The Blue Faience Hippopotamus
By Joan Marshall Grant and adapted for telling by Marilyn Kinsella
From some research I did on Joan Grant, I discovered that Ms Grant believed she had “far-memory” or that she was reincarnated. She saw in hypnotic states scenes from ancient Egypt. During these times she also heard folktales. Although Ms. Grant was a prolific writer in the 1930’s and took credit for many of her stories, she claimed that this tale and a few other tales that were published in her name… were folktales. It is with that in mind, that I tell my version of her far-memory. Although the book is out of print, it is available through the Internet. I have greatly adapted the story to make it suitable for telling.
Long ago, long, long ago, in the Land of the Pharaohs, there lived a beautiful Egyptian Princess. But, she was not happy. Her father, the Pharaoh, was known to be cruel and harsh, and the only thing her brothers and sisters cared about was who was to succeed to the throne. Her mother, whom she loved dearly, died when she was young. She only wished that she could find someone who would love her for who she was inside…not an heir to the throne.
When she was 15 years old, she decided to leave the Palace forever. One night, she gathered some of her belongings and a few trusted servants and slipped away onto a barge to escape up the Nile River. They passed the first cataract – a waterfall – until they reached a remote island. There, she and her servants built a small home for her to live in. And she was happy…but not quite.
For, you see, she thought once she got away from the clutches of her father, that she would find someone who would love her. But, the island was too remote. Not very many boats came that way and those that did…never stopped.
At least she had the fresh-water pool to keep her happy during the daylight hours. She loved to swim in the blue-green water and then sit on a rock to dry in the sun.
Unbeknownst to the princess, there was someone…or should I say…something watching her. It was a rather big, a rather large, a rather humongous hippopotamus. Hiding within the reeds, so as to not scare her, he submerged himself the water with only his eyes and ears peeking out. He watched her every move. Every day he came to watch…and every day he fell more and more in love with the lovely princess.
Oh, I know, I know – a hippopotamus falling love with a princess! Well, no one thought it more odd than the hippo himself, but every day he came to watch and every day, he fell more and more in love.
One day, while watching the princess, he saw two blue herons fly in and land in the reeds. They did not see the hippo as they began to eat fish and talk. One heron said, “Have you heard about the magician?”
“What magician is that?” asked the other.
As the heron was swallowing a rather large fish, he gulped, “The one (gulp) that lives in a cave (gulp) passed the third cataract (gulp) Grants wishes.”
“What?” thought the hippo, “a magician that grants wishes!” He had to hear more, so he sidled up closer. But, as he did, he disturbed the fish and the heron flew off in disgust.
However, the hippo thought he heard enough. There was a magician that lived past the third cataract and he granted wishes. Just, perhaps, he would be able to turn him into a human…someone the beautiful princess could love. So, he prepared for his journey.
He had only been past the first cataract and that was in grandfather’s time…never past the third. It was a dangerous journey indeed, but worth it, if his wish were granted.
The hippo traveled the Niles for day, weeks, months…the seasons came and went. He navigated the first waterfall, then the second and finally the third. He just passed the third cataract when he saw it…a cave almost hidden. Was this the cave he sought? He stopped and watched. He saw a giraffe walk into the cave and later saw a butterfly leave. Surely, this was the cave.
He made his way up to the cave and walked inside. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a man sitting cross-legged on a rug who was sewing crocodile teeth onto a jacket. A soft lamp glowed next to him casting him in a yellow light.
The hippo did not wish to startle the magician so he cleared his throat “Ahem.” The man did not move. So, a little louder…”Ahem.” Still no response…”AHEM!”
“Yes, yes, I saw you standing there. Get on with it. What do you wish?”
“Well, it’s just that I have come such a long way and…”
“Yes, yes, they all have. Now do you have a wish or not?”
“Yes, I do. I wish to become human so the lovely Egyptian princess will love me.”
“Oh, no-no-no! I cannot do that. Never change humans into animals or animals into humans! Too messy! Too messy!”
What? He had come all this way and now the magician was not going to help him! Great big gray tears welled in his eyes and splashed loudly onto the cave floor.
“Oh, now don’t get all weepy-cryee on me. I said that couldn’t change you into human, but I could change you into someTHING the princess could love.”
“Some THING?” asked the hippo. “What sort of THING?”
“Well, let’s see now. She is human. So, I could turn you into gold. Humans love gold.”
“Not her,” he replied, “if she loved gold so much, she would still be with her father, the Pharaoh.”
“Point well taken,” said the magician. “Let’s see, she is a woman. Perhaps, I could turn you into Malecite to use as make-up. Women love their make-up.”
