Saturday, September 27, 2008

Short story: Narcissa by by Hilary Mantle

Narcissa by by Hilary Mantle is a fairy tale. I must say, a very unusual fairy tale, the likes of what I have not read before. Just read the opening lines:

"In the days when all the priests were dead, and most people walked around with their heads tucked under their arms for safety's sake, there was a princess for whom nothing was ever good enough. You will want to know what she was called, but this she did not know herself; given her choice from Names A-Z, she had got up to R and torn the book apart with her teeth."

When she comes of age, the princess is seeking a mate for herself. She wants "hand-built suitors from the land's best workshops." But when they are wheeled in fron of her, she says, "These are not good enough for me."

Now what did the princess looked like?

"You will want to know what the princess looked like, and I can tell you only that this varied from day to day. Sometimes she looked like Helen of Troy and sometimes like Cleopatra, depending which head she called for when she woke in the morning. No wonder the bottled souls failed to recognise her. And she had trouble knowing herself, as none of the mirrors in the palace was good enough. They hung them picture and landscape, they lit them up and lit them down, they tinted them and silvered them, and sometimes they sneaked up on her with wing-mirrors and make-up mirrors, but still she said, "These are not good enough for me."

As she did not find anyone good enough for her, the years went on. She was 50, 60 or maybe 70 when she came across a closed cupboard. Opening it she found creature unlike anything she had seen before. Surprisingly it answered her back the way she used to talk to others. And hence she found her ugly hedgehog like creature who looked like her.

A fairly tale which is not rosy and all things beautiful. It is about us, the inner ugliness within us and about our ego, which needs to be curbed. And uglines of the soul begets ugliness.