Hello, everyone! I’m back with another snarky magical tale from the brilliant Madame D’Aulnoy, or as she was known to the peasants, la Comtesse. Today’s story is called “Bluecrest,” in The Golden Book of Fairytales, but it’s also known by the name “The Blue Bird.” If you were to read this for the first time as a child, you might find it distressing. In addition to the usual scheming and trickery, there are disturbing elements of violence in this story, so if you don’t want to read about mutilation, stop here. Is this a fairytale or Saw? Some avid readers of these tales might say they’re one and the same, so it’s still a mystery why they’re considered suitable fare for children. Perhaps I can blame these fairytales for my love of horror movies. Anyway, this one is a saga, so buckle up!
We begin the story, as we almost always do, with a king and his beautiful daughter named April. Or since this story is originally French, Avril. So basically, picture Avril Lavigne, sans racoon eye-makeup, and her wonderful, non-greedy, non-narcissistic king father, and of course, no mother, because she probably died in childbirth.
Alas, their idyll could not last long, as kings must marry and beget male heirs, and so the king marries a new wife. Can you imagine what happens next?
The new queen, too, had a daughter, whose godmother was Fairy Fretful. But not even fairy powder could make this girl either pretty or pleasant. Her name was Trouty, for her face was speckled like a trout’s belly. Her hair was a web of tangles, as greasy as her yellowish skin. Nevertheless, the queen loved Trouty and wanted her to have everything. Envy made her hate the sight of April, and long to do her harm.
Ah, women, so uncomplicated. They’re either Aprils or Troutys, beautiful like the springtime, or so hideous that they must be named after a fish. Naturally, beautiful women and hideous women cannot be friends, even if both of them might be nice and intelligent on the inside, and naturally, their mothers MUST avenge their own petty grievances in a proxy war against their imagined enemies.
One day, the king said, “Isn’t it time we found royal husbands for our girls?”
“Yes,” said the queen. “Trouty should wed the greatest prince alive. She’s an adorable girl, not vain and silly like April. Of course,” she continued slyly, “Trouty’s the elder. So April mayn’t even think of marrying yet. First we must marry my Trouty to the best man alive.”
Seems like a super reasonable ask, and the king agrees, because “he hated quarrels.” Fairytale dads, amirite? Either they’re too involved in their daughters lives and want to kill them, or they’re so neglectful that they let their new wives wreak havoc. I would hope that he was using all of that saved mental energy on creating a social safety net for the peasants, but in reality, he was probably drinking wine and planning his next English invasion.
So the king dips out of this story, and the queen invites King Crispin to visit the princesses, as he was known “far and wide as the richest, kindest, and best of rulers.” Note how richest comes first. So we have Avril Lavigne, Crispin (who I imagine looks like Crispin Glover from Back to the Future but that’s just me) and Trouty, who is probably an actual fish and not a human girl at all. Perhaps somewhat aware that her daughter is less attractive than April, the queen buys up every yard of cloth in town so that April can’t make any new dresses. Since she’s a princess, she already has hundreds of dresses, so the queen tells her servants to steal April’s dresses so that she’s forced to borrow an “old, dirty dress from one of the maids.” Horrified that Crispin might mistake her for a poor, April hides in the corner. Anyone else seeing similarities between this and The Real Housewives?
Trouty was dressed in a blaze of glory, but it made her ugliness more plain. Crispin tried to ignore Trouty. The queen kept shoving her in front of him.
“Isn’t there another princess named April?” he asked at last.
“There she is,” said Trouty, pointing and giggling rudely. “She’s hiding because she looks so sloppy.”
April blushed, but the more she blushed the more beautiful she became.
As the boys from One Direction once said “You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful.” Because the hottest girls have self-esteem issues.
Shockingly, Crispin finds beautiful April much more compelling than a fish-girl, and they spend the next three hours talking, probably about hunting and shit because you know that our girl April is NOT a scholar. You think King Dad had time for that when he’s so busy trying to avoid interpersonal conflict?
