Fairy Tales of the Month: April 2015 The Golden Children

golden children gruellefisherman John Gruelle


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?

Fairy Tale of the Month: March 2015 Three Feathers

Three Feathers Rackham Arthur Rackham

A Must-Buy

“Oh,” Melissa says, “about the note . . .” She turns in her swivel chair to a pile of books with paper tabs sticking out from between their pages with various messages written to herself. The paper tab in the book she hands me has “For Thalia’s G-dad” written on it.

“I know you will buy this volume.” Melissa is one tough saleslady.

I look at the book’s title and I know she is right.

“When did this come out?” I am delighted.

“In October.”

I am holding The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, translated by Jack Zipes.

“Zipes, of course. This is wonderful.” I turn immediately to Three Feathers and read. I am stunned.

I can’t help noticing Melissa’s smile at the shock that must be registered on my face.

“He changed it,” I blurt.

“He, who?” Melissa is enjoying my befuddlement.

“Wilhelm. Jacob left Wilhelm to handle the fairy-tale project while he worked on a German dictionary and other things. The Tales went through seven editions and I read that changes were made from the first in 1812—this edition,” I tap the book in my hand, “and the last in 1857, but good heavens.

“’Listen, in the original the tasks were to find the finest linen, then the finest carpet, and finally the most beautiful woman. That’s not that big a change. However, in this version the two elder brothers make an honest effort to find the best, but cannot compete against magical help.

“Next, the time Simpleton spends underground is different than time passing above ground. He goes down the stairs, gets the linen, and climbs back up the stairs. Meanwhile, his brothers have been traveling far and wide in their search, and are just now returning.

“Here’s the real kicker, there is no toad in the original. In his first visit, Simpleton finds a maiden in the subterranean chamber sitting at a flax wheel. She gives him the finest linen ever seen. On the second visit she is at a loom making an enchanting carpet for him.

“On the third visit she tells him to travel farther into the subterranean world to find the most beautiful woman. Here is where this version gets really strange. In another room, flickering with light from gold and gems, sits an ugly frog. Not a toad, a frog.”

“I know the difference,” says Melissa.

“The frog says, ‘Embrace me, and immerse yourself!’ She says this twice before the reluctant Simpleton picks her up, takes her back to the upper world, and jumps into a pond. The moment they hit the water she transforms, in his arms, into the most beautiful woman.

“Oh, I love that.” Melissa claps her hands.

“Yes, this version is so much better. Why did he change it? I am going to talk to Wilhelm about this.”

Melissa laughs at what she takes to be my little joke. Actually, it’s a slip of the tongue. I hand her my credit card.

Your thoughts?


Fairy Tale of the Month: March 2015 Three Feathers

Three Feathers Goble Warwick Goble

So Why?

Back in my study, in the company of a glass of wine, I am reading my new book looking for clues as to why Wilhelm made the changes that he did to the Three Feathers. I know the Grimms started out (and remained) loyal to the idea of the German nationalistic spirit being embedded in the language, leading the brothers to study philology and mythology instead of the law, their original academic intent.

Yet—from what I am reading now and what I have read before—I gather that they shifted their focus to include practical concerns.

Their first collection of fairy tales, appearing in two volumes published in 1812 and 1815, was met with lackluster interest. By the second edition in 1819, Wilhelm caught onto the notion of making the work presentable to children. The scholarly notes went away (published separately) along with mothers who killed their children. Stepmothers now killed the children. Christian motifs replaced some of the pagan motifs, but thankfully not all. In 1825 the Grimms published a small edition of fifty stories intended for middle-class families with children, a rising segment of the population who might—and did—purchase the book.

I can well imagine the dilemma as they attempted to reconcile the idea of the tales as a nationally unifying heritage with the actual tastes and mores of broad swaths of the German population of the day.

Using this knowledge I conjecture why Wilhelm made those particular changes to the Three Feathers. I reach for my glass and take another sip. Wilhelm is standing by the fireplace glazing into the flames.

