The Singing Ringing Tree, with a name like that it could be a fairy tale. Well it is, but as far as I know it was an original tale and not sourced from the Grimm boys or Hans C Anderson. So saying that it does manage to include most of the themes from Germanic folklore all in one go.
Made in Germany, this uber-fable was imported to the UK by the BBC and overdubbed with an English narrative. It was shown as part of the Tales from Europe series and is now available on DVD as a box set with its contemporary ‘The Tinderbox’. While ‘The Tinderbox’ is a cracking production in itself, the star of the set is ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’.
The DVD however contains a new narration, as apparently the original BBC version has been ‘lost’ like so many gems of the early years of TV (including loads of Doctor Who and other classics like early Dads’ Army), however as I can not remember the original, I am that old but couldn’t say if I had seen it before, I find the version presented here more than satisfactory. Made in glorious colour, that appears now with a pleasing mellow dreamlike quality, and sporting the most ridiculous fish in TV history, this is a story that holds true to the spirit of myth and fantasy, while also appealing to my Pagan self too.
So settle back and I will relate to you the story of the Singing Ringing Tree:
A prince rides to a palace for an appointment with the King. He has come to woo the princess, but she is not a very nice person as he will soon find out. Arriving in the throne room the prince approaches the princess, while she finds him attractive she is too proud to settle just for his looks. She asks him what gifts he has for her, but when he presents her with a box of jewels she looks at it with contempt and dismisses him. He asks her what she would consider a fitting gift and she tells him of the singing ringing tree, which, she has heard, is most suitable. The prince vows that he will find the tree and bring it back for her. He returns to his horse and rides out on his quest.
The prince rides all over the kingdom and asks everyone he meets if they know where he can find this magic tree. Eventually he comes to a ravine with a bridge made of natural rock leading to a cavern. He leaves his horse and crosses the bridge unaware that an evil looking dwarf is watching him. The prince finds that the cavern is a tunnel that leads to a hidden valley, and venturing through it he is surprised when the dwarf appears and starts berating him for trespassing. Calming the dwarf, the prince asks him if he has heard of the Singing Ringing Tree. To his surprise the dwarf has and produces the tree itself (it doesn’t look much, its just a few twigs and some leaves). The dwarf says that the prince can take the tree, but that it will only sing in the presence of true love; he will only have until sunset to make the princess love him.
The prince boasts that there will be no problem doing that and stupidly enters into a wager with the dwarf.
Returning to the palace, the prince hands over the tree, but the princess is too disappointed by the tree (well I did say it doesn’t look much, and of course it isn’t singing or ringing) and throws it back at the prince. As the prince rides off, the princess realises that he was the best of the many suitors she has rejected and regrets her decision. She tells her father that she was being too hasty and asks him to send some men to bring him back.
The prince arrives back at the rock bridge, he is distraught to realise that the sun is setting; as it does the prince changes, becoming a bear. The dwarf appears and out of spite turns the prince’s horse to stone. The dwarf retreats at the sound of approaching horses, and the bear hides. The Kings men arrive and spying the Singing Ringing Tree by a rock, shaped somewhat like a rearing horse, pick it up. Before they can investigate the rock bridge, the bear rushes out and the men ride of with the Singing Ringing Tree.
Back at the palace the princess is up in the loft watching for the prince to return. While up there she disturbs the royal doves (well they might be wild doves but they live in the palace so who knows) and is rather beastly too them (she will regret this later). Seeing the horses coming back, she rushes down to meet them, only to be told the prince had vanished (may be the bear ate him?) but they have the tree. She takes the tree and shakes it, commanding it to ring or sing, but nothing happens (the tree by the way has bare roots and having been thrice carried across the kingdom on horse back without soil or water is probably in a bit of a sulk).
That night the princess sleeps with a maid holding the tree by her bed. She is to wake the princess when it starts to sing. The next morning the princess is annoyed because the tree is still silent (try planting it, dingbat) and she takes her frustration out on the poor maid. Going into the garden, the princess has a ‘Ground Force’ moment and decides to plant the tree in the water feature. So she pulls the plug and water and goldfish drain away (Charlie Dimmock would not approve.) She plants the tree and nothing happens.
Meanwhile the bear has made a plan. He secretly returns to the palace, dealing with a guard left on the road by the King in case the bear followed his men. Arriving at the palace garden the bear grabs the princess, who promptly faints (or should that be ‘swoons’). The bear carries her back to the secret valley (passing the guard from earlier who is hanging by his coat from a tree-he is a good bear after all), hotly pursued by the King and his men. Once back in the valley, the dwarf causes a big rock to fall and block the entrance. He then watches as the King and company come to a dead end.
