Fairy Tale Friday #3: Fairer-Than-A-Fairy (Plus-Belle-que-fée) by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force
Written by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force
Fairer-Than-A-Fairy (originally published in French under the name Plus-Belle-Que-Fee), was written in 1698 by French author Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force. La Force, a French novelist and poet, was best known for her tale Persinette, which was taken by the Grimm brothers and adapted into the 1812 rendition of Rapunzel.
It was published in Four and Twenty Tales, by James Planché, a British Dramatist. Many of La Force’s works became well known in the 1800’s.
A similar version, also called Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, was anonymously published in 1718 and attributed to Jean, Chevalier de Mailly, another fairy tale author, in Nouveaux contes de fées. This version was included in The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.
While these two version have some similarities, they are quite different. I’m curious if this is a case of plagiarism? Considering the close publication dates, it’s hard to say seeing how the 1718 version was published anonymously and has variations from La Force’s original version.
Once there was a King in Europe, who already had several children with a princess he had married. He decided to travel across his kingdom, and stayed in a beautiful castle. His wife bore a daughter more beautiful than anyone that the couriers named her “Fairer than a Fairy.” The Queen was forced to join her husband after the delivery in a far-away province that he was defending. The girl was left behind with a governess, who took great care of her.
As time passed and the girl grew, her beauty became famous in all the land. The fairies heard of this girl, and because jealous. The Queen of the Fairies was malevolent and was called Nabote. She called a council and told them of her plan to take revenge against all of those in the world who were beautiful, including in her own court, and of course, Fairer than a Fairy. So the queen set out in plain clothes to the castle where the girl lived.
To her dismay, the castle was built by a great magician who protected it with the power for no one to leave the grounds other than by their own free will. Fairer than a Fairy was instructed by her governess to never leave the castle grounds, in order to keep her under protect of the spell. Nabote seamlessly slid into the girl’s good graces, and taught her many things, and always looked for an opportunity to spirit her away.
One day, Nabote faked illness outside the castle grounds and was able to trick Fairer than a Fairy to come to her aid. Nabote seized the girl and stole away with her. They arrived at the Queen’s castle where she was stripped of her beautiful clothes and garbed in shabby ones. Despite her humiliation, Fairer knew that such a beautiful place could not only hold torment for her.
She was taken by two fairies down a massive set of stairs into a black marble gallery. The walls were covered with cobwebs that seemed to come back even denser when brushed away. The fairies told Fairer than a Fairy that the room must be cleaned by daybreak, or else she would be punished. She began crying in despair. Before her appeared a young man, who shone brilliantly. Dazzled, he introduced himself as Phratis, the fairy Queen’s son, who loved Fairer than a Fairy. He took the broom she was using and touched the cobwebs. In an instant, they turned into strands of golden craftsmanship. He then gave her a key to a locked panel in her cell that hid supplies in it, and then disappeared.
When Fairer entered her cell, she heard a forelorned voice. She called out and learned that another princess had been stolen away by the fairies. Too, being born beautiful without the help of the fairies, Desirs became one that the fairies grew jealous of. She was about to be married to a young prince when she taken. Fairer found a door between their rooms and was able to open it to meet Desirs face-to-face. Being enlisted to turn acorns into pearls by morning, Fairer told her of the man who had aided her in her task, saying that if he loved her, he would help Desirs in her task too. Suddenly, the bag of acorns started shaking and each turned into a magnificent pearl.
With the task done, Fairer searched for the lock to which the key was for. Finding it, the door opened to a magnificent apartment, which the two girls entered and slept.
The next morning, the fairies came up with more impossible tasks for the two princesses to accomplish, seeing how they couldn’t punish them. Desirs was told to go to the sea-shore and write on the sand, but to take care for what she wrote could never be defaced. Fairer was told to go to Mount Adventurous and retrieve a vase of the water of immortality. They gave her feathers and wax so she could make wings for herself, and perish in the pursuit of the task.
Fairer struggled in vain to make wings for herself. She cried out to Phratis saying that if he loved her, he would come help her. He appeared immediately, and transformed himself into an eagle. Bearing her on his back, he flew her to the top of the mountain. There, she drank some of the immortal water, then wished that Desirs also had some. The eagle took a shoe from her foot, then flew it down to the sea-shore to the other princess.
He returned to Fairer, then took her to Desirs. When he transformed back into a man, Fairer became jealous of Desirs’ reaction to his appearance, that she placed herself between the two. Again, Fairer tests her lover’s love and said that if he loved her, he would help Desirs with her task. He obeyed, and disappeared, leaving behind a tablet firmly fixed in the sand with a poem on it.
The Queen sent for the girls to be found. Discovering that they both had succeeded in their tasks, she knew someone of her own must have aided them. She assigned their next tasks; Desirs to fetch the Rouge of Youth from the Fair of Time, and Fairer to capture the Hind with Silver Feet from the Wood of Wonders.