Dropping the linen and substituting a ring as one of the tasks is minor. A ring is more interesting than a piece of linen. However, in both versions I find the request for a carpet rather odd. Unless it flies, a carpet is uninteresting. Rings and beautiful women have ambiance. In the Grimms’ notes they cite a variant in which the king requests a dog small enough to jump through his wedding ring. That stopped me in light of Melissa’s comment about dogs, kings, and hoops. There may be a cultural reference in the story, now lost on us.

More notable is the change in the elder brothers’ nature. In the original version they diligently pursue the king’s requests, but lose out to Simpleton’s magical helpers. I assume that did not appeal to the current work ethic of their audience. Wilhelm denigrated the elder two brothers to justify the younger’s success. Now that the two lazy brothers spend little time on their tasks, a time difference between the upper and lower realms no longer makes sense; Wilhelm sacrificed it.

I glance up at him. He is watching me and nods, reading my thoughts.

Curiously, Wilhelm replaced the maiden and frog with toads. I’ll admit, the toad version is tidier. The Simpleton comes to the same place three times for the toad to grant his wishes. In the 1812 version, on the third visit he travels deeper into the subterranean world to encounter something uncanny.

I wonder if Wilhelm feared his Protestant readers might view the scene of Simpleton jumping into a pond with the frog for the sake of transformation as a mockery of the Christian baptism, and opted for the obviously more fanciful—and literary—version in which common creatures and objects turn into the glamourous in the blink of an eye.

I look up, Wilhelm has vanished.

The wine has made me sleepy and I put down the book. Like the wine, this English translation of the Grimms’ first book is a thing to savor.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: February 2015 Foundling

John B. Gruelle

Not Quite

Teddy, Thalia, and I are all secure in the comfy chair; the light from the fireplace sends flickering shadows onto the blanket covering our legs. In our erratic progression through Grimms’ collection of over two hundred fairy tales, we have landed upon Foundling.

A forester, out hunting, hears the sound of a child crying. After a puzzling search, he finds the child in the top boughs of a tree. The story tells us that a hawk stole the child from the lap of his sleeping mother and left him on a tree top. The forester rescues the little lad and decides to raise him with his own daughter, Lena. Because he found the child, the forester names him Foundling.

As the two children grow, they become exceedingly fond of each other. If they are not together they soon become sad. One day Lena sees the old cook, Sanna, carrying a great number of water buckets into the kitchen. She asks Sanna why she does so, and Sanna, after making Lena promise to tell no one, confides that she intends to cook Foundling in the morning after the forester goes out hunting.

Early the next morning Lena tells Foundling, “If you won’t forsake me, I won’t forsake you.” To which Foundling replies, “Never ever.” That becomes a refrain throughout the rest of the story. Breaking her promise to Sanna, Lena tells Foundling of his plight, and they run off together.

When Sanna finds that both children are gone, she sends three servants to bring them back. Lena sees them from afar. She tells Foundling to turn himself into a rose tree; she becomes a rosebud upon that tree. When the servants come to where the children were, but cannot find them, they return to the cook, telling her that all they found was a rose tree.

Enraged, the cook sends the servants back to cut down the rose tree and bring her the rosebud. Again, Lena sees them coming, and this time the servants find a church—Foundling—and inside nothing but a chandelier—Lena.

Thwarted again, the cook accompanies the three servants to accomplish the task. Lena tells Foundling to turn into a pond; she turns into a duck swimming on the pond.  Seeing this, the cook kneels down and begins to drink up the pond. Quickly, Lena grabs the cook’s head in her beak and pulls her underwater, drowning the old woman. It is in this last moment that the story reveals the cook as a witch.

Lena and Foundling return home.

“Teddy and I don’t like that story.” Thalia is pouting.

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s dumb. Read the next one.”

“The next one is King Thrushbeard. We’ve read that already.”

“Goody. Read it again.”

And so I do.

I find “dumb” an insufficient analysis. The tale has the basic fairy-tale components: a beginning, middle, and end (This is not to be taken for granted.); a protagonist (two actually); a villain; lots of magic; and a happy ending.

