A Story From: France
Read Time: ["10 to 15mins"]
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs., 8 to 10yrs.
Once a good king, knowing that he was dying, asked one last favor of his guardian Fairy.
“Madam,” said the good King to the Fairy, “You know I have but one child, my dear Prince Derek. Kindly grant my last favor on my son’s behalf.”
“Say the word,” answered the Fairy. “I will make your son the handsomest prince in the world, or the richest, or the most powerful; choose whichever you like for him.”
“Ah,” replied the good King, “it would do him no good to be rich, or handsome, or to possess all the kingdoms of the world, if he were unhappy. You know very well that only a good man can be really content. Madam, if you promised me to become his friend then I know he would grow to be the best of princes.”
“I will gladly become his friend,” answered the Fairy; “but it is not in my power to make Prince Derek a good man unless he will help me. He must himself try hard to become good. I can only promise to give him good advice, to scold him for his faults, and to punish him if he will not correct and punish himself.”
The good King was satisfied with this promise. Very soon afterwards he died.
Two days later, after the Prince had gone to bed, the Fairy suddenly appeared to him. She said, “I promised your father that I would be your friend, and to keep my word I have brought you a present.” Then she put upon his finger a gold ring.
“Take great care of this ring,” she said: “it is more precious than diamonds. Every time you do a bad deed it will prick your finger. If, in spite of its pricking, you go on in your own evil way, you will lose my friendship, and I shall become your enemy.”
So saying, the Fairy disappeared, leaving Prince Derek very much astonished.
For some time he behaved so well that the ring never pricked him. His subjects called him Prince Derek the Happy.
One day however, he went out hunting, but could get no sport, which put him in a bad temper. It seemed to him as he rode along that his ring was pressing into his finger, but as it did not prick him he did not heed it. When he got home and went to his own room, his little dog Bibi ran to meet him, jumping round with pleasure. “Get away!” snapped the Prince. “I don’t want you now.”
The poor little dog, who didn’t understand this at all, pulled at the prince’s waistcoat to make him at least look at her, and this made Prince Derek so cross that he gave her a hard kick.
Instantly the ring pricked him sharply, as if it had been a pin. He was very much surprised, and sat down in a corner of his room.
“The Fairy must be laughing at me,” he thought. “Surely I have done no great wrong in just pushing aside a tiresome animal! What is the good of being ruler, after all, if I am not even allowed to kick my own dog?”
“I am not making fun of you,” said a voice, answering Prince Derek’s thoughts. “You have committed two faults. First of all, you were out of temper because you could not have what you wanted. Then you were cruel to a poor little animal who did not in the least deserve to be
“I know you are far above a little dog, but if it were right that great people should ill-treat all who are beneath them, I might at this moment beat you, or kill you, for a fairy is greater than humans. The advantage of possessing a great empire is not to be able to do the evil you desire, but to do all the good you possibly can.”
The Prince promised to try and do better in the future, but he did not keep his word. In the following weeks and months, his ring pricked him more and more often. It gave him only a slight prick for a trifling fault, but when he was really naughty it made his finger actually bleed. At last he got tired of being constantly reminded, and wanted to be able to do as he liked, so he threw his ring under his bed. Then he thought himself the happiest of men to have gotten rid of its pricks. He gave himself up to doing every foolish thing that occurred to him, till he became quite wicked and nobody liked him any longer.
One day, when the Prince was walking about, he noticed a young girl who was so very attractive that he made up his mind at once that he must marry her. Her name was Celia, and she was as good inside as she was beautiful.
Prince Derek believed Celia would be delighted at the prospect of becoming queen, but she said, “Sire, I may be a shepherdess and a poor girl, but even if I were a princess, I would not marry you.”
“What? Do you dislike me?” asked the Prince, who was very much vexed at this answer.
“No, my Prince,” replied Celia. “Up until recently I very much admired you. But what good would riches be to me, and all the grand dresses and splendid carriages that you would give me, if the bad deeds which you now do every day made me hate and despise you?”
The Prince was very angry at this speech, and commanded his officers to make Celia a prisoner at once and carry her off to his palace. All day long the remembrance of what she had said annoyed him, but as he loved her he could not make up his mind how punish her. Still, thinking of how she had laughed at his love nagged at him so much that he found himself worked up to a furious rage. He rushed off to find her, declaring that if she refused to marry him one moment longer she would be sold as a slave the very next day.
