Vintage Fairy Tales: The Rose Maiden
I had the good luck to be given a 1923 edition of The Book of Knowledge when I was very young — and by then, this particular set was almost a half-century old. But some of the content comes from earlier editions, published in late Victorian times.
TBoK was my favorite possession as a child, and although it’s quite battered now, I still have the whole set. The content includes everything from history lessons to science experiments, from games and crafts to stories of the great philosophers and authors.
These books really were an attempt to make a world of knowledge accessible to children — and when I browse through them today, I’m still amazed at the authors’ respect for the abilities and interests of their young audience.
There many (many!) fairy tales and folk stories in TBoK. “The Rose Maiden” is slight, but charming, and I chose it for experimentation because it’s all on one page. The original type is very small (odd, when you think of it), so I’ve captured the text in a readable format. But you can see a scan of the original page below.
PRINCE MARIN, the only son of the King of Moldavia, was as proud as he was handsome. The king wanted him to marry, and invited every beautiful princess he heard of to his palace, in the hope that the prince would fall in love.
But he liked none of them, and at last the king said: “You are hard to please. Go! Find a wife for yourself. But, remember, if you return without a bride, I shall disinherit you.”
So the prince set out, and after traveling many days, he came to a great forest, and stopped to rest. He tethered his horse in the shade, and lay down on the soft moss beneath a large rose-tree, covered with flowers.
But, as he sank to sleep, he heard a soft voice sing: “Rose-tree, rose-tree, green and fair, Open and let me take the air. ”
And as he sprang to his feet, the rose-tree opened, and out came a lovely rose maiden.
All the beauty and sweetness of all the roses in the world were in her face, and her long golden hair shone in the sunlight. The prince bowed low before her and, seating her on the soft moss, he placed himself beside her, and they sat and talked until they fell asleep.
Prince Marin was the first to awake, and he stood for some time, looking down on the sleeping maiden.
“She is indeed lovely,” he said at last, “but I do not want to marry yet. I shall go on more adventures,” and he rode away.
When the rose maiden awoke, she thought at first she had been dreaming. But when she saw the marks left by the horse’s hoofs, she knew that all was true, and feeling sad and lonely, she said: “I will wait here till the prince returns,” and she sang:
“Rose-tree, rose-tree, fair and green, Open and let me wait within.”
“I cannot let you in any more,” said the rose-tree. “A mortal has kissed you.”
Then the forsaken maiden turned to follow the prince, but happily she took the wrong path. She followed the track back to Jassy and, as the prince returned by another way, she met him at the city gate. He had come home without a bride, for having seen the rose maiden, he could find no beauty in any other, and so, when he saw her, he gave a shout of joy.
Taking her hand, he led her to the king, and next day they were married with great rejoicing.