Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2015 The Three Rowan Trees

Three Soldiers Hans Sebald Beham2Hans Sebald Beham

A Trio

I sit on the window seat of the bay window in my study, watching the day disappearing over the magic forest in the near distance. I don’t usually sit here, but I have the windows open allowing the soft evening air to wash over me as I smoke a bowl of Dark Dwarf.

My thoughts—drifting away with the smoke—swirl about the three soldiers of The Devil and His Grandmother. While I can’t call the three soldiers a motif, the trio shows up in more than one Grimm story. To my thoughts comes The Three Army Surgeons, The Long Nose, and The Crows—although in this last one the three are not companionable. Outside of Grimm I can think of The Three Soldiers in Jacobs’ Europa’s Fairy Book, and the well-known Stone Soup.

I am sure with a quick search I can find another. Stephen Badman’s Odds and Sods sits atop a pile of books near me. I grab it and page through. Sure enough, I find The Three Rowan Trees.

Three soldiers are dismissed from service with little to show for their time. They agree to travel together and stumble across an empty castle in which all their needs are mysteriously met. That evening, to the soldier named Hans, comes a snake that crawls into his bed and turns into a princess.

She explains to Hans that she and her sisters are the three rowan trees growing in the garden. If Hans and his companions will bear being whipped all night long for three nights starting at Midsummer’s Night, the spell will be broken. Hans agrees to try.

In the morning he visits the rowan trees and is given three magical gifts: a purse that never empties, a cloak that will take him anywhere, and a bag that contains an army.

Immediately forgetting his promise, he and his companions travel to London via the cloak and Hans pursues the hand of the daughter of the King of England. She cheats him out of the magical gifts and abandons him. He is close to suicide when he comes across a tree of golden apples that cause a horn to grow out of one’s forehead, and a golden pear tree that removes it. Tricking the king, queen, and princess into eating the apples, they are beholden to him to have the horns removed. Thus he regains the magical gifts.

He uses the bag containing the army to release his companions who have gotten themselves into trouble, and returns to the castle by Midsummer’s Night. By keeping himself and his companions drunk for the next three days and nights, they survive the whippings and break the spell. Each marries a princess and Hans becomes king.

What is it about a trio of soldiers gallivanting around the countryside that engages the listener? Hans is the protagonist, but the other two companions are not completely necessary for the story. A teller could easily edit them out. Yet time and again a trio like this appears to populate a ribald tale.

I hear Thalia padding down the hall. For the moment, this puts an end to my reflections.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2015 The Three Rowan Trees

Three Little Pigs jacobsJohn D. Batten

Threesome

After reading to Thalia, I return to my window seat and my pipe. The gentle evening air comes from the direction of the magic forest carrying with it the touch of enchantment. It has a hold on me and my wandering thoughts.

Oddly, Thalia asked me to read The Long Nose to her. It is a variant of The Three Rowan Trees; at least the element of a fruit tree causing disfigurement and another to cure it is in both, along with the soldier trio. While these two stories bear a resemblance to Jacobs’ The Three Soldiers, there is no one tale type that can be attached to the appearance of three soldiers.

Nor are these soldiers the only trio in the tales. From The Three Little Pigs to The Three Feathers we have other examples. I discern patterns with these threesomes, whether they be pigs, brothers, or comrades.

In the case of the pigs, the first and second were failures, while the third succeeded. When the trio is made up of brothers there is a hierarchy of age with the youngest appearing to be the least promising. In truth, the elder two have their shortcomings, while the youngest has what it takes to overcome hardships.

The pattern for the comrades is a little different. In the soldier stories the comrades are of equal status. Even in The Three Soldiers, where a sergeant, a corporal, and a private travel together, the sergeant never pulls rank on the other two. All decisions are made upon agreement.

I peer at the magic forest’s silhouetted tree line. Have I thought this through or is there another aspect?