And yet, Thalia is right. There is something about this tale that does not quite satisfy.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: February 2015 Foundling

foundling H J FordH J Ford

Evil for Evil’s Sake

Foundling. Foundling.” Augustus’ eyebrows knit. He rises from the overstuffed chair and stands before his bookshelves, which are lined with notebooks.

I had gotten here just as he closed the shop for the day, and we tucked ourselves away in his study for a visit. Augustus pulls a notebook from a shelf, peruses it, replaces it, and picks another. I know he is a self-taught scholar, and claims to have come up with a tale-classification system simpler and more scientific that Aarne-Thompson’s. He explained it to me once until I became completely befuddled.

“Ah, here, yes. I recall it now.” He sits down with a binder in his lap. “I have it in my notes as ‘a failed tale.’ ”

“How unkind,” I say.

“I am afraid this tale suffers from Wilhelmitis.

“Pardon? I think you are coining a word.”

Augustus smiles. “I have two arguments to justify that statement. Starting with a minor point, Lena promises the cook she would not tell anyone of what was about to be said. Lena breaks that promise by warning Foundling of his impending doom.

“That’s excusable in the real world, but in the fairy-tale realm that cannot be done without dire consequences. Promises, however ill-advised in their making, are binding. For Lena there are no consequences. That is a clear violation of fairy-tale law.

“More pertinent to my argument, the Grimms’ stories’ popularity and longevity have to do with the literary polish the brothers—particularly Wilhelm—worked upon them. However, there were casualties and this tale is one of them.”

Augustus pages through his notes before continuing. “Because they wanted to appeal to a middle class audience—and note this was an evolving middle class caught between the minions of the old Holy Roman Empire and the rabble of the German nationalistic movements—Wilhelm quickly made changes to the stories to satisfy their tastes.

“In the original 1812 version, the foundling is a girl baby whom the forester names Birdie. Putting myself in Wilhelm’s shoes, I think he made the change from a female foundling to a male foundling simply to conform to the popularity of the fond-brother-and-sister theme

“A bigger problem for Wilhelm was that in at least one version of the collected tales the villain was not the cook, but the forester’s wife, who wanted to cook the intruding foundling.

“The motive for the wife’s action is easy to imagine; that she would confide in her own daughter makes more sense than the cook confiding in Lena, but Wilhelm faced having the daughter kill her own mother to save the foundling. He apparently didn’t think that would fly with his audience. The usual solution of substituting an evil stepmother now gets complicated with a new wife, stepdaughter, and adopted daughter. Wilhelm solves the problem by turning the wife into an old cook.”

“Ah,” I say, “but she is a villain with no motive. That is what Thalia sensed. The cook is evil for no reason. Now that is unsettling.”

Your thoughts?




Fairy Tale of the Month: February 2015 Foundling

Ida Rentoul OuthwaiteIda Rentoul Outhwaite

Holding Magic

Our resident fairy is curled up and sleeping on Thalia’s copy of Grimm, which lies open to the Foundling; her black hair, filled with static electricity floats about her, moving and swirling with her breathing. I sit as close as I dare, contemplating the delicacy of her fey nature. Her beauty is that she is not common.

My “failed fairy tale” as Augustus calls it, has plenty of fairy-like magic in it. In the Foundling the children turn themselves into a rose tree, a rosebud, a church, a chandelier, a pond, and a duck. Not too shabby, but they have broken with acceptable decorum.

Mistakenly, some who imbibe story liquor allow that anything can happen in a fairy tale. Well, they are drunk. Fairy tales, in their own way, are stodgy teetotalers, walking a straight line of convention. The faux pas that the Foundling commits is granting commoners (Lena and Foundling) the power to transform themselves into other shapes, that is to say, possess magic.

No one has written the etiquette book for fairy tales but, if someone had, it would clearly state that commoners are not inherently magical. Magic is in the hands of witches, wizards (who rarely appear in the Grimm canon), fey beings, and royalty. This breakdown of who has magic fascinates me.

That fey beings, such as fairies, dwarves, and demons, have magic is a given. They are a class of beings all unto themselves.

