Magic traverses a long, broad path. At the start there is enchantment: a chickadee in hand, a muffled winter walk, a patience stone. Somewhere in the middle are mysterious forces: mind reading, love potions, spirit conjuring. In the end there is full-on drama: a vengeful sorceress, a talking cat, a flying carpet. The word itself, those five innocuous letters, is captivating. Other words have magic too, since a combination of symbols conjures meaning in the mind, a kind of spell. H-O-R-S-E. What do you see? Magic is all around us in the guise of wishful thinking, reading the future in the palm of one’s hand, an unexpected but appreciated smile.
Magic has always been an integral part of human culture. In hunting-gathering society, for example, sympathetic magic was used to tame a prey, control their surrounding or harm a victim. Magicians have historically been both revered and feared for their supernatural power. The word magic has its roots in magos: ‘one of the members of the learned and priestly class,’ from Old Persian magush. We all know about the Magi or the wise men who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. But with the advent of Christianity, Magus (the singular form of Magi) assumed a negative connotation. Simon the Magus in The New Testament is a case in point. Magic soon became a dark force, although earlier Moses himself performed magic.1
The magic of a fairy tale is twofold: magical events occur within, and the story in and of itself is spellbinding. But the magic of fairy tales, though similar in kind to magic in other types of literature, is more often than not subtle, quietly making the ordinary extraordinary, awakening us, as opposed to shocking or merely entertaining.
There was once a queen who gave birth to a son so ugly and ungainly that even his mother’s heart could not warm to him at all. But the fairy midwife who attended her told her that she would certainly learn to love him because he would grow up to be very clever and exceptionally charming and, she added, because of the gift she was about to make him, he would be able to share his native wit with the one he would love best, when the time came.2
“Ricky with the Tuft” begins with something both universal and unthinkable: a mother’s inability to bond with her newborn child. This is truly the absence of magic, for when a mother is able to forge that inexplicable link with her babe, it is a force to be reckoned with. Wherever a void is created, it will be filled. A fairy midwife steps into the breach and casts a love spell on the disheartened woman so that she will see her son with new eyes. It’s up to the reader to decide whether this spell is overt or covert magic. Will the new mother mirror her son’s wonderful potential, thereby fulfilling the spell’s prophecy? Or, did the fairy midwife directly alter the course of the baby’s future with her words? (Who among us isn’t better able to face life’s vicissitudes with the good will of a loved one focused on our efforts? Isn’t this a kind of magic?) Ricky grew up to astound everyone with his eloquence and his wisdom and was greatly admired. But in another kingdom, a queen gave birth to twin girls, only one of whom was pretty to look at. The same fairy midwife attended the birth, and she worked as hard to reassure the new mother as she had Ricky’s.
As the two princesses grew up, their perfections grew with them and everywhere nobody talked of anything but the beauty of the elder and the wit and wisdom of the younger. But age also emphasised their defects. The younger grew more ugly as you looked at her and the elder became daily more and more stupid.3
As time goes by, the twins become more and more what others expect from them. Both are aware of their imperfections. The intelligent princess turns out to be the more attractive to potential suitors, the young men being dazzled by her words, an alternative spell to that which good looks are known to cast. The stupid princess, painfully aware of what it is she lacks, goes off into the woods alone to grieve her lot in life. There she runs into Ricky, who, hearing of the famous princesses, had been on his way to meet them. The ugly yet surprisingly charming prince reassures the pretty young woman that marriage to him will cure her stupidity once and for all. Though he gives her a year to decide, she immediately agrees. But Ricky is sensible enough to know that a year should pass before they wed. When the princess returns home, she shocks the kingdom with her new wisdom and eloquent tongue. With her confidence bolstered, the princess soon finds she has a long list of suitors to choose from, so that when Ricky reappears one year later, she is certain he will reconsider.
“You astonish me, madame,” said Ricky with the Tuft. “I daresay I do,” said the princess calmly. “And, certainly, if I were dealing with an insensitive man, I should feel very embarrassed. An insensitive man would say to me: ‘A princess must keep her word. You promised to marry me and marry me you shall.’ But I know I am speaking to a subtle and perceptive man of the world and I am certain he will listen to reason. As you know, when I was a fool, I could not bring myself to a firm decision concerning our marriage. Now I have the brains you gave me, I am even more difficult to please than I was then. And would you wish me to make a decision today that I could not make when I had no sense? If you wished to marry me, you did me a great wrong to take away my stupidity and make me see clearly things I never saw before.” Ricky with the Tuft replied: “If an insensitive man would be justified in reproaching you for breaking your word, why should you expect, madame, that I should not behave in the same way when my whole life’s happiness is at stake? Is it reasonable that a sensitive man should be treated worse than an insensitive one? Would you say that, when you possess so much reason yourself, and wanted it so much? But let us come to the point. With the single exception of my ugliness, is there anything in me that displeases you? Are you dissatisfied with my birth, my intelligence, my personality or my behaviour?” “Not at all,” replied the princess. “I love everything about you except your person.”4
Ricky reassures the princess that loving him will make him as beautiful as she is. She relents; and so he is made handsome, at least in her eyes, love being, perhaps, magic at its most powerful.
First Image by Couleur at Pixabay.com Second Image by Pexels at Pixabay.com Third Image by DariuszSankowski at Pixabay.com
- Mortuza, Shamsad. “Of Spells and Quills: Exploring Magic in Literature,” accessed February 19, 2019 at https://www.thedailystar.net/in-focus/spells-and-quills-exploring-magic-literature-1237609.
- Carter, Angela. “Ricky with the Tuft” from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Penguin Books: London, 1977), 39.
- Carter, Angela. “Ricky with the Tuft” from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Penguin Books: London, 1977), 40.
- Carter, Angela. “Ricky with the Tuft” from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Penguin Books: London, 1977), 43-44.