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?

 

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

Nixie  A. L. BowleyA. L. Bowley

The Pond

While contemplating The Nixie in the Pond, I decide to go to the authority on the topic. I do this despite the cold weather and the lateness of the day. In addition, it always feels a bit warmer in winter and cooler in summer in the magic forest than elsewhere. I grab a paper bag of unshelled peanuts and head out.

My destination is fairly deep into the forest, but I know it is safe, even under the moonlight, as long as I stay on the path. At the path’s end is the pond. It’s never frozen over. I am sure that has something to do with her. I sit on my rock at the top of the bank to wait.

Immediately she appears, posing on her rock at the pond’s edge, water flowing from her hair and arms as though she were a trickling fountain.

“Hello, my human.”

“Hello, my nixie.” We have never exchanged names. I doubt it is safe to do so. I shell a peanut and toss it to her. She catches it in her thin, pale-green hand and pops it into her mouth, rolling her eyes in ecstasy.

“I want to ask you about the miller’s son you abducted.”

“Which miller’s son? There are many.”

“The one who eluded you long enough to become a huntsman and to marry.”

“Oh, the one that got away. She did it with help you know.”

“Yes, I know. Why did you show her the huntsman, her husband?”

“I carved the golden comb, flute, and spinning wheel. We nixies make exchanges for the things we want. I knew what she wanted. Yet, I gave her only the sight of him. I did not intend to exchange all of him for the spinning wheel. He belongs to me. My fault was being too patient in collecting my due. He tasted being his own man. Willfully he abandoned me and prompted my anger.”

I can see that anger in her eyes and I throw more peanuts to placate her.

“They were husband and wife,” I reason.

“That is of no concern to me.” She is looking at a peanut kernel between her fingers.

“You nearly destroyed them, and set them each on a long, lonely journey. Was that not a bit harsh?”

The nixie looks at me with deviltry in her eye. “My human, I am immortal. You are mortal. Mortals live with their past in their thoughts. Our past is immense; we cannot keep it in mind. We live only in the present. Therefore, we love, we hate, we anger completely, untampered by what came before.”

As I shell more peanuts, I am thinking there is a bigger question, but I cannot wrap my mind around it.

“I see,” she says, “questions floating about in that human brain of yours. I will give you all the answers to your unasked questions.”

I am stunned by the offering. She sees into my soul. I am as transparent as glass. The enormity of this opportunity seizes me.

“I am interested. You are right, I am full of questions. Your offering of answers trembles my heart. You will do this for me in exchange for …? No, I am not going to ask!” Images of Thalia flicker in my mind. “Here.” I toss my nixie the bag of peanuts and make an escape.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

nixie ‘LITTLE SEAMAID’  Louis RheadLouis Rhead

By the Hearth

Back in my study, after checking in on Thalia sleeping peacefully, I light a fire in the hearth to soothe my shivering. Or am I trembling after my encounter with the nixie? I should know better than to underestimate anything fay, be it a tale or the real thing.

I settle into my comfy chair and let my thoughts wander back to The Nixie in the Pond. If Augustus were here, I think he’d agree that one of the striking features of this tale is the wife’s dreams.

There is something shamanistic about the wife dreaming three times and actualizing the dreams by climbing the mountain to see the old woman who beckoned to her. At this point in the story there are three realms: the nixie’s world under the water, the wife’s world on land, and the old woman’s world atop a mountain accessed by dreams.

When the husband escapes from the nixie, he and his wife are reunited briefly, but their world shifts; they are transformed into separate creatures—a frog and a toad—and swept away, each taken to a different land unknown to them. Now there are two realms, both alien.

Unaccountably, they become (transform into) shepherds, and slowly, unconsciously, drift back toward each other until they once again occupy the same realm. Yet, they do not recognize one another. It is not until they know each other’s story that their reunion takes place both physically and spiritually.

