The Golden Cage
Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut
Dark, disturbing and enigmatic are the words that immediately sprang to mind after I read this fairy tale from Europe, which is a collaboration between French-Italian author, Anna Castagnolii and the Belgian illustrator of Witchfairy, Carll Cneut.
It tells of the Emperor’s daughter, an incredibly indulged girl who, despite having everything she desires, is not happy.
Her particular penchant is for birds of which she has a vast number but her greed drives her to want still more. Her demands become increasingly hard to meet: ‘a bird with glass wings!’ … ‘a bird that spurts water like a fountain’ …
Many, many servants lose their heads as they try in vain to fulfil her outrageous requests
till finally with her newest cage, a golden one, yet to be filled, Valentina has a dream.
In this dream she meets a talking bird
and knows that this is what she must have to complete her collection.
Off go the servants to search but again their offerings do not fit the bill and CHOP! off come their heads. It’s conversation, not mimicry she desires in her parrot.
Time passes, the palace gradually becomes a ruin and the cage remains empty.
Then one day a young servant boy, new to Valentina with ‘eyes as cunning as arrows’ approaches her eliciting a promise from her in exchange for the bird she yearns for.
Rather than a bird, the boy returns months later with an egg, telling her that from it will hatch a talking bird.
Happy, at last, the princess waits and waits and …
But this isn’t a happily ever after ending and readers must decide for themselves the finale to this multi-layered story, as indeed they must put their own interpretation on the whole.
Caril Cneut’s illustrations – sumptuous paintings and drawings that sometimes cover an entire spread, and the child-like drawing epitomising all that Valentina yearns for, are totally arresting. The former are rich in detail, truly snaring the attention but so does the latter, which in its own way also says so much.
Not a book for young children but it’s brimming over with potential if offered to older audiences including students of literature and art.