Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2014 Fitcher’s Bird

fitchers bird RackhamArthur Rackham

It’s Halloween

Thalia’s mother had taken her trick or treating, allowed her to snack on some of the loot, given her a bath, and now Thalia, with Teddy dragging behind, is in my study, a demonic gleam in her eye.

“Tell me a scary one.”

For a moment I consider Blue Beard, but judging her tender years, I settle on another.

“How about The Fitcher’s Bird?”

“A bird? That’s not scary.”

“It’s got a sorcerer, a skull, other body parts, and . . . ”  Now I sell it. “And blood.”

“Tell me.” Thalia and Teddy settle into my lap.

A sorcerer kidnaps young women with the intent of marrying them if they can pass his test. He declares he must journey for a few days and leaves the girl with an egg, which she must carry with her, and the keys to the manor, which she may explore with the exception of one room. He even points out the key it is she must not use on pain of death.

The sorcerer has captured the eldest of three sisters and puts her to the test. Inevitably, after her explorations of the manor, she finds herself in the forbidden room facing a basin filled with the hacked-up bodies and the blood of the women who entered the room before her.

Trembling at the sight, she drops the egg she carries and it falls into the bloody basin. No amount of cleaning will removed the stain on the shell, giving her away upon the sorcerer’s return.

“You went into that chamber against my will,” he says, “and now against your will you shall go into it once again. Your life is finished.”

Thalia’s thumb is in her mouth. She hasn’t done that for some time. I am hoping I haven’t crossed the line with this choice.

The sorcerer returns to the abode of the sisters and steals the second eldest and the scenario repeats itself. The third and youngest sister, in true fairly-tale fashion, is a different matter. She stashes the egg safely away before heading directly to the forbidden room.

There, with unexplained wisdom, she pieces the body parts of her sisters back together, restoring them to life, then hides them in another room.

“Whew!” Thalia is relieved and her thumb released from duty.

Appearing to have passed the test, the bride now demands the sorcerer carry a basket of gold to her parents before the wedding. In the basket she conceals her sisters, instructs the sorcerer/bridegroom not to rest or tarry, and says that she will be watching him from a window. She puts a decorated skull in the attic window as her decoy, but it is her sisters’ voices from inside the basket that goad the carrier on, allowing him no rest.

Meanwhile, the bride dips herself in honey, rolls in white feathers, and goes outside to greet the wedding guests, the sorcerer’s nefarious companions. The sorcerer himself does not recognize her, thinking she is the bejeweled skull in the attic window looking down on him.

Help, sent by the sisters, quickly arrives, shuts up the house with the sorcerer and wedding guests inside, and burns it down.

Content with just the right amount of fright for a Halloween night, Thalia and Teddy toddle and drag themselves off to bed.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2014 Fitcher’s Bird

fitchers bird John B GruelleJohn B. Gruelle


I stand before a forbidden door, my own personal forbidden door. It is a physical door, quite ordinary, dull really, unlike the forbidden doors I imagine in fairy tales.

These doors stand apart from all the other doors, at the end of long, dimly-lit hallways, panel doors of heavy, dark wood, not ornate in any way, except for doorknobs made of glass.  Their keys are plain, unassuming, on rings with other keys. There are no skulls and cross-bones emblazoned upon them to alarm those that hold them, yet they have been warned not to use them.

What is behind the forbidden doors? In The Fitcher’s Bird, as well as in Blue Beard, and Mister Fox, it is the dismembered bodies of the victims who have gone before.

Is it always that gruesome? By no means. In Virgin Mary’s Child it is nothing less than the Holy Trinity. In another tale, The Quest for the Fair One of the World, found in Modern Greek Folktales, by R. M. Dawkins, behind the door is the painting of a beautiful woman.

In the case of The Fitcher’s Bird behind the door is a horror, the manifestation of a twisted, evil mind. The heroine, using the sorcerer’s own magic against him, overcomes the villain with cunning.

In Virgin Mary’s Child, behind the door is knowledge beyond the ken of man that the heroine is bold to touch. Denying her actions, she suffers at the hands of the Virgin Mary until confessing her sin.

