Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing and Art Activity
"The Enchanted Egg” is a delightful story that plays with ideas and characters commonly found in fairy tales (and in cartoons of fairy tales). This is not a profoundly original story, but it is well written, beautifully illustrated, and fun to read.
As you read it you might even try to make a list of all the predictable elements you find. For instance, the toad is ugly (of course!), the owl is wise (of course!), and the third attempt to cure the town of rats succeeds (of course!). What is remarkable about “The Enchanted Egg” is how thoroughly imagined it is. What I mean by this is that Bertrand doesn’t just quickly jot down that there is an ugly toad nobody likes. Both in the writing and in the illustrations, he takes care to make us see the toad as an interesting character and not just a flat cartoon figure.
Project: Write and Illustrate a Fairy Tale
In its original form, Bertrand’s story has thirty-three illustrations! The text and the pictures were created to go together and make a picture book. I want you to do the same thing. You might start in the library reading fairy tales. Once you have those toads, kings, poor fishermen, mermaids, magic table-cloths, and other fairy tale images clearly in your mind, select a few to put together in your own way.
Whatever your story turns out to be—funny, sad, a fight between good and evil, or a wandering adventure—do your best to make them come alive in both words and pictures.
The Enchanted Egg
By Bertrand C. Jackson, 13, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Illustrated by the author
From the March/April 1986 Issue of Stone Soup
Once upon a time, many years ago, in a far-off land, there dwelt an ugly toad. His shriveled green skin was dotted with horrible warts. His eyes bulged from his wrinkled head, and his misshapen feet protruded awkwardly from his stout body. Because of his repulsive appearance, the poor toad was mocked by all the other animals—all except the wise old owl, who understood the toad's kind nature and felt sorry for him.
Life was beginning to be unbearable for the toad, although he tried to make the best of the ridicule and harassment. The owl often attempted to comfort him, but it was to no avail. The toad was intent on leaving his familiar forest to make his fortune in a large nearby city. Before he departed, the owl presented him with a magical egg and told him that it would aid him in time of need. He added that, as the egg was enchanted, it would follow the toad wherever he went and would assist him when called upon to do so. The toad was astonished at the strange spectacle of the egg floating in mid-air but listened carefully to the owl's explicit instructions. The wise old owl then bade him goodbye.
The toad gave one last glance at the owl and turned to start his journey. He trudged sadly toward the city with the egg floating faithfully in back. It so happened that this city was the capital of a vast kingdom. He missed his friend the owl very much, but the thought of the enchanted egg tagging quietly behind him helped to lighten his heart. He had never seen a city before and wondered what it would be like. The toad was not very agile, and therefore had much time to think.
As he waddled along, a large dog came running toward him. It eyed the plump toad greedily and hoped to make a dinner of him. The toad saw the ravenous creature just in the nick of time. In a panic, the frightened toad bounded into a ditch by the edge of the road, and the egg followed. They both remained there until daybreak. When he awoke, it dawned on him, as he sat covered with mud staring at the suspended object above him, that he could have used it to repel the menace that he had encountered the previous day. It was too late now, and, as the dog was not to be seen, and as the sun was shining brightly, he recommenced his long journey.
Suddenly, after many long hours of walking, he saw off in the distance the highest towers of the city. As the toad approached, he was spellbound at its massive size and splendor. He had been travelling for quite some time and was pleased to be there at last. Its imperious walls tapered upward as far as the little toad could see. It made him feel very insignificant indeed. At the wide stone gates two sentries stood at attention. Because of his small stature, the toad slipped through unnoticed. He was amazed at the unfamiliar sight which met him within. He marvelled at the huge castle which loomed up behind the small shops and half-timbered houses of the townspeople. He walked forward so as to obtain a better view of the odd structure which was not blocked by buildings and heads. As he advanced, he had to watch out for garbage which came flying down from the windows along the road and the large awkward feet of the clumsy people. He thought how absolutely dreadful it would be if he were squelched by some unobservant pedestrian and mashed in between cobblestones. He shuddered at the very idea.
The toad turned about and gently grasped the egg. Holding it in his hand, he summoned its powers. The toad asked politely, just as the owl had commanded, to be lifted to the magnificent castle. All at once, he ascended into the air and glided forward in the direction of the palace. Along the way, he had a wonderful view of the entire city and the environs beyond. Soon the palace came into sight. Its highest turrets almost seemed to touch the clouds. Protruding from the front of the marble building was a large balcony. From it the king himself was making an oration.
The toad listened attentively for the voice of the king high above. He did not wish to presume upon the egg's beneficence and tried his best to hear without help. The monarch was offering his beautiful daughter in marriage to anyone who could rid the city of its terrible rats, which were infected with the plague, spreading pestilence and fear among his subjects. The toad gazed deliriously at the indescribable beauty of the princess. Her golden hair flowed gracefully from a radiantly smiling face. She was garbed in a beautiful blue gown, and on her head there was a delicate crown studded with jewels. She was very majestic and charming indeed. The elegant princess was all the more breath-taking when he imagined how she would look as another toad.
After the king's speech there was a moment of silence. Finally, a huge, powerful man encased in sparkling armor stepped from the crowd. The king gave him his blessing, and he set off to execute his task. He mounted his faithful stallion, armed with a lance to meet his adversary. The toad thought this act to be very foolish and amusing, but nobody else was laughing. The bold knight galloped through the streets skewering the rats as he passed, one by one. Some hours later he returned exhausted. His head hung low as he stood before His Majesty.
Once again the king addressed his congregation, and once again they were mute. Another very large man advanced from the throng, exposing his full stature. It would seem as though he was a giant—especially to the toad. His armor shone even more resplendently than that of the previous knight. This one, however, instead of using a spear used a large double-edged sword. He slashed right and left, insanely trying to defeat his unbeatable foe. He too was forced to capitulate and return to his king.
It was now the toad's turn to try his luck, and he waddled out from the assemblage. At this, the crowd laughed uproariously—the idea of a mere toad accomplishing what two gallant knights had failed to achieve! It was they, in fact, that had the heartiest chuckle. The king, however, was wise and cunning. He had read many fairy tales and concluded that this was an enchanted toad. Again the king gave his benediction, and the toad was off.
As he walked, he thought it strange that no one had taken any notice of the egg's levitation. It must be common here in the big cities, concluded the toad.
When he was alone in a deserted alley, he called to the egg with a strange spell taught him by his wise old friend back in the woods. Instantly a tumultuous crack from within broke the shell and revealed a small owl. Suddenly it grew and grew until it towered as high as a man. The toad told his plight to the owl, and it bade him alight on its soft back. The toad was hesitant at first. Nevertheless, after some coaxing, he clambered on. The owl spread its wings, and they were off.
The toad clenched the feathers around the owl's neck as they soared higher and higher over the rooftops. Soon they arrived at an area of the city where the streets were filled with rats. People were screaming, dogs barked, and babies cried as the rats swarmed over them. The owl descended and, upon seeing such a large bird of prey, the rats darted for the gates and never came back. The toad guessed that this abrupt exit was also due to the powerful sorcery of the owl.
At any rate, after succeeding in his mission, the owl flew back to the alley and shrank to its former size. It picked up all the pieces of the egg and went inside it before the toad had a chance to thank the valliant creature. The egg lay there as if nothing had happened.
In the morning the toad went back triumphantly to the palace and related to the king his adventure. The king was overjoyed and, thinking the toad was truly magical, asked the princess to kiss the toad to restore him to his proper shape. As she did so, she was instantly transformed into another toad, and they both lived happily ever afterwards.