In all three examples (pigs, brothers, and comrades) the lesser two members of the triad are a counterpoint to the nature of the third, who has become the protagonist. Hans, of The Three Rowan Trees, is an opportunist. It is Hans who suggests they all stick together. It is he who chooses the road they travel. Hans converses with the snake and a rowan tree. Hans pursues the princess in London. His companions almost wordlessly go along with him. The most they do is spend all their money and get into trouble, relying on Hans to get them out of their predicament. The companion’s lack of activity contrasts with Hans’ constant motion.

Watching my pipe smoke drifting along on the night air, my thoughts drift toward one more aspect.

The three soldiers offer up the chance for roguery. Hans’ conduct is not exactly exemplary. He clearly “slept” with a princess, and after receiving magical gifts from her, pursues yet another princess. Later, he uses trickery to get back the gifts he carelessly gave away. When he returns to the rowan trees (and just in the nick of time) to do the right thing, he does it by getting his comrades so drunk they don’t know they are being mysteriously whipped all night long.

These are antics the decent youngest brother could never get away with, behavior not even appropriate for pigs. But soldiers—well, we give them license for our own entertainment.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: June 2015 The Three Rowan Trees

Magic Cloak BattenJohn D. Batten

Gifts

“There is a fairy in my bookstore!” Melissa’s eyes are wide with concern. She didn’t even say hello when I entered the shop. She fairly slammed her book down.

“Yes, I know. So sorry. Thalia was careless.”

“Thalia?”

“Yes, it was her fairy.”

Her expression softens. “Well then, I haven’t gone crazy. I’ve told three of my friends. Two of them suggested therapy, and the third an exterminator.”

“Exterminator. Oh dear no. Fairies are rather rare and need to be cherished.”

“There really is a fairy in my bookstore?” Melissa’s alarm is slipping toward wonderment.

“She has black, static-filled hair?” I prompt.

Melissa moves her hands about her head in imitation of the fairy’s floating locks.

“Consider her a magical gift,” I say.

“You mean like a purse that never empties, or a cloak of invisibility?”

“Rather like. Yes,” I say.

Actually, not, as I think about it. The magical gifts are inanimate objects imbued with magic. The fairy is alive and entirely a creature of the fey.

And where do the magical gifts come from? Who made them? In The Three Rowan Trees the gifts of the magic purse, cloak, and bag are given by the enchanted rowan tree. Do the gifts fall from the branches like fruit? We are not told.

Sometimes in the fairy tales, the gifts are not objects, but rather attributes or events. A heroine may be given the gift of flowers falling from her lips when she speaks; she may grow more beautiful every day; or her destiny maybe to marry a prince. These are blessings granted at the moment of their uttering. But we get the sense that the magical objects preexist their being granted to the hero or heroine.

I suspect they preexist because they represent our wishful thinking for things such as wealth (the purse,) freedom (the cloak,) and power (the bag.) The cloak can give its owner the freedom to travel. Sometimes this ability to travel is represented, appropriately, by a hat. The cloak can also be one of invisibility (security). Another common gift is a glass vial, allowing the holder to become a great doctor (health.)

The gifts of attributes and events are more a reflection of the hero or heroine’s worthiness. These are more often conferred upon women, and not always to their benefit. Sleeping Beauty was one such recipient.

“What do you feed fairies?” Melissa jolts me away from my still-wandering thoughts.

“I don’t know. I never had to.” I think for a moment. “We always have milk out for Johannes. Maybe they are like house brownies and go after milk.”

Melissa’s brow knits.

“Listen,” I continue, “I have come for a purpose. I want to order a copy of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. These are the tales uncovered by Erika Eichenseer. The translation is by Maria Tatar, by the way.”

“Really.” Melissa grabs a pen and paper.

We return to our everyday world of mundane concerns, but our fairy, out of sight, flutters about the edges of our normality, and perhaps nibbles on it.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: May 2015 The Devil and His Grandmother

Devil Grandmother H J FordH J Ford

A Dragon

“Melissa stole my fairy.” Thalia enters my study in her pajamas, dragging Teddy behind her.