Quest for the Fair One of the World has three brothers, each smitten in turn by a portrait’s image, and each setting out on impulse to find her. Two of them lose their heads, while the third and youngest succeeds.

These tales present three different conundrums behind each door. What do they hold in common?

In each case, when the door is opened, the life of the hero or heroine profoundly changes. Behind the door waits a path for the bearer of the key, taking them to their fate. Turning the key unlocks a future, for good or for ill. The door can be closed again, but what was inside cannot be shut away.

The forbidden door is not the only device of no return in the fairy-tale lexicon. The box to which the heroine has the key (Pandora’s not being the least of them) fulfills the same purpose. In the White Snake the device is simply the lid of a covered dish, there being no key involved.

Another fairy-tale device of no return is the crossing of the threshold, that well-known step in the hero’s journey. But the forbidden door is different. In crossing the threshold, the protagonist has made a decision to heed the call to adventure. Opening the forbidden door is done out of the weakness of spirit, not anticipating the consequences.

What I find compelling about the forbidden door is that I am more familiar with being weak-willed than being heroic. I, too, have the impulse to open the forbidden door, and I take solace in the fairy-tale message that this action too can lead to growth, bringing us to the next level of awareness as much as the hero crossing the threshold.

I am still facing my forbidden door. It’s a cupboard door, actually. I open it and take out the crackers and Nutella. I am only going to have three. Maybe four.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2014 Fitcher’s Bird

fitchers bird skull

Dilemma Bird

I return to my study with a plateful of Nutella crackers. I won’t tell you how many.

The Fitcher’s Bird contented Thalia as a Halloween story, but the more I think on it, the more I am bothered by the rhyme at the end.

When reading a fairy tale, it is not uncommon for me to feel there is more to the tale than appears on the surface. When I contemplate the tale its layers emerge as I consider what the story elements mean to me. Like other works of art, I am prompted to insights not made before that bit of creation revealed them to me.

I am seeking creature comforts as I build a fire in the hearth before settling into the crackers. The Fitcher’s Bird brings up my fairy-tale anxieties. As usual, I sense there is more beneath the surface, but there my understanding stops. I haven’t the means to penetrate further.

Here on the surface is what I can see. Bird references imbue the tale, starting with the title. The sorcerer gives the sisters an egg to carry with them as they explore the manor. This egg betrays the first two victims. The youngest sister manages the egg better, not letting it reveal the truth.

She disguises herself as a bird by coating her body with honey and rolling in feathers from a mattress she tears open. (Her wedding bed?) In this manner she greets the wedding guests and her would-be bridegroom, participating in the following rhyme.

The guests and bridegroom say, “Where are you coming from, oh, Fitcher’s bird?” To which she responds, “From Fitze Fitcher’s house, haven’t you heard?” They reply, “And what may the young bride be doing there?” And she answers, “She’s swept the whole house from top to bottom. Just now she’s looking out the attic window.”

A skull looks out the attic window, one that she has decorated with jewels and flowers as a decoy.

What are we to make of this rhyme?

The word “Fitcher” in German suggests “wing” or “feather.” The rhyme suggests the sorcerer’s name is Fitze Fitcher. He has the sisters carrying around eggs. I can’t help but note the story leaves the youngest sister in her bird-like state. She doesn’t get to go home, clean up and marry someone else. All of these avian references point to . . .

I am nagged by the thought a riddle may be involved, but I am not getting subtle cultural references, notions in place when a teller first spoke this rhyme.

If I were to update Fitcher’s Bird I would consider Thalia’s cultural relationship with birds. Her knowledge of chickens is filtered through supermarkets and fast food. Being a city girl I dare say she has never held a live chicken.

I would have the youngest sister dipped in honey and rolled in breadcrumbs to pass herself off as a nugget. Thalia would immediately get the joke, while someone from a nonbreaded-chicken-cuisine subculture would not.

