On Poetry and Culture Shock

A fairy tale.

No poetry today. Here you have a fairy tale. Warning: it is from the Bluebeard, child-eating giants, bloody variety of fairy tales.

Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters, two bad, one (the youngest) good. One day, the King said to his daughters, “I’m old and tired. I have divided the kingdom in three parts and each one of you will have her portion. I will keep a thousand men as my court and I will spend four months a year with each one of you. But first, tell me: How much do you love me?”

The oldest said, “More than my life”.

The middle one said, “More than words can express”

And the youngest one said, “As much as it is right and proper”.

The king went into a rage at tis lack of exaggeration, and he banished his youngest daughter from his castle, which made her very sad, but she was so good and beautiful that the prince in the land at her father’s borders married her, even without any dowry. The King then divided his kingdom in half, between his two remaining daughters, and said he and his thousand men would spend half the year with each one.

The king had a counsellor who was fired after defending the good daughter; this man had two sons, one good from his wife, one bad from is lover. He decided that now that he had more spare time, he would dedicate it to his older, illegitimate son, and find a way of giving him part of his inheritance. But on seeing his castle and his luxuries, the Bad Son decided to take everything and take it soon. So, he faked a letter from the Good Son and the Counsellor was made to believe that his Good Son planned to kill him. And that was how the Good Son had to run away from his house, and pretend he was Poor Tom, a mad beggar.

As soon as the king went to live with his eldest daughter, she banned the thousand men from her castle. The King was furious, but nothing he said affected her. Finally, he said he would go and live with the middle daughter. But when he arrived, she told him to go back to the eldest until his appointed time, six months later. “My sister was right. You don’t need a thousand knights, not a hundred, not one, if you have my sister’s servants to take care of you. Go back to her and apologise”

“Apologise to my own daughter? I’d sooner die of cold in that storm”

“Suit yourself”, said the middle daughter.

The King went out in the rain and was found by Poor Tom, who gave him shelter in a hut. Meanwhile, the two bad sisters realised that the thousand knights might be a danger to them and decided the needed his father back to keep him controlled. They went to the counsellor’s castle, to see if he knew anything, and were received by the Bad Son. The two women immediately desired him. They told him their plans and he said that the counsellor was too loyal to the King, so they would probably need to torture him. The Bad Son went into another room while the daughters tied the old man to a chair. When he said he didn’t know where the King was, each one of the women pulled out one of his eyes. They kicked him out of his house and they told the Bad Son that he was the man of the castle now, although they would like to have him in their army in case there was a war. The Bad Son was delighted.

Poor Tom found his father the counsellor, now blind, who didn’t recognise his son’s voice and asked him to lead him to a cliff so that he could kill himself. The Good Son led his not towards a cliff, but towards the borders of the country. The Good Daughter had found out how her sisters were treating her father, and since her husband the foreign prince loved her so much, she easily convinced him to invade her country to avenge the old King. The first battle of the war was won by the daughters, who had both become lovers of the Bad Son. He made prisoners of both the King and his daughter. The King realised what a stupid fool he had been, and considered himself lucky to be alive and with the one person that had remained true to him, his youngest daughter. But the Bad Son ordered a spy to kill them both when they were in prison.

When the eldest daughter knew that her sister was her rival, she poisoned her. Poor Tom had stayed away from the battle, taking care of his father, but when he saw his half brother, he revealed his identity and challenged the Bad Son in a duel. The Good Son won, and killed his brother. On seeing that, the eldest sister killed himself by smashing her head against a rock. Grief and exhaustion were too much for the old counsellor, who died while his sons fought. The Spy tried to fake the Daughter’s suicide; the King just saw him escape the room, and did not have time to save her. He tried desperately to bring her back to life, not believing for one moment she was truly dead. Death by sorrow found him too, surprised, denying it, unprepared.

And only Poor Tom was left alive, sad castaway in the ruins of a destroyed nation.


This cheery story is the plot of King Lear (I have changed a few details), maybe my favourite Shakespearian tragedy.

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