The queen is so enraged that Crispin preferred April to Trouty that she goes to the king and tells him to lock April in a tower for insulting their guest. He agrees, because he hates conflict. At this point, it seems less like he hates conflict and more like he hates dealing with anything that inconveniences him and interrupts his wine time. Someone needs to slap this guy.
Locked in her tower, April weeps and longs for Crispin. Poor Crispin does the same. Determined to make Crispin like her fish daughter, the queen tells all the servants to spread lies about April, like that she “hits her maid and kicks her cat.” Would that really turn a wealthy prince against her? He probably eats off of the backs of servants like they’re a table. This is 16th century France here, people! The prince doesn’t believe these lies anyway, believing that he knows April better than anyone, even though they only talked for three hours.
If you thought that this KWEEN would just give up her scheming and accept that Crispin finds her daughter unattractive, then you got another think coming, pal! Since bold-faced lying failed (the first tool in the Real Housewives arsenal), they move to gifts. Rich people love gifts. Trouty sends Crispin “stacks of books and clothes and boxes full of jewels,” but once Crispin discovers that they’re from Trouty, he sends them all back. By now he’s getting real sick of all of this tomfoolery, so he sends one of his lords to bribe a servant into telling him where April is hidden. No one thinks to, I don’t know, confront the king for imprisoning his daughter in a tower?
No one does. Instead, the lord bribes a willing servant to arrange a meeting between April and Crispin at her tower window, but the joke’s on him, because that servant was…THE QUEEN’S SPY! The tables have turned and turned back and turned one more time because when Crispin goes to the tower and tells April of his eternal love for her, it’s actually Trouty in disguise! For some reason, he can’t tell the difference between their voices, but who can blame him, when he only spoke to April for three hours. Crispin asks April to marry him, and Trouty accepts, and Crispin puts his ring on her finger and swears eternal love. It’s beginning to seem like the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac, which is very upsetting to anxious people like me.
The next night, Crispin flies to the tower in a “flying chariot drawn by winged frogs, which had been given to him by a kind enchanter friend.” You would think magic was something rare and special in this world, but everyone and their cousin has a kind enchanter friend with a frog-drawn chariot. Veiled so as to disguise her fishiness, Trouty enters the carriage and tells Crispin to take them to her godmother Fairy Fretful’s house. Crispin entirely misses this red flag and goes to Fairy Fretful’s house, where the fairy reveals Trouty’s identity and tells Crispin that he has to marry her because he swore eternal love. I don’t think that would hold up in court since Trouty was impersonating someone else (and that’s actually a crime), but this is fairy law here, so the truth doesn’t matter!
“I’ve been tricked,” said Crispin. “But I will not be made a fool of into the bargain. Madam, please order my chariot. I must leave, at once.”
“No, sire, that’s up to me. You go or stay as I choose,” replied Fretful. She touched his shoulder, and Crispin found his feet stuck fast to the floor.
“Stone me, skin me alive, if you will. I’ll marry no one but April. My mind is made up.”
Fretful howled; she begged; she insisted; she threatened…Crispin stood firm….This went on for twenty days and nights. No one slept or ate or sat. At last, Fretful, worn out, said, “Crispin, you’re a fool. Take your choice: either seven years of punishment or marriage to my godchild, Trouty.”
For the first time in twenty days, Crispin spoke. “Do what you will with me. I will marry no one but April.”
What a scene. Picture it: you free your bride from imprisonment and steal away on a frog-drawn carriage, only to find out that your beautiful bride is actually a fish-woman. And then her fairy godmother glues you to the ground, and you stay there for twenty days, somehow not dying of thirst or starvation, until the fairy godmother is fed-up with your principled stand against forced marriage and gives you an ultimatum: a horrible seven year punishment, or marriage to Trouty. I, being weak and unprincipled, would just marry Trouty. You don’t have to sleep with her, Crispin! It’s just a legal document between royals! But Crispin, being a man of honor, would rather die than marry an uggo, so he accepts the fairy’s punishment and becomes….a bird. A really pretty bird who can still talk. Seems alright, I guess? He could have been a ram instead.
