The White Deer by James Thurber. First read/readaloud: 115/115.
Finishing up the trio of James Thurber children’s books is The White Deer. James Thurber gets posthumous flack for being A Sexist, which gets some credence in The Wonderful O, but it goes in to superdrive in this book.
If you want to read a book where the term “true deer” is used with charming frequency and a bunch of princes go on ridiculous quests that totally subvert your expectations, HURRAH! HERE IT IS! But only if you also like ladies to not have memory or agency and it to be really unclear if they are animals or not and for their entire life courses to be determined by the whimmy emotions of some incompetent and generally unlikable dudes. Oh, and for the actual villains to be a witch and her lady helper.
Here is the story. Once upon a time a king married a hot lady who was deer and then was a hot lady, and then because the king was a jerk, was a deer again forever. Before she became a permanent deer, the king’s hot wife made this ungrateful jerkface three kids, all of whom are pointless additions to the earth. This king and his three sons (numbering 2 rangers and 1 bard, and you think the bard will be good news, but he’s only marginally better) go hunting in the enchanted wood, which is forbidden. They chase a hardcore deer and it turns into a hot lady. FAMILIAR?
What goes down: it transpires that the lady who may or may not be a deer doesn’t remember anything, like her name, so maybe she is a princess or maybe she is a TRUE DEER. Yelling over the advice of his recorder, his dwarf, his clockmaker, and his physician, the king declares her a princess and has her set the princes tasks to win her hand. The princes go do the tasks, and the king yells a lot about whether she is DEER or PRINCESS.
They decide she is probably a deer, but the bard wins her hand because he is the only prince who was willing to marry a potential deer.
S P O I L E R
In fact, she is a princess, not a deer! And you think she’ll get to speak for herself, now that she remembers stuff, but in fact, the torch of ever getting a word in edgewise passes to the dwarf, who turns out to be her hot prince brother! He explains her entire story while she sits prettily by, and then they all ride off to the prince and princess’s distant kingdom, and the deer princess gets hitched to the bard prince. Meanwhile, the evil witch which bewitched the prince and princess gets zapped by lightning and dies. THE END.
My Rating: U- / UNSATISFACTORY.
E N D S P O I L E R
Here are some things that could have happened instead:
- Everyone calms down about whether or not she is a deer because their mom was a deer, so it’s a little late to be concerned, honestly.
- Bard Prince passes the F/M/K test for If She Is A Deer, but the final enchantment is that she is actually a prince, WHAAAAAAAT? Bard Prince passes that test, too! The gay Prince Kings have a fabulous wedding and adopt enchanted deer babies as their heirs.
- The Deer Princess becomes king of her own kingdom and the bard marries her brother, renouncing all thrones in favor of a musical career.
- The enchanted deer princess and the enchanted dwarf prince are both actually deer. Their entire family are deer. Their entire kingdom is deer. As soon as the Bard Prince kisses the princess, every single person except his two brothers and his dad turn into deer. W H A T W I L L Y O U H U N T N O W? they murmur in unison. The princes and their dad begin to run. T O O L A T E N O W murmur hundreds of deer, stirring slowly into action. H O W S W I F T I S M A N ? T O O L A T E N O W W W W W
- Alternately everyone is a deer but the Bard Prince is pleasantly surprised by this.
- Protestors in the kingdom (which seems to have NO subjects, but if they did exist) rally around the castle with signs that say things like, “DEER MARRIAGE? WHAT IS NEXT, MARRYING THE LETTER O?”
Those would be some possible endings, and all of them would be pretty good.