The Lily of Life: a Fairy Tale
written by The Crown Princess of Romania, aka Carmen Sylva
The Lily of Life: A Fairy Tale is a children’s story that was originally published in 1913. Written by the Crown Princess of Romania, Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise zu Wied, who wrote under the pen name of Carmen Sylva. She was the Queen consort of Romania and was wife to King Carol I of Romania–one of the last kings to reign in the country. Carmen wrote a variety of works, in German, English, Romanian, and French.
From the Preface of the book:
A Young mother, who is a true artist, relating
a fairy tale, is one of the greatest joys in this
The first impression of this most delightful
story is the feeling for colour and decoration,
then the love of flowers and nature in general,
and then enough experience to show Lifes
tragic side as in a looking-glass that is very pure
and bright. The story becomes more and more
touching, the Sacuntala or Psyche it represents
more and more interesting and lovable.
The great incentive to every sacrifice. Love,
is represented in all its strength and purity.
The whole book will be a true enjoyment to
young and old, the one looking for the sequel
of the story, the other taken up by the philo-
sophy and inner meaning. There has been
more than one Damaianti in this world, more
than one woman’s feet have bled on their road
to eternity, more than one woman has had to
sacrifice everything, her heart and soul, and
youth and beauty, the very hair of her head.
More than one woman has remained without
a reward, and has gone down to history as a
martyr and a saint. Here is one more.
Her sufferings are so real, her sacrifice is
so complete — woman’s lot in all its tragic
We read it with deep emotion, and our
feelings are the stronger, as great beauty per-
vades it all, and every situation is so entirely
picturesque. All readers of fairy lore will find
it true and beautiful. Fairyland is our last
refuge, when the world is a battle-field and
religion gone. Then fairyland steps in, and
everything becomes alive again — love and piety
and beauty and ideals. God has blessed fairy-
land and given it to the little ones, to keep
their dear hearts pure and bright. Every
mother ought to be inspired by the lovely
eyes that look into hers with such utter con-
fidence and with such great expectations.
This tale has been paraphrased from the original version.
There lived a happy king and queen, in a beautiful golden castle by the sea. The couple had two beautiful daughters, one with golden hair and sad, brown eyes. The other had jet black hair, with bright blue eyes. The golden-haired girl was named Corona, and the black-haired girl named Mora. Corona was named as such because when she was born, it looked like she had a golden crown on her head. The nurse who cared for the girls noticed Corona’s sad eyes and wondered if the girl carried the sadness of the world within her.
Despite her sad eyes, both girls grew up very happy, and loved their parents deeply. As the girls aged, their parents couldn’t help but think of marriage for them. The girls wouldn’t hear a word of it, as they hated the idea of being separated from one another. Around the castle were massive forests, through which the sisters would enjoy long rides together. Mora had an inky-black horse, and Corona a shining golden one.
One day, the girls rode deep into the forest, where they came across a pool of dark water. Hot from their fast ride, they dismounted their horses and leaned against them. They stared into the deep pool of water. When Mora looked up, she saw that a knight clad in gold armor stood before them. The knight rounded the pool, bared his head, and knelt before the young women. The girls discovered that the knight’s name was Ilario. He was a prince from afar, and was lost in the forest.
One of the pages rode ahead of their group to alert the king to prepare a feast for the foreigner. The trio rode back to the castle, flanked by Yno, Corona’s page. They were all very happy, except for Yno, when he suddenly felt very lonely as a large eagle flying overhead looked down at them. The eagle admired the beauty of the scene below, but felt sad with all of the world’s sorrow.
Ilario was warmly welcomed into the court by the king and queen, with feasting and a great tournament. The two sisters who had lived alone with their parents, found a new joy in their lives (not realizing their guest was the source of their happiness.) Ilario won the tournament with ease. The two sisters’ hearts leapt in their chest when he gazed upon them in admiration. It was the first time the girls harbored a secret from one another as they each fell in love with him.
Three weeks later, Yno found his mistress crying. She confided in him that Ilario and Mora didn’t even realize when she wasn’t with them any longer. The queen began to notice the divide between the sisters, and her heart grew heavy. It wasn’t long after that Ilario asked the king and queen for Mora’s hand in marriage, and the king gladly acquiesced. However, the queen grew more upset with the fact that Corona would be left behind.
At a celebration for the announcement, Corona was the first to give her sister an extravagant gift; a small blue casket covered in diamonds that held within it a tiny book. The book was carved out of an opal, edged with diamonds, and on its pages held says that brought good luck to those who read them. The sisters embraced, but for what seemed to be the last time, as they knew their friendship would never be the same again.
When the wedding drew closer, Ilario fell deathly ill. Mora sat with her beloved day and night. When she became too exhausted, she asked Corona to sit with him for her. When she left, Ilario looked at Corona with feverish eyes, and began proclaiming words of adoration for her. Not realizing she wasn’t Mora because of the fever, Corona sat with him while he uttered words of love for another, and her heart broke further.
