II. Der Menschen Leidenschaft verwandeln

When the Queen returned to her palace, she went to a room which had not been opened for a long time. She did not look about her or linger over a dead man's possessions, but went straight to a shelf in the back. A carved wooden box rested there. She hesitated a moment, then opened it. Inside was a set of bells; a pair of small mallets rested inside the lid. She took up one of them and struck a single forceful note. The vibrating metal produced a sweet and clear tone, and she remembered—

Her husband was bent in concentration over his work, and he did not seem to notice when she entered the room. As she approached him, she could see that he held a carved wooden box between his hands, though the raised lid hid its contents.

"What is that?" Her voice held a hint of sharpness. He could stop to acknowledge her, at least.

He made a final adjustment, then closed the lid carefully and raised his head. He silently pushed the box across the table to her. He looked rather satisfied with himself, she thought, and she allowed herself time to examine his work. He had carved every surface of the wooden box with images of a deep and ancient forest; animals of various kinds roamed beneath the trees or disported themselves upon the branches. The Queen let her eye trace the carvings, making out the shape of a lion's paw or a parrot's wing.

She opened it and looked inside curiously. "Bells?"

He gave a quick smile. "Yes, but no ordinary bells."

"Will you play them?"

"They are not for me, nor for you," he replied. "These bells are meant to be played by one whose heart is innocent. Pamina may keep them for now, but in time they will find their master."

Her husband had made many such toys for their daughter; the one before this was a many-jointed snake, that would wiggle as if alive when pulled by a string. But she sensed that this was something more. "What is their purpose?"

He did not answer. Taking up a light mallet, he leaned forward and struck the bells. A sweet, pure sound rang out. The chiming of the bells awoke an odd feeling in her, as if she were back in her girlhood, innocent and hopeful. She resisted it. That was not a time she wished to think of; only when she came into her own and seized the rule of the kingdom of the Night from her mother had she been truly free.

"I do not like them," she said deliberately.

"Perhaps I will make something else that pleases you better."

"What would please me," she said sharply, "is for you to grant me the use of the Circle of the Sun. There is no reason for you to deny me."

His expression hardened, and he shook his head. "It is too dangerous, to have the power of the Sun and the Night in the hands of one person. And I fear what use you would make of it."

She made herself smile, concealing her anger at his answer. "You do not trust me?"

"I trust you in all other things, but not in this."

"Is this what you have learned from the wisdom of the Initiates," she said scornfully, "they who believe that women must be guided by men's authority?"

"There is much wisdom in their teachings," he replied sententiously, "although you do not see it."

An angry flush rose to her cheeks. "I could see it indeed – if there were any worth to it. They shroud their rites in secrecy only to make them seem significant in the eyes of the gullible."

That smile again, the one which infuriated her – hinting at superior knowledge that he would not deign to share. He tucked the mallets inside the case and closed the box with an air of finality.

"Do not give the bells to Pamina!" she demanded.

But he had done so nevertheless. Pamina received her father's latest gift with a pleased smile, and sat down on the floor of her nursery with the mallets clutched in her small hands. The Queen braced herself for cacophony; but instead, a dancing melody rang out from the bells, a rippling sound echoed by Pamina's delighted laughter.

The Queen frowned. "What is this? No one has taught her." Pamina was surely too young to play an instrument with any skill. Her idea of music was still banging on things as hard as she could.

"These bells do not answer to the skill of the player," her husband answered, "but to what is in his heart."

The Queen listened a few moments longer, then abruptly turned and went from the room.

After her husband's death, she had taken the bells from Pamina, ignoring the girl's tears. Her daughter had enough other amusements, and in time she had either forgotten them or at least ceased to ask for them back. In the years since then, the bells in their carved box had sat here gathering dust.

The Queen thought that perhaps she could find a use for them, but they were not what she had come here to seek. She pushed the bells aside. Reaching farther back in the recesses of the shelf, she grasped and lifted out a simple wooden flute.


Notes:

der Menschen Leidenschaft verwandeln - "to change human passions," a line from the First Act quintet describing the powers of the magic flute (though the bells seem to have something of that power also).

I hope my view of Pamina's parents' relationship doesn't seem too negative. My view of Pamina's father is influenced by an older version of the dialogue (since almost nothing is said about him in the current performing version, unless you follow the interpretation that her father is Sarastro). In the scene before "Der Hölle Rache," the Queen tells Pamina how she asked Pamina's father on his deathbed to give her the powerful Circle of the Sun. He refused, saying he would give it to Sarastro: "Sarastro will control it as manfully as I have until now. And now no more; do not try to understand things which are inconceivable to a woman's mind. It is your duty to give yourself and your daughter to the authority of wise men." I didn't want to give him those exact views, but after reading that scene, it was hard for me to imagine them with a completely happy marriage. The scene ends with the Queen demanding that Pamina kill Sarastro, as in the current version, but also that she take the Circle of the Sun from him and bring it to her mother.