“She wouldn’t.”

“She did!”

I consider. “You took the fairy to the bookstore?”

“She crawled into my pocket.”

“She is a bookish fairy. I fear you tempted her fey nature to indulge herself. She probably thinks she is in Nirvana.”

Thalia and Teddy settle in beside me on the comfy chair. “Nearwana?”

“The best of all possible places.”

“Oh. Yeah. Melissa’s is pretty cool.”

“I am sure the fairy will come out every time you are there.”

“Maybe.” Thalia pouts.

“Well, tonight I have a story with a dragon in it.”

“Really?” she brightens.

I read her Grimms’ The Devil and His Grandmother.

Three soldiers desert by hiding in a wheat field, expecting the encampment to move on in the morning, leaving them behind. The army doesn’t move. By the second day the deserters are desperate.

“What’s a desserter?”

I note Thalia’s arms are crossed. “One who likes ice cream and does not want to fight in a war.”

A dragon, who proves to be the Devil, descends from the sky to ask them what they are doing. He then promises them if they will serve him for seven years he will get them out of their predicament. The soldiers readily agree. The dragon goes on to offer them an extravagant life for seven years at the end of which their souls belong to him unless they can guess his riddles. He gives them a small whip, which when they snap, sends gold coins dancing through the air.

“Can the Devil be a dragon?” Thalia’s brow knits.

“In this story he can.”

The seven years pass quickly—as time does when one is having fun—and two of the soldiers fall into depression as their end nears. The third of their number remains hopeful, and on the advice of an old woman, who comes wandering down the road, he visits the Devil’s grandmother to plead his case.

“The Devil has a grandmother?” Her brow knits again.

“Apparently. Did you ever notice that “Devil” is evil with a ‘D’?”

“Cool.”

The Devil’s grandmother takes a liking to this optimist and hides him in her cellar when the dragon comes home for supper. She engages her grandson in a conversation about the riddles for the next day. The devil is preparing a feast in hell for the three soldiers. To avoid the feast, they must guess that the roast will be a dead monkey floating in the North Sea, their spoon will be the rib bone of a whale, and their wine glass a hollow horse’s hoof.

Armed with the answers, the soldier returns to his companions. The next day the dragon is cheated out of his victims and loses his power over them. He flies off leaving them behind, along with the small whip that keeps them in luxury for the rest of their lives.

“I like the money whip. I don’t like the dead monkey,” she muses.

“Both are striking images.”

“I still want my fairy back.”

“I’m afraid that’s the fairy’s choice.”

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: May 2015 The Devil and His Grandmother

Devil Grandmother John WaterhouseJohn Waterhouse

A Visit

“Hello, my nixie,” I call, as I settle myself on a rock above the water’s edge of the magic forest’s pond. Slowly she comes from below. I see her high cheekbones and the arc of her brow before she breaks the water’s surface.

“Hello, my human.”

I toss her an unshelled peanut from my paper bag, which she breaks between her long, pale greenish fingers to get the kernel inside.

“Can you tell me,” I ask, as I toss her another, “can the Devil be a dragon and have a grandmother?”

“No, I can’t.” She raises her hand for another peanut.

“Why won’t you tell me?” I withhold the nut.

“Because he is not of my pantheon. I know little of him.”

I relent and throw her the treat. “Sorry, I assumed all the (here I almost say ‘evil creatures’) adversaries of humans knew each other.”

“Adversaries? You and I are not adversaries. I am of the merfolk. We often have love for humans.”

“Whom you seduce, and sometimes drown,” I add.

“Drown if they deserve it, but that does not make us adversaries.”

“What can you tell me of the Devil?”

“He is a fallen angel, along with his other demons. Their conflict is with their god. I see where you mortals get trapped in the center.”

