'Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut'

Story Time

November 03, 1999|By Margaret Atwood

Editor's note: Prissy Princess Prunella plans to marry a pinheaded prince until an old woman casts a spell on her.

Princess Prunella lived in a pink palace with her pinheaded parents, her three plump pussycats and her puppydog.

Princess Prunella was proud, prissy and pretty, and unhappily very spoiled. She would never pick up her playthings. Instead, after her breakfast, she would parade around all day in puffy petticoats sprinkled with sparkling pink sequins, a pair of pale purple pumps with peonies on the insteps and a pinafore printed with pansies and petunias, slurping peppermints and peering at her dimples in a pocket mirror. "I am perfectly pretty," she would say. "When I grow up I will marry a pinheaded prince with piles of pin-money, who will praise me and pamper me and adore me as much as I do."

One April day, a white-haired wrinkly-wristed Wise Woman, in a sparse but pristine pleated petticoat, paper slippers and an imperfectly patched wrap, tapped at the door. Princess Prunella opened it. "What do you want?" she snapped.

"Please, Princess," said the Wise Woman. "I am just a poor person. Could I have a piece of leftover porridge, or a peppermint, or a used prune if you could spare one?"

"You are interrupting me," said Prunella. "Porridge and prunes and peppermints are for princesses. Poor people don't deserve any. So get away from this palace, you pathetic peasant pauper."

The Wise Woman was not pleased. "Now I am going to put a spell on you. It will never disappear until you perform three Good Deeds."

Then she waggled her white wrinkly wrists and pronounced impressively,

"Nipity Pipity Zeenut,

Let the Princess sprout a peanut."

The next time she peeked into her pocket mirror, there was a purple peanut the size of a pea, right on the tip of her nose. And she began to weep.

The next day, the purple peanut was still there. Now it was as big as a peach pit.

The three pussycats purred. "Serves you right for being a selfish pig," they said.

In the morning the three plump pussycats poked and pinched Princess Prunella awake with their pointy paws. "We pity you," they whispered. "Your eyes are all pink and puffy, and that purple peanut is as big as a pumpkin. So we will remind you of what the white-haired wrinkly-wristed Wise Woman said: Perform three Good Deeds and your purple peanut will pop."

"What are Good Deeds?" said Prunella.

Then she perceived three parti-colored parrots pouncing on petticoats, pinafores and puce-colored pantaloons that Penny, the palace parlormaid, had pinned with pegs to the parapet. "If I don't prevent those pouncing parrots from pecking perforations in the petticoats, pinafores and pantaloons, Penny will be up to her armpits in trouble," thought Prunella. So she prodded the parrots away with her parasol.

The purple peanut grew smaller. But Princess Prunella did not notice, because she saw her prize puppydog, Pug, being pursued by a poisonous puff-pig.

"Pug! Pug! Do not despair!" she cried, and pelted after the puff-pig as fast as she could go, picking up pebbles and propelling them at it with all her power. The petrified puff-pig plopped down, and Prunella scooped up Pug, whose pulse was pounding and who was panting with panic, patted him, and fed him a peppermint. The purple peanut grew smaller, but Princess Prunella did not notice, because for once she was thinking about someone other than herself.

Princess Prunella proceeded down the path, toward the palace pond. There, she saw a pear-shaped, pinheaded prince about to plunge in.

"Prince! Prince!" she called. "Don't plunge! That pond is polluted! Also it is full of ponderous pointy-toothed pike, which will probably eat you!"

"You have preserved my life, Princess," said the pear-shaped, pinheaded prince. "Your prudent personality is a praiseworthy and precious pearl. As princes go I am practically a pauper, with almost no pin-money, but when you are older perhaps I might be prepared to propose."

"But surely that is not possible," said Prunella unhappily.

"Why not?" said the pinheaded prince.

"Because of the purple peanut as big as a pumpkin on the tip of my nose," said Prunella, who had just remembered it.

"There is no purple peanut," said the prince, peering.

And it was true. The purple peanut had disappeared.

The purple pussycats, perched on the pear tree, purred with rapture, Penny the palace parlormaid applauded, and the white-haired, wrinkly-wristed Wise Woman, who had been peeping from behind a potted palm on the patio, pronounced her approval of Princess Prunella's three positive performances.

Excerpted from Margaret Atwood's "Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut." Text copyright c 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Illustrations copyright c 1995 by Maryann Kovalski. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York, New York. All rights reserved.

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