here we see that fairies take things at face value. Ereol doesn’t question whether or not Meg truly is the world’s unhappiest person, she just agrees. Thankfully, Ereol does inform her of the cloak’s properties, then protects Meg when Aunt Rivette gets angry.

The fear of fairy is displayed by Rivette when Ereol disappears when Rivette attempts to strike her with a switch. This leads to Rivette keeping her hands off of both Meg and the cloak.

Chapter IV: King Bud of Noland

The chapter begins with the counselors and army setting up just inside the gate. Tyllydub, the chief counselor, will be counting the people who come through the gate. We see him switch between sorrow and relief based on who comes through the gate. He even is saddened when a famous and rich merchant doesn’t end up being the 47th person.

Prime numbers come to the forefront again, as when the 31st person comes through the gate the bell at the palace begins to toll. Turns out leaving Jikki without supervision led to the entire city being informed of the old king’s death. However, with the odd goings-on at the gate, most of the residents don’t seem to be too upset.

Finally Tullydub gets to the last few. Forty-five Rivette, forty-six the donkey, and forty-seven is Bud. He is immediately announced by Tullydub who says “Long live the new King of Noland!” The crowd cheers the new king of Noland. When asked who the girl with him is, Bud answers she is his sister Fluff. Meg is named Princess Fluff, cheered by the crowd, and placed astride a white palfrey.

Aunt Rivette strangely ends up cheering for the new king, but then is left alone and ignored. She travels back to her house in the city, arriving at the same moment King Bud of Noland enters the palace.

Chapter V


Now when the new king had entered the palace with his sister, the chief counselor stood upon a golden balcony with the great book in his hand, and read aloud, to all the people who were gathered below, the law in regard to choosing a new king, and the severe penalty in case any refused to obey his slightest wish. And the people were glad enough to have a change of rulers, and pleased that so young a king had been given them. So they accepted both the law and the new king cheerfully, and soon dispersed to their homes to talk over the wonderful events of the day.

Bud and Meg were ushered into beautifully furnished rooms on the second floor of the palace, and old Jikki, finding that he had a new master to serve, flew about in his usual nervous manner, and brought the children the most delicious breakfast they had ever eaten in their lives.

Bud had been so surprised at his reception at the gate and the sudden change in his condition that as yet he had not been able to collect his thoughts. His principal idea was that he was in a dream, and he kept waiting until he should wake up. But the breakfast was very real and entirely satisfying, and he began to wonder if he could be dreaming, after all.

The old servant, when he carried away the dishes, bowed low to Bud and said: “Beg pardon, your Majesty! But the lord high counselor desires to know the king’s will.”

Bud stared at him a moment thoughtfully.

“Tell him I want to be left alone to talk with my sister Fluff,” he replied.

Jikki again bowed low and withdrew, closing the door behind him, and then the children looked at each other solemnly, until Meg burst into a merry laugh.

“Oh, Bud!” she cried, “think of it! I’m the royal Princess Fluff, and you’re the King of all Noland! Isn’t it funny!” And then she danced about the room in great delight.

Bud answered her seriously.

“What does it all mean, Fluff?” he said. “We’re only poor children, you know; so I can’t really be a king. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Aunt Rivette came in any minute and boxed my ears.”

“Nonsense!” laughed Margaret. “Didn’t you hear what that fat, periwigged man said about the law? The old king is dead, and some one else had to be king, you know; and the forty-seventh person who entered the east gate was you, Bud, and so by law you are the king of all this great country. Don’t you see?”

Bud shook his head and looked at his sister.

“No, I don’t see,” he said. “But if you say it’s all right, Fluff, why, it must be all right.”

“Of course it’s all right,” declared the girl, throwing off her pretty cloak and placing it on a chair. “You’re the rightful king, and can do whatever you please; and I’m the rightful princess, because I’m your sister; so I can do whatever I please. Don’t you see, Bud?”

“But, look here, Fluff,” returned her brother, “if you’re a princess, why do you wear that old gray dress and those patched-up shoes? Father used to tell us that princesses always wore the loveliest dresses.”

Meg looked at herself and sighed.

“I really ought to have some new dresses, Bud. And I suppose if you order them they will be ready in no time. And you must have some new clothes, too, for your jacket is ragged and soiled.”

“Do you really think it’s true, Fluff?” he asked anxiously.

“Of course it’s true. Look at your kingly robe, and your golden crown, and that stick with all those jewels in it!”—meaning the scepter. “They’re true enough, aren’t they?”

Bud nodded.

