The Three Vain Princesses
Please note ~ This is a companion piece to Who Are You Calling A Princess?
Once upon a time, there was a King who had three daughters. All three of the daughters were very pretty but each one wished to be the most beautiful of all. No matter how often any of them were told that they looked very lovely, no matter how many jewels and fine dresses they had and no matter how many times their ladies in waiting arranged and re-arranged their hair and headdresses, they were never satisfied. They stood in front of their mirrors hour after hour and argued and bickered among themselves as to who was the most beautiful.
They never accomplished any useful work around the palace. They had not learned to spin or embroider well, since they were always jumping up from their cushions to check their mirrors. They had not learned to love the beauty of a snowflake or a summer rose, because they could not imagine anything lovelier than themselves.
But the worst of the situation was that they were constantly fighting with each other. One princess would tell her sister that her hair was the wrong color for her eyes, or another would comment in passing that her sister’s mouth was crooked, or her nose too big. These cutting remarks and others like them, led to shouting and even to a great deal of pinching, poking and hair-pulling.
Some days were so uproarious that the King in his throne room could do no work for the great din above him.
Finally, in a fit of great exasperation, the King shouted, “I wish all women, and especially those princesses, could see themselves exactly as they are!”
Well, it so happened that the Court Enchanter was passing by the throne room and overheard the King’s wish.
“Sire,” he said, coming into the room. “Pardon me for listening to your private thoughts, but if you truly desire it, I believe that I may have it in my power to grant your wish.”
“How would you do this, Court Enchanter?” asked the King.
“I can, my lord, create a magic mirror. This mirror will be both powerful and dangerous. For one year the princesses will be allowed to see themselves as perfect as they wish to be. They will then have that year to improve their temperaments and dispositions. If they succeed in doing this, they will become truly beautiful; if not, they will become quite ugly. The mirror will show them the truth and then stamp it upon their faces and forms. Would you be willing to have your daughters take this risk?
“If it results in a peaceful palace, it will suit me very well.” replied the King.
“So be it,” smiled the Court Enchanter.
The Court Enchanter descended to his workshop and the next morning he climbed the palace staircase until he reached the chambers of the princesses. After he was announced to them, he stepped forward, carrying in his arms a large bundle wrapped in purple velvet.
“Dear Princesses,” began the Court Enchanter, “I bear a magical gift, created by myself at a suggestion from your father the King.”
The girls were eager for a new surprise and they all gasped with pleasure when the Enchanter pulled out of his bundle a gorgeous mirror in a silver frame, decorated with angels and animals all around it.
“It is lovely!” they exclaimed, “but we already have many mirrors. Why has the King our father given us another?”
“Ah,” said the Enchanter, “this, as I have said, is a magic gift. This mirror has the ability to show you yourselves as you wish to be, for the period of one year. At the end of the year, however, it will show you yourselves as you truly look on the inside – as every thought, word and deed have made you. Once you have seen this true image, it will remain stamped upon your face for your lifetime.
If you choose to use this gift, you must be prepared to take the consequences and to use the year to improve yourselves so much that you will be as lovely in the inside as you are now on the outside.
Choose carefully. Once you look in this mirror, you will be in its power for a whole year and at the end you will have to bear the results.”
The princesses, or course, could not imagine how they could be anything but lovely inside or out and they all quickly agreed to use the magic mirror.
The Court enchanter hung the mirror in a small room that had one window, one lamp and nothing else in it. One by one, the princesses stood in front of the mirror. They could not hold back their joyous shouts, as each saw herself reflected in the great perfection she had always imagined and wished for herself. The oldest princess’s black hair was as glossy and fine and long as she had tried to make it with lotions and endless brushings. The second princess had eyes so blue that they were truly dazzling and cheeks like roses. The third princess’s blond hair glittered like spun gold in the light and she saw herself as airy and graceful as a swan.
All three princesses were truly grateful to the Enchanter and to their father for the mirror. Each girl used it every day to confirm for herself her own perfection.
For a week or two the bickering stopped and the sisters paid little attention to each other. At the end of a month, however, as they sat sewing, the oldest princess happened to remark to the second princess that she was looking a little pale and wan. Horrified, the girl ran to the mirror, saw her rosy cheeks reflected in it and returned in a huff to tell her older sister that she was a great fool.
“In any case, I am not getting fatter like our youngest sister there,” she sniped.
“What!” cried the third princess, running to the mirror room.
She returned in a fury. “How dare you frighten me like that!” she shouted. “I could not be slimmer without being downright skinny, like our sister there!”
At this, a great fight broke out and the King found himself with less peace than ever. Every day the situation seemed to grow worse.
Of course, what the princesses could not see was how they looked on the inside. They could not see their awful vanity slowly shriveling their youthfulness and their spiteful attitudes turning their eyes red and their hair ashen gray. They had forgotten what the Court Enchanter had warned them about their inner beauty and the work they needed to do to achieve it.
Now, while all of this terrible commotion was going on, there happened to be another young girl in the castle who, unbeknownst to the princesses, was also using the magic mirror. Sieglinda was a kitchen maid and a girl of the princesses’ own age. She was not especially beautiful and she never tried to be. She didn’t have time to pamper herself. No one noticed the kitchen maid as she went about her tasks, for she was plainly and coarsely dressed.
She worked very hard in the kitchen at the tasks she was assigned such as chopping and peeling vegetables and scouring pots and pans. She also worked hard at making other people happy. She had a voice like a meadowlark and she spent her time singing cheerful songs, which even sweetened the temper of the cook once in a while.
