Annotated Fairy Tale – The Seven Doves

Well, gang, it’s late at night, I can’t sleep, and you know what that means!

(Been awhile, hasn’t it? Honestly, there are so few that I find that are completely mind-blowingly freakish. I fear we’ve set the bar too high. I mean, you never see otters with multiple heads in most of these. Still, we’ll do our best.)

This is an Italian fairy tale, of the “brothers turned into birds” variety. Most of these involve the sister not speaking for years and years, and frequently there’s magic shirts. There was a lovely book called Daughter of the Forest based on this story, and there’s a bunch of fairy tales based on it. (I may include a few choice bits at the end from some of the others.)

This one has none of these elements, and is just sort of bizarre.

As always, I owe mad props to the Folktales & Legends collections at Pitt for these stories.

So, without further ado…

The Seven Doves

There was once in the county of Arzano a good woman to whom every year gave a son, until at length there were seven of them, who looked like a syrinx of the god Pan, with seven reeds, one larger than another.

This image took me a minute, but it’s kinda neat when you get down to it. Except that jeez, seven boys in seven years…I don’t even want to know what their bathroom looked like. I mean, we’ve only got two in the house and it’s still like having a pack of wild dogs in residence.

And when they had changed their first teeth, they said to Jannetella their mother, “Hark ye, mother, if, after so many sons, you do not this time have a daughter, we are resolved to leave home, and go wandering through the world like the sons of the blackbirds.”

Some of these stories, the father is like “No more boys. Gonna have to kill everybody,” for no apparent reason. And some of them, the boys want a sister really really really bad. The reasons for this are never adequately explained. My guess is that it has something to do with fielding their own hockey team, and once you’ve got six players and a spare in case of injury, anything more just upsets the family dynamic.

Presumably girls did not play hockey in Italy. I don’t know either.

When their mother heard this sad announcement, she prayed Heaven to remove such an intention from her sons, and prevent her losing seven such jewels as they were. But the sons said to Jannetella, “We will retire to the top of yonder hill or rock opposite; if Heaven sends you another son, put an inkstand and a pen up at the window; but if you have a little girl, put up a spoon and a distaff. For if we see the signal of a daughter, we shall return home and spend the rest of our lives under your wings; but if we see the signal of a son, then forget us, for you may know that we have taken ourselves off.”

We flatly refuse to train another goalie.

Incidentally, I can’t help but think that the notion of having seven boys spend the rest of their lives at home might be a little more than Mom can bear. Seriously, you’re nine months and some change pregnant, and suddenly your seven sons are nagging you about the sex of the kid and how if you have a girl, they will never ever leave you alone. I…I might do a little soul searching in these circumstances.

On the other hand, if the bathrooms were as bad as I am imagining, maybe the thought off adding one more questionable aim to the mix is too much for the boys. And y’know, there’s something to be said for that.

Soon after the sons had departed it pleased Heaven that Jannetella should have given her a pretty little daughter; then she told the nurse to make the signal to the brothers, but the woman was so stupid and confused that she put up the inkstand and the pen.

“Confused.” Sure. That’s what we’ll tell the priest, anyway. Hot damn, I have my sewing room AND my guest bedroom back! Burn the bathrooms down, we’ll tell the priest it was stuffed full of heretics anyway.

As soon as the seven brothers saw this signal, they set off, and walked on and on, until at the end of three years they came to a wood, where the trees were performing the sword-dance to the sound of a river which made counterpoint upon the stones.

This is a truly marvelous image. I’m just seeing a tree doing the whole Russian saber dance, roots flying, while the other trees cheer and the river bangs on the drums. How can you not love that?

In this wood was the house of an ogre, whose eyes having been blinded whilst asleep by a woman, he was such an enemy to the sex that he devoured all whom he could catch.

This is the sort of tidbit that makes me go “Wait—wait—stop with the kids who won’t leave home, I want to know THIS story! Were they an item? Was this a lover’s quarrel gone horribly wrong? Was she an ogress? Did he kidnap her and she bided her time and decided to hell with waiting for a rescuer and got him in the eyes with a sharpened chicken bone in the middle of the night?

This is important stuff!

