The Magic Fish-Bone (1868) by Charles Dickens

IMG_20150720_010004I’m participating in a short course about myths, legends, and fairytales. This is what I intend to do for my 5-minute presentation for the last lesson this weekend…:) I hope it goes well.

Main Characters: King Watkins the First (manliest), Queen (loveliest and the only housekeeper of the house), Queen’s father (medical man), nineteen children (including eldest daughter, Princess Alicia, 7), Mr. Pickles (fishmonger), Picker’s errand boy, Good Fairy Grandmarina, Peggy (the Lord Chamberlain), a doll (the Duchess)

Heroine: Princess Alicia (Princess and fairy story)

Setting (Time, Place): There was once a King, and he had a Queen…/ ordinary home

Magic Object(s): Fish-Bone

Purpose: The Magic Fish-Bone was especially written and intended for Victorian children (more moralistic-based)

Fairytales (Maslow’s/ Archetype)

Magic Fish-Bone

Analysis / Author & Historical Background / Author

(1)   Physical Well-Being “The King was, in his private profession, Under Government.”

-“The King went on towards the Office in a melancholy mood, for Quarter-Day was such a long way off, and several of the dear children were growing out of their clothes.”

– Heroine not mistreated, but lived in ordinary home rather than a royal palace. Straitened circumstances, fed on inexpensive items; e.g., stopped at the fishmonger’s to buy salmon for the household.

– Royals were stripped off inborn aristocracy and lived like plebeians.

Magical Tool(s) / Repetitions “Tell the Princess Alicia, with my love, that the fish-bone is a magic present which can only be used once, but that it will bring, her, that once, whatever she wishes for, PROVIDED SHE WISHES FOR IT AT THE RIGHT TIME…” Fish-bone only used as an act of emergency.
(2)   Safety Needs / Scenario(s) (a)   The Queen fainted away when she got up in the morning:

“The Princess Alicia kept the seventeen young princes and princesses quiet, and dressed and undressed and danced the baby, and made the kettle boil, and heated the soup, and swept the hearth, and poured out the medicine, and nursed the queen, and did all that ever she could, and was as busy, busy, busy as busy could be…”

“But on the morning when the queen fainted away, where was the magic fish-bone? Why, there it was in the Princess Alicia’s pocket! She had almost taken it out to bring the queen to life again, when she put it back, and looked for the smelling-bottle.”

(b)   Little snapping pug-dog making a rush advance towards one of the young Princes, who then crushed his arm towards the window pane with fright and caused an injury:

[S]he put the wounded prince’s hand in a basin of fresh cold water…and then she looked in the hand for bits of glass, and there were fortunately no bits of glass there. And then she said to two chubby-legged princes, who were sturdy though small, ‘Bring me in the royal rag-bag: I must snip and stitch and cut and contrive.”

(c)    Baby sibling fell under the grate:

“I am afraid to let him down yet, lest he should wake and feel pain; be good, and you shall all be cooks.’ They jumped for joy when they heard that, and began making themselves cooks’ caps out of old newspapers.”

Princess Alicia overcame various threats and didn’t produce the fish-bone out of her pocket, which were seen as temptations her ultimate reward.

(a)   Smelling-bottle (smelling salts) – widely used in the 19th century to arouse ladies’ consciousness from frights and tightness of corsets and crinolines (medical advance functioned as limiting the power of the magical tools seen in fairytales).

(b)   The first-aid knowledge and resourcefulness of a seven-year-old Alicia was exceptionable.

(c)    Abundance of newspapers and publishing companies. As well as mentioning points (a), (b), and (c), Dickens used the heroine as means of instilling particularities into the fairytale (responsibilities and duties in the household).

(3)   Belonging & love needs The doll (the duchess) was Princess Alicia’s sole comfort and substitution for social belonging and friendship when her motives and resourcefulness were not understood by her father.

‘Alicia.’ ‘Yes, papa.’ ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Snipping, stitching, cutting, and contriving, papa.’ ‘Where is the magic fish-bone?’ ‘In my pocket, papa.’ ‘I thought you had lost it?’ ‘O, no, papa.’ ‘Or forgotten it?’ ‘No, indeed, papa.’ After that, she ran up-stairs to the duchess, and told her what had passed, and told her the secret over again; and the duchess shook her flaxen curls, and laughed with her rosy lips.