But when he reached the room in which Celia had been locked up, he was greatly surprised to find that she was not in it, though he had had the key in his own pocket all the time. His anger was terrible, and he vowed vengeance against whoever had helped her escape. After making this proclamation he dashed to his own room, but he had scarcely got into it when there was a clap of thunder which made the ground shake, and the Fairy suddenly appeared before him.
“I promised your father,” she said sternly, “to give you good advice, and to punish you if you refused to follow it. You have despised my counsel. You have gone your own evil way until you are only outwardly a man; really you are a monster. It is time that I fulfill my promise, and begin your punishment. I condemn you to resemble the animals whose ways you have imitated. Like the lion, you frighten the innocent with your angry roars. Like the wolf, you greedily take whatever you want. Like the snake, you betray any friend to suit your own purposes. Like the bull, you are bad-tempered. Therefore, in your new form, you will resemble all these animals.”
The Fairy had scarcely finished speaking when Prince Derek found himself in a great forest, beside a clear lake, in which he could plainly see the horrible creature he had become. He had a lion’s head, a bull’s horns, a wolf’s feet, and a snake’s body. A voice said to him:
“Behold the state which your wickedness has brought you.”
Prince Derek recognized the voice of the Fairy. He turned in fury to catch her and eat her up if he possibly could; but he saw no one.
The Prince thought the best thing he could do would be to get as far away from the lake as he could. At least then he would not be continually reminded of his ugliness. So he ran toward the woods, but before he had gone many yards he fell into a deep pit which had been made to trap bears. Hunters hiding in a tree leapt down and secured him with several chains. Seeing that he was a rare beast, the hunters led him into the chief city of his own kingdom to be displayed in a cage as a curiosity.
All the while, he furiously bit and tore at his chains, blaming the Fairy as the cause of all his misfortunes.
As they approached the town he saw that great rejoicing was being held. The hunters were told that the Prince, whose only pleasure it was to torment his people, had been found in his room, killed by a thunder-bolt (for that is what was supposed to have become of him). The people had offered the crown to the former tutor of the Prince, a faithful nobleman whose name was Agalthorpe. Agalthorpe had tutored the Prince since he had been a child, and had loved the Prince as if he had been his own son. This noble lord had just been crowned king, and his rise to the throne was the cause of the rejoicing. “For,” they said, “Agalthorpe is well-known as a good and just man, and we shall once more enjoy peace and prosperity.”
Prince Derek roared with anger when he heard this, but it was still worse for him when he reached the great square before his own palace. There he saw Agalthorpe seated upon a magnificent throne, and all the people crowded round, cheering and wishing him a long life that he might undo all the mischief done by his predecessor.
Presently Agalthorpe made a sign with his hand that the people should be silent. He said, “I accept the crown you have offered me, but only that I may keep it for Prince Derek, who is not dead as you suppose. A certain Fairy has assured me that there is still hope that you may some day see him again, as good and virtuous as he was when he first came to the throne. Alas!” he continued, “We may hate his faults, but let us pity him and hope for his restoration. As for me, I would die gladly if that could bring back our Prince to reign justly and worthily once more.”
These words went straight to Prince Derek’s heart. He realized the true affection and faithfulness of his old tutor, and for the first time reproached himself for all his evil deeds. At the same instant he felt his anger melting away, and began quietly to think over his past life. He stopped tearing and biting at his chains.
The hunters took him to a great menagerie, where he was caged along with other wild beasts. Nevertheless, he was determined to show his sorrow for his past bad behavior by being gentle and obedient to the man who had to take care of him. One day, when his keeper was asleep, a tiger broke its chains and flew at the keeper to eat him up.
“I wish I could save that man’s life,” the Prince said to himself. He had hardly wished this when his iron cage flew open, and he rushed to the side of the keeper, who was hopelessly defending himself against the tiger. When the keeper saw the monster also rushing toward him he gave himself up for lost, but the monster threw itself upon the tiger, chased it back into its cage, secured the door, and then came and crouched at the keeper’s feet.
The keeper stooped to caress the strange creature which had done him such a great service. At the same instant the monster disappeared, and the keeper saw at his feet a playful little dog!
Prince Derek, delighted by the change, frisked about the keeper, showing his joy in every way he could. The keeper, scooping the dog up in his arms, carried him to the King Agalthorpe, the former tutor of the missing prince.
