I have a strange visitor in my study tonight. Earlier Thalia fell asleep quickly as I read to her. We’d been out most of the day—in the cold—feeding the tower ravens. I’d carried her off to bed, returned to the study, and settled down with my pipe, before realizing her battered copy of Grimm’s still lay on my table. I was considering returning it to her bedroom when my visitor flew in, landing on the table.
“There you are,” she said to the book.
She now stands at the foot of the open volume, her translucent wings catching the moonlight coming through the bay window, her fine, wild black hair moving about, blown by a draft I can’t feel. She reads aloud to herself.
“Let no one ever say that a poor tailor cannot advance far in the world and achieve great honors. He need only to hit upon the right person and, most important, to have good luck.”
She is reading The Glass Coffin.
In this tale, a poor tailor, lost in a forest, takes refuge in the hut of an old, cranky man. The next morning the tailor is awakened by a black bull and a stag battling outside. When the stag is victorious, it scoops the tailor up in its antlers and carries him off to a subterranean hall. A disembodied voice instructs him.
“Step upon the stone that lies in the middle of the hall,” my visitor, with both hands, turns a page. “Your great fortune awaits you.”
The tailor does, and the stone sinks down to a deeper level. There the tailor sees stacked along the walls, glass vases filled with colored vapors, and two glass coffins. In one is a miniature kingdom with a castle, farmhouses, barns, and stables.
In the other is a beautiful, sleeping girl who awakes as he watches her.
“Good heavens!” my fey reads, “I shall soon be free. Quick, quick, help me out of my prison. If you push back the bolt of this glass coffin, I’ll be saved.”
The tailor does this easily. Freed, she tells him her story.
She is the daughter of a rich count, raised by her brother after their parents’ death. Devoted to each other, they decide neither should marry.
One day they give shelter to a traveler. To their misfortune, he is a magician, who falls in love with her and tries to seduce her through his art. She repulses him and he takes his revenge by turning her brother into a stag, her people and servants into vapor, the kingdom into a miniature, putting it and her into glass coffins.
She bids the tailor help her move the glass coffin containing the kingdom onto the stone, which carries them to the upper world. When the coffin is opened, the kingdom grows into its proper size. From the glass vases, they release the vapors that turn back into the living. The brother, who in the form of the stag killed the magician in the form of the black bull, returns to his human shape.
As reward, the tailor marries the girl.
“By the breath of Oberon!” declares my petite guest. “That’s being in the right place at the right time.”
She struggles to close the heavy cover and pages until it makes the “plunk” that only a book can make, then flitters off without a glance at me.
I am taken aback by my conceit. I assumed fairy tales were created for the likes of me. I had noticed there are precious few fairies in fairy tales, and now see that the tales were never about fairies. These books should be printed in a much smaller form for their true, intended audience.