The nixie and I have fallen into a rhythm of tossing and catching peanuts as we talk.

“Now that you mention different pantheons, it occurs to me, I don’t recall any stories with merfolk and demons together in the same tale.”

“I wouldn’t keep company with them.” The nixie frowns.

“Nor do you merfolk look for souls to steal. You might steal the whole body, but you are not after the soul.”

“Steal?”

“Possess.” I correct. “Do you have a soul?”

“Of course not. Why would we immortals want souls, ours or anyone else’s, unless we have a heaven or hell to populate?”

I see a pattern I had not seen before. “You merfolk often look for human lovers. The Devil is looking for souls. Witches are looking to harm humans by death or enchantment.”

I absently shell a peanut and pop it into my mouth.

“Hey!” The nixie glares.

“Oh, sorry. Now elves are a little more complicated. They can be helpers or tricksters. Giants and trolls are simply problems.”

“Stepmothers?” the nixie puts in.

“Now there is an adversary,” I agree, “at least in fairy tales.”

I continue pitching her peanuts while I think.

“Wait a moment. Pantheons you say. What about the Roman pantheon? Fauns, satyrs, nymphs? The Romans conquered most of Europe and moved well into the Isles, but they left not a single dryad behind in the tales. Why is that?”

“Fauns, satyrs, and nymphs did not arise here. We did—the nixies, elves, dwarves, and giants. The mystic realms of this land belong to us.”

My hand rustles inside an empty paper bag. I look to find the peanuts are gone. I hear a splash and my nixie is gone as well.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: May 2015 The Devil and His Grandmother

Devil Grandmother Rackham Arthur Rackham

A Dragon’s Grandmother

“Tell me, can the Devil be a dragon and have a grandmother?”

Augustus eyes me suspiciously, then relaxes. “Ah, you are talking about The Devil and His Grandmother.” Augustus is easily the sharpest person I know; at least among fairy-tale aficionados like myself. As always, we inhabit his comfy chairs, surrounded by tobacco smoke.

“It is a rather unGrimm-like story; there is more of the tavern than the nursery in it.”

“True, Thalia was a little uneasy about parts. She didn’t like the dead monkey.”

“Yes, the dead monkey floating in the North Sea. What an image. I suspect that is the invention of a particular storyteller. Monkeys are not native to northern climes. By asking the poor soldiers to guess that it might be their roast, the Devil set up an impossible task. Storywise, the teller presents an informed, sophisticated device within the riddle. That speaks to a modern addition to the motif of the three questions. When did the monkey come into the folk consciousness? I think that might date this version for us.”

I take a pipe cleaner from Augustus’ supply on his side table and pull the stem from my bowl. “She also likes the money whip.”

“That is new for me too. Usually gold coins drop from mouths, are found under pillows in the morning, or come out of an endless bag of riches.”

“I keep thinking of The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs.” I reassemble my pipe.

“Well of course you do; it follows the same pattern of the grandmother helping the protagonist find out the questions.”

I relight my tobacco. “So what is with the Devil’s grandmother? He is a fallen angel, an immortal. He should not have a family linage.”

“There is a tendency for folklore to demote deities and heroes to folksy figures. Fionn mac Cumhaill, of the Irish tales, is an example. He was the leader of the Fianna warriors, and king of Tara. The latter-day tales about him—now called MacCool—cast him as a dumb giant dependent on the good advices of his wife.”

Augustus blows a few playful smoke rings, then continues.

“In the case of the Devil, the fallen-angel aspect is not frequently taught from the pulpit, and largely ignored by the folk. They did not discuss how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. The Devil to them had always been the Devil and nothing more. Jesus had a mother; why couldn’t the Devil have a grandmother?”

“What catches me,” I say, “is that we don’t hear of the Devil’s wife, mother, father, sisters, or brothers, only the grandmother.”

