What is scarier, evil that comes from within or evil that comes from without?
Three Floating Coffins begins with three princesses stepping into coffins, the symbol of death. A prophecy tells them that one of the three harbors an evil magic; the guilty one will sink and he innocent one will be washed ashore. The princesses know that by getting into the coffins, they are risking their lives. Yet death isn’t what scares them.
For the older two sisters, but especially Ariadne, the middle princess, the fear is that they themselves will become evil, that they will become a monster, that they will lead to the destruction of everything they love. Ariadne has the magical ability to fill vessels with any liquid she desires, and while some liquids are innocent, like water or soup, other liquids, like poison and acid, can be quite deadly.
Ariadne was afraid every single day that a chance touch and a careless thought would send a plague upon her kingdom. When, in the family chapel, the priest put a hand on her shoulder and whispered the prophecy in her ear, Ariadne had seen it all so clearly. Her hands glued to the edge of a pot, stuck, unable to stop the dark magic that streamed onto land and sea, destroying everything it touched: father, sister, subject all falling to the ground, blue and stiff and silent.
Ariadne is afraid that of the power. She is afraid that, willingly or not, power will turn her evil. At the very least, her power will cause her to unwittingly do evil deeds and hurt those she loves the most.
On the other hand, Odele, the youngest princess, is the only one to realize that the prophecy is a lie. The actual evil one is the person telling them the prophecy, the priest. Odele realizes that the priest has plans to destroy her family, her kingdom, and everything she loves. She does not go quietly into the coffin. She kicks and screams and fights with all she has:
The hard-faced men threw the youngest princess into the coffin. She tried to climb out, but one man pinned her arms down. The other held her legs. Odele whipped her head back and forth and yelled in a raw, desperate voice.
“He’s a liar! He’s lying to you all.”
But despite her efforts, she is pushed into the coffin and sent out to the sea.
For Odele, evil is an outside force--in this case, the priest--but even though she recognizes it, she can’t do anything about it. She is powerless, and throughout the book she struggles with the fear that she will never be strong enough to defeat the priest and save her family.
So which is scarier? To have power, but to be afraid it will turn you evil? Or to see evil and not have the power to fight it?