Anyway, the ogre’s still a jerk. Just because everyone who’s ever broken my heart has been male, you don’t see me killing and eating them, now do you? Because that would be overreacting.

When the youths arrived at the ogre’s house, tired out with walking and exhausted with hunger, they begged him for pity’s sake to give them a morsel of bread. And the ogre replied, that if they would serve him, he would give them food, and they would have nothing else to do but to watch over him, like a dog, each in turn for a day.

Seeing-eye dog, in this case. “No, this is a service human. I’m allowed to bring him inside.”

The youths, upon hearing this, thought they had found mother and father; so they consented, and remained in the service of the ogre, who having gotten their names by heart, called one time Giangrazio, at another Cecchitiello, now Pascale, now Nuccio, now Pone, now Pezzillo, and now Carcavecchia, for so the brothers were named; and giving them a room in the lower part of his house, he allowed them enough to live upon.

This is the only time that the brothers will be named. No word as to the number of bathrooms they will be forced to share, but they are living in the woods, so essentially the world is now their bathroom.

Also, they just replaced both parents with a blind cannibal monster. That’s gratitude for you.

Meanwhile their sister had grown up; and hearing that her seven brothers, owing to the stupidity of the nurse, (Yep. Stupid nurse! Ha ha! Seriously, whatever we’re paying you, double it.) had set out to walk through the world, and that no tidings of them had ever been received, she took it into her head to go in search of them. And she begged and prayed her mother so long, that at last, overcome by her entreaties, she gave her leave to go, and dressed her like a pilgrim.

Frankly, I’m just tired of this whole kid thing. Eight kids, and all they do is pester me about their siblings, like I have any damn control in the matter. The nurse and I are gonna stay here, with our exquisitely clean bathrooms, and drink. Have you looked at the bathroom? You could eat off that floor. Occasionally I do, just to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Then the maiden walked and walked, asking at every place she came to whether anyone had seen seven brothers. And thus she journeyed on, until at length she got news of them at an inn, where having inquired the way to the wood, one morning, she arrived at the ogre’s house, where she was recognized by her brothers with great joy, who cursed the inkstand and pen for writing falsely such misfortune for them.

The only explanation I can come up with for how they know about the brothers at the inn—given that this little girl is old enough to wander around, meaning that she’s got to be at least nine or ten, so it’s been seven years since the brothers went into the forest—is that the ogre likes to go in occasionally with his Seeing-Eye Human and have a drink, maybe play a little trivia. As long as there are no women in the bar—but then again, he’s blind. “Err…yeah, no women here. Completely woman free. We’re just…um…hosting a drag night. Your serving wench is really named Steve.”

You note that the brothers do not ask about Mom. It’s just ‘Curse that inkstand!’ and ‘by the way, we’ve been adopted by an ogre.’ I am really starting to think that Mom was glad to have her sewing room back.

Then giving her a thousand caresses, they told her to remain quiet in their chamber, that the ogre might not see her; bidding her at the same time give a portion of whatever she had to eat to a cat which was in the room, or otherwise she would do her some harm. Cianna (for so the sister was named) wrote down this advice in the pocket-book of her heart, and shared everything with the cat, like a good companion, always cutting justly, and saying, “This for me, this for thee, this for the daughter of the king!” giving the cat a share to the last morsel.

I am going to assume the daughter-of-the-king bit is some local idiom of the time. I do rather like the notion of writing advice in the pocket-book of one’s heart, though.

Note that the cat is female. Apparently the ogre only has a problem with human females, which is lending credence to my sharpened chicken-bone theory.

Now it happened one day that the brothers, going to hunt for the ogre, left Cianna a little basket of chickpeas to cook; and as she was picking them, by ill luck she found among them a hazelnut, which was the stone of disturbance to her quiet; for having swallowed it without giving half to the cat, the latter out of spite ran up to the hearth and put out the fire.

Ah…okay. This is a nut-eating cat…? In fairness, I don’t think Cianna can be blamed for not thinking that the cat would like a nut. I mean, when I eat pistachios in bed, Angus looks at me like I’m a weirdo and goes and lays on Kevin’s shins reproachfully.

I also kind of want to know how a cat puts out the fire. Particularly a female cat.