Witches, however, are human. With a few exceptions, they are old, ugly, and poor. More accurately, they appear to be poor. Witches may have amassed wealth in the cellars and tunnels under their humble abodes. Still, even a gingerbread house does not rise to the level of a castle. In the Celtic tradition it is the henwife, poorest of the poor, who practices the uncanny arts.

At the other end of the medieval economic spectrum, royalty, by birth apparently, also hold magic. In the Goose Girl the elderly queen gives her daughter a protective token (three drops of blood on a handkerchief) and the talking horse, Falada. The young princess talks to the beheaded horse and raises winds to blow off the cap of an annoying little boy. The tale feels no need to explain these things. That the queen and the princess possess magic is as much a given as the fey beings having these skills.

The only magic commoners should have are those mysterious items given to them by magical helpers (old women in the wood, or little old men the protagonists chance to meet).

Quietly I tamp and light my pipe. The fairy opens one eye, but then slips off to sleep again. I am pleased she is not disturbed by my presence.

Magic is not common. It exists at the far ends of fairy-tale society, among poor old women, those privileged by birth, and the fey. Magic for the commoners should be doled out sparingly, a cloak of invisibility here, a magic sack there, and no more than three wishes at a time.

Watching the sleeping fairy, I resist the urge to pick her up and hold her in my hand. After all, she is magic and I a commoner.

Your thoughts?



Fairy Tale of the Month: January 2015 The Nixie in the Pond

nixieofthemillpondH. J. Ford

The Water’s Edge

“I didn’t know you liked fairy tales.” I address Thalia’s cat, Johannes, who sits on the study table, my copy of Jack Zipes’s translation of Grimm lying open in front of him.

“I never said I didn’t,” he answers coldly, inserting a deft claw between the pages, turning a leaf, and pinning the opposite page with his other claw. This explains why my books are not always where I leave them. They often end up on the floor.

Looking over his head, I see he is reading The Nixie in the Pond. In this tale a miller is approached by a nixie—a mermaid-like creature. He bargains for wealth in exchange for what is being born at that moment in the mill. He thinks it to be a dog or a cat, unaware that his wife is birthing a boy in the mill as they speak.

The miller cheats the nixie by keeping the lad away from the pond. The youth grows up, becomes a huntsman, and marries. One day, while hunting, he washes blood from his hands at the mill pond and is seized by the nixie.

His wife, discovering his plight, circles the mill pond, calling his name until she collapses and is taken by a dream. In the dream she climbs a mountain until she reaches a hut at the door of which an old woman beckons to her.

Upon waking, the young woman indeed climbs the mountain and meets the old woman who beckoned to her in the dream. The old woman gives the younger a golden comb with the instructions to comb her hair, in the moonlight, by the mill pond, then set the comb down by the water’s edge. When she does these things, the water rises up and takes the comb in exchange for a glimpse of her husband’s face.

Again, the woman dreams of climbing the mountain and, again, she actually does. The old woman gives her a golden flute to play by the mill pond. In exchange, the wife sees more of her husband.

Again the dream and the visit; this time the young woman returns with a golden spinning wheel. For it, the husband is fully revealed and escapes from the nixie. Together they flee, with the water rising quickly behind them. Fearful of drowning, the younger woman cries out to the older. She is transformed into a toad, and he into a frog. In these forms they survive the flood, but are separated. Returning to their human shape, each finds themself in a foreign land.

Lost and no longer together, they each become shepherds in order to make a living. For many years they drive their flocks from pasture to pasture, gradually moving closer together. When they again meet they do not recognize each other, but take comfort in each other’s company.

One evening the man plays a tune on his flute, the same that she played at the edge of the mill pond. She cries and tells her story. The veil falls from their eyes and they are reunited. And, ah yes, they live happily ever after.

“What do you think?” I ask Johannes.

“My fur bristled when she dunked him into the mill pond.”

“As well it might,” I say.

“And given the chance, I’d have scratched her eyes out.”

“You’re not a forgiving cat, Johannes.”

“Cats never forgive.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Johannes curls up and goes to sleep.

Your thoughts?



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