The Freudian Basics

Back to Contents

    In "The Uses of Enchantment" Bruno Bettelheim talks about "integrating the personality" as it applies to a growing child. Bettelheim claims that a child can only build a happy life on a well-integrated personality, one whose parts work together like those of a finely-tuned, well-oiled machine. But centrifugal forces in the unconscious try to tear the personality apart from the beginning, according to Freud. The tripartite mind hypothesized by Freud does not seem to exist as an inherently stable phenomenon.

    Bettelheim presented his theory of the value of fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychology. So, in order to work out an understanding of what Bettleheim had in mind, we need to look at the system of psychology that Freud created and see how it relates to the growth of a well-integrated personality. I want to give only an outline here and then fill in the details in the analyses of the stories.

    Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856 May 06 - 1939 Sep 23) based psychoanalysis on his particular view of human nature. Two of his core beliefs state that our behavior, thoughts and emotions stem from unconscious fears and desires, often rooted in childhood experiences, and that with the help of a trained therapist, we can understand the source of our troubles and thereby obtain some relief from the distress that they cause us.

    Properly we should think of Freud not so much as a scientist but as a great mythmaker. That interpretation would seem to make psychoanalysis, the "treatment of the id by the odd" unfalsifiable and, therefore, unscientific. Actually, we would better describe psychoanalysis as lying in the gray limbo between the Humanities and the Sciences. We may not have the means to test it scientifically, but that fact does not necessarily imply that it has nothing of value to tell us about human nature. In a sense, though, Bettelheimís theory gives us the means to put psychoanalysis to some kind of test, even if not a fully scientific one.

Stating the Problem

    In his introduction Bettelheim wrote, "If we hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence, then our greatest need and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives." In other words, we must become time-spanning creatures, capable of referring to the past, but, more importantly, capable of projecting ourselves into an inchoate future and finding hope that we will find happiness there. We must develop a sense that we belong in this world, that we live here for a reason that goes beyond mere existence.

    Bettelheim added, "To find deeper meaning, one must become able to transcend the narrow confines of a self-centered existence and believe that one will make a significant contribution to life Ė if not right now, then at some future time. This feeling is necessary if a person is to be satisfied with himself and with what he is doing."

    How do we achieve those goals? More specifically, how do fairy tales help us achieve them? To answer those questions in a Freudian manner, as Bettelheim does, we must understand Freudís theory of the mind.

    To start, Freud drew a map of the unconscious mind, splitting it conceptually into the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. As with any map, the lines Freud drew were arbitrary and they depended only upon what features Freud wanted to emphasize. He could have drawn the map differently, as others did: where Freud split the unconscious into a tripartite structure, Jung saw it full of archetypes, Adler conceived complexes, and so on.

    But it does not suffice to divide the unconscious mind into three parts. We must offer some description of what those parts do, how they do it, and how they got to be that way.

    The id represents the fact that we evolved from animals and still possess an animal nature. Indeed, only that animal nature exists in our minds when we come into this world. We see it in a babyís unselfconscious desire for the fulfillment of its basic needs. The id gives us our initial way of relating to our world and as we grow older we see it expressed in the Pleasure Principle, the urge to seek pleasure and to avoid displeasure.

    That urge has the formal name of libido (Latin for desire, pleasure, will). Although Freud emphasized its sexual aspect, libido, properly understood, denotes the full set of our animal impulses. The libido provides the force-like drive that pushes us into carrying out the actions necessary to obtain the things that satisfy our needs, needs such as hunger, thirst, lust, even the need to sleep. Like any animal, the id does us no good if the libido can run wild: we need to harness the libidoís power and the ego serves as the harness.

    On first impression we see that the ego represents a childís self-awareness, the awareness that he exists separate and distinct from other people and other objects that satisfy his desires. The ego operates according to what Freud called the Reality Principle, the unconscious understanding of limitations and of strategies to overcome them. In developing an ego the child has augmented the basic "what I want" with "how can I get it?", which then evolves into "how can I get it without getting a lot of bad stuff with it?"