Cianna seeing this, and not knowing what to do, left the room, contrary to the command of her brothers, and going into the ogre’s chamber begged him for a little fire.

She can, however, be blamed for being too stupid to live. What part of cannibal ogre was unclear? “Hmm, he does eat women, but on the other hand, the fire’s out! I might have to wait until my brothers get home! HORRORS!”

Then the ogre, hearing a woman’s voice, said, “Welcome, madam! Wait a while, you have found what you are seeking.”

Steve? Is that–hey! You’re not Steve! And suddenly I am suspicious of trivia night!

And so saying he took a Genoa stone, and daubing it with oil he fell to whetting his tusks.

You hate to have blunt tusks. That would be uncivilized.

But Cianna, who saw that she had made a mistake, seizing a lighted stick, ran to her chamber; and bolting the door inside, she placed against it bars, stools, bedsteads, tables, stones, and everything there was in the room.

I’m not going to judge someone for keeping stones in the bedroom. My parents kept stones in the shower. I used to keep a big rock in my car. Useful objects, stones.

As soon as the ogre had put an edge on his teeth he ran to the chamber of the brothers, and finding the door fastened, he fell to kicking it to break it open.

Well, you wouldn’t blunt a freshly honed tusk on a door. That would be very uncivilized.

At this noise and disturbance the seven brothers came home, and hearing themselves accused by the ogre of treachery for making their chamber the abode of his women-enemies, Giangrazio, who was the eldest and had more sense than the others, and saw matters going badly, said to the ogre, “We know nothing of this affair, and it may be that this wicked woman has perchance come into the room whilst we were at the chase; but as she has fortified herself inside, come with me, and I will take you to a place where we can seize her without her being able to defend herself.”

Because it is absolutely plausible that a little girl wandered into the deep dark forest and turned up inside the house to ask to borrow a cup of fire.

Then they took the ogre by the hand, and led him to a deep, deep pit, where giving him a push they sent him headlong to the bottom; and taking a shovel, which they found on the ground, they covered him with earth.

Bear in mind this was their adoptive mother and father. You know, I hope Mom has parties in her sewing room. And all the guests comment on the immaculate bathroom with the hot tub and the attractive rocks in the shower.

Then they bade their sister unfasten the door, and they rated her soundly for the fault she had committed, and the danger in which she had placed herself; telling her to be more careful in future, and to beware of plucking grass upon the spot where the ogre was buried, or they would be turned into seven doves.

“Yeah, it’s no big thing. That’s dove grass. You know how it is.”

“Heaven keep me from bringing such a misfortune upon you!” replied Cianna.

So taking possession of all the ogre’s goods and chattels, and making themselves masters of the whole house, they lived there merrily enough, waiting until winter should pass away.

Now it happened one day, when the brothers were gone to the mountains to get firewood, to defend themselves against the cold, which increased from day to day, that a poor pilgrim came to the ogre’s wood, and made faces at an ape that was perched up in a pine tree; whereupon the ape threw down one of the fir apples from the tree upon the man’s pate, which made such a terrible bump that the poor fellow set up a loud cry.

….why are there apes in Italy?

I mean, Arzano is right by Naples. Where the hell is this taking place, that there are both pine trees and random apes?

Cianna hearing the noise went out, and taking pity on his disaster, she quickly plucked a sprig of rosemary from a tuft which grew upon the ogre’s grave; then she made him a plaster of it with chewed bread and salt, and after giving the man some breakfast she sent him away.

Whilst Cianna was laying the cloth, and expecting her brothers, lo! she saw seven doves come flying, who said to her, “Ah! better that your hand had been cut off, you cause of all our misfortune, ere it plucked that accursed rosemary and brought such a calamity upon us—

Okay, okay, hold on just a damn minute here!

Grass is not rosemary. They specifically warned her against plucking grass and she plucked rosemary. Rosemary is a shrub.

I am protesting this curse on the grounds of botanical inaccuracy! You cannot warn people against grass and then get mad when they start stripping needles off a woody perennial!

Have you eaten the brains of a cat, O sister, that you have driven our advice from your mind?

