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Warning Labels: Wayback Wednesday

It seems like just about everything has a warning label on it these days. Here’s an example from a shipping bag. Warning: To avoid danger of suffocation, keep this plastic bag away from babies and children. Do not use this bag in cribs, beds, carriages or playpens. This bag is not a toy.

Some of these things seem obvious. It is doubtful anyone really thinks the bag is a toy. It’s use is for holding whatever was in it, not fun and games. But there is still a warning label on it. In fact, there are warning labels on an amazingly large number of everyday objects. Mattresses. Batteries. Cigars. Beer. Caffeinated drinks. Power tools. The list goes on and on. Why?

Warning and hazard labels have two distinct reasons for existing. One is to warn people of the hidden dangers of an object. Take the plastic bag. It may not be obvious to a young person that plastic will block the air they breathe. The child gets ahold of the bag, puts it over their head, and breathes in. One of two horrible things might happen. The child might inhale hard enough to get the bag stuck in their mouth or they might not realize their own exhalation will quickly poison them. For the child, this is a hidden danger that they must be warned about.

The second reason is to inform people how to avoid hidden dangers while properly and safely using the object. Take, for example, the warning label on a knife package. Danger: The blade of the knife is sharp and will cut. Handle with care and follow the usage instructions. Now again, this seems obvious to us, but the knife’s edge is a hidden danger. The warning tells us how to avoid the danger and use the knife safely. It points the end user to a document explaining the hows and whys of the danger and the proper usage to avoid.

What does this have to do with fantasy. In many stories, magic items are given out without any warning labels. Sometimes this is because the original owner of the object knew the dangers and didn’t expect anyone else to be handling it. Other times, such as with the cloak in Baum’s book, it’s placed without a label specifically to see how people use or misuse the magical item. With the cloak, there are two major hidden dangers.

The first is that there is no reason for anyone to expect the cloak to be magical. Magic isn’t normal in Norland as the reader can determine from how people react when magic is applied. The second hidden danger is the single use with no way to reverse the effects danger. The knife from the above is a great example of this situation. If a person cuts something unexpectedly, or stabs themselves or someone else, there is no going back. Once the act is performed, it cannot be reversed. So the warning label exists to warn the users of the knife what can happen.

Magic in fairy tales and, later in many fantasies, deals with the concept of the unwarned hidden danger. While Princess Aurora knew the normal danger of the spindle of a spinning wheel, she was unaware of the hidden danger of the magical curse the spindle contained. Therefore, she was not surprised at pricking her finger, but was shocked to discover herself falling asleep.

In 1938, the US government mandated the first safety labels. Food products were required to list their ingredients. But before that time, the warning label existed in another form. Fairy tales. That’s correct, the fairy tale itself formed a kind of warning label. Don’t go into the forest alone. Don’t steal. Stay away from lakes when you can’t swim.

Though they seem to be overwhelming in how many exist and on what odd things they are placed, warning labels are there for a reason. Which might mean there’s a bit of warning in those fairy tales as well, no matter how fantastic they seem.

Chapter IX: Jikki Has A Wish Granted

Once again, we see that Aunt Rivette has little to no concern about others besides herself. She heaps scorn upon Jikki when he is having trouble doing everything she has ordered him to do at once. She has ordered him to take her shoes to be polished, her breakfast dishes down to the kitchen, the hat to the milliner, and take Princess Fluff’s cloak (it’s magical nature unknown to everyone but Bud and Fluff) back to the princess.

During his walk down the stairs, Jikki wishes that he had half a dozen servants to wait on him. He is duly surprised when six men appear, claiming to be his servants and begin waiting on him hand and foot.

Jikki is pleasantly surprised to find out the men require no wage but becomes nervous of the men just standing there. He gives five of them jobs, then discovers only he can give them orders. He leaves to attend to the king and Tollydob, the lord high general comes in and ends up attacking the remaining servant with his cane. His cane passes through the servant. Jikki returns and tells Tollydob the king needs to see him. Tollydob takes the cloak with him to see the king.

Chapter X: The Counselors Wear the Magic Cloak

King Bud asks about the size of the army and remarks how short Tollydob is, Tollydob wishes he were ten feet tall and immediately grows to that height, much to his own astonishment.

Bud then reveals the nature of the cloak, explaining how it will grant each person one wish. This surprises and frustrates Tollydob, since he is now stuck being oversized instead of undersized. Bud tries to help out, pointing out how he will strike fear into any of Norland’s enemies should a war occur and that he is now known as the lord very high general.