Augustus smiles. “Old women have a special status in these tales. There are two old women in the tales. One is a helper (as in our story), and the other is a witch. They are never the protagonist. Never is a story about a witch or a wise woman of the wood. These women always serve the story, for good or for ill, but never is the story about them.”

“And the Devil as a dragon?”

Augustus shifts uneasily in his comfy chair. “Having just said the folk didn’t connect with the fallen-angel thing, the Devil does appear as a great red dragon in the Book of Revelation in a battle where he is cast down to earth. That is perhaps the source for this image. I’ll suppose the storyteller picked and chose from the Bible what he liked and left the rest, but then, don’t we all.”

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tales of the Month: April 2015 The Golden Children

golden children gruellefisherman John Gruelle

Upstream

The rhythm of rowing puts me in a state of contentment. The weather stays mild and clear, letting the sun shine on the ripples that Duckworth and I make as we take our exercise on this leg of the Thames known as the Isis.

“Look, there,” Duckworth points. I see a flash of intense orange below the surface.

“What was it?” I look to Duckworth.

“A goldfish, well, carp really. I’ve read about it and have been looking for one. People who don’t want their pet goldfish anymore let them go into the Thames. That’s illegal. Some have been arrested. Invasive species and all that. This is the first time I have seen one. A big problem in some places.”

He gives me a challenging, sideways smile. “Got any fairy tales on goldfish?”

I think for a few. “Ah, yes, I do.”

Duckworth rolls his eyes. “I should know better.”

“It’s a Grimm, The Golden Children.” I give him the synopsis as we stroke our way up stream.

A fisherman catches a golden fish, who promises wealth if the man lets him go, but there is a condition. The fisherman must tell no one how he got his riches. His wife, unrelenting in her curiosity, gets her husband to tell her, and their fortune instantly disappears.

The fisherman returns to fishing only to catch the golden fish again. The same conditions are set, he returns home, and the same thing happens as before. The wife declares, “I’d rather live in poverty than not know who’s giving us all that wealth. After all, I want to keep my peace of mind.”

When the fisherman catches the golden fish for the third time, the fish concedes he is meant to be caught and instructs the man to cut him up into six pieces, feed two to his wife, two to his mare, and plant the remaining two.

The wife gives birth to two golden boys, the mare two golden colts, and two golden lilies spring from the ground.

When the boys come of age, they ride off on their golden horses. At an inn, on the first night, they are laughed at for being golden. Disheartened, one brother returns home, but the other ventures on. He takes the guise of a vagabond by covering himself and his horse with bear skins.

Soon after, he meets and falls in love with a maiden, who, unaccountably, falls in love with him. They are married on the spot, even before her father gets home. He is enraged and threats to kill the vagabond. Peeking into their marriage room, he sees his son-in-law is golden, and changes his attitude.

That night, however, the golden youth dreams of hunting a magnificent stag. In the morning, against his wife’s fears for his safety, he insists upon going hunting.

He spots the stag and the chase is on. By evening he loses sight of the beast, and finds himself in front of the cottage of a witch. When he threatens her annoying, yapping, little dog, she turns him into a stone.

Back home, one of the golden lilies wilts. The other golden youth comes to his rescue, forcing the witch to restore his form, after which one returns to his bride and the other returns home.

“What?” says Duckworth. “That’s it? What a horrible tale.”

“It’s not so bad,” I defend (weakly).

“Yes it is. Why, there’s no moral, no lesson learned.” Duckworth puts up his oars and folds his arms.

“Should there be? Must there be?” My oars hover in the air.

“Yes!” says Duckworth.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: April 2015 The Golden Children

Golden Children flyingfishNomenclator Aquatilium Animantium

Moral Reflections

I am bothered by Duckworth’s assertion that fairy tales ought to have a moral. I need to contemplate the problem he has posed for me. There are two places in which I can let my thoughts wander, my study, and the Magic Forest.

I have chosen the trail that leads to the Glass Mountain. I should fear the Magic Forest more than I do, but it seems to me to be safe if one does not get off the path. As to the Glass Mountain, it is a destination for the purpose of having one. I don’t intend to attempt a climb.