Ultimate Threat / Reward Escaped from poverty. The King’s quarter-day salary had not arrived. Fish-bone was used and the fairy announced there’d be eight quarter-days in every year. Poverty was reflected as a grave issue at the time.
(4&5) Esteem Needs from Potential Fulfillment and Self-Actualization Compliments from Grandmarina for her endurance and domesticity. Transformation and Romance: married to Prince Certainpersonio (not rich). Fairy Grandmarina promised that Prince Certainopersonio and Princess Alicia were to have thirty-five children, would never have measles and recovered from whooping-cough before being born. Living happily ever after (also a rag-to-riches story). Actualization: Financial safety for the family. – (Health and high mortality rate in children)

– Fertility (Catherine Dickens’s ten children)

– This created a dimension and previous hardship were rewarded with beauty and order. The self-actualization seen as a fulfilment towards good deeds for family (different from ordinary fairytales).

Moralistic/ Didactic Messages Conveyed “When we have done our very very best, papa, and that is not enough, then I think the right time must have come for asking help of others.”

(1)   Grown-ups ground of reasoning and ignorance.

(2)   Contrivance and endurance against temptations and hardship for the ultimate reward (Christian values?)

(3)   Realistic yet without being deprived of imagination.

(4)   Social conditions of the Victorian period.

Hard Times (1854) – fact and fancy

Morals served as the secondary element in the fairytale for sake of entertainment.

Villain(s) and Punishment “It only remains,” said Grandmarina in conclusion, “to make an end of the fish-bone.” So she took it from the hand of the Princess Alicia, and it instantly flew down the throat of the dreadful little snapping pug-dog, next door, and choked him, and he expired in convulsions. -Pugs were popular pets among European aristocrats. Queen Victoria kept a herd at the Palace.

– An attack on dowagers?

Other Elements (Feminism) Matrilineal descent (Fairy Godmother, Princess Alicia, Peggy the Lord Chamberlain), uncharismatic king

– Queen Victoria’s reign and stipulations

– Women’s virtue and wifely duties.

The Victorian Fairy Tale Book


This is an enchanting book covering seventeen fairy tales published in the nineteenth century with beautiful black-and-white illustrations inserted within. I will discuss each story one by one in my future posts, and hopefully those will be interesting as well as inspiring (not at all intended to be so educational) for you to read!

  • The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin (illustrated by Richard Doyle)
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (George Cruikshank)
  • The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray (illustrated by the author)
  • The Magic Fish-Bone by Charles Dickens (John Gilbert)
  • Melilot by Henry Morley (Charles H. Bennett)
  • The Fairies by William Allingham (Arthur Hughes)
  • The Little Lam Prince and his Travelling-Cloak by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (John McL. Ralston)
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti)
  • The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde by Mary De Morgan (Walter Crane)
  • The Golden Key by George MacDonald (Arthur Hughes)
  • The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats
  • The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde (Walter Crane)
  • The Brown Owl by Ford Madox Ford (Ford Madox Brown)
  • Rocking-Horse Land by Laurence Housman (illustrated by the author)
  • The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (Maxfield Parroish)
  • The Deliverers of Their Country by E. Nesbit (H. R. Millar)
  • From Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J. M. Barrie (Arthur Rackham)

English Fairy Tales

$(KGrHqYOKkYE0++75R+hBNfu+3B0)!~~_32Got this Book during Christmas time, after I boarded a ship called “Logos Hope” by the Victoria’s Harbour. It was sold at 150 units, which was about HK$30 at calculation. I also bought 2  Amish romance fictions but are still on my TBR bookshelf.

English Fairy Tales (Wordsworth Edition) consists of 41 typical children stories. Before reading this book, if you ask me if there are any stories in the book which I’ve heard of, I would say some with only a very limited knowledge. For instance, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, Dick Whittington and His Cat….I don’t know if most people especially from Britain have heard most English fairy tales since they were little, but sorry for my ignorance, I don’t really know much about them. However after reading this book, it has opened my eyes on English Fairy Tales. I don’t particularly like the giant-killing adventures, on the contrary, I find the simple ones engaging, that I always think they must convey some kind of philosophical meanings underneath the stories.  For instance, The Story of Three Bears, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, and Henny-Penny. I don’t think myself reading the repetitive dialogues and storylines in boredom, on the other hand, they sound interesting in a sort of way because I am intrigued to know how the conversations finally variate and  turn out in the end. I soon must enrolled myself to attend some literary classes on fairy tales and know more about the underlined meanings and philosophical significance of them.

Apart from those, I am also engrossed in stories like The True History of Sir Thomas Thumb, and The Fish and the Ring. It so happened that these stories are really adventurous and phenomenal, and I am especially enthralled by the legendary tale about Sir Thomas Thumb, because stories concerning Merlin are just interesting. There are also some creepy ones in this book, and bedtime stories must be selected before reading them aloud to the kids, for example, Mr Fox, and The Rose Tree. Surely I must have heard those before when they are probably recorded in the scary ones of Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Bluebeard and The Juniper Tree).

But out of those fairy tales, I still find Dick Whittington and His Cat is the best of all! Here is the picture of the Whittington Stone in Holloway!
from wikipedia