I….well, I admit, eating the brains of a cat tends to drive a lot of things out of my mind, in favor of “What the hell is going on and what is this in front of me and do I know them, because if this is a cat I know, I am going to make you so dead that dead people will go “Wow, that guy’s really dead.”

Ahem. Moving on.

Behold us turned to birds, a prey to the talons of kites, hawks, and falcons! Behold us made companions of water-hens, snipes, goldfinches, woodpeckers, jays, owls, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, starlings, woodcocks, cocks, hens and chickens, turkey-cocks, blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, tomtits, jenny-wrens, lapwings, linnets, greenfinches, crossbills, flycatchers, larks, plovers, kingfishers, wagtails, redbreasts, red finches, sparrows, ducks, fieldfares, wood-pigeons and bullfinches!

I…Ah….okay, see, most of these are Eurasian species, but turkey-cocks are North American, and we don’t have apes over here either. These guys have wandered onto the island from the Swiss Family Robinson or something.

I do give them mad props for quite an exhaustive list of birds, though I have to say, they could have stopped after “goldfinches” with the point pretty much made. Everything after that is just wallowing. “And the flycatchers! We have to hang out with flycatchers! Do you know what they’re like at parties!?”

A rare thing you have done! And now we may return to our country to find nets laid and twigs limed for us! To heal the head of a pilgrim, you have broken the heads of seven brothers; nor is there any help for our misfortune, unless you find the Mother of Time, who will tell you the way to get us out of trouble.”

Finally at the end of a whole lot of completely undeserved abuse—you were the ass who couldn’t tell grass from rosemary! You lay off your sister, young man, until you crack open a good horticultural identification guide!—we come to the clue of what she’s actually supposed to do.

Cianna, looking like a plucked quail at the fault she had committed, begged pardon of her brothers, and offered to go round the world until she should find the dwelling of the old woman. Then praying them not to stir from the house until she returned, lest any ill should betide them, she set out, and journeyed on and on without ever tiring; and though she went on foot, her desire to aid her brothers served her as a sumpter-mule, with which she made three miles an hour.

This is an interesting image, if nothing else. I assume her guilt-mule carried her bags.

At last she came to the seashore, where with the blows of the waves the sea was banging the rocks. Here she saw a huge whale, who said to her, “My pretty maiden, what go you seeking?”

And she replied, “I am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time.”

“Hear then what you must do,” replied the whale. “Go straight along this shore, and on coming to the first river, follow it up to its source, and you will meet with someone who will show you the way. But do me one kindness. When you find the good old woman, beg of her the favor to tell me some means by which I may swim about safely, without so often knocking upon the rocks and being thrown on the sands.”

Sonar. You have sonar. Just avoid the things that sound like rocks.

“Trust to me,” said Cianna. Then thanking the whale for pointing out the way, she set off walking along the shore; and after a long journey she came to the river, which was disbursing itself into the sea. Then taking the way up to its source, she arrived at a beautiful open country, where the meadow vied with the heaven, displaying her green mantle starred over with flowers.

And there she met a mouse, who said to her, “Whither are you going thus alone, my pretty girl?”

And Cianna replied, “I am seeking the Mother of Time.”

“You have a long way to go,” said the mouse; “but do not lose heart. Everything has an end. Walk on therefore toward yon mountains, and you will soon have more news of what you are seeking. But do me one favor. When you arrive at the house you wish to find, get the good old woman to tell you what we can do to get rid of the tyranny of the cats; then command me, and I am your slave.”

Have you tried eating their brains?

Cianna, after promising to do the mouse this kindness, set off toward the mountains, which, although they appeared to be close at hand, seemed never to be reached. But having come to them at length, she sat down tired out upon a stone; and there she saw an army of ants carrying a large store of grain, one of whom turning to Cianna said, “Who art thou, and whither art thou going?”

Note that the ants don’t address her with a somewhat condescending “my pretty” line. Ants are egalitarian like that. Your physical beauty is a measure of your carrying capacity to an ant. 

And Cianna, who was courteous to everyone, said to her, “I am an unhappy girl, who for a matter that concerns me am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time.”

“Go on farther,” replied the ant, “and where these mountains open into a large plain you will obtain more news. But do me a great favor. Set the secret from the old woman what we ants can do to live a little longer; for it seems to me a folly in worldly affairs to be heaping up such a large store of food for so short a life.”

