Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Princess of Cozytown

So, I finally read one of my Christmas presents, Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Princess of Cozytown. This was one of two books she produced for the Volland Company, the first being The Perhappsy Chaps in 1918 and this one from 1922. At least some of the stories had previously appeared in Saint Nicholas magazine.

While Thompson was quite the storyteller, she was definitely aimed at children, while her Ozian predecessor L. Frank Baum wrote in a style for all ages. However, this is no slight as children should find Thompson's writing engaging and adults will find it whimsical.

The Princess of Cozytown collects six of Thompson's fairy tales about princesses, princes, kingdoms and kings. The first is the titular story, "The Princess of Cozytown." The people of Cozytown all love their princess, how they play all the time and have such fun, but they hear a disaster will befall the Princess, and it begins with the letter G. As it turns out, the disaster is the unseen arrival of the Giant Grownupness. Instead of writing a standard fairy tale, Thompson turned it into a story about growing up: Cozytown is the girl's childhood, the people there are her toys. It also has one of the saddest endings of all of Thompson's work: the girl finds her toys on the floor, and when she calls them "toys," they suddenly lose their life. But it's not so bleak: Thompson writes that one day some other child may adopt them and Cozytown will live again.

The next story is "The Prince With A Cold In His Heart," about a young prince who has, as Thompson puts it, a cold in his heart. An old wise man cures it by making another little boy that only the Prince can see. The boy encourages the prince to do things with him, go swimming and play all sorts of lively games and activities. Finally, one day, the Prince finds a different boy and realizes when he looks into a mirror that the first boy and himself have changed places. The newly energized and cured Prince then lets his newfound energy spread through the palace.

Next up is "The Bald-Headed Kingdom," in which a bald king feels too sensitive about his baldness and orders everyone to shave their heads. When the Prince (who has been away) hears of this, he looks for a solution.

"The Tailor of Nevermindwhere" follows the adventures of newly arrived Tailor Jerry in the kingdom of Nevermindwhere. When he tells the king that "a Tailor makes a man," the king defies him and refuses his services. As a result, the common people end up being so richly dressed by Jerry that the court hardly looks so elegant in comparison. Where will it all end?

The story "The Last Giant" tells of the final giant that wasn't killed by Jack the Giant Killer or his descendants who falls in love with a princess. When the king (who wants to keep her at home) says that whoever can manage her fortune (literally all the money she has to her name in cash in a big chest) can have her as a wife, the giant makes short work of this and goes to the Last Witch to get a potion to shrink him to a regular human size. The witch obliges, but warns him that if he loses his temper, he'll turn back into a giant. How will things go for the couple?

The final story, "The Princess Who Could Not Dance," was actually one of my first experiences with Thompson. It subsequently appeared in a collection of short American fantasies titled American Fairy Tales, edited by Neil Philip (not to be confused with the Baum book, but it does contain Baum's "The Glass Dog"). I discovered it while looking at audio books at the library and spotted what looked like a Baum title, and discovered that while it wasn't Baum's book, it did contain a story by him and one by Thompson.

The story tells of the princess Dianidra, who cannot find it in herself to dance. After getting fed up with dancing masters and leaving the palace, she meets a good fairy who teaches her the secret of dancing. It is one of Thompson's more beautiful tales.

Altogether, The Princess of Cozytown sometimes makes me wish that Thompson's non-Oz work had escaped the shadow of Oz. I'm very fortunate to have a copy, but the book is generally unavailable to upcoming generations. I think she needs a comeback.

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