The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
Bartholomew Cubbins is the golden child. No, no, not The Golden Child, staring Eddie Murphy. (How do you even remember that film?) He's the child with the heart of gold whose social status doesn't reflect his inner awesomeness. In other words, typical fairy tale protagonist fodder.
Like Cinderella or Aladdin before him, Bartholomew Cubbins is the lowest of the low in the Kingdom of Didd—socially speaking, of course. Yet the boy's got a stellar set of principles on him, and he distinguishes himself by sticking by those principles even when things turn against him. And those principles are (drumroll please)…
In the Mind, Out the Mouth
Bartholomew is honest regardless of the situation, and while it gets him in trouble a wee bit, it's his shining principle.
We first see Bartholomew exhibit this principle when the King demands him to take off his hat. Thinking he has already done so, he tells the King, "I don't like to say you are wrong, Sire, […] but you see my hat is off" (25). It happens again when Wilfred tries to shoot the hat off Bartholomew's head. He exclaims "proudly, 'I can shoot with my father's big bow'" (80). It may be a little showoffy of the young Cubbins, but he's being honest.
In both instances, he shouldn't be this honest with these members of the upper class. It's a bit of a social faux pas, but since honesty is Bartholomew's great principle, he must say these things or risk dishonesty. And if there was any time to be dishonest, it's when a Grand Duke is about to shoot a hat off your head.
To the Beat of Another's Drum
Eh, maybe servitude is too strong a word. Um… submissive? Obedient to a fault? What we mean is that Bartholomew does what he's told without fail.
The best example is when he marches to the dungeon on the King's orders, presents himself to the executioner, and proclaims, "The King says you must chop off my head" (109). Hmmm. The only fight he puts up is a desperate attempt to remove the hat. Even then, he considers his only means of escaping his fatalistic fate following one rule to counter following another. In either case, he's obeying.
Later on, the King asks to buy Bartholomew's hat. The boy doesn't haggle up from 500 or say no on account that the hat's been in his family for generations. Instead, he simply answers, "Anything you say, Sire" (142).
It's actually kind of odd to have a character like this as our hero in the book. The story is all about the absurdity of rules and absolute authority, yet the protagonist's only means to combat those rules is to follow them without question. He had to descend to his own execution for crying out loud.
The best we can say is that maybe Bartholomew's honesty trumps his ability to break the rules. As much as he'd like to break those rules, he can't, as an honest person, do so. And that takes some serious bravery.
The Bold and the Brave
And that's what Bartholomew's principles ultimately come down to: bravery. As he notes: "'the King can do nothing dreadful to punish me, because I really haven't done anything wrong. It would be cowardly to feel afraid" (45). So long as Bartholomew remains honest and obedient, he can remain brave because he's done nothing wrong. And though things come awfully close to proving him wrong, he happens to be right about this in the end.
Lucky for him, too. Like all fairy tale heroes and heroines before him, Bartholomew comes out of his story in a better position than was in before. No, he doesn't become King, but he does get a big old bag of gold to take home with him. And, as we'll see in the sequel, he becomes the King's page and moves on up the (mountain's) eastside. Jeffersons style, baby.