At the edge of the forest I light my pipe, then enter among the ancient trees.

Why does Duckworth assume a fairy tale should instruct? Aesop’s fables, which contain fairy-tale elements, are designed to inform. The Victorian literary fairy-tale authors, such as Hans Christian Andersen, were conscious of moral content. Many of the old fairy tales have a moral to them.

Certainly they do.

Do they?

I am so distracted that my pipe has gone out from my neglect to puff on it. I halt my progress, tamp down the tobacco again, and strike a match.

In the old fairy tales (not necessarily in the literary ones) the forces of good almost always triumph over those of evil, which is a fine thing, but is not the same as having a moral message. Morals have to do with the conduct of the characters, the rightfulness or wrongfulness, of their actions.

Certainly there are moral acts performed in these stories. In The Golden Children, the wife prefers their poverty over not knowing what bargain gave them their wealth. She values her peace of mind. That constitutes good moral conduct. The second golden youth puts himself in danger by confronting the witch to restore his brother’s humanity; also a moral act. But these events occur as incidental to the storyline, not at the story’s heart, allowing Duckworth to overlook them when he said the story had no moral, no lesson learned.

Scanning other fairy tales, I note similar quirks. Snow White makes a series of bad choices—nothing moral going on there. Gretel shoves an old lady into an oven—not proper conduct. Cinderella has supernatural aid—might that be an unfair advantage? Rapunzel has illegitimate children—well . . .

My path ends at the foot of the Glass Mountain. I look up at its imposing, glittering bulk, its sheer, smooth sides reaching toward the sky. Then I look straight ahead at the polished glass outcroppings in front of me.

There, distorted, fractured, reflected multiple times, I see images of myself. I also see the answer to my musings.

The fairy tales show us ourselves, distorted, fractured, reflected multiple times in the storyline. We see our hopes, disappointments, wishes, and fears. We witness our better nature and our reprehensible acts spread among the different characters. A moral act here and there is bound to come up. The tales are not about morals; they are about us—we multifaceted, complex, hard-to-comprehend beings.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: April 2015 The Golden Children

Golden Children two men

Something Borrowed

“You recall The Two Brothers don’t you?” Augustus waves his pipe in my direction.

“Yes—yes, of course, that’s where I heard some of this story before.” Why didn’t I remember?

Ensconced in his hospitality room, replete with comfy chairs, we test his experimental variation of “Elven Gold.” Our pipe smoke has laden the air. He increased the amount of Latakia I think.

Augustus blows a smoke ring and smiles. “Both stories have two brothers. Gold plays a part in each. One of the brothers gets married. When that brother chases a stag and encounters a witch, the other brother must come to save him.”

“Aren’t we talking about motifs?”

“Motifs? I can’t imagine that word being in an old storyteller’s vocabulary. To state it kindly, he ‘borrowed’ from other stories. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that a skilled storyteller had an endless supply of story-pieces, borrowed and stolen by ear.

“I get the sense that my storyteller took a little from one story and a little from another, then put a twist on it to make it his own. I see an old teller, sitting by the hearth of the inn, pulling the story-pieces out of his mental swag bag, but assembling the story he tells differently every time. One evening someone writes down what they heard, and creates the version that comes down to us.

“The notable difference between Two Brothers and The Golden Children is that in the former the brothers find gold coins under their pillows every morning. In the latter the brothers are gold.

“Oddly, in both cases the significance of the gold fades by the end of the story and the brotherly rescue becomes the point.

Actually, The Golden Children is filled with oddity. The marriage before the father gets home, and the thought of murder was interesting. The golden horses didn’t play much of a role for being golden and all that. Then we have the secret identity thing going on.”

“Yes, the bearskin,” I put in. “Why does that mean the youth will be taken as a vagabond? Does this relate to the Grimms’ Bearskin?”

