Special Report: The Enchanted Quill

Fairy-Tale Miscellany


In “The Enchanted Quill,” a recently-discovered Bavarian fairy tale from the 1850s, a crow enlists the help of a woman, the youngest and most open-minded of her sisters. She migrates to the city; employed as a royal servant, it is implied her work will help him return to his wingless, featherless, and (most compellingly) princely self. Her coworkers tease her because she burns dinner and can’t make silver shine. The crow appears at her window to urge her to pluck his magic feather and use it to write wishes. Not only does the crow’s quill allow her to cook gourmet meals on reflective plates, but she also manages to escape advances from her coworkers-cum-suitors. Upon transforming into a handsome prince, the woman discontinues her service, and they ride away to his dreamy castle.


An enchanted quill also appears in season six of The Smurfs, a 1980s television series based off of the 1950s comic by Belgian artist, Peyo (Pierre Culliford). “The Enchanted Quill” episode features Scruple, magic school dropout and apprentice to the villainous wizard, Gargamel, who learns about the quill while studying for his re-admittance exam. Scruple convinces Gargamel to locate the quill, which is protected by fire-breathing griffins in Castle Quill, since it will magically write or draw truthful answers to all questions. They hope it will finally lead them to Smurf Village to capture the Smurfs, and, if found, Scruple will not have to study. Smurflings intercept their plan by asking Papa Smurf to design a fake magic quill that makes mistakes and gives bogus answers.


Norman Rockwell’s illustration, “The Ouija Board,” cover for the May 1, 1920 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, depicts a couple mid-séance. Knee-to-knee with a Ouija board on their laps, their fingers rest on the planchette, a teardrop-shaped indicator hovering above the board; its invisible quill dictates an ephemeral message. The blushing woman peers into the distance, her feet eager to launch from the rung. The blushing man leans in, his feet planted just outside of their cushioned space. Whereas with blind dates, the matchmaker knows each individual in the couple, here: the pair is already made, and they retroactively search for a matchmaker to validate their courtship. The ‘omniscient’ planchette appears to be heading toward the “yes” pole of the board.