The princess comes round to see the bear and reacts with fright. The bear is sad, but leaves her on her own. Over the next few days the princess watches the bear go about his business.
She watches him go to the lake and this big fish appears (it floats on top of the water – weird), but when she approaches the fish swims off (he knows what she did to the goldfish). She watches the bear with some doves, they aren’t afraid of him, but when the princess appears they fly off. She watches the bear give hay to this beautiful white horse with golden antlers (err, I wonder if they meant for it to be a stag?), but when she appears it runs away. To cap it all, the evil little dwarf , who has been watching with glee, casts a spell robbing her of her beauty.
Over the following days the princess watches the bear start to make a home out of a cave. At first she thinks it is for her, but he soon sets her straight. Deciding that she had no choice but to help, and therefore get a chance at sharing the shelter. She starts to collect rocks, and finds that by tearing her dress she can use it to carry more. The bear is impressed that she is helping. She carries on helping the bear and the more she does the more she begins to like him.
Out in the fields she comes across a dove with an injured wing and picks it up. Touched by its pain she takes it to the bear, who treats its injury, After that the doves no longer fly away from her. Later she is by the lake and the fish is swimming (or should that be floating) by. The dwarf is watching and uses his magic to freeze the lake, trapping the fish. Seeing the fish is in trouble the princess makes her way across the ice, and on reaching him, she takes off her shoe and starts hammering at the ice. The bear hearing the noise comes out and rushes to help. Between them they free the fish and it floats off to clear water. The dwarf is not happy,
The dwarf’s winter is holding the valley in its grip, and the princess comes across the antlered horse trapped in a gully. She tries to free him but the dwarf makes more and more snow fall, threatening to bury them both. Her cries for help bring the bear, and together they free the horse. All her good deeds break the dwarf’s spell and with each one, her beauty is restored.
The dwarf is not happy at all.
Later the dwarf approaches the princess and tells her that he father, the King, is very ill. She is distraught and wants to see him, so the dwarf removes the rock from the tunnel and she runs home (just how far is the palace??). When the bear discovers she is gone he is upset, and to stop him from following her, the dwarf smashes the rock bridge.
When the princess arrives back at the palace she finds the place deserted. Searching she finds a servant and asks them where the King is. Not recognising the princess, the servant tells her that the King and all his men are out searching for his daughter who was stolen by a bear. Wandering into the garden, the princess comes to the Singing Ringing Tree, which is still planted in the old water feature; it is still silent. She thinks about what the dwarf said to her, and realises it was a trick. She then starts to think about the bear, realising that she has come to love him. It is true love, and as she realises this the Singing Ringing Tree begins to shake, sing and ring (at last!!!). Grabbing the tree (yes its going to be dragged bare rooted across the kingdom again), she knows that she must go back to the bear.
As she approaches the valley, she is seen by the dwarf who uses his magic to grow a barrier of impenetrable thorns. Reaching the barrier the princess finds she can’t go further, but just as she begins to fret, the antlered horse arrives, leaping over the thorns. The princess climbs on to its back, and after taking a run up, the horse leaps back over the barrier and races towards the valley.
The dwarf uses his magic again and causes the lake to flood. The water is too deep for the horse, so the princess tries to carry on, on foot. She is having trouble, but before she drowns the giant fish floats up. She climbs on the fishes back and the fish carries her toward the valley. Hopping mad the dwarf stops the flood and the water begins to disappear trapping the fish at the bottom of the ravine. Who can the princess go on now?
Suddenly a flock of doves descends from the sky. They have some vines with them which the princess can sit on, like a swing. The doves then carry her out of the ravine and deposit her at the valley entrance (what has the bear been feeding them).
Rushing into the valley, the princess is waylaid by the dwarf, who snatches the tree and runs off. The princess chases him around the valley, and the bear when joins in, but the dwarf is too quick. Finally cornered the dwarf shoves the tree into the ground and surrounds it with a ring of fire. The princess is too afraid to approach, but the tree sings and gives her courage. She walks through the flame to reclaim the tree (very Wagnerian).
The tree now sings and rings its little wooden heart out. The fire dies, the dwarf is vanquished and the bear becomes the prince once more (and his horse is freed too –yay!). Deciding to leave the tree in the valley in case someone else needs it, they ride off into the sunset together.
Oh I love happy endings.
I am a little confused though about the dwarf’s motives. So he gave the prince the tree just to trap him, and maybe the princess too, but everything the dwarf did actually encouraged the princess to change. Maybe he wasn’t as evil as he appeared?