“Malecite!” said the horrified hippo, “to be ground up! I don’t think so! Besides, she is beautiful the way she is.”
“All right then, how about food? People do love to eat – how about a nice cake?” offered the magician.
“Cake? To be eaten! That’s a terrible idea.”
“Well now, I’ve just come up with 3 ideas. Why don’t you tell me what she would love.”
“Okay. You see, I really like my shape, but there is just too much of me. If you could make me smaller and give me a more interesting color…I think the princess would love that.”
“Oh, yes, yes! I can turn you into a blue faience hippopotamus. Just the thing!”
“Okay, but how will I get to her?”
“Oh, leave that up to me. A merchant is due here tomorrow and he brings some of my handmade items to sell along his way. I will give you to him, and he will give you to the princess.”
“But, but…what if she doesn’t like me?” the hippo asked uncertainly.
“Then you must use your wish.”
“Wish? What wish is that?”
“It’s the wish that I give everyone. You may wish for anything you want, but you may want to save your wish and wish yourself back into your pond just the way that you were.”
The hippo thought about that. What did he have to lose? So he agreed. With a wave of his wand and some strange words, that big, huge, humungous hippo got smaller and smaller until that cave that had seemed so small and cramped suddenly became huge and hallow.
The magician came over and placed it inside a napkin. The next day the merchant arrived and gladly took the blue faience hippo to the princess.
She took one look at it and knew she had to have it.
“Please, tell me how much I owe you.”
“Oh, fair princess, this is a gift,” said the merchant.
“Thank you. Oh thank you!!”
From that time on, that little hippo went everywhere she went. If she went for a swim, he waited for her on the rocks. If she were eating, he waited for her alongside the edge of the plate. But, it was the nights that were the most special. At night, she placed the hippo on her nightstand, and by the gentle glow of her hurricane lamp, she talked to him. She told him stories of when she was young and how she loved and missed her mother. She sang him songs and told him stories that her mother had taught her. Then, before blowing out the lantern, she would gently kiss him on his head. This made the hippo so happy that if he did have heart it would be pounding so loudly that it would surely make his beautiful blue faience crack.
But, as with all “things” that we own, she soon tired of the little statue. Sometimes, it seemed she totally forgot he was there. Day after day, he sat on the nightstand waiting for her to return in the evening. Then, when she did, she never said a word. Just turned out the light and went to sleep.
Perhaps, the little hippo had made a mistake. What was he thinking? A princess would never love him! Besides, back at the pond, there was that one female hippo who had been giving him the eye. Why, by now he could have two or three little hippos to call his own. So, one day, he decided that during the night, he’d use that wish that the magician had given him and wish himself a hippo once again.
But, that night, when the princess came to the bed, she picked up the little hippo. She gently smoothed her finger across his brow. The little hippo could see she had tears in her eyes. “You are so lucky,” she said, “so lucky to be made of clay and faience. For, if you were like me, you would have a heart…a heart that is breaking. All that I have ever wanted is to love someone who would love me for who I am. Is that too much to ask?” Then she kissed him on his head, put him back on the nightstand and blew out the lantern.
For several hours the little hippo stood there thinking about what the princess had said, and he knew, he knew what he had to do. So, before the sun rose, he said, “I wish, I wish…that a handsome, noble, righteous man will come along who will see the true beauty of this princess and fall helplessly in love.”
And, do you know that that magician was great magician? For that very day, a ship did stop at that remote island, and out came a handsome, noble, righteous man. When he saw the princess, he fell in love and when she set eyes on him…well, she fell in love.
But, as for as the little hippo…things went from bad to worse. For now he was placed on a shelf with other half-forgotten things to sit and gather dust.
Just when he thought all was for naught, a servant girl came in to dust. Clumsily she reached up to the shelf and knocked the blue faience hippo off the shelf and onto the tile floor crashing into a thousand pieces.
(gasp!) Suddenly, the little hippo found himself back in the magician’s cave.
“Hoo-hoo! I was the one who sent that clumsy girl your way. You see, I did not exactly tell you the truth when I said that I could not change an animal into human. I can, but only if the animal can show some human quality. Of all the thousand of wishes I have granted, you and only you selflessly gave away your only wish to make someone else happy. Now, my hippo friend, now I can change you into human…someone the princess can love. Close your eyes.”
And with a wave of his wand and some strange words the hippo opened his eyes and looked into the loving eyes of his… mother…the beautiful princess. And if that princess ever knew that the babe in her arms was once her precious blue faience hippopotamus, I do not know. But, I think if she had known…she would have loved him even more.