This week’s fairy tale comes from Andrew Dakers Ltd.’s Andersen’s Fairy Tales and, like many of Hans Christian Andersen’s other works, it is not subtle about its moral messages. A prince is told stories about the Garden of Paradise (aka Eden) as a little boy and grows up obsessed with it. When he is seventeen years old, he goes walking in the woods and is driven by a sudden violent storm into a cavern he has never seen before, where an elderly woman is roasting a whole stag over a huge fire. She invites the prince in to warm himself, introducing herself as the mother of the Four Winds. The prince has not been there long before her sons begin to return home. First to arrive is the North Wind, who brings with him a rush of icy air and hailstones. He’s surprised to see his mother’s guest, but she makes it clear who gives the invitations in this house and the North Wind quickly changes the subject.
He has come from the Polar Seas and a place called Bear’s Island, where he has been enjoying himself throwing icebergs at the ships of Russian whalers. He tells a good story but his mother is very unimpressed by this sort of behaviour. Fortunately for him, she is distracted by the arrival of her second son, the Western Zephyr. He has been in the forests, he tells her, where he has been storming about smashing trees and running with wild horses, and probably less innocent things that he’s wise enough not to tell her about. Definitely brighter than the third son, the South Wind, who comes home in a sulk because his brothers have made the place too cold for his liking. He’s been in Africa, where he has buried a whole caravan of merchants in sand. His mother is furious. She seizes him and thrusts him into a sack to think on how evil he’s been. Even inside the sack, he can’t behave properly, rolling about on the floor until his mother sits on him to hold him still. Talk about tough love.
The prince is slightly alarmed by all this family drama. Things only quiet down when the East Wind arrives. He has just returned from China and has brought his mother freshly plucked green tea. His being the favourite son, and the only one to think of bringing her a gift, she agrees to release the South Wind so that the brothers can talk. For tomorrow the East Wind goes to the Garden of Paradise and he has promised the Princess who lives there tales of the phoenix. His brother has collected for him the bird’s full history, transcribed by its own beak onto a palm leaf and signed with a bite mark.
A good mood has been restored. The family settle down to dinner and the prince, who has sensibly kept his mouth shut up until now, makes sure to take a place beside the East Wind. Princesses? Phoenixes? The Garden of Paradise…? The East Wind is a friendlier sort than his brothers and quite happy to talk. When Adam and Eve were thrown from Eden, he explains, the Garden sank underground, but it is still as enchanting a place as ever, and the queen of the fairies liked it so much she moved in. The prince makes it clear he wants to come when the East Wind leaves the next day, but he is still rather taken aback when he wakes up soaring above the clouds on his new friend’s back. They fly so fast that the trees sway in their wake and ships roll uncontrollably on the sea below. By evening they are over the Himalayas, and soon afterwards descend, slipping through a curtain of vines into a cavern where water has wrought the stone into such strange shapes that the prince is convinced they are travelling through a valley of Death. But then a beautiful blue light comes beaming forth to meet them and they emerge into an exquisite garden, where the air is scented by roses and a river clear as air flows at their feet. Tame lions and tigers loll about between magnificent palm trees; extraordinary flowers like the tails of peacocks sparkle in the grass. The prince has finally found his way to the Garden of his dreams.
And then comes its new queen to greet them. The Fairy of Paradise (presumably also known as the Princess?) arrives with a train of beautiful young attendants and is thrilled by the East Wind’s gift. She is equally welcoming to the dazzled prince, leading him into her palace, where Time has marked each event of the Garden’s history in living pictures on each window pane. In the palace’s great hall is a tree bearing golden apples and this, the prince realises, is the tree of knowledge that saw Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden. He is not given time to dwell on anything for long though – like the excellent hostess she is, the Fairy is trying to show him around. They climb into a boat that shows them all the countries of the world without moving anywhere and the prince is so delighted with everything he has seen that he wants nothing more than to stay. The Fairy is not so sure this is a good idea. The East Wind is about to leave and he will not return for a hundred years; if the prince decides to stay, he will be here for a long time. Every evening of his time here, the Fairy warns him, she will tempt him, calling for him to follow her to where she sleeps beneath the tree of knowledge. If he gives in and touches her, Paradise will sink beneath the earth and be lost once more.
This makes not the slightest bit of sense to me. If she doesn’t want him to come with her, why ask? For that matter, why not just hide the tree that causes all this misery instead of flaunting it under his nose? Anyway, the prince chooses to stay, but the moment the Fairy beckons to him he forgets her every warning. Following her into the palace, he parts the branches of the golden tree and finds her already asleep. He can’t resist kissing her. If this was another fairy tale and she was a human princess instead of a fairy, he would probably be rewarded for his impetuosity – in this story, he’s just an idiot who wasn’t listening when he was told the rules. The Fairy vanishes, the Garden sinks away, and the Prince wakes to rain and cold. He is in the woods near his own home and the mother of the Winds is beside him, furious with his ineptitude. Nor is she the only one. Death, black-winged and carrying a scythe, is in two minds over whether to kill the prince right here and now. He decides against it. If the prince has improved by the time Death returns, one day in the unpredictable future, he may yet return to the Garden of Paradise.
And that is…it. ‘The Garden of Paradise’ is so extremely religious in tone that I don’t know if it can actually be called a fairy tale – it’s more of a fable, and not an especially enjoyable one at that, since you know from the moment the Fairy gives her warning that the prince won’t listen. The only thing I like about it is the idea of the Winds as an irascible quartet of sons still in awe of their elderly but completely formidable mother. And that she can be bribed out of bad temper with a nice cup of tea.