Desirs was was taken to a place with large buildings occupied by fairies. Everyone thought her to be charming and beautiful. But when she asked for the Rogue of Youth, they all told her to not inquire further about it, for if not a fairy, it was a sign of torment to the person searching for it. She happened upon an evil fairy who said she had it and would have her stay there until the morning while it was prepared. Kept in a dismal place, Desirs called for Phratis’ help, but he did not answer.
The next morning a young girl brought her food, and told her that the mistress of the Fairy wanted to help her. The Fairy had sent for an evil spirit to take Desirs’ beauty from her, therefore, making the Queen happy. Terrified for losing her beauty, Desirs tried to escape the dark room, when she happened upon another, whom she recognized to be her beloved and betrothed. He explained to her that in search for her, he was told to enter the land of the fairies. It was there that the evil Fairy had arrested him and fell in love with him. He became caretaker of all her treasure and power, and that she had just left for a long trip.
He gave her the gem of Gyges to wear, which made her invisible, as well as the Rogue of Youth, which she put on her face to make herself even more beautiful. As informed by the wise sage, the prince took Desirs back to the Queen of the Fairies under the cover of invisibility. Approaching, he took the gem back, making himself invisible and Desirs reappear. She presented herself with the Rogue of Youth, and everyone was astonished. The Queen sentenced her to death as she couldn’t seem to make the princess fail.
Fairer than a Fairy was taken to the Wood of Wonders to chase the Silver-footed Hind. It was an impossible task. The Silver-footed Hind was a previous Queen of the Fairies, condemned to the form to wander the woods for one hundred years. The queen had had several lovers, but maintained to kept her virtue. One man threatened to kill himself if she didn’t return his adoration, which eventually he did. The sage who reared the man complained to the council which condemned the Queen to the form. The only escape she could have was if a fair woman could find her within ten days and restore her to her original form. Many girls had tried to capture the deer, but lost themselves in the forest and never returned.
Fairer, having few provisions, quickly lost herself in the woods. She spotted the deer, but could never get close enough to catch it. She called for Phratis, but he didn’t come. When she woke, she could that the ground beneath her had formed into a couch. Fruits grew all around her and she replenished herself on them. The deer stood close, and she tried to capture it without avail. This went on for four days.
The next day, Phratis appeared to Fairer, telling her that his mother suspects that he is helping her and he only just escaped. He encouraged her, then left. When night came, he appeared to her again, and gave her his illuminated wand to lead her through the forest to a series of tasks he instructs her to do. She comes to a cave where she finds the skin of the Hind, She placed the skin on a fire she had made then inspected the cave further.
She comes across the previous Queen and the beautiful women who were lost in the woods, who had been turned into animals by day and trapped. Having burned their skins, the women were free to return back to the fairy realm.
They travel back to the fairy realm only to discover Desirs tied to a stack. When Fairer realizes who she is, she cries out. Suddenly, Desirs betrothed appears in her place, which happens to also be Fairer’s brother. The good fairy Queen is welcomed by all of the fairies, and immediately regains the throne from a begrudging Nabote. Hearing that the princesses were taken by the fairies because of their beauty, she frees them. She sends Nabote to rule over the Beautiful Islands which belong to her, in exchange for leaving her son with the good Fairy Queen.
Nabote was upset with decision of the Queen, but couldn’t object for she wasn’t as powerful. Phratis appears and looks at Fairer, making her realize the depths of his love for her. The two couples were married on the same day, in much happiness.
“Envy and jealousy only serve to increase its lustre, and often the justice of Heaven renders its possessors happier for the trials they have undergone.”
What a lovely fairy tale! The version I read (what I consider to be the original) was written by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force in 1698. It is not to be confused with the version published in Andrew Lang’s The Yellow Fairy Book, as it is not the same.
This tale tells of a girl born so beautiful, that the courtiers of her father’s court named her Fairer-than-a-Fairy. Naturally, when the Queen of the fairies heard the name and of the girl’s beauty unbestowed upon her by the fairies, she grew jealous. She stole her away into the Kingdom of Fairies and put her through a series of impossible tasks in order for her to fail at so she could be punished. However, Fairer found that friends exist in all realms of the Earth.
There, she also met another prisoner princess names Desirs, who also was given trials to fail at as punishment for her natural beauty. The two quickly become friends and help each other throughout their time in the realm.
This story breathes the importance of perseverance into its readers. While both Fairer and Desirs did nothing to deserve the treatment given to them by the fairies, they tried their best to complete what was asked of them. Jealousy is a poisonous and powerful emotion and seeks to ruin the one it possesses, as demonstrated here. It was interesting when Fairer showed jealousy herself towards Phratis when he first appeared to Desirs. Even though Fairer is exceedingly beautiful, she doubts his devotion to her up until the very end. (Little has changed for us woman and our insecurities.) Overall, I thought this was a great read, with strong characters and underlying messages.
My Rating: ★★★★★