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Literature / Heart of Ice (Andrew Lang)

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Illustration by H. J. Ford

"Heart of Ice" (or Le prince Courtebotte et la princesse Zibeline) is a French Fairy Tale written by Comte de Caylus and translated and collected by Andrew Lang in the Green Fairy Book.

Once upon a time there were a foolish king and queen who had become parents. Back in those days, it was customary to invite the whole Fairykind to a royal child's baptism. Unfortunately, the king takes too long to read the summons, with the consequence that the first group of fairies to arrive at the palace become annoyed at being kept waiting. One angry fairy says the newborn prince will never be "anything but a Mannikin", but she is talked out of uttering nastier curses by the Fairy Genesta. Later, Genesta informs the King and the Queen she cannot trust them to raise their son properly, so she "will take him away and take care of him, and [they] will not see him again until he is all covered with fur."

Despite his parents' protestations, Genesta carries off the prince to her castle and places him under the care of a peasant woman. During the next years, Mannikin grows into a smart, resourceful man and a skillful warrior despite his short size thanks to Genesta, who frequently sends him on quests to build his character.

During one of his journeys, Mannikin rides into a city right when two ambassadors are announcing their king has sworn to marry his daughter Sabella to the one who can reach the summit of the Ice Mountain. When they unveil Sabella's portrayal, Mannikin promptly decides to undertake the mission. Although he is not taken seriously by the ambassadors -or anybody-, he is said to head towards Princess Sabella's realm to receive further instructions.

As travelling eastward, Mannikin runs into a strange ship whose woodwork is turning into trees, and whose roots are growing into the unconscious crew. Mannikin manages to save them, and the crew -after promising to take him to whatever coast he pleased- explain their ship was enveloped by a mysterious cloud of dust which caused all wooden stuff blossom. Mannikin collects a handful of the dust, thinking it might come in handy someday. Later, he arrives in a kingdom inhabited by sapient spaniels. Mannikin meets up with King Bayard, who explains he and all his subjects were turned into dogs because he turned a fairy's romantic advances down. Mannikin and Bayard quickly befriend each other, and in addition to offer his assistance, Bayard insists that Mannikin takes his page Mousta with him.

Several months later, Mannikin and Mousta arrive in Trelintin, the capital of Princess Sabella's kingdom, and the prince finds out King Farda-Kinbras and Queen Birbantine pissed Fairy Gorgonzola off when they arrogantly challenged fate to spoil their happiness. When Princess Sabella was born, Gorgonzola stole her heart and stashed it away in an ice temple on the summit of the Ice Mountain, located in the North Pole. So far, hundreds of knights had perished as attempting to retrieve her heart.

Mannikin appears before the king and promptly becomes object of mockery on the part of all other princes who had come to undertake the quest. Undeterred, Mannikin challenges the loudest bully to a duel, and later introduces himself to the princess. Aware that romantic speeches will not work with someone whose capability to love was taken away since her birth, Mannikin opts for being simply nice and entertaining, and he asks her to attend his duel. The next day, Mannikin beats his rival quickly and easily, and the royal family begins taking him more seriously.

Very soon after, King Farda-Kinbras receives a letter of King Brandatimor, who considers the Ice Mountain quest to be nonsense and demands Princess Sabella is married to him right away. When Farda-Kinbras turns his arrogant ambassador away, Brandatimor declares war. Mannikin gains a wider renown during the war and wins the final battle thanks to his friend Bayard's troops.

As soon as the war is over, Mannikin's rivals set off towards the Ice Mountain, and Mannikin decides to follow suit immediately. Before his departure, though, Princess Sabella gives him her cloak of marten's fur. Mannikin finally sets forth towards the Ice Mountain, accompanied by King Bayard's spaniel army. Throughout their journey, Mannikin uses the enchanted boat's magic power to turn twigs into tree groves whenever they need to camp by the night, ensuring they remain warm and well-fed. After several months, the expedition reaches the foot of the Ice Mountain. After climbing up the mountain laboriously, the group go into the Ice Palace and find a sparkling diamond containing Sabella's heart sitting on a big throne. Mannikin grabs the heart before passing out, and he is quickly dragged out of the palace by his spaniels.

Mannikin and his companions head back home and after several months they reach the capital, where they are warmly greeted by the royal family. Mannikin hands Sabella's heart over to the princess, who declares it already belongs to him anyway.

As Mannikin is telling them his history, Genesta turns up to reveal Mannikin's true lineage in reward for his courage and good heart. Likewise, the Fairy Marsontine has turned King Bayard and his subjects back into humans as a reward for their kindness to Mannikin. As Genesta is speaking, Mannikin's real parents are ushered into palace and embrace their son, noticing he is really covered with fur, as foretold.

Prince Mannikin and Princess Sabella get married, and "The Prince, out of grateful remembrance of the Princess Sabella's first gift to him, bestowed the right of bearing her name upon the most beautiful of the martens, and that is why they are called sables to this day."

Andrew Lang's translation can be read here and here.


