The collection of the brothers Grimm is formidably extensive and it is still possible for me to find ones I have never heard of before. ‘The Pink Flower’ is one of these. It begins with a childless queen whose prayers for a baby are answered in person by an angel, who assures her that not only will she soon have a son, he will have the power to make things happen simply by wishing. Is it just me or is that a terribly unwise gift to bestow upon anybody, let alone an infant? Not that the queen cares, she dotes over her boy. It becomes her habit to go walking every day in the royal animal park and one day she happens to fall asleep with him in her lap.
This is when the villain of the piece, a covetous cook, seizes his chance to strike. He has heard of the boy’s prophesied powers and wants them for himself. Stealing away the little prince and concealing him with a menaced wet-nurse, the cook returns to drip chicken blood all over the sleeping queen’s dress and then accuses her of allowing her child to be taken by wild animals. The king believes him. He orders that the queen be locked up in a lightless tower and left there to starve. Her prayers do not secure a release, but two angels take the shape of doves, bringing her food and drink so that she doesn’t actually die.
The cook, meanwhile, leaves the castle and – using the boy’s powers – sets himself up as lord of a magnificent castle. As he likes to go out most days to hunt, spending very little time actually in this castle, he tells his young charge to wish himself up a companion, and a beautiful girl is conjured from thin air. Which is SO DISTURBING. Still, they’re only children, and all the prince wants is someone to play with. It’s the cook who’s thinking long-term strategy. Sure, the wishing powers are very convenient, but what if one day the boy wishes to be reunited with his parents?
So one day he pulls the girl aside, gives her a knife and tells her to stab the prince through the heart or he’ll kill her himself.
Now, he’s failing to take a few things into account. One, that the girl ever for one second would consider killing her only friend in the world. Two, that she is so stupid she’ll forget said friend has magical wishing powers. She uses an animal’s heart and tongue to trick the cook into thinking she’s done his bidding, only to have the perfectly healthy and totally livid prince leap from hiding and lash out with a truly vindictive wish. The cook is transformed into a black dog, chained in gold, and is forced to eat hot coals until he breathes fire.
Remember what I said about this gift being a bad idea? Yeah. That would be why.
The prince’s thoughts now turn to his mother. He wants to see her again. The girl doesn’t really want to come and be among strangers, but neither does the prince want to leave her behind, so he turns her into a pink flower and pockets her. Their relationship is weird beyond belief. Returning to the kingdom of his birth, the prince wishes for a ladder to reach the top of his mother’s tower. “I’m your dear son that the wild animals supposedly stole from your lap,” he calls into the dark. “But I’m still alive and shall rescue you soon.”
Not quite yet, though, he goes to his father first and introduces himself as a skilled huntsman. The king doubts this. There has never been good hunting in his lands, but that was before Mr Wish-It came along. The prince just stands there surrounded by armed men, wishes for a stampede of suicidal deer to come running by, and comes back to the palace with sixty wagons of slaughtered beasts. Someone take those powers away from him RIGHT NOW. But they don’t; the king rewards him instead with a seat of honour at the ensuing feast.
The prince’s next wish is that the topic of his mother’s imprisonment be raised at the table. A courtier butts in obligingly. “Your Majesty, we’re sitting here and celebrating in joy, but how is the queen doing in the tower? Is she still alive or has she perished?” The king tells him to shut up. The prince takes this as his cue to stand up and introduce himself, explaining that he was really abducted, not eaten, and look, here is my tortured dog to prove it! At his wish, the poodle is transformed back into the cook, who is promptly thrown into a dungeon. The prince then turns his flower back into a girl, to introduce to his dad, and the king orders that the queen be released and brought to join the feast. That isn’t enough to save her. Three days after her release, she dies and her angels come to watch over her grave.
The king, who is incapable of taking responsibility for his own travesties of justice, has the cook torn up, but that doesn’t make him feel any better and he dies soon after as well. The prince inherits the throne and marries his flower lady, and quite probably becomes the most terrifying dictator ever.
There are magical powers, and then there are Magical Powers. Being able to make anything you want happen just by wishing cannot be healthy for your emotional resilience. On the other hand, it does seem the prince can’t bring back the dead, or presumably he would have resurrected his parents. I get the feeling this story was meant to have a moral, but I can’t imagine what on earth that might have been. Kidnapping is bad? Being married to a king sucks?
Be careful who you wish for.