Because pretty much what the world needs is a race of IMMORTAL SUPER-ANTS.

Come to think of it, have you guys heard about the Argentinian ant super-colony? Now that is some freaky shit right there. Go read up on it. I’ll wait. RadioLab did an awesome short about it. It was kind of scary.

“Be at ease,” said Cianna. “I will return the kindness you have shown me.” Then she passed the mountains and arrived at a wide plain; and proceeding a little way over it, she came to a large oak tree, whose fruit tasted like sweetmeats to the maiden, who was satisfied with little.

There is no world where acorns taste like sweetmeats. I don’t care if you have apes and turkeys and chaffinches all partying together on whale-back, acorns will still be acorns. Feh. Whoever wrote this fairy tale was not a gardener, I’ll tell you that.

Then the oak, making lips of its bark and a tongue of its pith, said to Cianna, “Whither are you going so sad, my little daughter? Come and rest under my shade.”

Cianna thanked him much, but excused herself, saying that she was going in haste to find the Mother of Time.

I just see the creepy trees from Wizard of Oz now. I’d excuse myself too, and try not to think about the fact I was just eating his reproductive organs.

And when the oak heard this he replied, “You are not far from her dwelling; for before you have gone another day’s journey you will see upon a mountain a house, in which you will find her whom you seek. But if you have as much kindness as beauty, I prithee learn for me what I can do to regain my lost honor; for instead of being food for great men, I am now only made the food of hogs.”

There were giants in the earth in those days—men of old, men of renown. And they ate acorns. Because that’s just how they rolled.

“Leave that to me,” replied Cianna. “I will take care to serve you.”

So saying she departed, and walking on and on without ever resting, she came at length to the foot of an impertinent mountain, which was poking its head into the face of the clouds. There she found an old man, who wearied and way-worn had lain down upon some hay. And as soon as he saw Cianna, he knew her at once, and that it was she who had cured his bump.

When the old man heard what she was seeking, he told her that he was carrying to Time the rent for the piece of earth which he had cultivated, and that Time was a tyrant who usurped everything in the world, claiming tribute from all, and especially from people of his age; and he added that, having received kindness from Cianna, he would now return it a hundredfold, by giving her some good information about her arrival at the mountain; and that he was sorry he could not accompany her thither, since his old age, which was condemned rather to go down than up, obliged him to remain at the foot of those mountains, to cast up accounts with the clerks of Time, which are the labors, the sufferings, and the infirmities of life, and to pay the debt of Nature.

Time’s a jerk. Apes are jerks. Nature’s a jerk. You, though–you’re okay, kid.

This bit does throw me a little, though, because “to cast up one’s accounts” is Regency slang for vomiting. So I’m feeling a little sorry for the clerks of Time right now.

So the old man said to her, “Now, my pretty innocent child, listen to me. You must know that on the top of this mountain you will find a ruined house, which was built long ago time out of mind; the walls are cracked, the foundations crumbling away, the doors worm eaten, the furniture all worn out, and in short everything is gone to wrack and ruin. On one side are seen shattered columns, on another broken statues, and nothing is left in a good state except a coat-of-arms over the door, quartered, on which you will see a serpent biting its tail, a stag, a raven, and a phoenix. When you enter, you will see on the ground files, saws, scythes, sickles, pruning-hooks, and hundreds and hundreds of vessels full of ashes, with the names written on them, like gallipots in an apothecary’s shop; and there may be read Corinth, Saguntum, Carthage, Troy, and a thousand other cities, the ashes of which Time preserves as trophies of his conquests. When you come near the house, hide yourself until Time goes out; and as soon as he has gone forth, enter, and you will find an old, old woman, with a beard that touches the ground and a hump reaching to the sky. Her hair, like the tail of a dapple-gray horse, covers her heels; her face looks like a plaited collar, with the folds stiffened by the starch of years. The old woman is seated upon a clock, which is fastened to a wall; and her eyebrows are so large that they overshadow her eyes, so that she will not be able to see you. As soon as you enter, quickly take the weights off the clock; then call to the old woman, and beg her to answer your questions; whereupon she will instantly call her son to come and eat you up; but the clock upon which the old woman sits having lost its weights, her son cannot move, and she will therefore be obliged to tell you what you wish. But do not trust any oath she may make, unless she swear by the wings of her son. Then give faith to her, and do what she tells you, and you will be content.”