I believe that is my dilemma. That, and the empty plate with a little smudge of Nutella left behind.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2014 Mother Holle

mother-holle-1 Walter Crane


Duckworth and I are bent upon rowing up the Isis. It’s been a while since we’ve had our fair-weather outing, he being up to Liverpool on business. To break the tedium of our effort, he asks a question.

“What’s your latest fairy-tale inquiry?”

“I’ve not thought of my interest as an ‘inquiry,’ but it’s Mother Holle.”

“Yes, and?”

He knows me. I give him the synopsis.

The less-favored daughter of an old wife jumps into a well after a reel of linen thread she has dropped, knowing the punishment if she does not retrieve it. The maid wakes up in a flowered meadow. In this underworld she wanders until she comes to a bake oven from which loaves of bread call out to her, “Oh, take us out! Take us out! Or we shall burn.” This she does and travels on.

She comes across an apple tree that cries, “Shake me. Shake me. My apples are all ripe!” The girl shakes the tree and piles the apples neatly.

Next she comes to a cottage where there stands an old woman with large teeth. This scares her, but the woman speaks kindly and the maid accepts the offer of being housekeeper. The old woman has a special request that the mattress be shaken until the feathers fly, “Then it will snow on earth, for I am Mother Holle.”

The maid performs her duties faithfully. Although well treated, well fed, and a thousand times better off than before, after a time she becomes homesick.

“I’m pleased that you want to return home,” says Mother Holle, opening a door. As the girl passes through she is showered with gold coins that stick to her and is given back the reel of thread. When the door closes, she finds herself back home.

The old wife sends her other daughter to throw her reel of thread down the well and follow it. In the underworld, she does not help the bread or the tree when they speak to her. She works well for Mother Holle for only a day, then slacks off.  Mother Holle dismisses the lazy girl, who returns covered in pitch after passing through the magic door. She wears the pitch for the rest of her life.

“Well,” says Duckworth, “I see why you like it.”

“Your reasoning?” I inquire.

“First, there is Mother Holle. I remember my great-grandmother saying, ‘Mother Holle is making her bed,’ every time it started to snow. I thought her addled, and she was, but now I realize that remark must have come from somewhere.

“Then there is the good sister/bad sister. I think I’ve heard before.”

“Certainly you have,” I say.

“And of course the world at the bottom of the well. That is right up your alley.”

I nod in agreement. “Overall, there is nothing really remarkable about the tale. The good sister/bad sister is a well-worn motif. The well is more common to these stories than the spinning wheel. Mother Holle is, I suspect, a watered-down deity. It’s all three crammed into one short story that entertains me.”

“Watered-down deity,” Duckworth chortles. “In this context that’s almost a pun,” and looks at me suspiciously.

“Oh dear, no. I didn’t mean it that way.”

We row on in silence.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2014 Mother Holle

Mother Holle 5Hermann Vogel

The Bookshop

Thalia turns the doorknob of Serious Books. Melissa left a message on the answering machine telling me that my copy of Hunt’s translation of Grimm had come in.

“Melissa, this is my granddaughter, Thalia.”

I see them regard each other as they lightly touch hands. It strikes me they are of the same ilk, if decades apart.

“Pleased,” says Melissa.

“Thalia, find yourself a book.” I gesture toward the shelves. She wanders off with a mission.

Melissa hands me Hunt’s book. Before I can turn to the story that the Grimms numbered 24, she asks “What is you latest inquiry?”

Am I that transparent? I think, but say, “Mother Holle.”

“I don’t recall that one, although my father read all of Grimm to me.”

“It has to do with a beautiful sister and an ugly sister, and falling into a well.”

“The two-sisters thing I recognize and I love worlds at the bottom of wells.”

“What is your take on such matters?” I ask, looking around to see what has become of Thalia.

“I…,” she considers her words, “personalize the stories, more than any other literature; I put myself into a fairy tale. For me, the two sisters are two aspects of myself, my better half and my selfish half.”

“Is that the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, whispering in your ears?”

“Not exactly. The angel and devil speak of good and evil, giving it a religious cast. My thoughts don’t go there, though I see why others might. My struggles belong to me. I’m self-contained. I fight with myself on my terms, with no interference of another’s theology.

