|"Dolce Far Niente," by John William Godward, artmagick.com|
Editor's note: The marvelous retelling of "Pandora's Box" mixes themes from fairy tales with the age-old myth. A surefire winner!
Long ago, there lived the Princess of an ancient kingdom. The kingdom was a wonderful place which knew no pain or sadness. The King and Queen loved their only daughter dearly, and the Princess spent her carefree days busying herself with the beauties of life. She would walk through the castle gardens, examining flowers and butterflies. Royal courtiers would give her lessons in art and music. When the Princess tired of her castle, she could mount her lovely white steed and ride freely through the villages and countryside, where she was always well-received by all of those she met. Her life was carefree and happy, as were the lives of all the people in her kingdom because there was only Goodness in the world. Evil was not yet known.
One day, the Princess was admiring the beautiful things in the royal treasury and she came across a small and unusual box stored on a high shelf. Neither the markings nor the intricate adornments gave her any clue to its purpose. When she tried to open the box, she found it was locked. Not finding a key, she took a pin from her hair and tried it in the lock, but her poking and prodding was to no avail as the tiny lock held fast. She shook the box to try to guess its contents, but it made no sound.
Being a very inquisitive young lady, the Princess took the box to her father’s throne to learn what it might contain. She found him there being entertained by a troupe of jesters, but when the King saw the box in her hands, he immediately dismissed the jesters who leapt, twirled, and somersaulted out of the grand room to leave him alone with his daughter.
“Where did you find that?” he demanded in a tone that the Princess had never heard before, although he knew well enough what her answer would be, for he immediately recognized the enchanted box.
“I found it in the treasury on a high shelf, covered in dust. What is inside? May we open it?” she asked in her innocence and eagerness to satisfy her curiosity.
“No. It shall never be opened. Give it to me at once,” he said, extending his hand. “You had best forget you ever held it.”
The obedient Princess did as she was told, but she did not understand. The King refused to discuss the matter further, which only added to her curiosity. As the days passed, her curiosity grew and she became very frustrated. One day, when she was walking through the garden, she became so frustrated that tears began to well up in her eyes. The Princess was accustomed to only happiness and she did not know what was happening. She ran to the well to draw a bucket of clear water to use as a looking glass, and, as she bent over the well, her tears fell inside.
Suddenly, a peculiar voice called out to her from the well. “Dear Princess! Why do you cry?”
“I, I don’t know,” stammered the startled Princess. And truly she did not, for it had never happened before. But her tears stopped as a new curiosity took hold of her.
“Are you a troll?” she called down the well, hoping so because she would really like to meet one. Trolls were known to dwell in small spaces and they were quite harmless.
“Certainly not!” said the voice, now sounding indignant. “I am a fairy and I can surely say I have not tasted a princess’s tears in a dragon’s age. Now, what troubles you, Sweet Princess? I am certain I can help.”
Now the Princess was laughing. “A fairy? And I suppose I am to believe you are living down there with the giants and dragons and other beasts of jesters’ tales?”
“Fair Princess, I assure you that I am quite real and my purpose is to lend aid, if you will only accept it,” the mysterious voice offered.
“As you wish, Fairy of the Well, I will tell you my trouble,” started the Princess, and she told the Fairy of the curious little box.
“I know the box of which you speak, Princess. The box holds seven enchanted fairy coins and the fairies have missed them dearly. If you return them to me, I will grant you seven wishes, one for each coin,” said the Fairy.
The Princess was delighted to finally learn the contents of the box, but she lamented, “Alas, I cannot open it! I have tried.”
“The problem is no matter, for I have a key. Send down the bucket.” Moments later a beautiful silver key arrived by bucket from the bottom of the well. The Fairy assured the Princess it would fit the lock, and she promised she would return with the coins.
The Princess crept into the treasury and found the box again on its high shelf. She fit the tiny key in the dainty lock and it sprung open at once. Inside, she found seven tiny velvet pouches lying neatly in the silk-lined box. She untied the drawstrings of each little purse and admired the lovely gold coins inside.
The Princess spent much time in thought about what she might possibly wish for, as she already had nearly everything a young lady could want. Finally, she thought of something that she might enjoy greatly and she returned to the well where the Fairy had been patiently waiting.
She tossed the coin into the well as told and said, “Kind Fairy, give me the voice of a bird so that I may sing more sweetly than any other maiden in the land.”
“As you wish,” said the Fairy, “but know that if you take the voice of a bird you will sometimes lose their company.”
“No matter,” said the Princess, and she thought that a strange price to pay.
The Fairy granted the Princess her wish and she immediately sang the most beautiful song anyone had ever heard.
“Thank you, Kind Fairy,” she said with great happiness. “I will enjoy my gift and return in one year’s time with another coin and another wish.”
The Princess did enjoy her gift and she was praised for her lovely talent. Soon winter came and the weather grew quite cold. Snow and ice covered the land, such that had never been seen before. The birds flew away to the south and Famine and Sickness came to the people of the villages, who were not prepared for such cold. They had an emptiness in their bellies they had never felt before and they became very thin. Some coughed and became feverish. But the Princess was safe in her castle, which was well-supplied with food and firewood, and she hardly noticed when in a few months the snow melted and the birds returned.