Tl;dr—Time’s a serial killer and takes trophies and his mother’s afflicted with purple prose.

So saying, the poor old man fell down and crumbled away, like a dead body brought from a catacomb to the light of day.

Auugh! Didn’t see that coming! Jesus! I thought this was a nice story about blind misogynist ogres and misidentification of grasses!

Then Cianna took the ashes, and mixing them with a pint of tears, she made a grave and buried them, praying Heaven to grant them quiet and repose.

That’s…a lot of tears. I assume she had to mix them up into paste or something. Um. Ew.

And ascending the mountain, till she was quite out of breath, she waited until Time came out, who was an old man with a long, long beard, and who wore a very old cloak covered with slips of paper, on which were worked the names of various people. He had large wings, and ran so fast that he was out of sight in an instant.

This is again some fascinating imagery. I kind of don’t want to have my name on one of those slips of paper.

When Cianna entered the house of his mother, she started with affright at the sight of that black old chip; and instantly seizing the weights of the clock, she told what she wanted to the old woman, who setting up a loud cry called to her son.

But Cianna said to her, “You may butt your head against the wall as long as you like, for you will not see your son whilst I hold these clock-weights.”

Thereupon the old woman, seeing herself foiled, began to coax Cianna, saying, “Let go of them, my dear, and do not stop my son’s course; for no man living has ever done that. Let go of them, and may Heaven preserve you! for I promise you by the aquafortis of my son, with which he corrodes everything, that I will do you no harm.”

“That’s time lost,” answered Cianna. “You must say something better if you would have me quit my hold.”

“I swear to you by those teeth which gnaw all mortal things, that I will tell you all you desire.”

“That is all nothing,” answered Cianna; “for I know you are deceiving me.”

“Well then,” said the old woman, “I swear to you by those wings which fly over all, that I will give you more pleasure than you imagine.”

Go, Cianna! Although that last bit about pleasure was a bit disturbing.

Thereupon Cianna, letting go the weights, kissed the old woman’s hand, which had a moldy feel and a musty smell.

And the old woman, seeing the courtesy of the damsel, said to her, “Hide yourself behind this door, and when Time comes home I will make him tell me all you wish to know. And as soon as he goes out again, for he never stays quiet in one place, you can depart. But do not let yourself be heard or seen, for he is such a glutton that he does not spare even his own children; and when all fails, he devours himself, and then springs up anew.”

I smell a metaphor!

Cianna did as the old woman told her, and lo! soon after Time came flying quick, quick, high, and light, and having gnawed whatever came to hand, down to the very moldiness upon the walls, he was about to depart, when his mother told him all she had heard from Cianna, beseeching him to answer exactly all her questions.

After a thousand entreaties her son replied, “To the tree may be answered, that it can never be prized by men so long as it keeps treasures buried under its roots To the mice, that they will never be safe from the cat, unless they tie a bell to her leg, to tell them when she is coming. To the ants, that they will live a hundred years, if they can dispense with flying; for when the ant is going to die she puts on wings. To the whale, that it should be of good cheer, and make friends with the sea-mouse, who will serve him as a guide, so that he will never go wrong. And to the doves, that when they alight on the column of wealth, they will return to their former state.”

Dude! Sea-mouse? You have SEA-MICE in this strange and glorious land? What do they look like? Are there whales wandering around with little sea-mice perched on their heads, like tiny aquatic rodent GPS? “Go left at the Gulf Stream!”

So saying, Time set out to run his accustomed post; and Cianna, taking leave of the old woman, descended to the foot of the mountain, just at the very time that the seven doves, who had followed their sister’s footsteps, arrived there. Wearied with flying so far, they stopped to rest upon the horn of a dead ox; and no sooner had they alighted, than they were changed into handsome youths, as they were at first. But while they were marveling at this, they heard the reply which Time had given, and saw at once that the horn, as the symbol of plenty, was the column of wealth of which Time had spoken.

Well, that was….anti-climactic.