  • Abhorrent Admirer: When King Brandatimor declares his intention to marry Princess Sabella, the princess confides to Mannikin that she will be immensely grateful to whoever rids her of that insolent, arrogant and unwanted suitor.
  • Animorphism:
    • The little monkey who guides Mannikin to the Golden Rock is really a fairy who can freely transform into monkey.
    • Fairy Gorgonzola turns into a black cat to steal Sabella's heart.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: King Brandatimor's ambassador is arrogant, short-tempered and has a big mouth. He was supposed to fetch Princes Sabella, and ends up declaring war all on his own.
  • Big Good: Fairy Genesta is the protector of Prince Mannikin's land of birth. She stops an angry fairy from screwing up with Mannikin completely, and she takes him away so she can make sure that he is raised properly. During his travels, she is constantly watching him and protecting him from the shadows.
  • Canine Companion: Subverted. Mousta, who serves Prince Mannikin faithfully, is a human turned into a spaniel.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Mannikin is aware that Princess Sabella is unable to love, so he strives to be pleasant and funny rather than waste any effort on wooing her. It pays off when Sabella recovers her capability to love, and it turns out she has fallen for Mannikin because he tried to being a friend.
  • Devoted to You: King Bayard refuses a jealous fairy's advances because he is in love with of the Queen of the Spice Islands. Even though his faithfulness gets him turned into dog, his devotion never wavers.
  • Dragon Rider: Fairy Gorgonzola, who travels on dragon back, is perhaps one of the earliest examples.
  • Engagement Challenge: Princess Sabella's suitors must travel to the North Pole, climb the Ice Mountain, venture into the dangerous Ice Palace and retrieve her heart if they want to marry her.
  • The Fair Folk: Fairies are dangerously short-tempered, and prone to punish humans just for being foolish or arrogant. Even benevolent protectors like Genesta may decide to mess up with humans for their own good.
  • Fairy Devilmother: Fairies have a hot temper and a different moral framework, so even benevolent ones may decide to mess up with humans for their own good. Case in point, Genesta is the good-natured protector of Prince Mannikin's kingdom, but she took him away from his parents because she couldn't trust them to raise him properly. Likewise, King Bayard and all his subjects were transformed into sapient dogs because he turned another fairy down.
  • Fairy Godmother: Fairy Genesta raises and looks after Prince Mannikin until he has grown into a mature adult and become a good warrior and ruler.
  • Forced Transformation: King Bayard and all his subjects are transformed into spaniels by a jealous Fairy. They keep their human intelligence, but they cannot speak human language.
  • Grim Up North: The evil fairy Gorgonzola hid Princess Sabella's heart away in the summit of the Ice Mountain in the North Pole.
  • Horse of a Different Color: One of the fairies invited to Mannikin's baptism rides a large ostrich.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Princess Sabella gives Prince Mannikin her hand to kiss twice: when he introduces himself to her, and when he is ready to set off towards the Ice Mountain.
  • "Just So" Story: The tale concludes saying that "The Prince, out of grateful remembrance of the Princess Sabella's first gift to him [a cloak of marten's fur], bestowed the right of bearing her name upon the most beautiful of the martens, and that is why they are called sables to this day."
  • Love at First Sight: Mannikin decides to win Princess Sabella's heart as soon as he sees her portrayal.
  • Noodle Incident: Fairy Genesta puts Mannikin through several adventures during his journeys to test his strength, skill and courage, but nothing is known about those events except for some few details (such like Mannikin losing his horse as fighting a tiger-like monster).
  • No Ontological Inertia: Justified. Mannikin and his companions enter Gorgonzola's Ice Palace carrying torches to keep themselves warm, with the effect that the walls start melting until the entire structure crumbles down right after they have gone out.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Fairy Gorgonzola's ride is a ferocious-looking fire-breathing dragon with long outstretched wings which she can turn into an ordinary-looking staff.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Mannikin is as tall as a child, but he has taken down monsters and fully grown knights.
  • Robinsonade: As Mannikin is travelling to Princess Sabella's country, a storm wrecks his ship. He saves his life by swimming to a desert island and living off fishing and hunting until another ship drifts towards the island.
  • Secret Test of Character: A little talking monkey guides Mannikin to a large rock and asks him to give it a blow with his spear. Mannikin stabs the rock, splitting off several pieces which turn out to be chunks of gold. The monkey tells him to take as much gold as he thinks proper, but Mannikin only picks up one small pebble. The little monkey turns into a Fairy, praises his restrain and modesty, and says Mannikin will never be lacking gold, because that lump will never grow smaller.
  • Tempting Fate: A literal example. King Farda-Kinbras and Queen Birbantine were so happy together they defied fate to ruin their happiness. Fairy Gorgonzola, who was listening, got pissed at their arrogance, and took their daughter's heart away.
    He heard also the story of King Farda-Kinbras, Sabella's father. It appeared that he, being a rich and powerful monarch, had married a lovely Princess named Birbantine, and they were as happy as the day was long— so happy that as they were out sledging one day they were foolish enough to defy fate to spoil their happiness.
    'We shall see about that,' grumbled an old hag who sat by the wayside blowing her fingers to keep them warm. The King thereupon was very angry, and wanted to punish the woman; but the Queen prevented him, saying:
    'Alas! sire, do not let us make bad worse; no doubt this is a Fairy!'
  • Tomes of Prophecy and Fate: The Elder Fairy's Book of Magic allows her to see past events.
  • Underestimating Badassery: King Farda-Kimbras's entire court laughs when a very short suitor appears together with his dog and introduces himself as Mannikin. Then Mannikin challenges a bullying prince, and wins. Then he fights an enemy army and wins. After a while, the courtiers start suspecting Mannikin can achieve anything he sets out to do.
  • Woman Scorned: When King Bayard turns down a Fairy who fell in love with him, the furious sprite transforms Bayard and all his subjects into spaniels.