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A century-old thoughtful twist on the fairy tale genre by a classic Children's writer (would love to see reviews of some of her other works). Melisande is a princess subject to the usual misfortune: a wicked fairy not invited to the christening casts an evil spell on her--"The Princess shall be bald." Not to worry the King has a wish he was given by his fairy godmother locked in his safe, the Princess may use it however she wishes when she comes of age. At that point, the Queen says, "Dearest, for my sake, wish what I tell you to." "Why, of course I will," said Melisande. The Queen whispered in her ear, and Melisande nodded. Then she said, "I wish I had golden hair a yard long, and that it would grow an inch every day, and grow twice as fast every time it was cut..." "Stop!" cried the King..."You've done about enough." For he had a mathematical mind and could do the sums about the grains of wheat on the chessboard... You can imagine what happens next. According to the formula, they promise the Princess's hand in marriage to the Prince who can solve this problem. One unfortunate attempt leaves her growing into a giant a la Alice in Wonderland. The final solution is very clever and I won't spoil it for you. There is a great deal of humor throughout and it is illustrated very well, though I'm not an uberfan of Lynch's caricatures.
Melisande first appeared as a short story "Melisande Or, Long and Short Division" in her collection: Nine Unlikely Tales for Children. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1901. It is a humorous and thoughtful satirical adaptation of classic fairy tale themes.
Borrowing themes from Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels and other classic fairy tales, Nesbit's story takes a mathematical approach to one of her often-used themes of magic wishes taken literally and going tragically wrong. In Melisande's case she is cursed at birth with baldness by a wicked fairy but her real problems begin when her mother uses another fairy's powers to wish she has "hair a yard long, and that it would grow an inch everyday, and grow twice as fast every time it was cut."
This 1990 ALA Notable Book is beautifully illustrated in full color by Patrick Lynch.
Reviewed in the United States on November 18, 1998
This delightful "modern" fairy tale describes the trials of a royal family beset with too many traditions from "historical" fairy tales. Combine precedents from every fairy tale you have ever read, and you have "Melisande." Starting with her christening, Melisande is the princess child cursed by not only fairies, but the too-literal rendition of a counter-spell. Her woes go from being hair-less to having an over-abundance. Of course, the necessary princes are called in to solve the problem. Logic and love rule the day, but oh, what fun! Nesbit is always delightful, but I think this is one of her best. I discovered this book in hard cover several years ago at an overstock outlet, and bought one copy. After reading it to family members, they started looking for their own copy; only to find the book had become a sleeper hit. Copies have been UNAVAILABLE, or high-priced for quite a while; it is delightful this publisher saw fit to print another edition, even if it is "just" paperback. Illustrations for this tale are equally well done; this is a don't miss for the fairy tale lover, children's book lover, or lover of good stories. I shall probably buy several copies myself, if only to save my hardbook copy from abuse!
This is a fantastic tale, sort of a combination of Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland and, of course, Rapunzel. It's not really fair of me to mentioned those other books, because this story has it's own flavour, setting and characters.
The conundrum concerns Melisande's hair which is under an enchantment. The more it is cut, the quicker it will grow. Only a very clever hero can sort this out!
Well worth a read and beautifully illustrated. Also quite funny (humourous) in parts.