The last two weeks I shared some books I’ve been going back to during quarantine, and so far they’ve been young adult novels, partly because I thought a little light reading can help take peoples’ minds off things, but mainly because I wanted to suggest books people could share with their kids, and even if you just have pets you could still read to your dogs or your cats. Anyway this week is no exception, and what’s even better is this book is available online free, gratis, and for nothing. It’s Prince Prigio by Andrew Lang which you can read in Project Gutenberg. First published in 1887 it’s a fairy tale with a few modern twists–modern for the 19th century, anyway.
It’s the story of the King and Queen of Pantouflia who, after many years together, finally have a son and name him Prigio. The Queen is very intelligent and logical so of course she of course she knows better than to believe in fairies, and, to the King’s horror, she doesn’t invite them to the Prince’s christening. The fairies show up anyway and bestow all their best gifts.
One offered a purse which could never be empty; and one a pair of seven-leagued boots; and another a cap of darkness, that nobody might see the prince when he put it on; and another a wishing-cap; and another a carpet, on which, when he sat, he was carried wherever he wished to find himself. Another made him beautiful for ever; and another, brave; and another, lucky: but the last fairy of all, a cross old thing, crept up and said, “My child, you shall be too clever!”
The Queen doesn’t pay any attention to where all the magical items come from and shuts them away in an unused room of the castle. Then she and the King set about giving him two younger brothers, Enrico and Alphonso.
Many years pass. Prince Prigio has grown into a handsome young man and a major jerk and everybody hates him. The kingdom of Pantouflia is being ravaged by a terrible firedrake. The King tells Prince Prigio to go and slay it. Prigio is too smart to believe in mythical creatures and anyway says in fairy tales it’s always the youngest who slays the beast, so they might as well send Alphonso, and if he fails Enrico can go next.
Both brothers end up burned to ashes, and the King decides the Court should move to another city, leaving Prince Prigio alone in the castle. After finding the closet full of magical items he’s surprised to discover they work. He puts on the cap of invisibility and goes to a party where he hears a bunch of ladies talking trash about him except one: the Lady Rosalind. This being a fairy tale that’s all it takes for him to fall in love.
Prince Prigio, having learned magic is real, is determined to win Lady Rosalind’s hand, slay the firedrake, maybe even bring back his brothers, and stop being such a jerk. Along the way he slays another mythical monster and deals with a conniving servant, because he’s clever enough to multitask.
Andrew Lang himself was quite an interesting character. He was an anthropologist, author, and journalist. He’s mainly known now for his collections of fairy tales, starting with The Blue Fairy Book in 1889, followed by The Red Fairy Book in 1890. In his introduction to The Green Fairy Book in 1892 he said it would probably be the last collection since he believed he’d gathered all the fairy tales, and then published twelve more colored fairy books, finishing with The Lilac Fairy Book in 1910, and various other collections.
Prince Prigio is one of his own original fairy tales, and it’s far and away his best, a fun story that rocks right along, with plenty of comedy and magic to keep you happy while you’re locked away in your own castle.