Notes And Queries

“How can I allay my fear of death?” asked a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe in Notes & Queries in yesterday’s Grauniad. A decidedly fatuous answer was given by one Fred Huckle of London SW1, who suggested “Develop a belief in some form of reincarnation.” In other words, become a credulous nincompoop and cram your brain with poppycock. One may as well advise someone to “develop a belief” in a flat earth or fairies or the legendary “third Miliband”.

That, at least, was my initial reaction. I turned elsewhere in the paper and chortled at Boris Johnson’s vision of next year’s Diamond Jubilee, with a “royal quinquereme” sailing the Thames from Putney to Tower Bridge, “probably rowed by oiled and manacled MPs”. But as is the way with these things I remained preoccupied by Mr Huckle’s twaddle, and eventually chucked the Grauniad to one side and started rummaging among the bookshelves to do a spot of research.

Some hours later I found what I was looking for. Far from dispensing foolish advice, Mr Huckle was clearly familiar with the case of Prince Fulgencio, as related in Dobson’s pamphlet The Case Of Prince Fulgencio (out of print). I quote:

Prince Fulgencio was terrified of death. So titanic was his ego that, though mildly fearful on his own account, he agonised over the great peril the world would face in the event of his dissolution. How in heaven, he wondered, would the mass of humanity cope without Prince Fulgencio there as guide and saviour and model and paragon? He did not know that the scrofulous peasants huddled in their hovels in the shadow of his palace prayed daily for his death, and hatched plots against him.

It happened that one day Prince Fulgencio was riding through the deep dark forest astride his trusty horse, Keith, when he came upon the hut of a wizard. The Prince was much troubled that day, as usual, about the prospect of his demise, and he wondered if he might find succour in the wizard’s woohoo. Dismounting, he barged into the hut in his shouty blustery violent way, and found the wizard standing in the middle of a pentangle scraped on the floor, waving his arms about in haphazard yet highly significant magical passing movements, intoning gibberish, and listening to an Alain De Botton podcast on his iDeBotton.

“Ho there, wizardy man!” shouted Prince Fulgencio, “I am Prince Fulgencio and I am terrified of death! What can you do to give me succour?

“My name is Huckle,” croaked the wise old wizard, removing from his filthy ears the headphones, together with a couple of crumbs of impacted earwax, “If ye seek succour you must bring me a frog and a toad and a goose and a squirrel and twigs of hazel and larch and sycamore and a chest of gold.”

Prince Fulgencio was not a prince to tolerate impertinence from wizards. He biffed Huckle in the chops with his jewel-encrusted princely sceptre-cum-bludgeon and shouted at him again, this time louder and in a voice more searing and raucous, like a crow with an Asbo.

“Oof!” said the wizard, “Steady on, guv. Alright, I’ll give you succour. You must develop a belief in some sort of reincarnation to allay your fear of death.”

The prince was not impressed, and did a bit more biffing.

“What sort of wishy-washy Guardian-reading poltroonery is that?” he shouted.

“Oof!” said the wizard again, a few more times, “Please listen, o Prince! Take this magic glass, and as you look into it every morning while doing your princely ablutions, repeat over and over again the words ‘I am absolutely convinced I shall not die but will be reborn in a new corporeal frame!’ You will be surprised how quickly you come to believe it.”

“So I could come back as an even more fantastic version of Prince Fulgencio?” shouted Prince Fulgencio.

“Well, yes, in theory,” said the wizard. He thought it best not to mention that the magic mirror might bring the prince back in the form of a worm or a gnat or a Wivenhoe bus conductor.

“I shall give it a try,” shouted Prince Fulgencio, “But woe betide you, wizardy man, if the magic wrought by your magic glass does not work!”, and he strode out of the hut and jumped back into the saddle and went a-galloping on Keith back to his palace.

When Prince Fulgencio did die, many years later, the peasants chopped his corpse into little bits and buried the bits in quicklime and laid waste to the land around the pit so that nothing grew there for a thousand years. Shortly after his death, legend has it that Huckle the wizard was walking along a path in the deep dark woods from his hut to the newsagent’s, to buy a copy of the Guardian, when he was harried by a tiny flying ant. He smote it, it fell to earth, and he crushed it under his wizardy boot. In some versions of the legend, the harrying is done not by a tiny flying ant but by a large ungainly lumbering bus conductor from Wivenhoe. All other details remain the same.

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