Monday, January 30, 2017

DMI2017, Week 2: "Prince Bull" by Charles Dickens

The Ace of Diamonds takes us into our first foray into the science fiction/fantasy category with a story by an author one would not expect to find here: Charles Dickens. The editor of the anthology points out that A Christmas Carol counts essentially as a fantasy story, however, so I suppose it's not beyond the realm of possibility to see Dickens in such a collection.

"Prince Bull" is more of an allegory, although Dickens subtitles it as "a fairy tale," and the story does indeed begin with the words "Once upon a time...." The title refers to the main character of the story, a figure who represents John Bull, himself a type of allegorical, or at least metaphorical, character. Just as we Americans have our "Uncle Sam," the British have their "John Bull," a personification of Great Britain who dates back to the 1700s.

In this story Prince Bull is beset on all sides by an evil fairy godmother named Tape. She's colored red, so she is a relatively heavy-handed personification of the concept of "red tape" and bureaucracy. Her magical power is that she can stop any kind of idea or innovation by simply laying her hand on it and saying, "Tape." This has the effect of either squelching the idea or sending it off to some other country, which then profits from it, all to the detriment of Prince Bull and his kingdom. Tape even interferes with the Prince's preparations for war.

This was such a strange little story that there's honestly not much to say about it. It was Dickens, of course, whose style is unmistakeable and always a pleasure to read, but the story left me cold. I have an idea that it would have had way more impact when it was written than it does now, although we still live very much with the fact and the consequences of red tape. And maybe that's the point, since at the end of the story the prince remains firmly in the clutches of Tape and has no prospect of getting out.

I'm afraid this story gets only 3 stars from me, and if it were written by anyone other than Dickens, it would probably get only 1 star. I can't really recommend it. Still, it might be worth looking up if only for the historical angle and oddity of the story.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. This story sure sounds familiar to me, but based on your description I don't think I've read it after all. Maybe it's just the title I'm familiar with.

    The best "fantasy" story of Dickens I remember is the 'ghostly' "The Signal-Man"

  2. I can see where this might be an amusing conceit, but limited. Dickens can make just about anything better!