And also weren’t they whining about how dangerous it was for doves, and didn’t they get all snarky about her being disobedient?

Then embracing their sister with great joy, they all set out on the same road by which Cianna had come. And when they came to the oak tree, and told it what Cianna had heard from Time, the tree begged them to take away the treasure from its roots, since it was the cause why its acorns had lost their reputation.

No. It’s because they’re ACORNS. Look, you can eat acorns, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth to get the tannic acids out unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. It’s not because they think that particular oak is slutty or unkempt or maybe did something naughty with a squirrel once. It’s because they’re goddamn ACORNS.

Thereupon the seven brothers, taking a spade which they found in a garden, dug and dug, until they came to a great heap of gold money, which they divided into eight parts, and shared among themselves and their sister, so that they might carry it away conveniently. But being wearied with the journey and the load, they laid themselves down to sleep under a hedge.

Incidentally, they found the shovel to bury the ogre just lying on the ground. These people live in a land that apparently has tools just lying around randomly. I bet people are very scared of rakes.

Presently a band of robbers coming by, and seeing the poor fellows asleep, with their heads upon the cloths full of dollars, bound them hand and foot to some trees, and took away the money, leaving them to bewail not only their wealth, which had slipped through their fingers as soon as found, but their life; for being without hope of succor, they were in peril of either soon dying of starvation or allaying the hunger of some wild beast.

As they were lamenting their unhappy lot, up came the mouse, who, as soon as she heard the reply which Time had given, in return for the good service nibbled the cords with which they were bound and set them free.

But who will bell the cat? Really, this just leads you to a very cynical fable.

And having gone a little way farther they met on the road the ant, who, when she heard the advice of Time, asked Cianna what was the matter, that she was so pale-faced and cast down.

Yeah, what are you complaining about? I just learned that the secret of immortality is not to have sex. Ever. Because of the mating flight issue. Which is going to be a problem for the colony.

And when Cianna told her their misfortune, and the trick which the robbers had played them, the ant replied, “Be quiet, I can now requite the kindness you have done me. You must know, that whilst I was carrying a load of grain underground, I saw a place where these dogs of assassins hide their plunder; they have made some holes under an old building, in which they shut up all the things they have stolen. They are just now gone out for some new robbery, and I will go with you and show you the place, so that you may recover your money.”

So saying she took the way toward some tumble-down houses, and showed the seven brothers the mouth of a pit; whereupon Giangrazio, who was bolder than the rest, entering it, found there all the money of which they had been robbed.

Then taking it with them, they set out, and walked towards the seashore, where they found the whale, and told him the good advice which Time — who is the father of counsel — had given them.

And then the whale embarked on the epic Quest For The Legendary Sea Mouse. It took many many years and was so goddamn adorable that I am forbidden by law to tell it to you without a supply of insulin on hand.

And whilst they stood talking of their journey, and all that had befallen them, they saw the robbers suddenly appear, armed to the teeth, who had followed in their footsteps.

At this sight they exclaimed, “Alas, alas! we are now wholly lost, for here come the robbers armed, and they will not leave the skin on our bodies!”

“Fear not,” replied the whale,” for I can save you out of the fire, and will thus requite the love you have shown me. So get upon my back, and I will quickly carry you to a place of safety.”

Cianna and her brothers, seeing the foe at their heels and the water up to their throat, climbed upon the whale, who, keeping far off from the rocks, carried them to within sight of Naples; but being afraid to land them on account of the shoals and shallows, he said, “Where would you like me to land you? On the shore of Amalfi? ”

And Giangrazio answered, “See whether that cannot be avoided, my dear fish;

Actually I’m a mammal. But I’m starting to see where that whole grass/rosemary thing came from.

I do not wish to land at any place hereabouts; for at Massa they say barely good-day, at Sorrento thieves are plenty, at Vico they say you may go your way, at Castel-a-Mare no one says how are ye?”

Then the whale, to please them, turned about and went toward the Salt-Rock, where he left them; and they got put on shore by the first fishing boat that passed. Thereupon they returned to their own country, safe and sound and rich, to the great joy and consolation of their mother and father;

Who did not have to be pried, weeping, out of her bathroom, which she had barricaded with bleach bottles and a number of small decorative soaps and of course, an attractive stone. Nope. That certainly didn’t happen. At least as far as the priest is concerned.

and, thanks to the goodness of Cianna, they enjoyed a happy life, verifying the old saying, Do good whenever you can, and forget it.

