"The Princess and the Barbarian" is the prologue to George Gilder's book Men and Marriage (Pelican Publishing Company, Greta, LA, 1986), and was reprinted in The Real Issue with permission. George Gilder has written several books on social and economic issues, including Wealth and Poverty, The Spirit of Enterprise, Visible Man, Naked Nomads, and The Party That Lost Its Head
Once upon a time in a distant mountainous land there was a young and beautiful princess who loved to wander in the woods. The forest was deep below the snowcapped peaks and the valleys were quiet and safe. She could go freely without care or fear. She could saunter along the trails that took local merchants and messengers toward the passes to neighboring lands and brought them back laden with news and commerce. She could watch for birds radiant among the leaves and sometimes glimpse a deer dancing through the brush. In summer she could swim in the brooks that hurtled down the mountains and gathered in pools in the crevices. She was carefree and gay, at ease with nature and the world.
Then one year trouble struck this halcyon land. A barbarian moved into a cave somewhere in the woods and began to prey on the merchants and messengers making their way through the mountain passes. Although groups of young men formed posses to pursue him, he was so strong and swift and so resourceful in the ways of the woods and canyons that no one could catch him. Commerce slowed and the kingdom grew steadily poorer. Merchants could travel only in large groups protected by warriors. The king and queen bade the princess to halt her wanderings and stay in the castle night and day. Someday, they said, she would be queen, but until then she would have to learn the ways of the palace. She pined for her dark and secret places among the trees, but she did not disobey.
One night, however, her sleep was beset with dreams of serpents. She woke in fear as shadowy shapes lurched on her walls and sinister sounds whirred outside her window. She went to the sill, parted the curtains, and gasped at the wild beauty beyond. Through the trees, waving their arms in the night winds and glistening in the moonlight, she could see deep into the forest that she longed to explore. She yearned to run along the sylvan paths and feel the pine needles under her bare feet and the breezes against her face and in her hair. She longed to spy on the creatures of the night. Surely, no one would notice or care if she should steal down the stone stairs and step out on the moonlit path.
As it happened, that same evening the barbarian, also restless in the night season, set forth into the lunar darkness down the path that led toward the castle. He walked quietly, like a cat slinking through the woods, until, startled by the sound of steps, he slid behind a huge oak. At first he thought he had heard some animal and raised his club. Then he sensed a human rhythm in the paces and steeled himself for a robbery. When the princess finally came into view, he gasped at the sight of her- -a beautiful girl garbed only in a silken gown--gliding barefoot along the trail.
Never before had a vision moved him so powerfully. The luminous night and the woman alone, the shape and the shadows, reached in beyond his bearded face and bristling chest and touched his sinuous heart. He stepped forward and asked her if he might walk with her a while. She screamed and fled. He pursued her, caught her, and pulled her to the ground, ripping her gown. Then he seized her flailing arms and shook her to silence.
Soon, however, he sensed that he wanted less to overpower than to please her. Entranced by the wonders of her strong young body, he pleaded with her to stop struggling--he meant her no harm. She told him to go ahead and kill her if he wanted her, but to do it quickly and mercifully. He insisted he had no desire to have her dead. He wanted her alive; he wished to hold her body against his in the night. She said she would die first.
He then changed his approach and asked her again if she would walk with him for a while in the woods. She consented; it was a way to gain release from his grasp. But as they strolled along, his gruff voice softened. With quiet authority he described his life in the woods among the fierce animals that threatened his survival and that he sometimes had to kill to escape. She listened and marveled as he told her fantastic tales of the barbarian life. She had never before heard of the struggle for life in the wilds beyond the castle walls. They walked together until the glow of dawn shocked her to her senses and she said she had to run back to the castle. The great barbarian slumped in helpless anguish. She assured him she would be back the next week to learn more. But to the barbarian, a week seemed an eternity.
The next week she once more sneaked away from her bed after midnight and walked in the woods with the barbarian. When the sun rose he lunged for her, and she delicately slipped aside, saying she would be back again in another seven days. The next week they once again walked and talked for hours in the night. Finally he asked her to come back to see the etchings on the walls of his cave.
She said no, she would never go back to his lair until he halted his attacks upon the merchants and messengers of the realm. He said robbery was his way of life; all men robbed in one way or another; the king's entire territory had been stolen from the barbarian's forebears, the natives of the land. She told him severely that he had better find another way of living if he expected her ever to visit him in his cave. He should make a clearing, build a cabin, and grow a garden in the woods. He could collect nuts and berries and hunt small game. With all his knowledge of the wilderness he could live well, and she would come weekly to hear his tales of the night wood.
