King Fungus was the most methodical man, so when his eldest daughter was born he made quite certain that no one was forgotten in sending round the invitations to her christening party. He had heard tales of what happened to other princesses on account of wicked fairies not getting invited. So he had an absolutely exhaustive list of all supernatural beings drawn up, and had it checked by two accountants before sending off the letters.
When the fairies heard what was going on they were most upset. No forgotten invitations, they said, meant no chances to put curses on the baby, and curses are such fun. So they decided to intervene. They sent a gremlin to get into the postman’s bicycle, and made it wobble so much that he fell off, and the letters went all over the road. Three of them fell down a grating and got into a sewer, and got washed down to the sewage farm, and floated round and round until they turned into Activated Manure; and in that form they eventually got into a vegetable marrow that the postman grew in his garden, and made it grow to such an enormous and uneatable size that he won a gold medal from the Giant Vegetable Club.
The lost letters were for three fairies called Fluffbrain, Featherhead and Frump. When they were quite sure they hadn’t been invited they straight away set about thinking up suitable curses. Fluffbrain decided to make all the clothes the princess ever put on turn black. Featherhead made her sing so horribly that nobody could bear it. And Frump thought up the worst of all, which was frogs springing up wherever she trod. So King Fungus was very upset indeed when, just as the party was going home, these three wicked fairies appeared and pronounced their curses.
“I thought I’d been so careful.” he said.
On the whole the palace staff managed the curses fairly well. The clothes were no problem so long as little Polypore could run about the palace gardens naked; they only mattered when she had to go out, which she seldom did. The singing was coped with by preventing the princess from singing, though it was hard, she was by nature gay and happy. As for the frogs, they worked out a pretty smooth technique, with large shovels, covered wheelbarrows and incinerators. The real trouble began when Polypore grew to be of marriageable age. The only people who really wanted to marry her, once they knew about the curses, were frog-fanciers. Such people the king thought, were not really suitable. Neither was Princess Polypore much of a frog-fancier-fancier herself.
Poor old Fungus was at his wits end, thinking out how to marry her off. The tradition in his family was to challenge all the neighbouring princes to a competition at doing something impossible. That would have been a good idea, but the old family heirlooms used for this purpose were getting a bit shabby. There was first the Unbendable Bow of Bobendibus; that was definitely too bent to be used again. There was the Unwieldable Sword of Smitizennemis; unfit for service. King Fungus had himself won his bride by quenching the Unquenchable Fire of Flamiquencius. There was still the Unfellable Tree of Tremendus, but it seemed such a pity to cut it down. But in the midst of these perplexities, there emerged an unexpected ray of hope.
There was one prince from a neighbouring kingdom who actually went on wanting to marry Polypore after he knew the worst. Perhaps he peeped through a hole in the palace wall, perhaps not, anyway, the princess was exceedingly beautiful, but it wasn’t considered safe for any prospective suitor actually to meet her face to face. However that may be, Prince Agaric was undeterred by curses. He was in fact a very original young man, and a leader of fashion to boot. When he wore his trousers three eighths of an inch longer, so did all the upper classes of the city within a month, and the middle classes within a year, and doubtless the industrious poor would catch up in time. When he wore a square hat, everyone of any consequence had to have a square hat; when he wore a triangular hat all hats had to be triangular. He even tried once, as an experiment, wearing two onions hung on his ears. Sure enough, all the nobility hung onions on their ears, and the stench at royal garden parties was awful. So he had no doubts about his ability to influence people.
Thus it was that he thought up a cunning plan, which, when it was complete, he begged leave to explain to King Fungus. The king was by this time ready to listen to anything, so he said Yes”. The prince started by suggesting that the king made a law, forbidding anyone to wear black, on any pretext whatever. Special royal permission could be granted outside the royal family only to the most eminent citizens. He himself would dress in red until, if the king would be so kind, he was publicly given permission to wear the new colour of honour. The king was delighted, and immediately issued the required decree. In a few months it was universally accepted in the country that black was the exclusive colour of royalty. And the fact that Prince Agaric had recently started wearing black was everywhere taken as a sign that his betrothal to Princess Polypore would shortly be announced.
Next, the prince tackled the awful singing. First he had very accurate recordings made of the Princesses voice, by using robust apparatus it proved just possible. Then expert musicians were called in to get used to it, and to compose music in imitation of it. It was indeed the most hideous din you ever heard; but hideous music had been fashionable in those parts before. By assiduously attending the new style concerts the prince was able before long to make all the highbrows in the country confess their preference for the hideous noises that they were called on to admire. It was at this time that the custom began of wearing earplugs, which still distinguishes the inhabitants of that part of the world, as the curious traveller can ascertain for himself any day. It wasn’t until the caterwauling phase had passed away and the people had forgotten the origins of the custom, that the earplugs achieved their present foot long proportions and bejewelled magnificence.
The frogs were the biggest trouble, of course. But Prince Agaric was not to be defeated. He spent a large part of his father’s revenue setting up a Royal Institute of Batrachiology where the most eminent scientists spent day after day thinking up ways of making good use of frogs. Within a year they had discovered how to make a potent medicine out of frogs livers, reputed to cure almost all diseases; second, a way of making frogspawn into a truly scrumptious pudding; and thirdly, a method of getting enough electric current from frogs legs (given that these would be available in unlimited quantities) to run a power station. Once this last result had been obtained, the Prince invited Polypore to go on a walking tour. By the time they had come back they enough frogs to generate nearly ten megawatts for half a year. The national economy began to improve from that day, and the frog-productiveness of their Princess was counted as one of their greatest blessings by the people of the land.
So Agaric and Polypore were married with the greatest pomp. The first honours given to eminent citizens on the occasion of the their marriage was the right to wear black being accorded to the scientists who had discovered how useful frogs could be. When their children were born, they made quite sure there would be no trouble from fairies by not inviting anybody to the Christening Parties.