So, I’m working on this Folk Tales project of mine. I completed the first illustration – a sort of ‘cover’ – and did the whole storyboard of ‘The Canary Prince’. I will upload soon images and stuff ^____^
Meantime, below the tale translated into English, based on Italo Calvino’s retold version. Enjoy!
The Canary Prince
There was a king who had a daughter. Her mother was dead, and the stepmother was jealous of the girl and always spoke badly of her to the king. The maiden defended herself as best as she could, but the stepmother was so contrary and insistent that the king, though he loved his daughter, finally gave in. He told the queen to send the girl away, but to some place where she would be comfortable, for he would never allow her to be mistreated. “Have no fear of that,” said the stepmother, who then had the girl shut up in a castle in the heart of the forest. To keep her company, the queen selected a group of ladies-in-waiting, ordering them never to let the girl go out of the house or even to look out the windows. Naturally they received a salary worthy of a royal household. The girl was given a beautiful room and all she wanted to eat and drink. The only thing she couldn’t do was go outdoors. But the ladies, enjoying so much leisure time and money, thought only of themselves and paid no attention to her.
Every now and then the king would ask his wife, “And how is our daughter? What is she doing with herself these days?” To prove that she did take an interest in the girl, the queen called on her. The minute she stepped from her carriage, the ladies-in-waiting all rushed out and told her not to worry, the girl was well and happy. The queen went up to the girl’s room for a moment. “So you’re comfortable, are you? You need nothing, do you? You’re looking well, I see; the country air is doing you good. Stay happy, now. Bye-bye, dear!” And off she went. She informed the king she had never seen his daughter so content.
On the contrary, alwasy alone in the room, with ladies-in-waiting who didn’t so much as look at her, the princess spent her days wistfully at the window. She sat there leaning on the windowsill, and had she not thought to put a pillow under them, she would have got calluses on her elbows. The window looked out on the forest, and all day long the princess saw nothing but treetops, clouds and, down below, the hunters’ trail. Over that trail one day came the son of a king in pursuit of a wild boar. Nearing the castle known to have been unoccupied for no telling how many years, he was amazed to see washing spread out on the battlements, smoke rising from the chimneys, and open casements. As he looked about him, he noticed a beautiful maiden at one of the upper windows and smiled at her. The maiden saw the prince too, dressed in yellow, with hunter’s leggings and gun, and smiling at her, so she smiled back at him. For a whole hour, they smiled, bowed, and curtsied, being too far apart to communicate in any other way.
The next day, under the pretext of going hunting, the king’s son returned, dressed in yellow, and they stared at each other this time for two hours; in addition to smiles, bows, and curtsies, they put a hand over their hearts and waved handkerchiefs at great length. The third day the prince stopped for three hours, and they blew each other kisses. The fourth day he was there as usual, when from behind a tree a witch peeped and began to guffaw: “Ho, ho, ho, ho!”
“Who are you? What’s so funny?” snapped the prince.
“What’s so funny? Two lovers silly enought to stay so far apart!”
“Would you know how to get any closer to her, ninny?” asked the prince.
“I like you both,” said the witch, “and I’ll help you.”
She knocked at the door and handed the ladies-in-waiting a big old book with yellow, smudgy pages, saying it was a gift to the princess so the young lady could pass the time reading. The ladies took it to the girl, who opened it at once and read: “This is a magic book. Turn the pages forward, and the man becomes a bird; turn them back, and the bird becomes a man once more.”
The girl ran to the window, placed the book on the sill, and turned the pages in great haste while watching the youth in yellow standing in the path. Moving his arms, he was soon flapping wings and changed into a canary, dressed in yellow as he was. Up he soared above the treetops and headed straight for the window, coming to rest on the cushioned sill. The princess couldn’t resist picking up the beautiful canary and kissing him; then remembering he was a young man, she blushed. But on second thought she wasn’t ashamed at all and made haste to turn him back into a youth. She picked up the book and thumbed backward through it; the canary ruffled his yellow feathers, flapped his wings, then moved arms and was once more the youth dressed in yellow with the hunter’s leggings, who knelt before her, declaring, “I love you!”
By the time they finished confessing all their love for one another, it was evening. Slowly, the princess leafed through the book. Looking into her eyes the youth turned back into a canary, perched on the windowsill, then on the eaves, then trusting to the wind, flew down in wide arcs, lighting on the lower limb of a tree. At that, she turned the pages back in the book and the canary was a prince once more who jumped down, whistled for his dogs, threw a kiss toward the window, and continued along the trail out of sight.
So every day the pages were turned forward to bring the prince flying up to the window at the top of the tower, then turned backward to restore his human form, then forward again to enable him to fly away, and finally backward for him to get home. Never in their whole life had the two young people known such happiness.
One day the queen called on her stepdaughter. She walked about the room, saying, “You’re all right, aren’t you? I see you’re a trifle slimmer, but that’s certainly no cause for concern, is it? It’s true, isn’t it, you’ve never felt better?” As she talked, she checked to see that everything was in place. She opened the window and peered out. Here came the prince in yellow along the trail with his dogs. “If this silly girl thinks she is going to flirt at the window,” said the stepmother to herself, “she has another thought coming to her.” She sent the girl for a glass of water and some sugar, then hurriedly removed five or six hairpins from her own hair and concealed them in the pillow with the sharp points sticking straight up. “That will teach her to lean on the windowsill!” The girl returned with the water and sugar, but the queen said, “Oh, I’m no longer thirsty; you drink it, my dear! I must be getting back to your father. You don’t need anything, do you? Well, goodbye.” And she was off.