    Fundamentally, though, the ego serves to mediate between the urges of the id and the demands of the superego. It does so through a kind of mental jiu-jitsu. Because we evolved from social animals the id includes the need to get along well with people around us. The ego can use that need for social acceptance to oppose some other need in order to meet the demands of the superego.

    The superego necessitates the existence of the ego. It exists in the unconscious mind as the conscience, the internalized sense of right and wrong as expressed by others. Operating according to the Duty Principle, it begins to develop when the child experiences emotional distress consequent to punishment or rejection, the negative response to some behavior that the other person dislikes. It gains its shape from the needs of others, especially people upon whom the child depends, such as parents, teachers, and others who make up the childís community.

    Having defined the basic parts of the unconscious mind, Freud then laid out how those parts and their inter-relationships evolve in five stages. Extending from birth to adulthood, those stages consist of the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. Each stage, as its name implies, focuses on one bodily function and, thus, bears a name referring to the part of the body where that function takes place. In more detail we have those stages as:

    1) the oral stage; spanning the time from birth to about the age of two years, this stage concerns hunger and thirst and, consequently, focuses on the childís mouth. At the beginning of that stage the child has no superego and, thus, no ego. During the oral stage the child develops their body image, the understanding that there exist physical boundaries between the childís body and their environment. That understanding stands as a sine qua non of the development of a superego: without an awareness of an external environment the child cannot conceive a mental structure that encodes external demands.

    Weaning provides the childís key first experience of delayed gratification as a consequence of an external demand. It increases the childís awareness that they live in an environment that they do not control, thereby beginning the development of the superego. That fact, in turn, necessitates the evolution of the ego, beginning at about the same time that the child begins to acquire language.

    2) the anal stage; this stage partly overlaps the oral stage, spanning the time from the age of about fifteen months to the age of three years. Beginning at about the age of two years, toilet training provides the childís key anal-stage experience. In this stage parental demands for the delay of gratification in eliminating bodily waste get incorporated into the superego and come into conflict with the idís demand for immediate gratification. The ego mediates this conflict by associating the functions of elimination with a special place (i.e. the toilet), thereby giving the child an understanding of the importance of physical cleanliness.

    3) the phallic stage; spanning the ages from three years to six years, this stage marks the childís increasing awareness of the difference between male and female. The key psychological experience of this stage is the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Although primarily involving the childís attitudes toward their parents, those complexes also incorporate sibling rivalry.

    The Oedipus complex rests on the boyís urge to monopolize his motherís attention and affection. That urge leads to an unconscious resentment of the boyís father, who takes away some of the boyís motherís attention and affection. Thus the boyís id evolves as the boy develops his gender identity. At the same time the boyís superego absorbs the motherís disapproval of any antipathy on the boyís part toward his father, thereby raising the fear of losing the motherís affection altogether. In this stage the ego responds initially by repressing all thoughts that may trigger the conflict between the id and the superego, but then it resolves the conflict by creating an identification with the boyís father, causing the boy to incorporate into his ego the personality characteristics of his father, the characteristics that attract his motherís attention and affection.

    The Electra complex gets a little more complicated. All children, boys and girls, think of their mothers as their prime providers of nutrition and care. But the phallic stageís development of gender roles in children leads to girls transferring their need for attention and affection from their mothers to their fathers. That transfer is aided by the girlís awareness that her father goes to a place called Work and comes back with the money that her mother uses for shopping. Just as boys identify with their fathers to justify their demands for their mothersí attention and affection, so do girls identify with their mothers for the same reason. In identifying with their same-sex parent the child absorbs that parentís moral values and thereby chooses to comply voluntarily with societyís rules, rather than obeying those rules out of fear of punishment.

