The King With Six Friends
Not a terrible message, just sexist.
Pretty wordy. It's kind of a weird story, while still being rather traditional. A king, named King Zar, was apparently a good king, but was attacked by another king and his country was overthrown. He apparently wasn't killed, so he leaves and wanders around because he can't do anything except be a king. Nobody wants to hire him to do work. As he wanders around, he just helps people because he's a really nice guy. He ends up saving, in order, a man who can turn into an axe, a man who can turn into an elephant, a man who can turn into a fire, a man who can turn into a serpent, a man who can turn into a tree, and a man who can turn into a swarm of bees. It's almost like the author picked a bunch of random nouns and said, "I wonder if I can write a coherent story where people turn into these." So bizarre.
They are all friends and everything is awesome, and they wander around and go to an inn, and the serving girl says that the local king has only one child, a daughter, and he can't find a husband for her. The reason for this is his intense pride: he has sworn that his daughter has to marry a king, and all the local kings are married. So King Zar is intrigued. "He paid the girl, and gave her a kiss of thanks." Great. This book is traditional in many ways, including one of which is its sexist nature. The king has no female friends. They are all male.
He goes to King Invictus, who says, "Hey, I knew your father, but you can't marry my daughter because she's super rich and you don't have a kingdom." Zar points out that he'll be rich, too, when he marries her. But Invictus says, "Let's just use the old-fashioned method. I'll set three tests for you. If you fail any of them, I'll cut your head off." Zar talks Invictus into letting his friends help, at the potential cost of their lives as well.
Zar says, reasonably, "First, let me see your daughter." The princess comes in, and everyone is stunned by her beauty. One guy faints. "As for the princess, she looked straight at Zar and her eyes lighted like stars." So maybe she's okay with this? She doesn't do anything in the story except get her hand in marriage won. Yay sex objects.
The first test is, Zar and his friends have to eat and drink a full feast and barrel of wine in an hour. This is given some weak justification. So Zar's friends turn into a fire and burn the food, and an elephant to drink the wine.
The next test is getting an egg from a chest on the top of a cliff. No mention is made of who the egg belongs to or why it was in the box on the cliff to begin with. The challenges include a gap which the serpent is made to straddle, holding on to the other side by his teeth (and then they leave the guy there because they know they'll be coming back, so why not) while the others walk across him. He can't climb the cliff, so his friend turns into a tree and he climbs the friend. Then the chest doesn't open, so the friend turns into an axe and uses himself to chop it open. At this point, knowing how these tropes work, it is a little unusual that he's actually used 5 out of the six friends, and you know he'll never use the same guy for two things. Usually it would be divided evenly, like there would be six tasks and he'd use exactly one for each, or since there are three tasks, you would expect him to use two friends per task. The only guy left is the swarm of bees guy. It'd be great if the axe guy was used twice and the bees guy was just overlooked, but of course that doesn't happen.
The last test is: "Defend yourself!" And a bunch of soldiers attack. Then the swarm of bees guy stings them all and the soldiers run away in terror, because apparently nobody trained them to deal with minor annoyances, or else they're all highly allergic.
And he wins the princess. "The princess was brought, and she and Zar kissed each other as the sound of all the bells in the city filled the air." Yep, let's just wheel her out and stand her over in this corner here.
At the end, the king's steward asks the elephant guy, "Wait, Zar didn't actually do anything." And the elephant guy says, "He did what only a good king can do. He led us." Sigh.
It doesn't have a bad message, it's just incredibly sexist. Despite the rather imaginative aspects of it, the rest of it is very trite. Kindness is good. Be kind to everyone you meet, even if they're a snake or a fire.