Having failed to trick Crispin into marriage, Trouty returns to her mother unwed and unashamed. They may not have won, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop harassing April. Dressed in a wedding gown, and still wearing Crispin’s ring, Trouty goes to April in her tower and pretends to have married Crispin. And April, who as you might remember is NOT a scholar, believes her, and wallows in her misery until, what’s that, a bird at her window? Oh yes, as you might have guessed Bird Prince is just as in love with April as Human Prince, and he’s not going to wait seven long years to tell her. After reassuring April that he would never marry someone as ugly as Trouty, he professes his love to April and they make up, promising to meet every night at the window.
And for the next two years, they have a relationship as happy as anyone could imagine. Bird Prince shows up at April’s tower with priceless jewels, and April in return gets to sit and look pretty. For Trouty, however, the two years aren’t so great, as her mother’s husband-hunting efforts produces no results.
“The queen decided it must be April’s fault. She hated April more than ever.”
Listen, lady. April is literally imprisoned in a tower. She’s not even on the marriage market. Just accept that your daughter is a fish and no one wants to marry a fish and move on!
Angry at April’s happiness, the queen decides to spy on her.
Snoopily, the queen bent to listen at the door. She thought she heard a duet being sung, for April had a bird-sweet voice. “Trouty, she’s tricked us!” cried the queen, rushing in.
Quick as lightning, April shut the window to give Bluecrest a chance to fly off.
“You’re plotting to overthrow the government!” screamed the queen. “You’re a spy and a traitor!”
Um, what? That’s the first thing the queen accuses April of? Treason? Let’s recap here. Trouty was there when Crispin was turned into a bird. She saw him fly away. They just heard April singing with a bird. Wouldn’t they put two-and-two together and realize that April was singing with Bird Prince? And why would they care, anyway? Bird Prince can’t offer Trouty anything until his curse ends.
Since Trouty and the queen aren’t exactly geniuses, they decide to send a maid into April’s tower as an undercover spy to uncover the mysterious bird duetist. But the maid falls asleep, and April reunites with Bird Prince as happily as she did before. The next night, however, the spy only pretends to sleep, and sees April talking with Bluecrest. She reports this all to the queen, who for some reason is SHOCKED and BETRAYED, and decides to end April’s little rendezvous for good.
The vicious queen had given orders. Every branch of the cypress tree had been hung with razors and two edge swords. When Bluecrest had flown to his cypress tree, his feet were cut. He dropped, and his wins were cut. He fell, and he was pierced by a sword. Wounded, he had just managed to drag himself back to his tree.
Bluecrest wanted to die. He was sure that April had betrayed him. He supposed that she had bought her freedom by telling the queen about her nightly visitor.
Again, really? That’s the conclusion he comes to? Not the glaring probability that the sneaky queen and her sneaky daughter set a sneaky trap for him? These people are so beautiful, but so stupid.
Luckily for Bluecrest, his enchanter friend pulls up in his frog-drawn carriage and whisks him away to be healed. They decide that even though he’s still a bird, he must return to his kingdom and rule over the people. Apparently the peasants are fine with a bird for a king. Over in April’s kingdom, similar governmental transitioning is occurring, as the April’s father dies and leaves her nothing but a vacuum of power. The peasants choose April as their new leader and chase out Trouty and the queen for committing the crimes of malicious ugliness, and everything is peaceful again.
Except for April, who yearns for Bluecrest. Like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, she decides to abandon her kingdom (after appointing a council, duh), and travel the world as a poor peasant until she finds Bluecrest. But lest she actually be poor (GOD FORBID), she brings her stash of priceless jewels for security.
One day she came to a brook, and decided to rest there. As she bathed her tired feet, an old lady appeared. “What are you doing, my dear?” asked the old lady.
“I’m looking for Bluecrest,” said April sadly, and she told her story.
In a flash, the old lady turned into a bright young fairy. “Lovely April, she said, “my colleague Fretful has changed Bluecrest back into King Crispin. He is at his palace. If you are brave, you will find a happy ending to your story. Here are four eggs. When you are in real need, break one. It will help you.”