    4) the latency stage; extending from the age of six years to the onset of puberty, this stage consists of the childís consolidation of the development of the previous three stages. The conflict between the id and the superego quiets down as the child gains confidence in the eventual gratification of their desires and, in consequence, the urgency behind the idís demands diminishes. The ego continues to grow through the process of learning (itís no coincidence that childrenís formal schooling begins at about age six and that this period is the one in which parents typically entertain their children with fairy tales). Thus the child develops their intellect as part of the ego.

    5) the genital stage; this stage spans puberty and extends throughout adult life. The key experience of this stage lies in the reawakening of sexual desire (suppressed since the end of the phallic stage) and the development of sexual fantasies aimed at age-mates. By transferring the urge for sensual contact from the opposite-sex parent to an appropriate age-mate the child begins the process of becoming detached from and independent of their parents (hence the terrible teens).

    The main difference between the phallic stage and the genital stage lies in the growth of the ego during the latency stage. With more intellectual power, the ego can transform the raw animal urges of the earlier stages into friendship and romantic love. That transformation prepares the child for the tasks of raising a family and carrying out the responsibilities of an adult.

    If during any of those stages, according to Freud, the demands of the superego exceed the childís ability to control their libido (due to a still-too-weak ego), the child experiences an anxiety that persists into adulthood as a mental disorder that Freud called a neurosis. In order to avoid the anxiety the childís unconscious mind becomes fixated upon the urge that evokes the anxiety and that fixation becomes the personality disorder.

    If that seems too flimsy to believe, consider the fact that in 1943 a small team of psychologists from Harvard used what was known of Adolf Hitlerís childhood to draw a psychological profile that enabled them to predict correctly that, as the war went badly for Germany, Hitler would make fewer public appearances (in contrast with Winston Churchill, who, when the Blitz was at its worst, went out among the public almost daily to rally the people of England), that he would rather see Germany completely destroyed than surrender, and that at the end he would commit suicide.

    But Freud wasnít content to lay out the plan of the evolution of the unconscious mind and the ways in which that evolution can go wrong: he also wanted to correct the errors that might occur in that evolution. Freudís psychoanalysis, the talking cure, sought to mitigate the neurosis by bringing the source of the causative anxiety into consciousness so his patient could overcome it. Bettelheim claimed that reading fairy tales to a child works in much the same way, but purely on an unconscious level.

    According to Bettelheim, fairy tales speak to the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious parts of the psyche; they help to grow the ego and reshape the id in response to the demands of the superego. Goaded by shame and guilt induced by the introjection of other peopleís moral demands, the ego must mediate between those demands and the demands of the id. The existential dilemmas that fairy tales address arise from consciousness and the consequent tension between the superego and the id. Indeed, the struggle between the superego and the id creates the ego as a means of mediating between the urges of the id and the demands of the superego and thereby creates personality. The egoís struggle to grow and gain control over the id and the superego thus becomes the subject of the most popular fairy tales.

The Existential Predicament

    Fundamentally we all, each of us, live totally alone in the world. No one else knows our thoughts and our feelings. Each of us experiences the world in a singular manner, even when we involve other people. The best for which we can hope is that others can share with us descriptions of the experiences that we have had in common. That fact does not represent a comfortable state for a social animal.

    In that state the child must cope with narcissistic disappointments, oedipal dilemmas, sibling rivalries, and diminishing childhood dependencies. The child must struggle to gain a feeling of self-hood, of self-worth, and of moral obligation. Coping with separation anxiety and fear of isolation, they must develop habits of thought that lay down the patterns of solving such problems and, according to Bettelheim, repeating certain stories contributes to that development.

    Fairy tales acknowledge and do not repress chaotic, angry, even violent fantasies. Using metaphor as a kind of euphemism, they nonetheless evoke the childís feelings honestly and project them onto strongly delineated characters to help the child decide who they want to become. The fairy tale states the existential dilemma boldly and evil often appears attractive as the child struggles against the "dark" side of human nature. Anger and anxiety from the childís innate narcissism makes the child belligerent, selfish, and asocial, so many fairy tales present those features of the human psyche to the child for confrontation. Through the fairy tale the child gains moral instruction through making a choice between right and wrong as they choose the characters with whom they identify.