“Call in that old man,” he said. “I’ll order something, and see if he obeys me. If he does, then I’ll believe I’m really a king.”

“But now listen, Bud,” said Meg, gravely; “don’t you let these folks see you’re afraid, or that you’re not sure whether you’re a king or not. Order them around and make them afraid of you. That’s what the kings do in all the stories I ever read.”

“I will,” replied Bud. “I’ll order them around. So you call in that old donkey with the silver buttons all over him.”

“Here’s a bell-rope,” said Meg; “I’ll pull it.”

Instantly Jikki entered and bowed low to each of the children.

“What’s your name?” asked Bud.

“Jikki, your gracious Majesty.”

“Who are you?”

“Your Majesty’s valet, if you please,” answered Jikki.

“Oh!” said Bud. He didn’t know what a valet was, but he wasn’t going to tell Jikki so.

“I want some new clothes, and so does my sister,” Bud announced, as boldly as possible.

“Certainly, your Majesty. I’ll send the lord high steward here at once.”

With this he bowed and rushed away, and presently Tallydab, the lord high steward, entered the room and with a low bow presented himself respectfully before the children.

“I beg your Majesty to command me,” said Tallydab, gravely.

Bud was a little awed by his appearance, but he resolved to be brave.

“We want some new clothes,” he said.

“They are already ordered, your Majesty, and will be here presently.”

“Oh!” said Bud, and stopped short.

“I have ordered twenty suits for your Majesty and forty gowns for the princess,” continued Tallydab; “and I hope these will content your Majesty and the princess until you have time to select a larger assortment.”

“Oh!” said Bud, greatly amazed.

“I have also selected seven maidens, the most noble in all the land, to wait upon the princess. They are even now awaiting her Highness in her own apartments.”

Meg clapped her hands delightedly.

“I’ll go to them at once,” she cried.

“Has your Majesty any further commands?” asked Tallydab. “If not your five high counselors would like to confer with you in regard to your new duties and responsibilities.”

“Send ’em in,” said Bud, promptly; and while Margaret went to meet her new maids the king held his first conference with his high counselors.

In answer to Tallydab’s summons the other four periwigs, pompous and solemn, filed into the room and stood in a row before Bud, who looked upon them with a sensation of awe.

“Your Majesty,” began the venerable Tullydub, in a grave voice, “we are here to instruct you, with your gracious consent, in your new and important duties.”

Bud shifted uneasily in his chair. It all seemed so unreal and absurd—this kingly title and polite deference bestowed upon a poor boy by five dignified and periwigged men—that it was hard for Bud to curb his suspicion that all was not right.

“See here, all of you,” said he, suddenly, “is this thing a joke? tell me, is it a joke?”

“A joke?” echoed all of the five counselors, in several degrees of shocked and horrified tones; and Tellydeb, the lord high executioner, added reproachfully:

“Could we, by any chance, have the temerity to joke with your mighty and glorious Majesty?”

“That’s just it,” answered the boy. “I am not a mighty and glorious Majesty. I’m just Bud, the ferryman’s son, and you know it.”

“You are Bud, the ferryman’s son, to be sure,” agreed the chief counselor, bowing courteously; “but by the decrees of fate and the just and unalterable laws of the land you are now become absolute ruler of the great kingdom of Noland; therefore all that dwell therein are your loyal and obedient servants.”

Bud thought this over.

“Are you sure there’s no mistake?” he asked, with hesitation.

“There can be no mistake,” returned old Tullydub, firmly; “for we, the five high counselors of the kingdom, have ourselves interpreted and carried out the laws of the land, and the people, your subjects, have approved our action.”

“Then,” said Bud, “I suppose I’ll have to be king whether I want to or not.”

“Your Majesty speaks but the truth,” returned the chief counselor, with a sigh. “With or without your consent, you are the king. It is the law.” And all the others chanted in a chorus:

“It is the law.”

Bud felt much relieved. He had no notion whatever of refusing to be a king. If there was no mistake, and he was really the powerful monarch of Noland, then there ought to be no end of fun and freedom for him during the rest of his life. To be his own master; to have plenty of money; to live in a palace and order people around as he pleased—all this seemed to the poor and friendless boy of yesterday to be quite the most delightful fate that could possibly overtake one.

So lost did he become in thoughts of the marvelous existence opening before him that he paid scant attention to the droning speeches of the five aged counselors, who were endeavoring to acquaint him with the condition of affairs in his new kingdom, and to instruct him in his many and difficult duties as its future ruler.

