, , , , ,

Illustration von Otto Ubbelohde, Ein Märchen der Brüder Grimm

Illustration von Otto Ubbelohde, “Allerleirauh,”
Ein Märchen der Brüder Grimm

For several early spring weeks Murzik had been bringing little gifts of dead birds and mice and setting them on the doorstep until it was fairly common to hear one or the other of the Simpletons call out, “Well, look what the cat dragged in!”

Today’s gift was a little different however: no feathers, no fur, just a sort of moist bolus of stained papery something-or-other with bits of brown grass and seeds stuck in it.

It was Sagacia who first noticed it there on the doorstep.

“What’s this!” she demanded, rolling her eyes dramatically, for she knew well enough already. She was just putting on a show for the family cat, who, she imagined, noticed and cared.

She pinched a loose extremity of the wad between thumb and forefinger and carried it into the kitchen. She laid it on the counter and began pulling odd bits of it apart studiously, opening the complicated roll with the care of an archaeologist, for as meshed as the parts were and as moist, it could easily tear. Tear more, that is, for some frayed parts had to be pieced back together already.

“I knew it!” she exclaimed.

“What?” asked Simplia, entering the room and returning the flyswatter to its place under the sink.

“It is the third day of the month, isn’t it?” Sagacia asked.

“Indeed, it is! So you must have found the letter.”

“I think so,” Sagacia said, continuing to unroll the loosened parts and press them out flat on the counter, slowly, slowly pulling it into a wrinkled sheet–mostly whole, she noticed with amazement. Dabbing with a paper towel, she patted it flat, then brushed the seeds and grass bits into one hand and thence into the trash bin.

“So, what does it say?” Simplia asked impatiently.

“You read it,” Sagacia replied, “While I wash my hands.”

Simplia sidled up to the counter, leaned over the drying page and began to read aloud:

Dear Vasilisa the Wise,

Just recently one of your readers sent a message about “The Man of Law’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. It inspired me to take another look at that classic story, and afterwards, in reading some critiques, I saw that the tale had an element of incest WHICH I HAD NOT DETECTED AT ALL when I read it, nor do I remember it being discussed in high school English class. I am so naive! Even poring over the Middle English, I should have caught some hint! And when I mentioned this to a friend, she told me that some Cinderella variants and maybe even Snow White have incest themes.

Can someone explain this to me? Also, what other stories which I blithely read as a youth or child have undercurrents of this serious, destructive relationship in them? Why have I not recognized it before?

–Naive in Nashville

Sagacia dried her hands.

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Naive in Nashville has asked a most serious question! Who would want to be telling a familiar tale and then find out that they may have been unknowingly narrating about issues that could disturb some listeners?”

“Well, not describing them in detail, nothing salacious!” Simplia countered.  “Remember in ‘Many Furs,’ ‘Allerleirauh,’ all it says is that her father wanted to marry his daughter because she was as beautiful as her mother and had the same golden hair. An innocent child could completely miss that reference or even think it was wonderful to be as beautiful as one’s mother! Or–well, maybe that’s worse than naming the crime. Is it?”

“I don’t have the answer to that,” Sagacia sighed. “But I’ll think about it. A painful, disgusting social and emotional issue delivered in fairy tale format? But, maybe disturbing people is not such a bad thing after all. Besides, people have survived fairy tales for centuries. Let’s just do what we always do and ask our magical friends!”

“Yeah,” Simplia said. “Maybe someone could at least tell me how to pronounce… ‘Ah-LER-lir-ow.’ Is that right?”

Sagacia shook her head, reluctantly admitting to something else she didn’t have the answer to. She put the flattened letter into a ziplock bag and washed her hands again while Simplia pressed the air out of the bag and zipped it shut, Then the two Simpletons set out boldly for the Fairy Tale Lobby to post Naive in Nashville’s request on the door.

Who could say what other tales might be discovered? What explanations might come to light? What secrets about the power of story and the special power of fairy tales might be revealed?

Linking today to Granny Sue’s Storytellers’ Blog Hop.