    Consider, for example, the tale of "The Queen Bee" (see Appendix II for the story). Bettelheim subtitled his section on this story "Achieving Integration". In his analysis Bettelheim identified the ants, the ducks, and the bees as representatives of Simpletonís animal nature, upon which Simpletonís id grows. The older brothers, with their uncontrolled id impulses, represent the efforts of others to create a superego powerful enough to suppress the childís id almost completely (by killing the animals) and thereby turn the child into little more than a slave to other peopleís desires. Simpleton himself represents an ego that must mediate between the excessive demands of the superego-builders and the demands of the id. The reward that strengthens the ego enough to control the growth of the superego consists of the aid the animals give Simpleton in successfully meeting the three challenges he must face. The story then indicates the advance in the integration of Simpletonís personality, the three parts of his unconscious mind working together harmoniously, by making Simpleton the king of the realm in which those parts exist, which kingdom symbolizes his unconscious mind.

    The child cannot avoid the struggle, but the fairy tale induces them to identify with the hero and, thereby, gain a sense that they too can face horrible dilemmas and prevail. Amoral tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, speak to the anxiety that one is too insignificant to succeed at anything. The need to be loved, to feel worthy of being loved, drives the process onward. And because loneliness is our fundamental state, the child must see the hero progress in isolation before winning the princess.

    The main theme of the classic fairy tales is that of controlling the urges of the id, the animal part of us, by integrating the id with the ego. Those urges in their extreme form usually comprise the ones that we class as the seven deadly sins described by Pope Gregory in A.D. 590 and expounded upon by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Ė pride, covetousness/avarice (greed), lust, anger (wrath), gluttony, envy, and sloth. Opposed to those we find the virtues of humility, charity, chastity, patience, temperance, kindness, and diligence.

    Note the use of the word extreme in the above. The difference between sin and virtue is one of extremism. For example, consider the difference between self-esteem and egotism, between an appropriate self-regard and an exaggerated self-regard. A person has self-esteem when they know that have something worthwhile to offer; they are egotistical when they demand excessive reward for little effort.

    The fairy tales incorporate the sins into the characters. The Tale of the Three Pigs shows sloth (the younger pigs) and gluttony (the wolf). The Fisherman and the Jinni shows wrath (the Jinni). Hansel and Gretel shows gluttony (the children and the witch) and lust (the witch). Aschenputtel shows pride and sloth (Stepmother and the Stepsisters). Snow White shows envy (the queen). The Lucky Fisherman shows covetousness (the wife).

    But the natural virtues of justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity also find expression in the characters. We recognize these virtues as the properties of a well-developed ego, but children must discover them for themselves.

    Finally the existential dilemma goes beyond controlling the id. The ultimate dilemma is that of Death, the knowing that weíre going, to paraphrase Big Daddy Pollit ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof").

A Unique Art Form

    We should note that the practice of reading fairy tales to children resembles the psychoanalytic sessions devised by Freud. As the patient lies on the couch and relaxes, so the child lies comfortably in bed. And as the analyst sits by the patient and carries out the psychoanalytic interaction, so the parent sits by the childís bed and shares a fantasy. So how does that process work?

    Freud and Josef Breuer (1842 Jan 15 Ė 1925 Jun 20), one of Freudís teachers, discovered that if they guided a patientís mind into a relaxed mental state through hypnosis, the patientís thoughts would turn toward the troubling experience or belief that caused the patientís dysfunctional symptoms, especially if the therapist prodded the patient with the right kind of questions. They found that, once the patient had recalled and put the problematic experience or belief into words, the symptoms disappeared. Thus Freud developed his catharsis or talking cure as a means of treating hysteria and neurosis. Later he found that he didnít have to use hypnosis in his therapy and on that basis he developed his own distinctive approach to psychotherapy.

