subtitle: “A Holiday Romance from the Pen of Miss Alice Rainbird, Aged Seven”
by Charles Dickens
originally published 1868
this edition: illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, Vanguard Press, New York, 1953
Age: 4 +
Interests: magic, fairies, princesses
Also by this author (for children): The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Carol
There was once a king, and he had a queen; and he was the manliest of his sex, and she was the loveliest of hers. The king was, in his private profession, under government. The queen’s father had been a medical man out of town.
After buying some fish one day, the king – King Watkins the First – is stopped by an old lady, who turns out to be a fairy, and who gives him instructions for his eldest daughter Alicia. She is to save a fishbone from her dinner, a magic fishbone that can only be used once to grant a wish, provided she wishes for it at the right time.
Alicia saves the bone, but when the Queen grows ill the King grows impatient for Alicia to wish her well again. Even though Alicia is very busy looking after her 18 siblings she bides her time. There are a few scenes with her and the children, in which she manages all crises and keeps everyone fed and happy. When finally they have no money, and it is a long way until payday, she does at last make a wish, that it be payday. Along with the king’s salary rolling down the chimney, the fairy herself enters in a carriage pulled by peacocks. The fairy endeavours to fetch a husband for Alicia, a young Prince…
Prince Certainpersonio was sitting by himself, eating barley sugar, and waiting to be ninety.
When he saw the peacocks, followed by the carriage, coming in at the window, it immediately occurred to him that something uncommon was going to happen.
The wedding is magnificent, and they all share a cake that is 42 yards around.
A very odd little story that seems to have written more to amuse the author than anyone else.The Princess Alicia (who seems only to be 7) is the most sensible character in the story, besides the Fairy Grandmarina, who has occasion to frequently scold the foolish king. Alicia dashes about taking care of everyone and working very hard, telling her thoughts only to her doll the Duchess, and wisely waiting to use her magic fishbone until absolutely necessary. A little strange that she should have to be married off so matter-of-factly, but as Dickens is satirizing fairy tale conventions all along, it should come as no surprise that the princess should marry a prince at the end.
Children should enjoy this comic tale, especially the episodes of sibling chaos, which culminate in a memorable moment when they are all allowed to be chefs and dance about the kitchen. The whole tale is frothy and lighthearted, with many ‘modern’ touches. Here is the fairy’s announcement to the couple at the wedding…
“My dears, you will have thirty-five children, and they will be all good and beautiful. Seventeen of your children will be boys, and eighteen will be girls. The hair of the whole of your children will curl naturally. They will never have the measles, and will have recovered from the whooping cough before being born.”
And then the ending…
“It only remains,” said Grandmarina in conclusion, “to make an end of the fishbone.”
So she took it from the hand of the Princess Alicia, and it instantly flew down the throat of the dreadful little snapping pug-dog next door and choked him, and he expired in convulsions.