The Firefly Princess

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Fire-fly princess The Firefly Princess is a glittering beauty, and numerous insects want to be her husband. She has little interest in any of them, and declares that she will only marry the one who brings her a flame. This story is full of the beauty of old Japan.

And we are delighted to introduce the very talented Elizabeth Donnelly, who joins us as a narrator for Storynory.

Read by Elizabeth. Duration 12.32.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.

IN JAPAN the night flies emit so brilliant a light and are so beautiful that ladies go out in the evenings to catch the insects for amusement. They imprison them in tiny cages made of bamboo threads, and hang them up in their rooms or suspend them from the eaves of their houses. At their picnic parties, the people love to sit on August evenings, fan in hand, looking over the lovely landscape, spangled by ten thousand brilliant spots of golden light. Each flash seems like a tiny blaze of harmless lightning.

One of the species of night flies, the most beautiful of all, is a source of much amusement to the ladies. Hanging the cage of glistening insects on their verandas, they sit and watch the crowd of winged visitors attracted by the firefly’s light. What brings them there? Let this love story tell all.

On the southern and sunny side of the castle, the water in the moat had long ago become shallow so that lotus lilies grew there luxuriantly. Deep in the heart of one of the great flowers whose petals were as pink as the lining of a sea shell, lived the king of the fireflies, Hi, whose only daughter was the lovely Princess Hotaru-Himé. While still a child, the princess was carefully kept at home within the pink petals of the lily, never going even to the edges except to see her father fly off on his journeys. Dutifully she waited until of age, when the fire glowed in her own body, and shone, beautifully illuminating the lotus, and its light at night was like a lamp within a globe of coral.

Every night her light grew brighter and brighter, until at last it was as mellow as gold. Then her father said, “My daughter is now of age to marry, she may fly abroad with me sometimes, and when the proper suitor comes she may wed whom she will.”

So Hotaru-Himé flew in and out among the lotus lilies of the moat, then into rich rice fields, and at last far off to the indigo meadows.

Wherever she went a crowd of admirers followed her, for she had the singular power of attracting all the night flying insects to herself. But she cared for none of them, and though she spoke politely to all, she gave encouragement to none.

One night she said to her mother, the queen, “I have met many admirers, but I don’t wish a single one to be my husband. Tonight I shall stay at home, and if any of them love me truly they will come and pay me court here. Then I shall give them an impossible task... If they are wise they will not try to perform it; and if they love their lives more than they love me, I do not want any of them. Whoever succeeds may have me for his bride.”

“As you wish, my child,” said the queen mother, who dressed her daughter in her most resplendent robes, and set her on her throne in the heart of the lotus.

Then she gave orders to her bodyguard to keep all suitors at a respectful distance lest some stupid bug, dazzled by the light should approach too near and hurt the princess or shake her throne. No sooner had twilight faded away than forth came the golden beetle, who stood on a flower and bowing said, “I am Lord Green-Gold, I offer my house, my fortune and my love to Princess Hotaru.”

“Go and bring me fire and I will be your bride” said Hotaru-Himé. With a bow of the head the beetle opened his wings and departed with a stately whirr.

Next came a shining bug with wings and body as black as lamp smoke, who solemnly professed his passion.

“Bring me fire and you may have me for your wife.” So off flew the bug with a buzz.

Pretty soon came the scarlet dragonfly, expecting so to dazzle the princess by his gorgeous colours that she would accept him at once.

“I decline your offer,” said the princess, “but if you bring me a flash of fire, I’ll become your bride.”

Swift was the flight of the dragonfly on his errand, and in came the beetle with a tremendous buzz, and ardently pleaded his suit.

“I’ll say, "yes," if you bring me fire,” said the glittering princess.

Suitor after suitor appeared in order to woo the daughter of the king of the fireflies until every petal was dotted with them. To every one of her lovers the princess in modest voice returned the same answer: “Bring me fire and I’ll be your bride.”

So without telling his rivals, each one thinking he had the secret alone sped away after fire - But none ever came back to wed the princess. Alas for the poor suitors!

The beetle whizzed off to a light that glimmered through the paper walls of a house. The black bug flew into a room where a poor student was reading. His lamp was only a dish of earthenware full of rapeseed oil with a wick made of pith. The dragonfly flew to the light of a housewife who was working late at night.

Mad with love the brilliant hawk-moth, afraid of the flame yet determined to win the fire for the princess, hovered around and round a candle flame, coming nearer and nearer each time. “Now or never, the princess or death,” he buzzed, as he darted forward to snatch a flash of flame.

Not one of the the lovers of Hi’s daughter succeeded in their quests. All met their ends in the flames or the lamp-oil. As the priests trimmed the lamps in the shrines, and the serving maids cleaned the lanterns in the homes, each said alike, “The Princess Hotaru must have had many suitors last night.”

The next day was one of great mourning and there were so many insect funerals going on, that Hi-Mar, the prince of the fireflies on the north side of the castle moat, asked after the cause. He learned for the first time of the glittering princess. He fell in love with her and resolved to marry her. The princess’s father agreed to his proposal of marriage, on condition that the prince should obey her wish in one thing, which was to come in person bringing her fire.

Then the prince at the head of his glittering battalions came in person and filled the lotus palace with a flood of golden light. Hotaru-Himé was so beautiful that her charms paled not, even in the blaze of the prince’s glory. The visit ended in wooing, and the wooing in wedding. On the night appointed, in a carriage made of the white lotus-petals, amid the blazing torches of the prince’s battalions of warriors, Hotaru-Himé was borne to the prince’s palace and there, prince and princess were joined in wedlock.

Many generations have passed since Hi-Mar and Hotaru-Himé were married, and still it is the whim of all firefly princesses that their low-born admirers must bring fire as their love offering or lose their prize. It is for this cause that each night insects hover around the lamp flame, and every morning a crowd of victims must be cleaned from the lamp. This is the reason why young ladies catch and imprison the fireflies to watch the war of insect love, in the hope that they may have human lovers who will dare as much, through fire and flood, as they.