“For me, these sisters are cautionary voices, reminding me that my selfish side will ultimately bring me to harm.”

I glance around once again, trying to spot Thalia.

Melissa smiles. “She’s in the third aisle, sitting on the floor.”

“You can see her?”

“No, but I sense she is there.”

I walk by the aisles to check. The woman is psychic. Thalia sits cross-legged perusing a hardbound.

Returning to the counter, I find Melissa’s pretty brows knit in contemplation.

“Wells,” she says. “Every well in every story is the same well for me. It’s not a wishing well, but the well that I remember from an uncle’s farm.  It had a stone rim with the water near to the surface, and a pivot boom that lowered a bucket into it. I doubt it had much depth, but my mother would not let me go near it, sure that I would drown. This meant, to me, it was bottomless. The allure of danger and mystery beckoned to me then and in my memory still does.”

“Mine is a treacle well,” I muse.

Melissa’s green eyes glow. “How much of our attraction to fairy tales is about our childhood fears and fascinations? Unresolved moments we experienced without the vocabulary to express ourselves? Fairy tales have a language that pulls at me rather than explains to me, evoking lost thoughts from a time past.”

Thalia comes to the counter, gently but firmly placing her purchase on the glass casing.

Alice in Wonderland,” Melissa intones. “I knew you’d find that book.”

Your thoughts?


Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2014 Mother Holle

Mother Holle Adolf Münzer Adolf Münzer

Slipping Away

An unanticipated boon in owning a copy of Margaret Hunt’s translation of Children’s and Household Tales is that it has attracted our resident fairy. I thought the little creature had bonded with Thalia’s edition of Grimm, but apparently as long as the book is old the fairy will read it.

I’d left the tome open to Mother Holle on the table and when I looked up from my terminal there she hovered over the book, her gossamer wings and floating black hair in a static-charged display. I know better than to try to talk to her. I turn my attention back to my terminal.

The internet tells me Mother Holle or Hulda appears in Norse mythology as Hel, queen of the underworld and is likely of pre-Indo-European Neolithic origins. In early Germanic folklore Holle, a Sky Goddess, ruled the weather: sunshine, snow, and rain. The most tantalizing association is with Perchta, who dwells at the bottom of a well and taught man the craft of making linen from flax. She is also known as the Dark Grandmother, to whom go children who die in infancy.

No one less than Jacob Grimm, in his more scholastic works, wrote about Perchta/Hulda in her two forms, Schönperchten (the beautiful) and Schiachperchten (the ugly). I must suspect the forms are reflected in the beautiful sister and the ugly sister of the Mother Holle story.

Just as interesting, I’ve run across a reference to Perchta wandering the countryside between Christmas and Epiphany, entering into homes, knowing which children had been good and which had not. The good received the gift of a sliver coin and the others had their bellies slit open, their stomachs and guts removed, to be replaced with straw and pebbles. Oh, for a simple lump of coal!

When trying to grasp the stories of the gods and goddesses of any mythology as they have come down to us, we cannot think of them as consistent, thought-out works of literature. In my youth, I pored over the mythologies of the Greeks, Romans, Norse, and Celts trying to understand their message. The more I read, the less sense they made to me. I wanted their storylines to conform to a story arc, a familiar device, on a par with modern novels. The myths resisted.

Now that I am old, baffled, and confused, the myths are more amenable to me. My model is to see myths (legends and fairy tales as well) as shards of glass from a broken mirror reflecting their images upon each other in a confusion of light and wisdom, over which history has cast the pall of Christianity, dimming their brilliance, giving us shadowy figures such as Mother Holle, once a sky goddess, now thrown to the bottom of a well.

I look up from my terminal. The fairy is gone. I can almost doubt my senses that she was ever there, like details of a dream slipping away upon waking. My fairy, the gods, and goddesses are so ephemeral.

Your thoughts?


Fairy Tale of the Month: August 2014 The Two Brothers

Two Brothers Kay Neilsen Kay Nielsen

A Tale of Tails

“Here is a story you might enjoy,” I address Johannes. He sits at “his” spot on the window seat, decidedly not looking at me.  I encourage a response. “It has lots of talking animals.”