A gypsy woman arrived at the castle one day who proclaimed to know of a wise woman in the woods far away who would know a cure for the prince. Only a young girl, with a soul as white as snow could make it through the dangerous bog that was between the forest and the witch’s home. When Corona heard this, she immediately volunteered to go. Reluctantly agreeing, her parents and Mora watched as she rode off with Yno. As they rode, Yno couldn’t help but feel as though Corona too, had forgotten his presence.
They found the edge of the bog. Seeing the treacherous landscape, Yno begged his mistress not to go. Corona replied that she must go alone, and implored him to wait for her there until she returned. In the evening light, Yno saw that upon her head shone a halo-like white light. It was then that he remembered the gypsy’s words that only a young girl with a soul white as snow could cross the bog. Despite her own fear, Corona pressed onward. On her way, she was accosted by horrible images of dying and suffering people. Filled with despair, she finally came across an old boat on the shore of the sea when she passed out.
When she awoke, she found herself in a room with an old woman who possessed the saddest eyes in the world. The woman gave Corona something to drink, and touched her fingers to her head, drawing out all of her weariness. The woman confessed that her heart died within her long ago, and she no longer has tears to shed, because she had been greedy in her younger years. That greed lead her lover to his death, is search of the largest, most beautiful pearl he could find. In her grief, the woman’s hair turned white, and everyone called her a witch because her selfishness killed the man.
Corona told the witch her quest. She grasped an old book, and told Corona that it came from afar, and was full of all the wisdom in the world. The book told of a forest filled with cruel beasts, and a white marble temple made of six courts. In the innermost court lies a pool of dark water, where grows the Lily of Life. The lily is so white and intense that the human eye cannot behold it without being stricken with blindness. But he who plucks the flower can heal any illness.
The woman asks if it is for her lover, and Corona says that it’s for the love of her sister that she would go to the far away land. Because the love within her was completely unselfish, the woman instructed her on how to get to the temple. She told her that she must not utter a sound to anyone, and that she must go alone. She gave her a magnet, a strangely shaded lamp that would light itself when she needed help, and a round piece of yellow glass.
By boat, Corona was allowed to return to the castle and leave a note for her sister in the middle of the night, as she was allowed to speak to no one, to let her know that there was hope in Ilario’s healing. She kissed the ill Ilario, then fled back to the boat. As she departed, she noticed Yno following her. Fearing he may drown, she drew him into the boat with her. He questioned her, but she could give him no answer as to where she was going.
In the morning, they reached the shore. She wrote in the sand that she must go alone, and he must wait for her. With a breaking heart, he watched her go. With the magnet to guide her way, Corona traveled long and far. Her feet were bleeding from crossing the great burning plain, and she was plagued with fatigue. A little brown bird alighted on her shoulder, and sang a song so beautiful that she felt completely rejuvenated to reach the mountains.
She walked more, and the air grew thinner and colder. She grew so cold by the time she reached an immense frozen lake, surrounded by treacherous black rock walls. The shadow of a terrible figure fell upon her. Unable to move forward over the frozen lake, she was forced to face it. An old man, covered in icicles looking as frozen as the lake, asked who had entered his domain. With her muteness, she couldn’t answer. Which turned out to be a blessing, for the man couldn’t tolerate the sound of a human voice and would therefore not turn her into stone. Before he let her go, he demanded payment, which she appeased by giving him her long golden hair.
Free from the man’s terrible grasps, she started to cross the lake. Suddenly, a flock of swans appeared and ferried her across the ice to a treacherous stairway cut into the side of the black rock wall. She fearfully climbed until she reached the top, pulled along by the magnet. Exhausted, she collapsed, yet the little brown bird appeared again to rejuvenate her.
She traveled until she reached a small cabin, where an old man and his son lived. Seeing her state, they helped her and allowed her to rest in their home. The man kept asking her questions, but she was unable to answer any of them. She slept until the magnet roused her in the middle of the night. She wrote a message, thanking them for their kindness, leaving behind her jeweled belt, and left.
The magnet led her deep into a thick, beautiful forest. Flowers and strange animals inhabited its depths, and Corona was overwhelmed with its beauty. Suddenly, a white stag with massive golden horns appeared before her. His eyes were blue just like Mora’s. He bent a knee and allowed her to sit astride his back. He took her as deep into the forest as he could, until his horns became too big to pass through the undergrowth. She slid from his back, and thanked him, not wanting to go on alone.
As she continued, large panthers with gleaming green eyes, and other ferocious creatures blocked her path. It was then that she remembered the little lantern the witch had given her. She pulled it out, and its bright light made the creatures backed away, allowing her to pass in safety. The animals of prey fell back when she reached a broad road, strewn with glowing ashes. Having no other way to traverse the landscape, she pushed forward, willing her mind to rule her body. Suddenly, she felt light, and the ground dropped away from her. She realized she was in the grip of a great bird. They landed on a soft green patch of moss covered in flowers. The great bird was an eagle and he took pity on her. His wings caressed the girl’s scorched feet and took all the pain away as if with magic. He leapt up and left her.
