The Search for Bee: A Princess of the Dwarfs
Editor Betsy Mitchell cherished the fairytale as a child and spent her career looking for a way to bring Bee back to life.
When I was a child one of my most precious possessions was a book left to me by my great-aunt, Anna Virginia Taylor (nee Mitchell). I’m not sure how I ended up with it—Aunt AV had two daughters of her own and grandchildren as well—but whatever the reason, I was delighted to receive it. Bee: A Princess of the Dwarfs by Anatole France (available for download on Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble) was a marvelous object even aside from the story it contained. It was a hardcover bound in silvery cloth and stamped in gold, scattered with full-color illustrations by the British artist Charles Robinson, each overlaid with the thinnest tissue. Each page held marginal illustrations also drawn by Robinson: fanciful jewelry, goblets, carved boxes and more. The book was printed in 1912, which meant my great-aunt was probably eight or so when she received it; I was possibly the same age when it came to me.
The story seized me from the very first page. Chapter One tells of the news that a white rose brings to the Countess of the White Moor. It begins:
“Setting upon her golden hair a hood spread with pearls and tying round her waist the widow’s girdle, the Countess of the White Moor entered the chapel where she prayed each day for the soul of her husband, killed by an Irish giant in single combat.
“That day she saw, on the cushion of her praying-stool, a white rose. At the sight of it she turned pale and her eyes grew dim; she threw her head back and wrung her hands. For she knew that when a Countess of the White Moor must die she finds a rose on her stool.”
What foreboding, what fantastic imagination comes through in so few lines! I read and reread the story about the countess’s orphaned son, George, who goes to live with a neighboring noblewoman and her daughter, Bee. The children, loved by all who know them, are warned never to venture alone into the countryside, where various unseen dangers hide. Nevertheless one day they do, and George is taken by the sylphs who live in a nearby lake, while Bee is kidnapped by dwarfs and taken to their king, who wants the beautiful young girl for his wife and offers her whatever treasures his coffers hold.
All through my career in book publishing I tried to find a way to publish Bee. Yet it never came to pass until recently, via my position as an acquiring editor at Open Road Media, I was able to suggest we make it available to a new generation of readers in digital form.
My lovely book of childhood has lost its spine binding and the pages are so fragile that I cannot share it with friends, but now I can recommend the ebook to all those who love fairy tales, folklore, and fantasy that appeals to young and old alike. I wish the digital edition could have retained the interior art; here is an example of Robinson’s beautiful work. The tissue overlay reads, “They rode through meadows enamelled with flowers.”
And here is the opening page. I hope many of you will want to read the story of Bee.