    He replaced the use of hypnosis with his famous couch, a kind of chaise longue, on which the patient would lie and go into a state of deep relaxation. The therapist would sit by the couch to converse with the patient and take notes, much as a parent sits by a childís bed while reading a fairy tale. With the patient relaxed, Freud could then encourage the patient to engage in free association.

    Freud would encourage his patient to speak out any thoughts or images that come into conscious awareness. He took such statements as clues to the particulars of the repressed conflicts and experiences hidden in the patientís unconscious mind. In a similar manner, according to Bettelheim, the dream-like imagery of a fairy tale can touch repressed material, evoke a childís commentary, and heal the conflicts that exist in the childís mind: the fairy tale works as an appealing tale that cultivates personality development.

    In either case, psychoanalysis or fairy tale reading, the process involves a kind of coyness that gives the problem body and relieves the problem without bringing it overtly into conscious awareness.

    In the reading of fairy tales we must eschew the harsh light of rationality for the soft warmth of Romanticism. Bettelheim claimed that rational explanation of a fairy tale to a child destroys the value of the tale and leaves the child feeling as violated as they would feel if they had been scanned by a science-fiction mindprobe. The fairy tale works in the unconscious in a kind of dream state in which literal compassion, sharing the passion, draws the child into identifying with the characters and reason interferes with that process. Think of the use of logic and rational explanation as a kind of invasion of privacy.

    The story gives the child words to describe what they had previously experienced as silent compulsion. Use of such words gives the child control over the compulsion and other forms of manipulation.

Why Were Fairy Tales Outlawed?

    I found this chapter title rather puzzling when I first saw it. I didnít recall any laws forbidding the reading of fairy tales. What could Bettelheim have meant by it?

    At the beginning of the section he wrote, "Why do many intelligent, well-meaning, modern, middle-class parents, so concerned about the happy development of their children, discount the value of fairy tales and deprive their children of what these stories have to offer? Even our Victorian ancestors, despite their emphasis on moral discipline and their stodgy way of life, not only permitted but encouraged their children to enjoy the fantasy and excitement of fairy tales."

    The disparagement of fairy tales of which Bettelheim complained seems to reflect the kind of positivism that preceded Freudís work. People had previously assumed that people, as individuals and as groups, simply chose to live by a given moral code, either derived from religious sources or from logical analysis of the world and its workings. The observation that people often acted irrationally or gave in to self-defeating impulses was simply explained away as reflecting a weakness of character or some other failing as a human being. Freud took an approach more appropriate to the Romantic era and developed a method by which individuals could discern the source of their dysfunctional behaviors and heal them, thereby gaining the mental freedom to make the moral choices that the positivists had assumed we all make easily.

    Rationalism and Romanticism denote mutually complimentary ways of interpreting the world. An overemphasis on one to the detriment of the other does not contribute to the health of Humanity. In this case we see the struggle between ego and id writ large and here too, as we shall see, fairy tales have something to say.

Appendix I: Defense Mechanisms

    As a childís ego grows so that it may successfully satisfy the urges of the id and also stay within the limits dictated by the superego, it will develop certain defense mechanisms. Any conflict between the innate desires of the id and the conditioned beliefs of the superego evokes anxiety, guilt, and frustration in the childís mind. In the effort to restore and maintain inner peace of mind the ego may devise a defense mechanism that it then uses to cope with and to balance the demands of the superego and the urges of the id. Among common defense mechanisms we find denial, repression, sublimation, rationalization, and reaction formation. The more intensely the id demands sensual satisfaction, the more strongly the ego must apply its defense mechanism.

    Of course, the distressing awareness and desires do not disappear from the childís psyche; instead, the thoughts and feelings get pushed into the background, from which they can still influence the childís behavior. Thus the child may experience strange dreams, unusual slips of the tongue, and a variety of other irrational behaviors. Not properly dissipated, the sources of the inner conflict can sabotage the defense mechanism.