Silence follows. His tail twitches. “Any cats?”

“Ahhh—a lion.”

“A close relative, evolutionary-wise. I’ll listen.”

I read to him Grimms’ TheTwo Brothers.

There are two brothers, one rich and one poor. The poor brother captures a golden bird, which the rich brother buys from him, knowing its magical property of granting gold coins. However, it is the poor brother’s twin sons who accidently acquire the gift. Jealous, the rich brother advises the poor brother that his sons are in league with the devil and must be driven out.

Abandoned, the youths are taken in by a huntsman, who apprentices them in his trade. Eventually, as huntsmen, they venture into the world.

When they are about to shoot a hare, the creature pleads for it life promising them two of its offspring. The two bunnies are so cute, the huntsmen do not have the heart to kill them. The same thing happens with a fox, a wolf, a bear, and a lion.

Johannes purrs with satisfaction at the mention of the lion.

The brothers part ways, leaving a knife, given to them by the master huntsman, stuck into a tree, knowing that if one side or the other rusts, then that brother is in danger.

The story follows one of them and his half of the animal entourage. They come to a kingdom ravaged by a dragon that yearly demands a virgin as sacrifice. The last virgin left is the king’s own daughter.

Johannes grins. “I bet they marry young in that town.”

I ignore him.

On the hill where the princess is to be given over to the dragon, stands a church. In the church the huntsman finds three goblets of wine, and written instructions on where to find and use the sword to defeat the dragon. When the princess arrives, he secures her in the church. He and his animal companions face and defeat the seven-headed dragon. The huntsman cuts out the tongues and wraps them in the kerchief of the princess. Exhausted by battle, they all fall asleep.

A marshal, left behind to observe the proceedings, sneaks up, cuts off the huntsman’s head, terrorizes and carries off the princess, then declares to the king that he defeated the dragon.

The resourceful animals restore their master with a magic plant. Knowing nothing of the marshal, the huntsman assumes the princess betrayed him, and it is some time before he learns of the marshal’s treachery.

On the day of the wedding between the princess and the marshal, the huntsman returns to make his claim. The marshal has the seven dragon heads, but the huntsman has their tongues and the princess’s kerchief.

After the marriage, he is out hunting, when he is waylaid by a witch and turned into stone. His twin brother chances to check the knife and finds one side is rusted. He follows his brother’s path and is mistaken for him when he gets to the kingdom. He keeps the secret, hoping it will help in his search. That evening, retiring to bed with his brother’s wife, he lays his sword between them.

The next day he goes hunting and comes across the witch, but is not fooled by her. He forces her to restore his brother. However, the revived brother, upon hearing the other brother spent a night with his wife, without a thought, cuts off his head. Regretting his action, he allows the animals to heal the wounds with the same magical plant used on him.

Upon his returning to the castle that evening, his wife asks him why he laid a sword between them the night before. The husband now truly understands the faithfulness of his brother.

“Well, what do you think of that?” I ask.

Johannes has nodded off. Well, it is a long tale.

Your thoughts?


Fairy Tale of the Month: August 2014 The Two Brothers


Why Two?

I lounge in the comfort of Augustus’ testing room, a space replete with properly-made comfy chairs. Augustus’ newest blend is made of two different types of Cavendish, a mixture he calls Gemini.

“You read The Two Brothers you say.” Augustus tamps his pipe and relights. “What did Thalia think of it?”

“Actually, I read it to her cat.”

Augustus smiles at my silliness. “And what did her cat think of it?”

“He fell asleep.”

“His loss. That story is a personal favorite.” Augustus settles into his overstuffed chair. “There is an oddity about it that I can’t quite put my finger on.”

“Something about the two brothers theme?” I suggest.

“Exactly. There are multiple sets of brothers: the rich brother and the poor brother, the twin brothers, then the animal sibling pairs of rabbits, foxes, wolves, bears and lions. That’s seven sets of brothers, if you’ll accept my assumption that the animals are all males. The story does not tell us that, but terms like lioness or vixen are not used.