She would look out for the baker boy when he forgot to do something. Sometimes she would do his work, too, in order to save him from a thrashing.
Whenever the gardener’s children hurt themselves or were hungry, they came to Sieglinda and she would bandage their scrapes or give them some of the peelings and ends of the vegetables.
When news of the princesses’ magic mirror drifted down to the kitchen, the kitchen maid took a great interest in it.
“Heaven knows,” she said to herself,” I could never be beautiful like the princesses. But it seems as though it would be useful to see myself as I truly am and to be able to correct my faults if possible, as I have no mother or father to help me do it.”
So one night, when the princesses were deep in their beauty sleep, the kitchen maid took off her wooden shoes and silently climbed the palace staircase. She found the little chamber and lit the lamp in front of the mirror. She saw herself exactly as she was – not beautiful, surely, but not exactly ugly either.
“Oh well,” she thought. “But how do I look on the inside? I was unkind to the baker boy today and I called him lazy and I hurt his feelings. Can I see that, I wonder?”
The image did change, slightly. She saw her mouth grow bigger. If it had stayed that way she would indeed have looked uglier, but it faded back to the way it was before. At the same time, a small twinkling light, like a jewel appeared on her forehead. She paid it no attention, thinking it was a trick of the flickering lamp. She extinguished the lamp and crept down to her little bed.
Meanwhile, as the days passed by, the princesses remained so quarrelsome that the King threatened to leave the palace and even the Kingdom to get away from the racket!
“Patience, dear Sire,” said the Court Enchanter, “The year of the mirror will end in one more month. I am quite certain that peace will reign in this palace and Kingdom once it is over.”
At last the day came when the princesses were to consult the mirror for the last time. The Court Enchanter took it down from the wall, wrapped it well in its purple velvet and brought it to the throne room. The King, the courtiers and even the household and village people were there as well, to see the princesses receive the full perfection of their beauty.
The princesses came in to the throne room adorned in their best gowns and jewels. Each of them was sure that when the mirror was undraped, she would be accounted the most beautiful. They stood in a row before the King, the Court Enchanter and the mirror. The Enchanter repeated his warning and said that he hoped they had been working to make their hearts and minds beautiful and good and that, whatever befell them, they must understand it as the consequences of their own deeds during the past year.
The princesses nodded, each one certain that she was above reproach in every way.
Then the King removed the drape and one by one the girls stepped up to the mirror. To the horror of themselves, the King and everyone present, they saw the reflection of ugly old crones – wizened, wilted, with red eyes, large noses and ears and crooked mouths. Their fine dresses were rags and their hair was gray, straggly and coarse. What was worse, as everyone watched, their bodies and clothes actually changed to match the mirror image. There they stood, bent over and howling loudly.
The kitchen maid had been watching with everyone else and a great terror rose in her heart. If the princesses were so changed, what would become of her, who was so much worse off to begin with?
But the terror was replaced with pity as her heart broke for the princesses and she rushed out from the crowd to try to cover at least one of them with her cloak to hide the shame of it all.
As Sieglinda ran to the princesses, she accidentally passed in front of the mirror and glanced at it sideways. Suddenly, she was rooted to the spot. To the wonder of the crowd and the King, she slowly began to change to fit the image the mirror revealed. Her coarse clothes became smooth golden silk, with silver lace. Her face remained her own, but was transformed into a new harmony of features as if the soft light of sunrise had passed over it. And around her brow, tiny lights of different colors began to twinkle and glitter. After a few minutes they solidified into a circlet of precious jewels set in a thin golden crown.
When the transformation was complete, she turned, blushing, to face the King
The King felt a great sorrow for his own daughters but he knew that their punishment was indeed just. He granted their wish to live shut up in a high tower and to spend the rest of their lives spinning linen for bandages and embroidering altar cloths for the churches of the poor. They did not wish to be seen or heard by anyone but each other as long as they lived and they had their wish.
Sieglinda was adopted as the King’s daughter and true princess and she continued to make life easier and more joyful for those around her in every way she could think of. When the time came to choose a husband, she chose a wise, kind and good prince and they ruled the Kingdom wisely, well and happily for the rest of their days.
Christine Natale discovered Rudolf Steiner and his work at age 16 through a summer job in the Biodynamic Gardens at the Threefold Community in New York. After two years of community college in the area, Christine embarked upon a two year journey with her mentor, Rene Querido. Lucky enough to be in a small training class, Christine was able to intern at the Sacramento Waldorf School from the first of December through June with full block training experience in almost every grade and Kindergarten. Christine taught for about ten years, primarily in the Kindergarten, with one year taking a combined Fourth and Fifth Grade. During this time, she has given many lectures to the public, produced puppet theater and festival productions, co-directed young schools and been an active resource for Waldorf parents and their children.
More recently Christine has been focused on her writing. She has produced an extensive collection of children’s stories and articles on Waldorf Education and is in the process of self-publishing them. Christine brings a variety of skills in all of the arts, such as Waldorf Watercolor Painting, Crayon Drawing (and its interpretation), Handwork, Music, Drama, Puppetry, Storytelling and much more. She has a broad and deep base of knowledge of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education, as well as a good familiarity with other educational systems and methods and an ability to draw connections and to build bridges of understanding for people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Christine’s Book of Fairy Tales can be found here. Christine’s Blog, Straw into Gold can be found here.
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