As soon as the queen’s carriage was out of sight, the girl hurriedly flipped over the pages of the book, the prince turned into a canary, flew to the window, and struck the pillow like an arrow. He instantly let out a shrill cry of pain. The yellow feathers were stained with blood; the canary had driven the pins into his breast. He rose with a convulsive flapping, trusted himself to the wind, descended in irregular arcs, and lit on the ground with outstretched wings. The frightened princess, not yet fully aware of what had happened, quickly turned the pages back in the hope there would be no wounds when he regained his human form. Alas, the prince reappeared dripping blood from the deep stabs that had rent the yellow garment on his chest, and lay back surrounded by his dogs.
At the howling of the dogs, the other hunters came to his aid and carried him off on a stretcher of branches, but he didn’t so much as glance up at the window of his beloved, who was still overwhelmed with grief and fright.
Back at his palace, the prince showed no promise of recovery, nor did the doctors know what to do for him. The wounds refused to heal over, and constantly hurt. His father the king posted proclamations on every street corner promising a fortune to anyone who could cure him, but not a soul turned up to try.
The princess meanwhile was consumed with longing for her lover. She cut her sheets into thin strips which she tied one to the other in a long, long rope. Then one night she let herself down from the high tower and set out on the hunters’ trail. But because of the thick darkness and the howls of the wolves, she decided to wait for daylight. Finding an old oak with a hollow trunk, she nestled inside and, in her exhaustion, fell asleep at once. She woke up while it was still pitch-dark, under the impression she had heard a whistle. Listening closely, she heard another whistle, then a third and a fourth, after which she saw four candle flames advancing. They were four witches coming from the four corners of the earth to their appointed meeting under that tree. Through a crack in the trunk the princess, unseen by them, spied on the four crones carrying candles and sneering a welcome to one another: “Ah, ah, ah!”
They lit a bonfire under the tree and sat down to warm themselves and roast a couple of bats for dinner. When they had eaten their fill, they began asking one another what they had seen of interest out in the world.
“I saw the sultan of Turkey, who bought himself twenty new wives.”
“I saw the emperor of China, who has let his pigtail grow three yards long.”
“I saw the king of the cannibals, who ate his chamberlain by mistake.”
“I saw the king of this region, who has the sick son nobody can cure, since I alone know the remedy.”
“And what is it?” asked the other witches.
“In the floor of his room is a loose tile. All one need to do is lift the tile, and there underneath is a phial containing an ointment that would heal everyone of his wounds.”
It was all the princess inside the tree could do not to scream for joy. By this time the witches had told one another all they had to say, so each went her own way. The princess jumped from the tree and set out in the dawn for the city. At the first secondhand dealer’s she came to, she bought an old doctor’s gown and a pair of spectacles, and knocked at the royal palace. Seeing the little doctor with such scant paraphernalia, the servants weren’t going to let him in, but the king said, “What harm could he do my son who can’t be any worse off than he is now? Let him see what he can do.” The sham doctor asked to be left alone with the sick man, and the request was granted.
Finding her lover groaning and unconscious in his sickbed, the princess felt like weeping and smothering him with kisses. But she restrained herself because of the urgency of carrying out the witch’s directions. She paced up and down the room until she stepped on a loose tile, which she raised and discovered a phial of ointment. With it she rubbed the prince’s wounds, and no sooner had she touched each one with ointment than the wound disappeared completely. Overjoyed she called the king, who came in and saw his son sleeping peacefully, with the color back in his cheeks, and no trace of any of the wounds.
“Ask for whatever you like, doctor,” said the king. “All the wealth in the kingdom is yours.”
“I wish no money,” replied the doctor. “Just give me the prince’s shield bearing the family coat-of-arms, his standard, and his yellow vest that was rent and bloodied.” Upon receiving the three items, she took her leave.
Three days later, the king’s son was again out hunting. He passed the castle in the heart of the forest, but didn’t deign to look up at the princess’s window. She immediately picked up the book, leafed through it, and the prince had no choice but change into a canary. He flew into the room, and the princess turned him back into a man. “Let me go,” he said. “Isn’t it enough to have pierced me with those pins of yours and caused me so much agony?” The prince, in truth, no longer loved the girl, blaming her for his misfortune.
On the verge of fainting, she exclaimed, “But I saved your life! I am the one who cured you!”
“That’s not so,” said the prince. “My life was saved by a foreign doctor who asked for no recompense except my coat-of-arms, my standard, and my bloodied vest!”
“Here are your coat-of-arms, your standard, and your vest! The doctor was none other than myself! The pins were the cruel doing of my stepmother!”
The prince gazed into her eyes, dumbfounded. Never had she looked so beautiful. He fell at her feet asking her forgiveness and declaring his deep gratitude and love.
That very evening he informed his father he was going to marry the maiden in the castle in the forest.
“You may marry only the daughter of a king or an emperor,” replied his father.
“I shall marry the woman who saved my life.”
So they made preparations for the wedding, inviting all the kings and queens in the vicinity. Also present was the princess’s royal father, who had been informed of nothing. When the bride came out, he looked at her and exclaimed, “My daughter!”
“What!” said the royal host. “My son’s bride is your daughter? Why did she not tell us?”
“Because,” explained the bride, “I no longer consider myself the daughter of a man who let my stepmother imprison me.” And she pointed at the queen.
Learning of all his daughter’s misfortune, the father was filled with pity for the girl and with loathing for his wicked wife. Nor did he wait until he was back home to have the woman seized. Thus the marriage was celebrated to the satisfaction and joy of all, with the exception of that wretch.
Copyright: Italian Folktales Selected and Retold by Italo Calvino,
translated by George Martin,
Pantheon Books, New York 1980