This saying may require some mental unpacking. Still thinking about that one.

 

Incidentally, there’s a couple of variations on this story that have some great bits, so, for your comparative reading pleasure:

This is German, the brothers are ravens, and that’s all pretty typical—but the sister encounters this in her travels:

She walked on and on — far, far to the end of the world. She came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and ate little children. She hurried away, and ran to the moon, but it was much too cold, and also frightening and wicked, and when it saw the child, it said, “I smell, smell human flesh.”

Dude.

In Finland she chases a magic cake that leads her to her brothers. I have nothing useful to add to that statement.

The Romanians are a little grimmer, but also have a good explanation for once:

Once upon a time there was such a famine in the land that the people lived on grass and even on sawdust, and were dying of hunger in untold numbers. At that time there lived a widow who had managed to husband a little flour. When she found that nothing else was left to her she took that flour and mixing it with water kneaded it into dough. Then she lit the furnace and got a shovel to put the dough on it and thence into the furnace to bake.

This woman had two sons and one daughter. The two boys came in just at the moment when the loaves of dough were on the shovel. They were so hungry that they did not wait for the dough to be baked, and before their mother had time to put the shovel into the oven they got hold of the dough, raw and uncooked as it was, and ate it up to the smallest bit. They did not leave even a little piece for their mother and sister.

When the mother saw the terrible greediness of her children, and that they ate the raw stuff and did not leave even a small piece for her or their sister, she cursed them and said, “May you be cursed by God and be changed into two birds; may you haunt the highest peaks of the mountains; may you never be able to eat bread even when you see it, because you did not leave any for me this day.”

No sooner had the boys gone out of the house than they were changed into two huge eagles, who, spreading their wings, flew away to the ends of the earth, no one knowing whither they had gone.

And that is why you don’t eat raw cookie dough, kids.

This one doesn’t end well–after trying to break the curse by not speaking, the heroine starts to have doubts.

Five years had passed, the girl not seeing anything of them, and not speaking all the time. After that time she said to herself, “What is the good of my sitting here and keeping silent when none of them have come; perchance they are dead, or who know what has happened?”

No sooner had she opened her mouth and spoken a word when in came her two brothers, and said to her mournfully, “Thou hast not kept thy vow, thou hast broken thy promise, thou hast spoken! If thou wouldst have waited one more year we would have become human beings, and the spell would have been broken. Now we are cursed forever. We must remain eagles and birds of prey.”

And so they have remained to this day, preying on birds and beasts, living on raw meat, never being able to touch bread, and even picking up children under six years of age, the years which their sister had to wait in order to break the spell.

Sooner or later, it all ends in cannibalism. Frankly, if we had a single takeaway for fairy tales, that’s not the most unlikely.

  • reply Martha Crimson ,

    • reply Wolf Lahti ,

      Then there is the Aphrodita aculeata sea mouse [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_mouse], which is not cute at all, but it is a Photonic Engineer, so that’s something in its favor.

      • reply Emily ,

        Please, please, may we have a drawing of a tiny aquatic rodent GPS?? If we promise to be very good?

        • reply Mary Alexandra Agner ,

          Hope you don’t mind some fan art, but I really enjoyed the snarky comments in this one…

          Cup of Fire

          She asked to borrow a cup of fire.
          I asked her what she’d pay.
          She said she’d steal any old thing
          that’d turn my nay to a yea.

          I gave her no quest, I told her no yarn,
          I simply let go the truth.:
          You’ve a fire inside you, much more than a cup,
          that’ll burn when you throw off your youth.

          That’s why I’m the witch
          by the village’s tongue,
          why no one came to rebuild.
          The cat got away,
          though the garden’s a crisp.
          Least I’ve my seeds, my two hands, and my skills.

          • reply Liddle-Oldman ,

            I just finished Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless, a retelling of the Russian fairy tale about Koschei the Deathless, which seems pretty mad to me. Just as a suggestion. 🙂

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