    As an example of a defense mechanism, consider reaction formation. Psychologists hypothesize that reaction formation comes from arranging instinctive urges and their derivatives as pairs of opposites. The primary dichotomies, which also appear manifest in fairy tales, come before our minds as life and death, construction and destruction, action and passivity, dominance and submission, and so on. If one of the urges evokes anxiety from the ego by coming into conflict with the superego, the ego may act to deflect the offending impulse by concentrating the childís attention on its opposite urge. For example, if feelings of pride make the child anxious about his place in his community of friends, his ego can facilitate an expression of humility to conceal the self-obsession.

    As noted above, if we have a reaction formation, we assume that the original urge that the psyche rejected has not vanished, but persists in the unconscious mind in its original form. Thus, we cannot say that the childís ego has substituted humility for pride when the child experiences humility as a reaction formation against pride: the original arrogant feelings still exist under the humble facade that merely masks the pride to hide it from awareness. We usually have a case of reaction formation instead of a simple emotion when we observe exaggeration, compulsiveness, and inflexibility in the expression of the feelings.

    Or consider reaction formation against cathexis, the investment of emotional significance in an activity, object, or idea. Against primitive-object cathexes reaction formation may assert high ideals of virtue and goodness in place of more realistic values that the child can actually live up to. Think of crude sexual desires hiding under Romantic ideals of chastity and purity, or selfishness wearing a mask of altruism, or sinfulness concealed within a cloak of piety.

    We have an even more counter-intuitive example of a reaction formation manifested in a phobia. In this case we assert that the person wants what he fears. The phobic does not actually fear the object of the phobia, according to the theory; rather, he fears the wish for the object. The reactive fear prevents the phobic from acting to have the dreaded wish fulfilled.

    The mechanism of reaction formation often characterizes obsessional neuroses. When the psyche overuses this mechanism, especially during the formation of the ego, it can become a permanent character trait. Psychologists often see it in people with obsessional character and obsessive personality disorders. This does not imply that its periodic usage is always obsessional, but merely that it can lead to obsessional behavior.

Appendix II: The Queen Bee

    A long time ago, in the enchanted world that we visit in dreams, there were three brothers, all princes of a small kingdom. The two older princes went out seeking adventure and fortune in the world beyond their fatherís realm, promising to return by a certain time. When that time came and went with no sign of the elder princes returning, the youngest prince, called Simpleton, went looking for them.

    He hadnít gone far beyond the border of his fatherís kingdom when he found his brothers. They had fallen into a wild and undisciplined way of life and were not willing to go home. At Simpletonís urging, they decided to continue their quest for adventure.

    While walking along a forest trail the three brothers came to a small clearing. At the base of a tree they saw an anthill with streams of ants scurrying to and fro, busily going about whatever business it is that ants have to do.

    Seeing the antsí nest, the two elder princes wanted to kick it over. They thought it would be fun to watch the ants panic.

    "No," Simpleton said. "God put the ants there for a good purpose. I wonít allow you to disturb them."

    Reluctantly the elder princes agreed to leave the ants alone and the three brothers continued their trek along the forest path. After a time they came to where the path skirted a small lake with several families of ducks swimming in it.

    Seeing the ducks, the two elder princes wanted to catch two of them and cook them. They thought the ducks would make a fine meal.

    "No," Simpleton said. "God put the ducks there for a good purpose. I wonít allow you to harm them."

    Reluctantly the elder princes agreed to leave the ducks alone and the three brothers continued their trek along the forest path. Shortly after leaving the lake they heard a humming. Following the sound they came to a tree in which a colony of honeybees had built their hive and then filled it with so much honey that some of the golden fluid had run down the treeís trunk.

    Seeing the bees and their hive, the two elder princes decided to make a fire and use the smoke to suffocate the bees. With the bees all dead the brothers could then take all of the honey for themselves.

    "No," Simpleton said. "God put the bees there for a good purpose. I wonít allow you to kill them."

    Reluctantly the elder princes agreed to leave the bees alone and the three brothers continued their trek along the forest path. It was getting to be late afternoon when the princes came to a place where the forest opened out into a wide clearing over which a castle loomed.