When Bud goes to talk to Fluff, he leaves the cloak behind. Tellydeb, the lord high executioner, finds it and decides to return it to Fluff. In the garden, he sees an apple high in a tree and wishes he could reach it. His arm extends immediately and after he grabs the apple, it retracts to normal size. It turns out he can extend and retract his arm continually. He forgets the cloak and goes to show his wife his new ability.

Tallydab, the lord high steward, finds the cloak next. He wishes his dog Ruffles could talk. Which means, of course, Ruffles now can. Tallydab is happy about the fact he has the only talking dog. Ruffles mentions that in fairy tales dogs can talk. It turns out that Ruffles is a good friend, and the pair leave the cloak behind to get a meal together.

At dusk, Tillydib, the lord high purse-bearer, escapes to the garden. He is concerned about the way money is being spent. The night is chilly and he draws the cloak he finds over his shoulders. He ends up wishing for a never-empty purse of money. He scurries off and pays all the creditors. Then he goes and tells the king about the situation. Princess Fluff takes the cloak back to her room.

Chapter XI


It is not very far from the kingdom of Noland to the kingdom of Ix. If you followed the steps of Quavo the minstrel, you would climb the sides of a steep mountain-range, and go down on the other side, and cross a broad and swift river, and pick your way through a dark forest. You would then have reached the land of Ix and would find an easy path into the big city.

But even before one came to the city he would see the high marble towers of Queen Zixi’s magnificent palace, and pause to wonder at its beauty.

Quavo the minstrel had been playing his harp in the city of Nole, and his eyes were sharp; so he had seen many things to gossip and sing about, and therefore never doubted he would be warmly welcomed by Queen Zixi.

He reached the marble palace about dusk, one evening, and was bidden to the feast which was about to be served.

A long table ran down the length of the lofty hall built in the center of the palace; and this table was covered with gold and silver platters bearing many kinds of meats and fruits and vegetables, while tall, ornamented stands contained sweets and delicacies to tickle the palate.

At the head of the table, on a jeweled throne, sat Queen Zixi herself, a vision of radiant beauty and charming grace.

Her hair was yellow as spun gold, and her wondrous eyes raven black in hue. Her skin was fair as a lily, save where her cheek was faintly tinted with a flush of rose-color.

Dainty and lovely, indeed, was the Queen of Ix in appearance; yet none of her lords or attendants cast more than a passing glance upon her beauty. For they were used to seeing her thus.

There were graybeards at her table this evening who could remember the queen’s rare beauty since they were boys; ay, and who had been told by their fathers and grandfathers of Queen Zixi’s loveliness when they also were mere children. In fact, no one in Ix had ever heard of the time when the land was not ruled by this same queen, or when she was not in appearance as young and fair as she was to-day. Which easily proves she was not an ordinary person at all.

And I may as well tell you here that Queen Zixi, despite the fact that she looked to be no more than sixteen, was in reality six hundred and eighty-three years of age, and had prolonged her life in this extraordinary way by means of the arts of witchcraft.

I do not mean by this that she was an evil person. She had always ruled her kingdom wisely and liberally, and the people of Ix made no manner of complaint against their queen. If there were a war, she led her armies in person, clad in golden mail and helmet; and in years of peace she taught them to sow and reap grain, and to fashion many useful articles of metal, and to build strong and substantial houses. Nor were her taxes ever more than the people could bear.

Yet, for all this, Zixi was more feared than loved; for every one remembered she was a witch, and also knew she was hundreds of years old. So, no matter how amiable their queen might be, she was always treated with extreme respect, and folks weighed well their words when they conversed with her.

Next the queen, on both sides of the table, sat her most favored nobles and their ladies; farther down were the rich merchants and officers of the army; and at the lower end were servants and members of the household. For this was the custom in the land of Ix.

Quavo the harpist sat near the lower end; and, when all had been comfortably fed, the queen called upon him for a song. This was the moment Quavo had eagerly awaited. He took his harp, seated himself in a niche of the wall, and, according to the manner of ancient minstrels, he sang of the things he had seen in other lands, thus serving his hearers with the news of the day as well as pleasing them with his music. This is the way he began:</p>

“Of Noland now a tale I’ll sing,

Where reigns a strangely youthful king—

A boy, who has by chance alone

Been called to sit upon a throne.

His sister shares his luck, and she

The fairies’ friend is said to be;

For they did mystic arts invoke

And weave for her a magic cloak

Which grants its wearer—thus I’m told—

Gifts more precious far than gold.

She’s but to wish, and her desire

Quite instantly she will acquire;

And when she lends it to her friends,

The favor unto them extends.