For a full hour he sat quiet and motionless, and they thought he was listening to these dreary affairs of state; but suddenly he jumped up and astonished the dignitaries by exclaiming:

“See here; you just fix up things to suit yourselves. I’m going to find Fluff.” And with no heed to protests, the new king ran from the room and slammed the door behind him.

Chapter VI


The next day the funeral of the old king took place, and the new king rode in the grand procession in a fine chariot, clothed in black velvet embroidered with silver. Not knowing how to act in his new position, Bud sat still and did nothing at all, which was just what was expected of him.

But when they returned from the funeral he was ushered into the great throne-room of the palace and seated on the golden throne; and then the chief counselor informed him that he must listen to the grievances of his people and receive the homage of the noblemen of Noland.

Fluff sat on a stool beside the king, and the five high counselors stood back of him in a circle; and then the doors were thrown open and all the noblemen of the country crowded in. One by one they kissed first the king’s hand and then the princess’s hand, and vowed they would always serve them faithfully.

Bud did not like this ceremony. He whispered to Fluff that it made him tired.

“I want to go upstairs and play,” he said to the lord high steward. “I don’t see why I can’t.”

“Very soon your Majesty may go. Just now it is your duty to hear the grievances of your people,” answered Tallydab, gently.

“What’s the matter with ’em?” asked Bud, crossly. “Why don’t they keep out of trouble?”

“I do not know, your Majesty; but there are always disputes among the people.”

“But that isn’t the king’s fault, is it?” said Bud.

“No, your Majesty; but it’s the king’s place to settle these disputes, for he has the supreme power.”

“Well, tell ’em to hurry up and get it over with,” said the boy, restlessly.

Then a venerable old man came in leading a boy by the arm and holding a switch in his other hand.

“Your Majesty,” began the man, having first humbly bowed to the floor before the king, “my son, whom I have brought here with me, insists upon running away from home, and I wish you would tell me what to do with him.”

“Why do you run away?” Bud asked the boy.

“Because he whips me,” was the answer.

Bud turned to the man.

“Why do you whip the boy?” he inquired.

“Because he runs away,” said the man.

For a minute Bud looked puzzled.

“Well, if any one whipped me, I’d run away, too,” he said at last. “And if the boy isn’t whipped or abused he ought to stay at home and be good. But it’s none of my business, anyhow.”

“Oh, your Majesty!” cried the chief counselor, “it really must be your business. You’re the king, you know; and everybody’s business is the king’s.”

“That isn’t fair,” said Bud, sulkily. “I’ve got my own business to attend to, and I want to go upstairs and play.”

But now Princess Fluff leaned toward the young king and whispered something in his ear which made his face brighten.

“See here!” exclaimed Bud, “the first time this man whips the boy again, or the first time the boy runs away, I order my lord high executioner to give them both a good switching. Now let them go home and try to behave themselves.”

Every one applauded his decision, and Bud also thought with satisfaction that he had hit upon a good way out of the difficulty.

Next came two old women, one very fat and the other very thin; and between them they led a cow, the fat woman having a rope around one horn and the thin woman a rope around the other horn. Each woman claimed she owned the cow, and they quarreled so loudly and so long that the lord high executioner had to tie a bandage over their mouths. When peace was thus restored the high counselor said:

“Now, your Majesty, please decide which of these two women owns the cow.”

“I can’t,” said Bud, helplessly.

“Oh, your Majesty, but you must!” cried all the five high counselors.

Then Meg whispered to the king again, and the boy nodded. The children had always lived in a little village where there were plenty of cows, and the girl thought she knew a way to decide which of the claimants owned this animal.

“Send one of the women away,” said Bud. So they led the lean woman to a little room near by and locked her in.

“Bring a pail and a milking-stool,” ordered the king.

When they were brought, Bud turned to the fat woman and ordered the bandage taken from her mouth.

“The cow’s mine! It’s my cow! I own it!” she screamed, the moment she could speak.

“Hold!” said the king. “If the cow belongs to you, let me see you milk her.”

“Certainly, your Majesty, certainly!” she cried; and seizing the pail and the stool, she ran up to the left side of the cow, placed the stool, and sat down upon it. But before she could touch the cow the animal suddenly gave a wild kick that sent the startled woman in a heap upon the floor, with her head stuck fast in the milk-pail. Then the cow moved forward a few steps and looked blandly around.

Two of the guards picked the woman up and pulled the pail from her head.

“What’s the matter?” asked Bud.

“She’s frightened, of course,” whimpered the woman, “and I’ll be black and blue by to-morrow morning, your Majesty. Any cow would kick in such a place as this.”