King Agalthorpe’s wife, the Queen, said she would like to keep this wonderful little dog. The Prince would have been very happy in his new home if he could have forgotten that he would have been king himself. The Queen petted and took care of him, but she was so afraid that he would get fat that she consulted the court physician, who said that he was to be fed only bread, and not even much even of that. So poor
Prince Derek was terribly hungry all day long, but he was patient about it.
One day, when they gave him his little loaf for breakfast, he thought he would like to eat it out in the garden, so he took it up in his mouth and trotted away toward a brook that he knew of a long way from the palace. There Prince Derek noticed a young girl who was trying to eat a few blades of grass — she was so hungry. He said to himself,
“I am very hungry, but I shall not die of starvation before I get my dinner. If I give my breakfast to this poor creature perhaps I may save her life.”
So he laid his piece of bread in the girl’s hand, and she eagerly ate it up.
She soon seemed quite well again, and the Prince, delighted to have been able to help her, was thinking of going home to the palace, when he heard a great outcry, and turning around saw Celia, who was being carried against her will into the great house.
For the first time the Prince regretted he was no longer the monster, for if he were, then he would have been able to charge toward her captors, and rescue Celia. Now he could only bark feebly at the people who were carrying her off, and try to follow them, but they chased and kicked him away.
He determined not to quit the palace till he knew what had become of Celia.
“Alas!” he said to himself. “I am furious with the people who are carrying Celia off, but wasn’t I the one who made her a prisoner in the first place, and wasn’t I the one who intended to sell her as a slave?”
And the Prince found himself changed at that moment into a beautiful white dove. He remembered that white was the favorite color of the Fairy, and began to hope that he might at last win back her favor. But just now his first care was for Celia. Rising into the air, he flew round and round the house until he saw an open window. He searched every room, but in vain. No trace of Celia was to be seen. The Prince, in despair, determined to search the world till he found her. He flew on and on for several days, until he came to a great desert, where he saw a cavern. To his delight there sat Celia, sharing a simple breakfast with an old hermit.
Overjoyed to have found her, Prince Derek perched on her shoulder, trying to express by his chirpings and wing caresses how glad he was to see her again. Celia, surprised and delighted by the tameness of the white dove, stroked it softly and said, though she never thought it would understand her:
“I accept the gift that you make me of yourself – and I will love you always.”
“Take care what you are saying, Celia,” said the old hermit. “Are you prepared to keep that promise?”
“Indeed I hope so, my sweet shepherdess,” cried the Prince, who at that very moment was restored to his natural shape. “You just now said that you would love me always. Tell me that you really mean what you said, or I shall have to ask the Fairy to give me back the form of the dove which pleased you so much.”
“You need not be afraid that she will change her mind,” said the Fairy, throwing off the hermit’s robe in which she had been disguised, and appearing before them.
“Celia has loved you every since she first saw you, only she would not tell you while you became so obstinate and naughty. Now that you have repented and mean to be good, you deserve to be happy, and so now she may love you as much as she likes.”
Celia and Prince Derek threw themselves at the Fairy’s feet, and the Prince never tired of thanking her for her kindness. Celia was delighted to hear how sorry he was for all his past follies and misdeeds, and promised to love him as long as she lived.
“Rise, my children,” said the Fairy, “and I will transport you back to the palace. Prince Derek shall have back again the crown he forfeited for his bad behavior.”
While she was speaking they found themselves in Agalthorpe’s hall, and his delight was great at seeing his dear master once more. Agalthorpe joyfully gave up the throne to the Prince, and remained always the most faithful of his subjects.
Celia and Prince Derek reigned for many years. The Prince was so determined to govern worthily and to do his duty that his ring, which he located under his bed and put back on his finger, never once severely pricked him again.
If You Like This Story You Will Love:
"Prince Derek and the Ring" is based on "Prince Darling," a story by Cabinet des Fees and edited by Andrew Lang, from The Blue Fairy Book (David McKay Company Publishers: Philadelphia, 1921) pp. 10-15.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©1998. All rights reserved.
Similar folk tales have been noted in Denmark and in China. In Denmark's "The Little Pony" (Folk Tales of All Nations, 1931, pp.392-395), a proud prince scorns an ugly old man and finds himself turned into a pony until he wins the friendship of a princess; and in China's "Lo-Sun, the Blind Boy from China" (also Folk Tales of All Nations, pp.363-368), a blind boy learns he can win back his sight by doing deeds of kindness.