Prince Valiant - A Story from the Past


When I was much, much younger, I didn’t go to school even though I was living in a school. I was mostly homeschooled by my mother who probably thought I would become a genius if not restrained by a system.

Funny because she was so much part of the system herself. (So I did not end up being a genius after all.)

At the time, she was the headmistress of a small school in a small village in Normandy. Two classes. One for preschool and first year of primary school. She was in charge of the second one and taught children from 7 to 14 (about 40 girls and 5 grades in all).

From time to time, whenever she was too busy or one of my younger siblings was having problems, I’d get up (not necessarily in time for school), get dressed, walk through the backyard and go to school. There I’d pick up whatever subject or grade teaching I thought was more interesting at the moment.

Pretty weird but it suited me just fine. I kind of enjoyed going to school but wasn’t really keen on it since I could go and play with my friends at school recess. I loved reading and studying by myself so much.

Those were days where homeschooling was not frowned upon.

There was the other side of the coin. Somehow, I had to prove that I was doing well at school.

Because there would come a day when I would have to go to high school... (There was no way I could convince my mother I still could be homeschooled in highschool because by then we had moved to ‘the’ city.) Though I managed to skip the first year of junior high by taking latin by correspondence course.

Back to the other side of the coin. When school was over and my friends were having fun, I had to work on a ‘cahier de vacances’ (a holiday notebook, how gross!).

I remember the name of the publisher. It was ‘Magnard’. Still doing well and safe from any economy crisis. French children are known to be under a lot of stress from a very early age... They have to fit perfectly in school and then in society which explains a lot of social problems in France. Quite conflicting, I know but this is not the subject of today’s blog.

So M. Magnard wrote delightful ‘cahiers de vacances’ you had to fill in very, very carefully and send back to him as soon as you were finished. And then he would send you a book he had published himself (well, I was not this gullible but then...) with his warmest congratulations. M. Magnard played a very important part in my young life.

I loved those books. I did love them. I did. Besides being real books to be read, they meant that I was not a true procrastinator (yet) and that my notebook was filled, quite correctly and sent back early in the summer.

Actually, the notebooks were so boring that my mother had to get really mad at me almost every day so that I would be done by the end of July, August being family time in Southern France.

What about Prince Valiant then? Did he come to the rescue of a very young girl who had to spend time writing dumb answers in dumber notebooks?

‘Prince Valiant’ actually broke my heart when I was nine.

So many things I had to tell to get to the point of my blogging today! Amazing.

I had been so good at filling those notebooks that one year, I got another reward besides the books! M. Magnard sent me an invitation to go to the movies in Caen (the big city I had been to maybe a couple of times in my whole short life) even though we were living about 10 miles from it.

‘Prince Valiant’ was to be put on again, one afternoon in Caen just for me (and other nice and bright ‘Magnard’ children). I think it was some time in December, maybe for Christmas.

Even though part of my family was and/or had been in the movies and/or theater business, I had never been to the movies yet. We were having a lot of family troubles and there was no time for triviality...

Up until three weeks ago, I remembered ‘Prince Valiant’ with stars in my inner eyes and some swelling of tears in my poor heart...

We did get to the theater (the whole family packed in the car). My mother got me seated (to make sure I would be safe, you never know, even though there were lots of M. Magnard’s pretty and nice counselors around). Then she left.

The movie started. I was suddenly entering another world. Something magical... something so impressive I felt like crying. Oh, I loved ‘Prince Valiant’. A dream come true.

I was enthralled by the overture (credits and all)... Good for me because I then felt someone patting on my shoulder, in the dark. My mother.

She murmured a few words: ‘Come with me. We are going home.’ Which we did to my utter dismay.

I remember crying all the way back home. There had been no explanations. Not then. Never. Another ugly fight betwen my parents, I imagine. It had been so unfair though. So terribly unfair and it would somehow turn for me into some symbol of a very wretched family life.

A few minutes of Paradise and back to Hell.

Throughout the years, I kept looking for the movie. Interesting, isn’t it, that it’s so hard to forget such a microscopic thing even though life is no bed of roses.

Years went by. I was still looking for ‘Prince Valiant’. When they invented VCRs and DVD players, I really thought that time had come and I would finally get to watch this movie, ‘the’ 1954 movie.

Don’t misunderstand me. I really was a grown-up who read a lot, watched a lot of movies, went to the theater and the opera, did a thousand things, all of them very fascinating. But I was still missing something. Something that had been very unfairly taken away from me.

While I was growing and loving life and everything it brought me (minus a few things maybe), this little girl was still crying inside me and looking for her ‘Prince Valiant’.

Three weeks ago, Popeye and I, we had to go to Rennes. We do not go to Rennes very often because we don’t really miss the big-city-life while we are at Les Tertres.

In Rennes, there is a Fnac, which means thousands of books and records and Dvds to be browsed through... a great happening in a very rotten summer.

So we went to la Fnac. Popeye was looking for a CD while I decided to go to the second floor (books and Dvds).

My ‘Prince Valiant’ ('Prince Vaillant') was waiting for me. Right there. 54 years later. I looked at the DVD. I was well beyond words which for me, is quite unbelievable.

The plastic cover says that it is one of Fnac’s ‘introuvables’ (ie which cannot be found)...

I’m a big girl so I didn’t start crying when Popeye said: ‘There it is after all those years.’ (He knows the story.)

I couldn’t wait to get to Les Tertres and start watching the movie.  Henry Hathaway - James Mason - Janet Leigh and Robert Wagner. It couldn’t be too bad after all.

The dreamy little girl’s memories weren’t crushed. Because she had been a very unhappy little girl after all.

The adult woman and her husband laughed heartily. Henry Hathaway, you’ve got to be kidding! Bless you! Prince Val’ as he’s called by his fellow characters (we watched the English version).

I just couldn’t believe it. It was hilarious which never was its purpose, I imagine. Great vision of the Middle Ages! And Vikings too, by the way.

Poor James Mason - such an excellent traitor! And poor Richard Wagner - his first part. Brilliant. Oh so brilliant!

So I’ve made peace with the past. At least this time in my past. My shrink will take care of the rest, I’m sure.

Sleep well, Prince Val’, somewhere on the DVDs shelves, at Les Tertres! By the way, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen in love with you in 1956 (the movie, of course!).

Would it have changed my life, my view of things? Hopefully not.

But I did miss you an awful lot all those years.

Prince Valiant - Official Trailer

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


JC said...

At last! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pkoHHQ9pA0

Your childhood stories always send chills down my spine... hopefully you got mine right and I have only good memories of it.

By the way, it looks like Prince Valiant was never very lucky with its Hollywood interpretation :

Myrna said...

Well, sad childhood memories aside, you made me smile because you found your Prince Valiant! :o)I have never seen it...maybe someday.