    The castle was eerily silent. The three princes heard none of the sounds that come from a working castle community. They saw that the drawbridge was down and the portcullis was raised, so they walked into the castle and saw an amazing sight. Everywhere they looked they saw life-like statues that seemed to have been carved from the finest marble.

    But the statues did not depict heroes or members of the nobility. They looked like ordinary people caught in the act of going about their day-to-day chores. In the stables the princes saw statues of stableboys going about the tasks of caring for stone horses. They even saw a stone dog.

    They made their way to the castleís living quarters, passing petrified servants as they explored. They went through all of the rooms until, at last, they came to a door that they could not open. Through a grille set into the center of the door they could look into the room beyond, where they saw a gray gnome sitting at a table.

    They saw that the gnome was a living creature, not a mass of stone. They called to him and got no response. They called a second time, but again the gnome seemed not to hear them. When they called a third time the gnome got up from his seat, came to them, and opened the door to admit them to the room.

    As they entered the room the princes saw food and drink appear on the table. Without saying a word, the gnome indicated that his guests should dine, so the princes sat at the table and ate and drank their fill. When the princes had sated their appetites the gnome led them to the end of the room and showed them a stone slab on which someone had carved instructions, descriptions of three tasks that had to be completed successfully in order to break the curse that had been placed on the castle and its occupants. Then the gnome, still not uttering a word, showed the princes to three bedrooms where they could spend the night in comfort.

    Early the next morning, while darkness still covered the land, the gnome woke the oldest prince and led him to the room where they had first met. After the prince had broken his nightly fast with a fine meal, the gnome led him to the stone slab and pointed to the first task. The prince told the gnome that he understood and set out on the quest, leaving the castle just as dawn was filling the land with light.

    In a certain grove of oak trees near the castle someone had strewn one thousand emeralds into the moss that covered the ground within the grove. In order to complete the first task the prince had to retrieve every last one of the emeralds and return them to the castle before sunset.

    When he reached the grove the prince spread his kerchief out on a patch of bare ground. Then he got down on his hands and knees and searched through the moss for the emeralds. He put the emeralds that he found in a pile on his kerchief and in the course of the day that pile grew. But the prince had gathered up only a few hundred of the emeralds when he noticed the sky in the west beginning to turn red.

    The prince panicked and ran. Hoping to leave the castleís cursed realm before the sun set, he ran down the trail that he and his brothers had followed to reach the castle. But he hadnít gone far when his muscles began to stiffen and force him to slow down. Soon he could run no longer. He fell to his hands and knees and turned to stone.

    The next morning the second eldest prince set out to retrieve the emeralds. Like his brother he laid out his kerchief and began to search for the emeralds and pike them on the kerchief. Like his brother he had found only a few hundred of the emeralds when sunset approached. Like his brother he panicked and ran. And like his brother he fell by the trail and turned to stone.

    The following morning Simpletonís turn came to face the challenge. Not knowing what had happened to his brothers, he accepted the challenge and went to the grove. Like his brothers, he laid out his kerchief and then got down on his hands and knees to search the moss for the emeralds. By noon he saw clearly that he would not find all of the emeralds by sunset.

    In despair he sat on a large rock and wept. He wept not so much for himself, but for the people and animals he had hoped to rescue from the curse that had petrified them. As tears ran down his cheeks he heard a strange rustling coming from the moss.

    Looking around, he saw thousands upon thousands of ants marching into the grove and spreading across the moss like a living carpet. As they advanced the ants picked up all of the emeralds, carried them to Simpletonís kerchief, and added them to the growing pile. Then as quickly as they had come they turned around and left the grove.

    "Thank you, my friends," Simpleton called after them. Carefully he tied up his kerchief so that none of the emeralds would fall out of it and then he carried the treasure to the castle, where he presented the emeralds to the delighted gnome. Trembling with fear, he watched through a window as the sun set. When darkness had fallen and the moon and the stars had come out and he had not turned to stone, Simpleton knew that he and the ants had successfully completed the first task.

