Friday, 14 June 2013

The Little Lame Prince

I've had this story in my library since I was a girl. Last night, I poured over the tiny volume. It wasn't the story I was expecting. The little illustrations were delights, the characters caught my heart. Maybe it was the time of day, or my state of mind, but I did feel transported when the prince and I climbed aboard his magical travelling cloak. I've never read a better description of what the world might look like to a child who had only learned what he knew through books. And if I had read it as a girl, I would have felt as if I had really seen the things he had for the first time. Obviously, being a children's book, the language was simple. But it was less so (or at least less noticably so) because of the author's elegant prose.

Mulock included a cryptic sort of message at the beginning of one chapter. "If any reader, big or little, should wonder whether there is a meaning in this story, deeper than that of an ordinary fairy tale, I will own that there is. But I have hidden it so carefully that the small people, and many larger folk, will never find it out". I can't help wondering if I've gotten the right message. The story flows very clearly, I think: the prince draws an unfortunate lot, he's helped by his godmother to bear it, and he develops a great sense of empathy because of it. I was so happy to see that not a single mentioning of providence or 'God's will' was made even with the theme being obviously ethical. The prince never tells a single lie, and makes bad people uncomfortable in his presence -- that seems significant -- and his just and fair rule as a king is a result of the empathy he developed riding along on the cloak... I think. But what is the cloak, for regular boys and girls? I'm torn. I feel like the cloak (and especially the golden spectables and the silver ears the prince wears) are indicative of the cloak's ability to make the prince feel like someone else, developing his sensitivities for the feelings of others. He certainly uses the cloak this way later in life, as a king. Does the Little Lame Prince really just amount to an exposition of the golden rule? Even if that's really all there is to the 'meaning' bit, I really liked this piece of writing.

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