The barbarian was heartbroken. The idea of a different life frightened and repelled him. He was a nomadic predator, born to run in the forest and prey on the weak. But finally he saw that he had no choice. To avoid losing the princess, he recognized at last that he would have to give up the barbarian life and get to work. And so he did. By the time he met her seven days hence, he had cleared a large space among the trees. Within six months he had planted a garden and built a cabin.
During that time no robberies were reported on the road. Commerce with neighboring kingdoms expanded rapidly as travel grew safer and merchants could go through the mountain passes without an expensive guard of young warriors. With the country growing richer, the barbarian did well selling wood and nuts to the people. At last one day, after showing her his trove of produce, his cabin enlarged with an octagonal wing, and his large gardens and herds of goats, he asked the princess to marry him. Joyfully she said yes and brought him back to the castle to meet her father and mother, the king and queen.
At first the king declared that the barbarian's background made him entirely unsuitable to be the mate of his precious daughter. But the queen replied with a smile that he too had been something of a barbarian in his day and he had to confess that this was true. The barbarian was certainly a refreshing change from the unctuous courtiers who had previously pursued the princess. The king and queen soon welcomed the youth as a strong and resourceful husband for their daughter and an asset to the realm.
The wedding brought a huge celebration throughout the kingdom. After a nostalgic honeymoon in the cabin in the woods, the couple moved into the castle. Freed from the ravages of the barbarian, the land continued to prosper. After the princess's parents died, the barbarian himself became king and expanded his domains deep into the mountains and the forest. In the course of time the new queen bore a daughter and the daughter too grew into a beautiful young princess, who, like her mother, hearkened to the call of the wild.
As the realm grew ever richer, the king and queen invited famous wise men from a neighboring kingdom to entertain at court. These men told of seductive new ideas. They chilled the king and queen with tales of the death of God and the eclipse of law, and excited them with accounts of the joys of libertine sex. They brought books and art celebrating the new freedoms that followed the breakdown of traditional morality and religion. They told of a city called New York where everything indeed was new and free.
The young princess listened avidly. Poring over the books, she learned of the powers that princesses held in other nations. She learned to disdain the stodgy, hardworking life of her parents' kingdom and to long for a land where happiness was the only goal. As time passed these ideas gnawed at her nocturnal thoughts. Like her mother she found her sleep disturbed by serpentine dreams, and she would walk in the woods to quell the disquieting desires that flooded her young body.
Then a crisis struck the country. Another barbarian--as young and strong, ruthless and resourceful as his predecessor--moved into the forest and began preying on the commerce between the kingdom and the neighboring realm. Once again the land became poor, and this princess too was forbidden to walk in the woods. The princess, however, rebelled against her parents and continued her excursions.
One night she found herself suddenly confronted by the young barbarian. She was even more beautiful than her mother, and the barbarian surged with admiration and desire. He asked her if she minded if he walked with her for a while. Deeply bored by her life in the castle, she agreed. They sauntered along the path discussing the flaws of the king and the oppressive rules within the walls. Shortly he put his arm around her shoulders and she pulled away and said please, not yet. He asked her if she would return with him to see the etchings in his cave. She suggested they first walk longer and get to know one another better. But eventually they visited his cave together. When she left at dawn, she promised to return the next week. "Wow," she exclaimed, "you're good!"
For the next several months she visited with the barbarian every week and they reveled in the cave. Then one day, a king arrived from the progressive country of the wise men to visit with the father of the princess. This foreign king was the most charming and cosmopolitan man the princess had ever seen. He told her of the great riches and romantic forests of his land, of the advanced universities and museums, of the flourishing commerce and art. And after everyone went to bed, there was a knock on the door of the princess's chamber.
The princess opened the door and saw the foreign king outside, garbed in a robe of purple velour. He asked to come in. He stayed until dawn, and as the morning light suffused the room, along with the royal aroma of his Paco Rabanne, he asked her to return with him to his kingdom. He would divorce his queen and marry her. They had "drifted apart," he said, and his marriage "was no longer a growthful experience." His wife needed "more space," and in his progressive views and liberated lifestyle, he discovered he had far more in common with youth than with his own generation. The princess agreed joyfully. Banishing the barbarian in the woods from her thoughts, she returned the next day with the king to her new land.
Each week the barbarian waited in the forest for his princess. But she never came. After a while he gave up waiting and angrily escalated his attacks on the commerce between the two nations. As time passed, the mood of license fostered by the wise men induced many young men to join the barbarian in the woods. The nation fell into ruin and the forest became a jungle, ruled by barbarians, where no princess ever dared to tread.