    The next day Simpleton went out to face the second challenge. Someone had thrown a golden key into the little lake that he and his brothers had passed on their way to the castle and he had to retrieve it before the sun set. When he came to the lake he saw that the water was murky, that he would not be able to see the key but would have to find it by feeling along the lakeís bottom.

    Not wanting to waste time, Simpleton took off all of his clothes, piled them on the bank, and then waded out among the ducks. Taking a deep breath, he dove and swam to the bottom, where he tried to find the key. Soon he had to swim back to the surface for a fresh breath of air. As he came to the surface he heard splashing and saw that the ducks were also diving. He assumed that they were diving after the small fish that he had disturbed, so he drew a deep breath and dove a second time. Again he failed to find the key before he had to come back to the surface for air. Taking yet another deep breath, he dove for a third time.

    This time when he came back to the surface empty-handed he heard the ducks all quacking excitedly. Looking around, he saw that one of the ducks had the golden key clamped in its bill. To his delight the duck swam up to him and allowed him to take the key.

    "Thank you, my friends," Simpleton called to the ducks as he held up the key. Then, with key in hand, he swam back to the shore, shook off the water as best he could, and put his clothes back on. Then, grasping the key tightly, he hastened back to the castle, reaching it just before noon, and presented the key to the delighted gnome.

    Then the gnome pointed to the third task engraved upon the stone slab and led Simpleton to a locked door. Using the golden key, the gnome unlocked the door and opened it. In the chamber beyond the door Simpleton saw three beds on which three princesses lay sound asleep. To meet the third challenge Simpleton had to determine which princess was the youngest and most lovable and wake her with a kiss.

    Simpleton examined the princesses and saw that, in spite of being of different ages, they appeared identical, as if they were perfect triplets. The only clue he had lay in the knowledge that before they went to sleep the princesses had each eaten a piece of bread, each princess putting a different spread on it. The eldest princess had put a mixture of butter and sugar on her bread; the second eldest princess had put syrup on her bread; and the youngest princess had put a spoonful of honey on her bread. Simpleton sniffed each princessís breath but couldnít smell any aroma that would tell him which princess was the youngest.

    Suddenly he heard a buzzing and saw the Queen Bee, accompanied by a phalanx of guard bees, fly into the room through the open window. With the guard bees hovering overhead the Queen Bee landed on the lips of the princess nearest the window. She paced back and forth across the princessís lips, then she flew to the next princess, landed on her lips, and paced back and forth. Finally she flew to the third princess and landed on her lips.

    As Simpleton watched, the Queen Bee began to perform a strange dance. She paced back and forth across the princessís lips, but as she did so she waggled her abdomen. She then flew toward Simpleton and then returned to the third princessís lips and performed her waggle dance again. A moment later she flew up and, accompanied by her royal guard, flew out of the room.

    "Thank you, my friends," Simpleton called to the bees as they left. Trembling with fear, he approached the third princessís bed and slowly knelt down. He leaned forward and tenderly placed his lips against hers. When the princess drew in a deep breath he drew back from her and stood up.

    Then all three princesses yawned, sighed, and sat up. Hearing a soft noise behind him, Simpleton look around and saw that a petrified serving girl had begun to move. More noises came to his ears as the curse crumbled and evaporated and all of the people and animals in the castle regained their proper flesh-and-blood form. At the same time he saw the gnome straighten up and grow into a tall, handsome man with grey hair, the king of the castle and its surrounding realm.

    Once life in the castle returned to normal, Simpleton was married to the princess he had kissed and his brothers were married to her older sisters. While his brothers went back to their undisciplined ways, Simpleton spent his days sitting at the kingís feet and accompanying the king as he carried out his royal duties; thus, Simpleton learned all that the king knew.

    Then one day the king was called before the King of All Kings to receive his eternal reward. Simpleton inherited the little kingdom and he and his wife ruled wisely as king and queen. And together they lived happily ever after.


Back to Contents