“And the chase of the stag.” Augustus is waving his pipe again. “That comes right out of the beginning of The Six Swans.”

“Now that you point to it,” I say as I feel the Latakia going to my head, “The Golden Children does feel like parts of other stories strung together. It starts out sounding like The Fisherman and His Wife, then slips into Two Brothers with a dash of Bearskin thrown in.”

Augustus nods his agreement. “What my teller hit upon—and a bold move on his part—was to make the brothers of gold, as well as their horses, and the lilies. Maybe it is my ignorance, but I think my storyteller came up with the golden children on his own.

“My fascination with these transcribed fairy tales is to hear the voice of a teller rise above the editing of literary collectors to come through to my ears. For that moment, I am sitting by the inn hearth listening to him.”

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: March 2015 Three Feathers

Three Feathers kingR. Emmett Owen

A Note

I stand across the street from the bookshop, reading the now familiar words painted on the plate-glass window, “Serious Books, New and Used, Melissa Serious, Proprietor.” In my pocket is a note from Ms. Serious delivered to me by Thalia, who spends her entire book allowance at Melissa’s. When the traffic ebbs, I cross over.

“Ah, I knew Thalia would not fail me.” Melissa raises her eyes from her book and smiles at me.

“Well, you are one of her favorite people. Of course she’d give me the message.”

“And what are you reading to her these days?”

Three Feathers—last night.”

Three Feathers? It’s been a long time since I read Grimm cover to cover. I don’t recall that one.”

I happily relate it to her.

In Three Feathers, a king contemplates which one of his three sons should inherit his kingdom. He proposes that whichever of the three can bring him the finest carpet will succeed him. He casts three feathers into the air. The eldest son follows his feather to the west, the middle brother follows his to the east. The feather intended for the youngest brother, Simpleton, immediately settles to the ground, followed by heartless derision from his brothers.

Sitting on the rock upon which the feather has fallen, intending to have a good cry, he discovers under it a trapdoor and steps leading downward. In an underground chamber he finds a large toad surrounded by little toads. When Simpleton tells the toads of his plight, he is given a beautiful carpet.

Meantime, his brothers take the easy way out and bring back the first carpet they can find. When they see Simpleton’s carpet, they protest that their youngest brother cannot possibly be king and demand another contest.

The king obliges and sets them the task to find the most beautiful ring. He casts the three feathers that float and fall as they did before. Simpleton returns to the underground chamber where the toads lives. The brothers go no farther than they possibly need to, returning with old wagon rings. The contest ends like the first.

Again, the elder two brothers protest and the king now calls for them to go out and return with the most beautiful woman. The three feathers are cast.

This time the large toad gives Simpleton a hollowed-out turnip to which are harnessed six mice. Simpleton picks out one of the little toads and puts it into the hollow turnip. In an instant the tiny conveyance transforms into a carriage pulled by six horses and carrying a beautiful woman.

The brothers, having learned nothing, return with pretty peasant girls.

Again, there really is no contest, but still the brothers protest, issuing a challenge that the kingdom should go to the brother whose woman can jump through the hoop hanging from the hall ceiling. The elder two think Simpleton’s woman is far too delicate for the task. Instead, the peasant girls injure themselves in the attempt, and the enchanted woman springs through with grace. The protests come to an end.

I see Melissa’s green eyes smoldering and wonder what terrible thing I’ve said.

“I don’t like,” she intones with emphasis, “women having to jump through hoops at the male’s pleasure.”

“Oh, I’m sure they didn’t have circus animals doing such tricks then.” I am not really sure.

“It’s worse than that. A friend of mine, a dog-show enthusiast, told me that in medieval times kings would have the dogs of peasants jump through small hoops. If the dog was too large, it meant the dog could be used for hunting, or in the king’s mind poaching, and he had the beast maimed.”

“Oh.” I am embarrassed. I didn’t see that implication.

Your thoughts?

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