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Literature / Melisande

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Melisande: or, Long and Short Division is a comedic fairy-tale by E. Nesbit. It was first issued in the collection Nine Unlikely Tales (1901) and later released as its own book in 1989 with illustrations by P.J. Lynch.

The story begins with the birth of princess Melisande on a fictional island. The king and queen, deciding not to have a christening party to avoid offending any accidentally uninvited fairies, offend them all, and Melisande is cursed to be bald. Coming of age, she makes a slightly ill-advised wish for fast-growing hair, which quickly makes her life hell, until her beloved Prince Florizel finds a clever solution. Said solution, however, has an even worse side-effect, which takes even more brains to solve...

It can be read online here. or here

Melisande contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and fairy tales in general.
  • Anachronism Stew: Melisande, a princess in a classic fairytale setting, has read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Melisande, while miles tall, manages to disarm the invading army completely (although she does her best not to kill or hurt anyone.)
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Young Melisande regrets having wished for her hair to grow twice as fast every time it's cut, since dealing with all that hair has made her life impossible.
  • Blessed with Suck: Melisande's fast-growing hair.
  • Curse: Luckily, only one of the 700-odd fairies successfully delivered her curse, thanks to the King's quick thinking.
  • Damsel in Distress: First played straight, and then later inverted as Melisande single-handedly saves her entire island from attack.
  • The Fair Folk: Seven hundred fairies that are trying to curse the princess.
  • Fairy Devil Mother: Malevola, who cursed Melisande to be bald.
  • Fairy Godmother: Fortuna F for the king. She provides the wish for Melisande, and her cryptic reference to "scales" makes the happy ending possible.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Nesbit has riotous fun with many a fairy tale trope, most obviously from Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel.
  • Genre Savvy: Melisande has - the text itself states - read Alice in Wonderland and knows to avoid crying on people when expanded to giant size.
    • The king is not only aware of the fairytale conventions but also mathematically adept—both traits which will serve you well in an E. Nesbit story.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Of course, the hair comes later.
  • Love at First Sight: Melisande and Florizel.
  • Magic Pants: Lampshaded; when the princess grows to enormous size, it's mentioned that things could have been quite inconvenient if her clothes hadn't grown with her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Melisande (at her mother's bidding) wishing for her hair to grow twice as fast with every cutting.
    • Florizel's first solution to Melisande's hair issues only creates a worse problem: she grows instead.
    • The king is Genre Savvy enough to realize that a RevengeSVP is almost inevitable when it comes to royal christening parties and decided it’s safer not to have a party at all. Cue no fewer than seven hundred scorned fairies lining up to curse the baby.
  • One-Word Title: Protagonist Title of the Princess's name.
  • Papa Wolf: The king, when seven hundred fairies are attempting to put curses on his daughter. He manages to stop all but one by thinking quickly.
  • Protagonist Title: It's the princess's name.
  • Rapid Hair Growth: Princess Melisande is cursed at birth to be bald. When she grows up she is given a magical wish, and at the prompting of her mother requests long, lovely, fast-growing hair.
  • Rescue Romance: The prince wishes to marry Melisande, and she is certainly grateful enough to marry him by the time he's cured her intractible hair problem.
  • RevengeSVP: Seven hundred disgruntled, uninvited fairies are out to curse the princess.
  • Shout-Out: To another Prince Florizel from The Winter's Tale.
  • Understatement: The parlourmaid tells the queen that “several ladies” are waiting for her. When the queen asks if they’re in the parlour, the maid says she’s shown them to the throne room, reiterating that there are “several of them.” “Several” turns out to mean “seven hundred.”