It is tempting to put this tale into Freudian terms. The three realms could be the Id (nixie), ego (wife), and superego (old woman). The two realms could stand for the disintegration of the personality (bi-polar, schizophrenia), and the one realm to represent the reintegration, the healing, of the personality. Many fairy tales fit neatly into the Freudian mold as Bruno Bettelheim famously noted.

With the fire tongs I work the unburnt ends of logs in toward the glowing embers.

I could view the tale in Campbellian terms (I looked that word up; it really does exist.), which is the “hero’s journey.” When the miller bargains with the nixie, I see that as the “call to adventure.” When the huntsman washes the blood from his hands and is snatched by the nixie, he enters the “belly of the whale.” The old woman whom the wife encounters is the “supernatural aid.”  Escaping from the nixie only bring them more hardship, casting them upon the “road of trial.” At the end of the tale the husband and wife are reunited, which is of course the “ultimate boon.

I could invent another scenario about how the story reflects on the trials of a mundane world’s marriage, but I need to stop somewhere.

The tension that pervades this tale is that of the tentativeness of our existence, an element which underlies most good fairy tales. I sympathize with both the husband’s and the wife’s travail. It’s the story’s pattern that leaves me with a sense of satisfaction. Events come full circle. And of course, there is a happy ending.

I notice my shivering has stopped and I drift off to sleep lounging before the fireplace.

Your thoughts?

Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2014 The Winter Rose

Winter Rose ford_beauty H J Ford

A Ceremony

Christmas Eve in my study has a form that must be followed. Thalia, although of tender years, insists on decorum. Traditions survive because of children.

We start with my reading The Night Before Christmas to her and Teddy, all of us squeezed between the arms of the comfy chair by the hearth. Over the hearth fire is a three-legged cast-iron pot containing mulled cider warming up to be ladled out into cups; the convenience of a microwave is not to be considered.

I recently found out there is a controversy surrounding C. C. Moore’s rendition of the poem, but that sort of thing cannot be mentioned now. The poem—tonight—is sacred.

Following that, it is my choice what to read. Grimm has nothing about Christmas in their canon. A winter-themed story that I have not already read to her and Teddy proves hard to come by, but I manage. I peruse my copy of Jack Zipe’s translation of Grimm, finding what I want in the third story from the last. The Winter Rose.

It is a Beauty and the Beast variant, complete with a traveling merchant, three daughters, and three requests, the youngest asking for a rose. As it is winter, the merchant cannot find a rose. On his return trip home, he comes across a garden, half in winter, half in summer.  The summer half has roses in bloom. The merchant picks a rose and returns to the road. A black beast chases after him, demanding with a threat that his rose be returned.

The merchant ends up keeping the rose, thinking he has outwitted the beast, but the beast forcefully seizes his youngest daughter and take her to his castle.

There the violence ends. The beast dotes on the girl until she becomes fond of him. After a time, she wishes news of her family. The beast shows her a mirror in which she can see what is happening at home. Her father lies on his deathbed.

At this point in the story, we stop to serve ourselves some cider. Thalia provides a doll’s teacup for Teddy’s cider, but I am sure he is going to spill it.

The daughter pleads with the beast to let her visit home and he relents, allowing her a week but no more. During her visit the father dies. In her grief, she overstays her time. Upon return to the beast’s castle, she finds he has disappeared. Winter dominates the garden. There she finds a heap of rotting cabbages, under which she uncovers the beast, who appears to be dead.

She pours a bucket of water over the beast to revive him. Up rises a handsome prince, the garden returns to summer, and they marry.

“I like the garden,” says Thalia, finishing her cider.

I like the garden too.

She toddles off to bed, dragging Teddy behind her. I clean up the cups and the spill.

Has anyone explored the role of gardens and cabbages in fairy tales? That does sound like a pedantic inquiry, even to me. But I am conscious that while popular fiction dwells on the unusual, exotic, and exciting, my genre pulls from the mundane. Popular fiction plucks low-hanging fruit, fairy tales look at the root.

Your thoughts?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers