I am reading Faithful Johannes to Thalia this evening in honor of her new cat of the same name. She said Johannes followed her home from kindergarten, but I think he “followed” in her arms. I saw her carrying him into the house. Thalia and Teddy are in my lap, of course; Johannes has taken to the window seat overlooking the enchanted forest.
In Faithful Johannes the king, on his deathbed, calls for his faithful servant and puts upon him the onus of counseling the unreliable prince. The king gives Faithful Johannes the castle keys with the injunction not to let the prince into one particular room. In this room is a portrait of the Princess of the Golden Roof. If the prince sees the portrait he will fall in love and no good will likely come of it.
“Oh, oh,” says Thalia. We all see it coming.
After the king dies, Johannes gives the new king a tour of the castle and all its wealth, avoiding the chamber with the portrait. Unfortunately, the new king notices and demands to see what is there. Faithful Johannes tries to dissuade him, but must relent. The king sees the portrait and falls in love as the old king predicted.
“Oh, oh,” says Thalia. Johannes on the window seat blinks. Teddy, stuffed between Thalia and me, stares button-eyed.
The king entreats Faithful Johannes to come up with a plan to win the princess. Disguised as merchants, they sail to her home and trick her into boarding the ship to see their wonderful golden wares. As she marvels at golden merchandise, they cast off, abducting her. The king reveals his identity and his love for her, and she agrees to marry him.
On the return trip Johannes listens to three ravens flying about and learns from them that the king must avoid three traps if he wishes to enjoy his life with his bride. The king must not ride the red horse waiting for him on the shore when they arrive home; he must not wear the wedding clothes laid out for him; and when his queen suddenly falls down and appears to be dead, someone must suck three drops of blood from her right breast. Further, if Johannes speaks of these things he will turn to stone.
Johannes shoots the red horse and burns the wedding clothes, giving no explanation. But it is too much for the king when Johannes sucks the blood from the queen’s breast. Johannes is condemned to death.
Before he is to be hung on the gallows, Johannes redeems himself by telling the king of the ravens’ words and promptly turns to stone. Full of remorse the king keeps the statue in the royal bedroom.
One day, after twin boys have been born to the king, the statue speaks, telling the king he can restore Johannes by rubbing the statue with the blood of the twin boys’ severed heads.
Thalia squirms in my lap as the king kills his sons to restore his faithful servant. Johannes rewards the king’s faithfulness by restoring the boys to life.
“Whew,” says Thalia.
When she and Teddy wander off to bed followed by the four-footed Johannes, I reflect on the tale. Why was the portrait in the room? Who set the three traps? What is the significance of rubbing the statue with blood?