“Which,” he contemplates, “makes the only females in the story a princess and a witch. Women are not fairly represented in this tale, but it is interesting that one is symbolic of good and the other of evil.”

Both our pipes have gone out, and the conversation ceases as we re-tamp. Augustus picks up his thread of thought as we settle in again.

“This is a story for and about men. ‘Brothers’—especially in its broader sense—is a term that resonates with us. Somehow, the incompatible notions of ‘camaraderie’ and ‘independence’ merge. The two brothers are devoted to each other, and yet part ways to pursue independent lives, leaving the knife stuck in the tree trunk to remain as their unbroken connection.

“The sibling animals are something of a masculine comic relief. After the battle with the seven-headed dragon, the huntsman needs to rest, and instructs the lion to stand guard. The lion, having done his part in the battle, also takes a nap, telling the bear to wake him up if something happens. The onus is passed from predator to predator to fall upon the rabbit, who is at the bottom of the food chain.

“When the marshal cuts off the huntsman’s head, the blame passes, in the same manner, onto the trembling shoulders of the rabbit. If that is not male thinking, then I don’t know my own sex.”

I chuckle, but look at my pipe, which has gone out again.

“Then,” pontificates Augustus, “there is the twin thing. Mark Twain identified our twin fascination, and used it in The Prince and the Pauper, as well as in Pudd’nhead Wilson.

“As a plot device, it is necessary in this fairy tale that the brothers are identical, but their identicalness is taken a step farther by their having the same set of animal companions. I am not sure what to make of that.”

“Did you look at the Grimms’ notes on TheTwo Brothers?” I ask.

“Yes, they are fairly extensive. What caught my attention is the number of variants they cite in which the twins have unusual births, sometime immaculate.  Hmmm. My pipe’s gone out too. I must have used too much rum extract as casing.”

That’s what I like about this blend! I think to myself.

“I suspect,” says Augustus, cleaning out his pipe, “the Grimms were fond of this tale too. They were, after all, brothers.”

Your thoughts?


Fairy Tale of the Month: August 2014 The Two Brothers

Sigmunds Schwert (1889) by Johannes GehrtsSigmunds Schwert by Johannes Gehrts

Something Borrowed

The mantel clock in my study strikes twelve as I light my second bowl of Gemini. Beside me is a large box of wooden matches, and in my lap is Johannes, a surprising turn of fortune. I must allow myself to feel honored.

My mind wanders to the sky as I look out the bay windows, searching for the Gemini constellation, its two primary stars being Castor and Pollux, the twin huntsmen of Greek mythology.

Zeus put them into the constellation when Castor died and Pollux wished to share his own immortality with his mortal twin. Relationships in Greek mythology can get confusing. The ancient sources are not consistent about the births of these twins. Some have them both as mortal born, others as both divine. In the most popular version Castor is the son of Tyndareus, king of Sparta, and Leda, who is seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan, giving birth to Pollux at the same time as her mortal son.  I ran across a reference to a runaway version in which the twins are born from eggs along with their twin sisters, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Many of the fairy-tale storylines come out of Greek mythology. Cupid and Psyche have been reworked and reformulated any number of times, Beauty and the Beast, and A Sprig of Rosemary, being two examples that jump to my mind.

But storytellers have been democratic in their theft. Any mythology is fair game.  In the Völsunga saga, the hero Sigurðr falls in love with the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, but ends up marrying Gudrun, daughter of the sorceress Grimhild. Grimhild’s son, Gunnar, wishes to marry Brynhild, but cannot penetrate the ring of fire that surrounds her castle. It is Sigurðr, in the form of Gunnar, who accomplishes the task to claim Brynhildr for Gunnar. Sigurðr spends three nights in the castle with Brynhildr, but lays his sword between them. Sigurðr soon returns to his true form, and Brynhildr marries Gunnar.

It doesn’t turn out well when Brynhildr finds out the truth. In a love/hate rage, she tells Gunnar that Sigurðr did sleep with her. Gunnar causes Sigurðr’s death and Brynhildr throws herself on the hero’s funeral pyre.