In one year’s time, the Princess stole into the treasury again and retrieved a second magical coin. Again the Fairy was glad to see that she had returned and asked her to state her second wish.
“I have the most beautiful voice, Good Fairy, but I would like to also be the most beautiful maiden in all the land,” she uttered as she tossed in the second coin.
“Understand, My Princess that for you to be the most, someone must also be the least,” said the Fairy.
“No matter,” said the Princess, whose cheeks became rosier and her smile instantly more charming.
Now, the Princess was already very pretty, as was everyone in the joyful kingdom, but for one to be the most beautiful meant the others could not be. Soon each person began to wonder if they were more or less beautiful than the next, and so Vanity spread across the kingdom. With Vanity came Unkindness, and those who were not as handsome were mocked so that everyone could be sure who was more and who was less attractive. But the Princess did not notice, as she already knew she was the most beautiful and did not need to compare herself to anyone else.
Another year passed and the Princess returned to the well, saying, “Fairy of the Well, the cold winters have begun to deplete our stores and treasury. Make me the wealthiest princess in the world so that my family and I will never go without.”
It was very likely that the Princess was already the wealthiest princess in the world in those days, but the Fairy adorned her with the most brilliant crown of gold and diamonds so that when she went out of the castle everyone would know it. The Fairy’s magic then filled the treasury with even more gold and jewels than before so the Princess could be certain the family would not want for anything that money could buy.
As with beauty, the knowledge of who had the most wealth gave birth to the notion of least. People certainly did not want to be the least and, when they began to want more, Greed infected the kingdom. With Greed came Crime, and people began to lie, cheat, and steal. But the royal family’s wealth was safe behind castle walls and no one dared to cheat them.
When another year went by, the Princess went to the Fairy and said, “I have enjoyed my talent, beauty, and wealth, but I long to share it with someone. I wish for every man in the kingdom to fall in love with me so that I may have my choice as a husband.”
Of course, she could have had nearly any man in the kingdom anyway, but nevertheless she dropped the fourth coin in the well and soon after suitors began to come from far and wide to court her. As they did so, they left behind many a distraught maiden who felt the pangs of Envy. Similarly, the men experienced Rivalry between them as they fought for the Princess’s attention. But she fell blissfully in love with only one and took him for her husband.
A year later, the Princess brought a fifth coin to the well and pleaded, “Kind Fairy, I have been married nearly a year now and I am not yet pregnant. Please, give me a child.”
Certainly if she had given it time she would have born a child regardless of magical intervention, but she did not want to wait and as soon as she tossed the coin into the well she joyously felt new life stirring within her.
Some months later, the Princess experienced a tremendously difficult childbirth like nothing her midwives had ever seen. With her miserable cries, Pain was unleashed upon the world. But, as time passed, the Princess loved her baby so much that she forgot the agony of childbirth. However, Pain still existed and tormented humanity whenever it could with Injury.
The Princess waited another year to return with her sixth request, which was tremendous. As she dropped in the sixth coin, she said, “Generous Fairy, I have my own family now and I wish for my own kingdom so that we may rule it together.”
“Noble Princess, I can accomplish many things with my magic, but an entire kingdom? The price for this will be very high,” said the now familiar voice from deep within the well.
“No matter,” she said.
At first nothing happened and the Princess grew suspicious, but the Fairy assured her that by the end of one year’s time she would be Queen.
As the months passed, the King and Queen became very ill and the Princess nearly forgot about her wish as she cared for them. Time, which had once stood still in the glorious kingdom, was now beginning to show in the lines on their faces and in their weakening bodies. Then, on the eve of the day of her birth, the Princess’s mother and father died.
The darkness of Death fell over the land, and the Princess experienced an ache inside her that she never thought possible. She now knew Death’s companion, Grief. But, as she had wished, the kingdom was hers and she was the Queen.
The next day, the new Queen went to the garden and leaned over the edge of the well to make her final wish. She clutched the seventh coin in her hand.
“Wicked Fairy,” she pleaded, “I can no longer withstand the torments of Famine and Sickness, Vanity and Unkindness, Greed and Crime, Envy and Rivalry, Pain and Injury…” Her words trailed off, she sighed shakily, and then continued with a trembling voice, “…Death and Grief.”
“With this final coin,” she went on, as she dropped the coin into the dark void, “I wish for you to take back all of the Evils of the world.”
Her mournful pleading was met only with vile laughter as the Fairy said, “Foolish Queen, your wishes can not be undone and it was you who unleashed the Evils into the world. But, I will give you something for your final wish, for I am not completely heartless. Something that comes as close to removing the Evils from the world as possible, and that is Hope. As with all of my gifts, however, Hope comes with a price. With Hope comes Fear. When you experience Fear, you will turn to Hope for comfort.”
The young Queen had no choice but to accept the last gift and use it as best she could. As the years passed, her kingdom learned that with Hope came also Faith and Strength, and with the Goodness of Love and Happiness that they already knew, they were able to go on.
And still, to this day, the hopeful descendants of the kingdom are known to throw coins into wishing wells.
Sarah Hausman loves writing, roller derby, and her cat. She is lucky enough to have an awesome husband who allows her to spend time on all three.