“Put this woman in the room and fetch the other woman here,” commanded the king.

So the lean woman was brought out and ordered to milk the cow.

She took the stool in one hand and the pail in the other, and, approaching the cow softly on the right side, patted the animal gently and said to it: “So, Boss! So-o-o-o, Bossie, my darlin’! Good Bossie! Nice Bossie!”

The cow turned her head to look at the lean woman, and made no objection when she sat down and began milking.

In a moment the king said:

“The cow is yours! Take her and go home!”

Then all the courtiers and people—and even the five high counselors—applauded the king enthusiastically; and the chief counselor lifted up his hands and said:

“Another Solomon has come to rule us!”

And the people applauded again, till Bud looked very proud and quite red in the face with satisfaction.

“Tell me,” he said to the woman, who was about to lead the cow away, “tell me, where did you get such a nice faithful Bossie as that?”

“Must I tell you the truth?” asked the woman.

“Of course,” said Bud.

“Then, your Majesty,” she returned, “I stole her from that fat woman you have locked up in that room. But no one can take the cow from me now, for the king has given her to me.”

At this a sudden hush fell on the room, and Bud looked redder than ever.

“Then how did it happen that you could milk the cow and she couldn’t?” demanded the king, angrily.

“Why, she doesn’t understand cows, and I do,” answered the woman. “Good day, your Majesty. Much obliged, I’m sure!”

And she walked away with the cow, leaving the king and Princess Fluff and all the people much embarrassed.

“Have we any cows in the royal stables?” asked Bud, turning to Tullydub.

“Certainly, your Majesty; there are several,” answered the chief counselor.

“Then,” said Bud, “give one of them to the fat woman and send her home. I’ve done all the judging I am going to do to-day, and now I’ll take my sister upstairs to play.”

“Hold on! Hold on!” cried a shrill voice. “I demand justice! Justice of the king! Justice of the law! Justice to the king’s aunt.”

Bud looked down the room and saw Aunt Rivette struggling with some of the guards. Then she broke away from them and rushed to the throne, crying again:

“Justice, your Majesty!”

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Bud.

“Matter? Everything’s the matter with me. Aren’t you the new king?”

“Yes,” said Bud. “That’s what I am.”

“Am I not your aunt? Am I not your aunt?”

“Yes,” said Bud, again.

“Well, why am I left to live in a hut and dress in rags? Doesn’t the law say that every blood relation of the king shall live in a royal palace?”

“Does it?” asked Bud, turning to Tullydub.

“The law says so, your Majesty.”

“And must I have that old crosspatch around me all the time?” wailed the new king.

“Crosspatch yourself!” screamed Aunt Rivette, shaking her fist at Bud. “I’ll teach you to crosspatch me when I get you alone!”

Bud shuddered. Then he turned again to Tullydub.

“The king can do what he likes, can’t he?” the boy asked.

“Certainly, your Majesty.”

“Then let the lord high executioner step forward!”

“Oh, Bud! What are you going to do?” said Fluff, seizing him tightly by the arm.

“You let me alone!” answered Bud. “I’m not going to be a king for nothing. And Aunt Rivette whipped me once—sixteen hard switches! I counted ’em.”

The executioner was now bowing before him.

“Get a switch,” commanded the king.

The executioner brought a long, slender birch bough.

“Now,” said Bud, “you give Aunt Rivette sixteen good switches.”

“Oh, don’t! Don’t, Bud!” pleaded Meg.

Aunt Rivette fell on her knees, pale and trembling. In agony she raised her hands.

“I’ll never do it again! Let me off, your Majesty!” she screamed. “Let me off this once! I’ll never do it again! Never! Never!”

“All right,” said Bud, with a cheery smile. “I’ll let you off this time. But if you don’t behave, or if you interfere with me or Fluff, I’ll have the lord high executioner take charge of you. Just remember I’m the king, and then we’ll get along all right. Now you may go upstairs if you wish to and pick out a room on the top story. Fluff and I are going to play.”

With this he laid his crown carefully on the seat of the throne and threw off his ermine robe.

“Come on, Fluff! We’ve had enough business for to-day,” he said, and dragged the laughing princess from the room, while Aunt Rivette meekly followed the lord high steward up the stairs to a comfortable apartment just underneath the roof.

She was very well satisfied at last; and very soon she sent for the lord high purse-bearer and demanded money with which to buy some fine clothes for herself.

This was given her willingly, for the law provided for the comfort of every relative of the king, and knowing this, Aunt Rivette fully intended to be the most comfortable woman in the kingdom of Noland.

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