Theft is not the only way to cobble together a story. Another method is intrusion, of which Christian thought is expert. The Grimms were Calvinists, and Wilhelm, in his revisions, would quickly replace pagan practices with Christian-themed devices. Angels appeared in later editions of the Grimm stories where mystical wisemen and wisewomen previously had a place.

However, in The Two Brothers, I sense the Christian intrusion comes from a more Catholic source. When the huntsman goes to the dragon’s mountain to save the princess, what should be there but a church. I know in my soul, some religious storyteller put that church on the dragon’s mountain.

There are three goblets on the altar, presumably filled with wine, and a note that says whoever drinks from the goblets will be the strongest man on earth, able to wield the sword buried under the threshold of the church.

Wilhelm, romantic that he was, intruded with divine beings. Here are the accouterments of ceremony. The goblets on the altar suggest the Communion wine, but three of them in connection with a sword? I suspect Catholic trappings are covering a pagan ritual.

Frankly, if I were to quaff three goblets of wine, I’d be feeling pretty invincible myself. I am thinking about some wine, but I have this cat in my lap. I would need to disturb Johannes to get a glass. Instead, I will content myself with tamping and relighting my pipe.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tales of the Month: July 2014 The Three Snake Leaves

Three Snake Leaves FordH. J. Ford


“What? Is that it?” Thalia is incredulous and indignant.

“Yes, I am afraid so.”

“I don’t like that story.” Thalia stalks off to bed with Teddy dragging behind.

I do like the story, but I shouldn’t expect a tale of infidelity to be a kid’s thing. What disturbs her is The Three Snake Leaves.

A poor, young soldier, through dint of senseless bravery, becomes the king’s favorite. More emotional than cautious, he falls in love with the king’s daughter.

The field for his pursuit is clear, given the princess’s declaration that she will marry no man who won’t agree to follow her to the grave, no matter when her death may occur, and she vows to do the same for her beloved.

He, she, and the king agree to the bargain, and the marriage soon follows. Her untimely death is not far behind.

Sitting in the crypt with his wife’s corpse, he stares at the four loaves of bread, four bottles of wine, and four candles provided to him. These he rations, but death slowly approaches.

As he sits, waiting for his demise, a snake slithers into the tomb, moving toward the body of his love. He leaps up, sword in hand, cutting the snake into pieces. Presently, another snake appears, departs, and returns with leaves in its mouth. These it places on the body of its companion, which wiggles out from under the leaves, and they slither away together.

The youth takes the leaves and puts them on the eyes and mouth of his wife, and she begins to breathe.

Returned to life, his wife unaccountably loses her love for her husband. On a sea voyage, she develops a passion for the ship’s captain. Together, they throw her husband overboard to his death.

His faithful servant lowers a small boat, retrieves his master’s body, and restores him to life with the snake leaves. Together they row for home, returning before the faithless wife.

The king gives his daughter enough time to incriminate herself, then sends her off with her captain-lover, in a boat bored with holes, to sink beneath the waves.

No surprise that Thalia is not enamored of this story, but not all stories collected by the Grimms were told for a youthful audience. The tales were as often told among women for women. This one, I will guess, was told as a cautionary tale.

Not for the first time, I sense a feminine mind behind a story, challenging my masculine outlook. The hero of this tale is not in charge of his fate. First, he throws himself at the feet of valor. Soon, through passion, he places himself at the behest of his wife’s will. He triumphs, through luck, only to be murdered at the hand of the one he saved, then saved himself by a servant. In the end, the king, not our hero, decides everyone’s fate.

Had the story reversed the role of the sexes, had a heroine agreed to her husband’s demand to follow him to the grave, had she saved him only to have him be ungrateful and pursue another woman, we would nod our heads, identifying a familiar theme.

With The Three Snake Leaves I am a little stunned at the princess’s boldness, and ultimately, the passive nature of the hero.

Plus, where have I heard this tale before? I think a conversation with Augustus is in order.

Your thoughts?


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