The Princess In The Tower

Position and Context

This is ostensibly a story that Weer remembers reading as a child, although he never finished it. It falls right after Weer starts discussing the affair of the Chinese egg. As we learn in the prelude to The Marid and his slave, it comes out of the green book Weer received at his grandfather's house, probably the Green Fairy Book by Andrew Lang, which is mentioned earlier in Peace.

The Story

A princess lives alone in a tower, because when she was born, a wizard prophesied that she would have four suitors, and marry the fourth: And though her sire be a king by birth, greater, the groom will gin gold from the earth. The king becomes jealous of her eventual husband, and sequesters her in an inaccessible tower on an island.

Her first suitor is the son of the king of the gnomes. She sets him several tasks, including "recovering the ring of a bell from the bottom of the sea." She rejects him because "his kisses taste too strongly of fresh-turned earth." The second suitor is a young merchant. He makes a series of trades, ending by acquiring "a magical bird of ruby and amethyst," which he gives to the princess. She rejects him because his heavy purse bruises her whenever they embrace. The third suitor is a spirit from the clouds, who comes with a large retinue of aerial spirits. She sets him a large number of menial tasks, and rejects him because his kingdom is "too insubstantial for her."

At this point, Den's aunt calls in to him to go to sleep, and he stops reading.

Significance

The princess, whose name is Elaia, represents Aunt Olivia. "Elaia" is Greek for "olive."

The wizard is "bent and crooked and hairy." He dresses in wolfskins and is said to live on tea. Here the author is making a cameo appearance.

The first suitor is Professor Peacock, who in this book seems to be associated with gnomes, trolls, troglodytes, and the like. The second is Jimmy Macafee, who owns Macafee's Department Store. The third is Stewart Blaine, who owns a bank. And the last and successful suitor is Julius Smart, who grows rich by turning potatoes into imitation orange juice (i.e., ginning gold from the earth).

The story is left unfinished. Possibly because the end (where the first, and jealous, suitor kills the princess by running her over with his automobile) is unsuitable for a fairy tale. More likely Wolfe has other reasons.

Interpretations

Possibly we can learn something about why Aunt Olivia rejected her suitors. In the story, the merchant wins the bird by tricky bargaining and gives it to the princess. In Peace, Macafee lets Olivia buy the egg so she has to present it to him. Possibly she thinks he could have obtained it (he could have, by making his check out to "cash", but maybe he didn't think of this) and that he deliberately let her win it so she would have to give it to him. She may resent him for this, and this is why she doesn't marry him; whereas according to Blaine, Macafee thought she would marry him to get the egg back.

Why doesn't Olivia marry Stewart Blaine? He lives a life of idleness, letting his servants do everything for him and letting his employees run the bank. The story indicates that this was the reason she rejected him, even though he is very wealthy.

Why doesn't Olivia marry Peacock? One interpretation is that "fresh-turned earth" symbolizes "newly-dug grave," possibly meaning Olivia sensed the character flaw in Peacock which eventually led to his killing her. Another possible interpretation is that "fresh-turned earth" means fresh-turned earth, and she just didn't like going out and digging up old bones.

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