The magnet pulled her towards a mass of flowers, which covered a massive white marble wall. Elated, she searched for a door to the temple. She found it, but didn’t know how to open it. Next to the door grew a plant with red flowers that looked drops of blood. They emitted the sweetest of scents (a combination of all the beautiful scents she had smelled throughout her entire life). She went back to the door, held up the flower, and the door opened before her into the temple.
She passed through five inner courts by holding the flower to the door, each room having its own beautiful architecture and flowers more beautiful than the last. Each was guarded by a pair of ferocious beasts, but her little lantern allowed her to pass unharmed. She reached the final door, flanked by two angels, which opened the door for her. A blinding light emanated from the center of the room. A pool of dark water sat at the center, with a glowing object too bright to look at. With the yellow glass the witch had gifted her, she confirmed it was the lily.
She knelt down at the water’s edge and wept. She wept tears of pain and grief, relieving her overburdened heart. When her tears hit the floor, they turned into pearls, and rolled into the dark water. When she wept all of her tears, she unclasped her blue cloak and put it on the floor. She descended into the pool, and retrieved the lily. The moment the stem snapped, the air around them filled with music, and light shown over everything. It was as if the heavens had opened into the room. When she looked back, a new lily stood in the place of the old one, waiting for the next weary wanderer to seek out its healing powers.
She lifted the lily to her face and instantly felt infinite gladness. Even more, her golden hair grew thickly past her waist, and her soiled dress changed into a garment of the most spotless white. Lifted by swans, she was flown back to the place where she had left Yno. Her tongue now loosened, she asked the swans to stop and allow her to thank the man and his son for their kindness to her. Reaching the shore, Yno was awed by her presence, Something in her face seemed otherworldly, and the white dress seemed to pure to touch. In her hands sat the lily of life. When she saw that he had waited for her, she praised him, and told him how God had mercifully led her on her journey. The two took the boat back to the castle.
Arriving, Corona discovered that she was just in time. Ilario barely held onto life, but was still alive. Her mother too, had realized the change that Yno had seen. Corona’s beauty seemed unbearably pure. When Corona saw Ilario lying on his sick bed, she instantly was struck by his beauty. She felt a great love rise within her, but was reminded by Mora that she was his betrothed. With the lily, she touched his brow. Instantly, his health improved, and life returned to him. Ilario jumped up and kissed Mora.
Soon, the castle was filled with joy at the news of Ilario’s miraculous recovery. The marriage was the next day. The king was proud of his two beautiful daughters, but the queen saw deeper, and understood the grief to come for Corona, who acted like nothing was amiss. After the proceedings, she went out to the stable and wept into the neck of her beloved horse, mourning
After the ball, the bride and groom prepared to leave on a boat, back to the land of Ilario. Mora begged her sister to come visit, but Corona felt that she was bidding farewell. Ilario came to her, and he suddenly realized everything she had sacrificed. He kissed her, and then departed with Mora. Corona remained on the beach long into the night. Yno found Corona on the beach. Her skin was deathly white, her parted lips smiling, and her hands clasped over her broken heart.
In the morning, the king and queen sent out a search party for their missing daughter. On the beach two figures were found–Yno with with his head on his maiden’s feet, and a brown bird singing upon the beautiful girl. On a distant shore, the witch saw white wings rising towards Heaven, and heard the name “Corona” on the wind.
This is the most beautiful fairy tale I’ve read. The tale tells the story of two beautiful sisters, who are very dear to one another. Their happiness bleeds into the lives of everyone around them. Daughters of the king and queen, the young women had no desire to be married off, as they knew it would cause a divide in their relationship. But when the two come across a prince from a far-away land in the woods, they both eventually fall for him.
A fissure in their relationship begins to form when both girls realize their love for Ilario. But when Ilario returns Mora’s attention and not Corona’s, his intentions are clear. Soon he asks for Mora’s hand in marriage. Before they are wed, he falls deathly ill. Out of her love for her sister and Ilario both, Corona offers to embark on a journey to find a witch who may have the cure for the ailing prince. Corona’s journey is treacherous and changes her character immensely.
This is a beautiful story of selfless, but heart-wrenching sacrifice, and how powerful pure love is. However, this tale also proves that love does not guarantee happiness, as Corona’s character exhibits. Furthermore, true love is sacrifice. There is so much to take away from this story. One cannot help but feel the anguish Corona endures, as she does not allow her love for Ilario to surpass or taint the purity of the love she has for her sister and her sister’s happiness. The tale concludes in a way that is neither satisfactory nor disappointing. It definitely makes one think, and appreciate the power of pure love because it is rare.
My Rating: ★★★★★
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