30 days of folklore magic: the healing power of magic fruit
Updated: Apr 2
For each of the 30 days of April I'll be sharing one moment of magic from one of my favourite folktales. We're all familiar with the magic we've seen in the film versions we grew up with, and the bedtime stories we were read, but there's a whole other world of the bizarre, the magnificent and the grotesque to discover when you go back to the collections.
When I think about which aspects of these stories keep me so passionate about reading them, the first thing that comes to mind - and what I come back to again and again - is the magic. So this month I'm focusing on the wonder and joy I feel when I'm reading a folktale and something magical happens, changing a life forever. This is day one!
Magic fruit. (1/30)
Imagine you're the youngest of three brothers and your dad dies and leaves you each a magical inheritance. Yours is a magic belt, and when you put it on and say the magic words it takes you anywhere you want to go.
Now try to imagine meeting the object of your heart's desire (an easy feat when you can wish yourself into her bedroom), but nothing goes to plan. First she tricks you out of your belt, then she takes what you borrowed from your brothers, too. And just to make sure you know who's in charge, she has her army trample you seven times dead on your way out the door.
It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine your complete certainty that you couldn't go home again without the magical gifts you'd left with, and despairing for your life you decide to wander into the woods to die.
Here's where our magic spotlight shines.
In the woods you find the remnants of an old orchard and you stumble under an apple tree, heavy with ripe and tempting fruit. Thinking you'd rather not die on an empty stomach, you gobble up three apples before you stop to notice what they've done to you. But it's too late; your nose is three feet long.
Acutely aware of the added insult to injury of now having to die alone in the woods with a three-foot-long nose, you spy a plum tree nearby and think that eating those can't make things any worse for you. Right you are.
So you crawl (because you can no longer stand to carry the weight of your nose) toward the plum tree, kick at its low-hanging branches and eat a plum that has fallen to the ground. You feel better. Your nose shrinks. So you eat another and another and suddenly you're feeling better than ever, whole and hale and ready to exact some revenge on a princess.
I love me some magic fruit. It's a motif that recurs throughout folklore, mythology, theology, art, and literature. We cannot get enough of the fruit that changes fate once you eat it. Consequences be damned!
In the case of "The Princess of Tomboso," she's been eating apples every time you've seen her so it's no surprise to you at all that she wants some when you Clark Kent your way into her presence again. Then you stealthily withdraw, put on a different hat, and return with the cure to save the day. Clever you!
The twist at the end of this (version of this) tale is that you leave the princess you've kicked the habit of with a foot-long nose for her trouble, ostensibly as a reminder of her greed, but really because you're annoyed she didn't love you back. Strictly speaking, she didn't exactly steal your stuff, now you think about it; you gave it to her. She looked at you imploringly and you let your hormones make all the decisions. But hey, all's fair in love and fairytales.
Lesson learned: don't trade your treasures for a pretty smile. Unless you're the princess. Then smile away! Your magic trumps reason until your luck runs out.
"The Princess of Tomboso" collected by Marius Barbeau, translated from the French and retold by Michael Hornyansky in The Golden Phoenix and Other Fairy Tales From Quebec (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1958; 1980) p 26-45.