(a European folktale)
Once upon a time there lived a king who had one son, and the king was worried that his son was not fit to eventually succeed him as king. He sent him to school, but the prince did poorly. The teachers shook their heads and sighed and told the king that the prince was hopeless.
“He’ll never learn,” they all declared.
So the king called upon his wisest adviser.
“What should I do?” he asked. “I cannot have a son who is a fool!”
The wise man was wise indeed. “Send him around the world,” he said. “Let him learn from every place he visits.”
The king prepared his son for the journey. He gave him a boat to travel across the oceans, a horse to travel across land and a sack of gold to pay his way. And he gave him his blessings.
“Go into the world and learn,” the king said.
And so the prince began to travel. Everywhere he went he met people and asked questions. In the poorest countries he found people who were struggling just to have enough to eat. He met people who were rich and generous. He met others who were greedy. He met poets and pirates, cooks and choirmasters, engineers and elocutionists. And each person he met taught him something new.
One day, as he was strolling through a market, he heard a beautiful sound — a songbird’s trill. He followed the sound until he came upon the bird’s owner, a merchant.
The prince asked, “Is there anything to learn from a singing bird?”
“Ah yes,” the merchant replied. “If you are his master, this bird will sing a song that will put to sleep anyone who hears it.”
“That sounds useful,” the prince said, so he bought the bird.
Together they traveled, but the prince found no use to put people to sleep.
Then one day he came upon a man selling beetles. He looked very closely into their cages and asked the merchant, “What could I learn from a beetle?”
“Well now,” said the man with the beetles, “these are special, you see, for they can eat their way through any wall in the world.”
“That could be useful,” said the prince, so he bought a beetle.
But as the prince traveled, he found little need for the beetle to eat through walls.
One day he came upon a man selling butterflies, and was captivated by their great beauty.
“They’re lovely,” he said to the man, “but is there an advantage to owning a butterfly?”
“These butterflies are strong enough to bear upon their wings a great weight — even the weight of many people,” the man answered.
The prince thought that was a fascinating idea, so he bought a butterfly.
His money was beginning to run out when he came to a land being terrorized by giants. The giants had captured the king’s beautiful daughter, and they threatened to destroy the land if anyone tried to rescue her.
But the prince decided to try to rescue her, and he turned to his new friends — the bird, the beetle and the butterfly.
When they came to the castle of the giants, the prince saw two giants standing guard. Their heads almost reached to the clouds, and they had bulging muscles and angry eyes. “Sing to them,” the prince said to the bird.
The bird began to sing, and a moment later both guards were fast asleep.
Then the prince said to the beetle, “Chew an entryway into giants’ castle.”
The beetle quickly gnawed a hole big enough for the prince to walk inside. There he heard the princess weeping from behind another wall.
“Gnaw us through that wall,” he instructed the beetle.
And within minutes they were inside the dungeon, beside the captive princess.
“We’re here to save you!” the prince announced.
The princess just shook her head and wept.
“No one can save me,” she sobbed. “There is a guard outside my door who never sleeps.”
“Ha!” said the prince, and he placed the bird upon the guard’s shoulder. He whispered, “Sing your song.”
Sure enough, the giant guard fell fast asleep.
“But how will we travel away?” the princess asked.
The prince simply smiled and called for the butterfly. “Spread your wings,” he said.
So the butterfly spread her wings. He then instructed the princess to sit upon one wing, and he sat upon the other. The butterfly then flew through the holes in the walls. Soon they were back to the princess’s land.
When her father saw his beloved daughter, he praised the prince and said to him, “I shall give you half of my kingdom!”
“I accept,” said the prince, “but I also wish to marry your daughter, for I have fallen in love with her.”
“I love you, too!” the princess replied, smiling.
So the princess and the prince married, and they soon visited the prince’s father.
When the king heard the story of the bird, the beetle and the butterfly, and of his son’s courage and love, he wept for joy.
“My son is not a fool at all!” he cried. “He is the cleverest son a man could wish to have!”
And everyone lived happily ever after.