I really love how this fairy calls Fretful her “colleague,” like they’re all in a trade union. Additionally, I can’t imagine a more unhelpful gift than a bunch of eggs. They’re opaque, they’re fragile, they’re not easily portable! Can’t she give her an iPhone? April has never heard of one of those, so she accepts the eggs and heads on her way. Soon she comes to a mountain that is too steep to climb, so she breaks an egg and finds…golden grippers that slip over her shoes. OKAY, I GUESS? She climbs up the mountain, but then it’s too steep to climb down, so she breaks another egg and finds a chariot drawn by pigeons. Seems like she could have just broken that egg and skipped the whole mountain part, but that’s the problem with putting magical gifts inside eggs.
The pigeon chariot carries her to Crispin’s kingdom, where she learns that Crispin will be appearing at the town cathedral the next morning with Trouty. Just as quick to judgment as Crispin, April immediately decides that he’s betrayed her and married Trouty. These people have no understanding of nuance.
Trouty appears in the square and sees April, but doesn’t recognize her because of convenient face-blindness, and April offers to sell her one of her priceless pieces of jewelry. When Trouty low-balls her, April says that she’ll trade it for a night in the royal echo chamber instead of gold. Royal echo chamber, you say? What the fuck is that? No need for explanation, it just exists, okay? Deal with it!
That night, April stays in the royal echo chamber, which is located beneath King Crispin’s room, and pleads with him to remember how they once loved each other. But Crispin doesn’t hear her because he’s drugged into oblivion. Even kings have sleeping problems, especially when they’re dealing with the trauma of involuntary transfiguration and being betrayed by their one true love.
Dispirited, April breaks another egg. My problem with these eggs is that instead of promoting resourcefulness and creative problem solving, they offer instantaneous magical solutions. What lessons is that fairy trying to teach anyway? Inside the egg, April finds a mini carriage drawn by pink mice and driven by a gray rat. Again, what the fuck? How is that helpful?
I’m sure April was as frustrated as I am with this inexplicable choice of magical gift, so she does the only thing she knows how: uses the magical mouse carriage as leverage to gain another night in the royal echo chamber. Trouty, being a simpleton, immediately trades the room for the carriage, and April spends the next night screaming at Crispin in what I imagine was the same voice that Julia Stiles used to deliver her angry monologue to Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Again, Crispin doesn’t hear her because he’s taken 3 Benadryl. Luckily, a servant tells April that everyone is tired of her screaming and the king can’t hear her anyway because he takes sleeping pills, and April bribes him with the rest of her jewelry so that he’ll slip the king placebo pills the next night. All’s fair in love in war, even switching someone’s meds.
She breaks the last egg which contains, you guessed it, a box of toy birds who can tell fortunes and diagnose illnesses, and gives it to Trouty in exchange for a final night in the echo chamber. She tells Crispin of how far she travelled to find him, and while at first he thinks he’s dreaming, he comes to the echo chamber and finds April. They fall over each other in professing their love, but the power of Fairy Fretful still looms. In what can only be described as deux ex machina, both the egg fairy and Crispin’s enchanter friend pop up in the echo chamber to assure the lovers that they can combine their powers to keep Fairy Fretful at bay. Well, why didn’t they do that in the beginning of this goddamn story? None of this would have happened!
As the final cherry on the sundae, Trouty stumbles upon the pair, and the enchanter and the fairy combine their powers to turn into a toad, which I think is a missed opportunity because she’s literally named Trouty. Finally, after all their heartache, mutilation, and transformation, the lovers were married and lived happily ever after. I’d like to believe that Trouty, after realizing that toads don’t care about appearances, finally found some happiness, too.
The dubious moral: Boy, this one is a doozy. The clearest moral we can take away from this story is that ugly people are bad, and beautiful people are good, and there is no middle ground there. Another moral: women are naturally competitive schemers who will stop at nothing to secure a rich husband, even if that involves deception, illegal impersonation, imprisonment, and mutilation. And the third, and most important moral: people will fall over themselves to assist you with your quests if you’re hot, so if you’re not hot, you might as well become a toad. The end!