“For one who wears the cloak can fly

Like any eagle in the sky.

And one did wish, by sudden freak,

His dog be granted power to speak;

And now the beast can talk as well

As I, and also read and spell.


“Stop!” cried the queen, with sudden excitement. “Do you lie, minstrel, or are you speaking the truth?”

Secretly glad that his news was received thus eagerly, Quavo continued to twang the harp as he replied in verse:

“Now may I die at break of day,

If false is any word I say

“And what is this cloak like—and who owns it?” demanded the queen, impetuously.

Sang the minstrel:

“The cloak belongs to Princess Fluff;

’Tis woven of some secret stuff

Which makes it gleam with splendor bright

That fills beholders with delight.”

Thereafter the beautiful Zixi remained lost in thought, her dainty chin resting within the hollow of her hand and her eyes dreamily fixed upon the minstrel.

And Quavo, judging that his news had brought him into rare favor, told more and more wonderful tales of the magic cloak, some of which were true, while others were mere inventions of his own; for newsmongers, as every one knows, were ever unable to stick to facts since the world began.

All the courtiers and officers and servants listened with wide eyes and parted lips to the song, marveling greatly at what they had heard. And when it was finally ended, and the evening far spent, Queen Zixi threw a golden chain to the minstrel as a reward and left the hall, attended by her maidens.

Throughout the night which followed, she tossed sleeplessly upon her bed, thinking of the magic cloak and longing to possess it. And when the morning sun rose over the horizon, she made a solemn vow that she would secure the magic cloak within a year, even if it cost her the half of her kingdom.

Now the reason for this rash vow, showing Zixi’s intense desire to possess the cloak, was very peculiar. Although she had been an adept at witchcraft for more than six hundred years, and was able to retain her health and remain in appearance young and beautiful, there was one thing her art was unable to deceive, and that one thing was a mirror.

To mortal eyes Zixi was charming and attractive; yet her reflection in a mirror showed to her an ugly old hag, bald of head, wrinkled, with toothless gums and withered, sunken cheeks.

For this reason the queen had no mirror of any sort about the palace. Even from her own dressing-room the mirror had been banished, and she depended upon her maids and hair-dressers to make her look as lovely as possible. She knew she was beautiful in appearance to others; her maids declared it continually, and in all eyes she truly read admiration.

But Zixi wanted to admire herself; and that was impossible so long as the cold mirrors showed her reflection to be the old hag others would also have seen had not her arts of witchcraft deceived them.

Everything else a woman and a queen might desire Zixi was able to obtain by her arts. Yet the one thing she could not have made her very unhappy.

As I have already said, she was not a bad queen. She used her knowledge of sorcery to please her own fancy or to benefit her kingdom, but never to injure any one else. So she may be forgiven for wanting to see a beautiful girl reflected in a mirror, instead of a haggard old woman in her six hundred and eighty-fourth year.

Zixi had given up all hope of ever accomplishing her object until she heard of the magic cloak. The powers of witches are somewhat limited; but she knew that the powers of fairies are boundless. So if the magic cloak could grant any human wish, as Quavo’s song had told her was the case, she would manage to secure it and would at once wish for a reflection in the mirror of the same features all others beheld—and then she would become happy and content.

Chapter XII


Now, as might be expected, Queen Zixi lost no time in endeavoring to secure the magic cloak. The people of Ix were not on friendly terms with the people of Noland; so she could not visit Princess Fluff openly; and she knew it was useless to try to borrow so priceless a treasure as a cloak which had been the gift of the fairies. But one way remained to her—to steal the precious robe.

So she began her preparations by telling her people she would be absent from Ix for a month, and then she retired to her own room and mixed, by the rules of witchcraft, a black mess in a silver kettle, and boiled it until it was as thick as molasses. Of this inky mixture she swallowed two teaspoonfuls every hour for six hours, muttering an incantation each time. At the end of the six hours her golden hair had become brown and her black eyes had become blue; and this was quite sufficient to disguise the pretty queen so that no one would recognize her. Then she took off her richly embroidered queenly robes, and hung them up in a closet, putting on a simple gingham dress, a white apron, and a plain hat such as common people of her country wore.

When these preparations had been made, Zixi slipped out the back door of the palace and walked through the city to the forest; and, although she met many people, no one suspected that she was the queen.

It was rough walking in the forest; but she got through at last, and reached the bank of the river. Here a fisherman was found, who consented to ferry her across in his boat; and afterward Zixi climbed the high mountain and came down the other side into the kingdom of Noland.

