Some of the best advice about how to make a good marital choice is in a children’s book published in 1967: PICKLE-CHIFFON PIE. It’s not like the usual sources of wisdom, but wise it is. Jolly Roger Bradfield is both the author of this book’s clever words and the artist who created its goofy, lively, charming, drawings.
As in many traditional stories this one is about a king, a queen, a princess, and a problem. The beautiful daughter has too many suitors who come a-courting and then stay for dinner and that causes the problem. With “every prince in the neighborhood” at the table, the King has found that the serving size of his favorite dessert, pickle-chiffon pie, has become unacceptably small.
The King’s solution for cutting down on the crowd is for his daughter to choose one of the many suitors and marry him. But, which one? There’s an old, well-tried way to pick a winner – hold a competition, and that is what the King decided to do. He called for the three nicest princes and told them that the winner of a challenge would marry his daughter. To have weeded out the rogues and lounge lizards before the test began shows that this was indeed a wise king.
The first of the three was Prince Musselbaum who was strong and brave. The Princess liked him because he was tall and he had wavy hair and freckles.
Then there was Prince Wellred who was very smart – “He could count up to six hundred and eighty four…and he read books three inches thick.”
The Princess liked him because he read her beautiful stories and knew how to play music. The illustration shows him seated under her window at night with a drum set and a trombone. I guess that counts as princess-pleasing music.
The third prince, Bernard, wasn’t particularly strong, or handsome, or smart but the Princess might have liked him because he had a big smile and a funny nose.
The King’s instruction to the three princes was that they were to go into the huge forest for three days, a forest full of Gazoos, fairies, and Dimdoozles. Then he announced that,
“The one who brings back the most unusual, the most marvelous, the MOST WONDERFUL THING – may marry the Princess.”
The princes set forth and Musselbaum found something unusual both the first and second days and finally, on the third day, settled on a “…huge lion juggling six cans of root-beer soup while wearing a velvet vest and roller skates.” He grabbed the lion’s tale and dragged him back to the castle.
Prince Wellred also found unusual creatures on the first and second days in the forest but settled on a green-bearded giant playing “Chopsticks” on two very tiny pianos. He used flattery to talk the giant into accompanying him back to the castle.
Prince Bernard also found unusual creatures but returned empty-handed. Back at the castle after his three-day search, with his head bowed and tears in his eyes, he explained why he had come back with nothing,
“He told of meeting the ugly ogre who might have frightened the Princess. He told of seeing the amazing mice whose painting he could not bring himself to interrupt. He told of the tiny Snozzle children he could not bear to leave in the forest alone.”
Their parent was a three-nosed Snozzle with fuzzy ears and an orange polka-dot tie that Prince Bernard had found making a pickle-chiffon pie! It had not been easy to let the Snozzle go. Prince Bernard went from being happier than he’d ever been when he was sure he’d win the hand of the Princess to being very sad after he knew he had to let go of this treasure.
He had struggled in making his choice,
“Prince Bernard sat down on a log to think. He thought of his love for the Princess. He thought of the Snozzle’s love for its children. For a long time it was very quiet and still in the forest.”
It was also very quiet in the castle after the prince explained why he hadn’t brought back anything. In the silence, the Queen and the Princess whispered in the King’s ears and then he announced that Bernard was the winner. The prince protested that he hadn’t brought back anything marvelous.
The King answered,
“Oh yes, you did, my son. …You brought back a story of kindness and love and consideration for others …truly THE MOST WONDERFUL THING OF ALL. You’ll make a fine husband for my daughter.”
Challenge stories with three seekers and one winner have been told for centuries and often include unexpected lessons about paying attention to human values, about relating to others with respect and kindness. Don’t, for example, assume that the ugly little old woman in a fairy tale is someone who can be ignored or treated badly. She may hold the secret knowledge and the magical power that are often found in very ordinary places. Being handsome or very accomplished or having wealth or high status is not necessarily the key to a good life. Whether choosing your prince or princess, or making other kinds of decisions, considering what is compassionate works well.
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PICKLE-CHIFFON PIE, by Jolly Roger Bradfield, published in 1967 by Rand McNally & Company