She rented a neat little cottage just at the north gateway of the city of Nole, and by the next morning there was a sign over the doorway which announced:




Then Zixi had printed on green paper a lot of handbills which read as follows:

Miss Trust
A pupil of the celebrated Professor Hatrack of Hooktown-on-the-Creek, is now located at Woodbine Villa (North Gateway of Nole), and is prepared to teach the young ladies of this city the Arts of Witchcraft according to the most modern and approved methods. Terms moderate. References required.

These handbills she hired a little boy to carry to all the aristocratic houses in Nole, and to leave one on each door-step. Several were left on the different door-steps of the palace, and one of these came to the notice of Princess Fluff.

“How funny!” she exclaimed on reading it. “I’ll go, and take all my eight maids with me. It will be no end of fun to learn to be a witch.”

Many other people in Nole applied for instruction in “Miss Trust’s Academy,” but Zixi told them all she had no vacancies. When, however, Fluff and her maids arrived, she welcomed them with the utmost cordiality, and consented to give them their first lesson at once.

When she had seated them in her parlor, Zixi said:

“If you wish to be a witch,

You must speak an incantation:

You must with deliberation

Say: ‘The when of why is which!’”

“What does that mean?” asked Fluff.

“No one knows,” answered Zixi; “and therefore it is a fine incantation. Now, all the class will please repeat after me the following words:

“Erig-a-ma-role, erig-a-ma-ree;

Jig-ger-nut, jog-ger-nit, que-jig-ger-ee.

Sim-mer-kin, sam-mer-kin, sem-mer-ga-roo;

Zil-li-pop, zel-li-pop, lol-li-pop-loo!”

<p>They tried to do this, but their tongues stumbled constantly over the syllables, and one of the maids began to laugh.

“Stop laughing, please!” cried Zixi, rapping her ruler on the table. “This is no laughing matter, I assure you, young ladies. The science of witchcraft is a solemn and serious study, and I cannot teach it you unless you behave.”

“But what’s it all about?” asked Fluff.

“I’ll explain what it’s about to-morrow,” said Zixi, with dignity. “Now, here are two important incantations which you must learn by heart before you come to to-morrow’s lesson. If you can speak them correctly and rapidly, and above all very distinctly, I will then allow you to perform a wonderful witchery.”

She handed them each a slip of paper on which were written the incantations, as follows:

Incantation No. 1.

(To be spoken only in the presence of a black cat.)

This is that, and that is this;

Bliss is blest, and blest is bliss.

Who is that, and what is who;

Shed is shod, and shud is shoe!

Incantation No. 2.

(To be spoken when the clock strikes twelve.)

What is which, and which is what;

Pat is pet, and pit is pat;

Hid is hide, and hod is hid;

Did is deed, and done is did!

“Now, there is one thing more,” continued Zixi; “and this is very important. You must each wear the handsomest and most splendid cloak you can secure when you come to me to-morrow morning.”

This request made Princess Fluff thoughtful all the way home, for she at once remembered her magic cloak, and wondered if the strange Miss Trust knew she possessed it.

She asked Bud about it that night, and the young king said:

“I’m afraid this witch-woman is some one trying to get hold of your magic cloak. I would advise you not to wear it when she is around, or, more than likely, she may steal it.”

So Fluff did not wear her magic cloak the next day, but selected in its place a pretty blue cape edged with gold. When she and her maids reached the cottage, Zixi cried out angrily:

“That is not your handsomest cloak. Go home at once and get the other one!”

“I won’t,” said Fluff, shortly.

“You must! You must!” insisted the witch-woman. “I can teach you nothing unless you wear the other cloak.”

“How did you know I had another cloak?” asked the princess, suspiciously.

“By witchcraft, perhaps,” said Zixi, mildly. “If you want to be a witch you must wear it.”

“I don’t want to be a witch,” declared Fluff. “Come, girls, come; let’s go home at once.”

“Wait—wait!” implored Zixi, eagerly. “If you’ll get the cloak I will teach you the most wonderful things in the world! I will make you the most powerful witch that ever lived!”

“I don’t believe you,” replied Fluff; and then she marched back to the palace with all her maids.

But Zixi knew her plot had failed; so she locked up the cottage and went back again to Ix, climbing the mountain and crossing the river and threading the forest with angry thoughts and harsh words.

Yet the queen was more determined than ever to secure the magic cloak. As soon as she had reëntered her palace and by more incantations had again transformed her hair to yellow and her eyes to black and dressed herself in her royal robes, she summoned her generals and counselors and told them to make ready to war upon the kingdom of Noland.


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