annotated fairy tale

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Crystal Casket

What the heck, it’s been awhile! Here’s an Italian version of “Snow White” that, in my opinion, focuses on the REALLY important question—namely, what in the name of God was Prince Charming doing mooning after a corpse? (The Disney version really glosses over this point. I will accept that one may wish to kiss one’s dead loved ones one last time, but there’s a far cry between that and riding around kissing random dead girls in the woods.)

There are no dwarves, but there are fairies and an eagle, which is something. There is also an unsettling pre-echo of the whole Real Doll thing. It’s a bit worrisome and gets moreso as time goes on.

Original found at the marvelous folklore archive here. (I have corrected a couple of typos.)

The Crystal Casket

There was once a widower who had a daughter. This daughter was between ten and twelve years old. Her father sent her to school, and as she was all alone in the world commended her always to her teacher. Now, the teacher, seeing that the child had no mother, fell in love with the father, and kept saying to the girl, “Ask your father if he would like me for a wife.”

This she said to her every day, and at last the girl said, “Papa, the school-mistress is always asking me if you will marry her.”

This here is the set-up to a Disney movie all on its own.

The father said, “Eh! my daughter, if I take another wife, you will have great troubles.”

At least he’s aware of it.

But the girl persisted, and finally the father was persuaded to go one evening to the school-mistress’ house. When she saw him she was well pleased, and they settled the marriage in a few days.

Dad’s earlier prescience seems rather weird now. “Well, gonna suck for you. But hey, I’ll get married in a couple days anyway!”

Poor child! How bitterly she had to repent having found a stepmother so ungrateful and cruel to her! She sent her every day out on a terrace to water a pot of basil, and it was so dangerous that if she fell she would go into a large river.

While I try to start out sympathetic to our heroines, I gotta say, a lot of other heroines have to do REAL work. I water my basil occasionally, and it takes about thirty seconds. Basil is not noted for attacking gardeners, pushing them into rivers, or even being particularly frost-hardy. The only way this seems plausible is if it’s a sort of Cat’s Eye inch-around-the-building-on-the-ledge situation, and that renders the basil less than useful for cooking.

One day there came by a large eagle, and said to her, “What are you doing her?” She was weeping because she saw how great the danger was of falling into the stream. The eagle said to her, “Get on my back, and I will carry you away, and you will be happier than with your new mamma.”

This is already much cooler than a pack of dwarves. Do dwarves fly? No, they do not! You never saw Snow White tooling around the treetops on Grumpy’s back, now did you?

After a long journey they reached a great plain, where they found a beautiful palace all of crystal; the eagle knocked at the door and said, “Open, my ladies, open! for I have brought you a pretty girl.”

If this were one of the other types of fairy tales, the next line would be “Fire up the oven!”

When the people in the palace opened the door, and saw that lovely girl, they were amazed, and kissed and caressed her. Meanwhile the door was closed, and they remained peaceful and contented.

Let us return to the eagle, who thought she was doing a spite to the stepmother. One day the eagle flew away to the terrace where the stepmother was watering the basil. “Where is your daughter?” asked the eagle.

Clearly the inching-along-the-ledge thing was exaggerated. If it was really all that bad, you’d move the damn basil to the front porch, but the stepmom is still out on the terrace with a watering can. Also, the eagle appears to be female.

“Eh!” she replied, “perhaps she fell from this terrace and went into the river; I have not heard from her in ten days.”

Meanwhile, somebody’s gotta water the basil.

The eagle answered, “What a fool you are! I carried her away; seeing that you treated her so harshly I carried her away to my fairies, and she is very well.” Then the eagle flew away.

The stepmother, filled with rage and jealousy, called a witch from the city, and said to her, “You see my daughter is alive, and is in the house of some fairies of an eagle which often comes upon my terrace; now you must do me the favor to find some way to kill this stepdaughter of mine, for I am afraid that some day or other she will return, and my husband, discovering this matter, will certainly kill me.”

Or you could, y’know, move the damn basil and tell your husband she was carried off by a freaky talking eagle. Dear old dad is obviously not monitoring the situation closely. Seriously, people, it’s the cover-up that kills you every time…

The witch answered, “Oh, you need not be afraid of that; leave it to me.”

What did the witch do? She had made a little basketful of sweetmeats, in which she put a charm; then she wrote a letter, pretending that it was her father, who, having learned where she was, wished to make her this present, and the letter pretended that her father was so glad to hear that she was with the fairies.

Let us leave the witch who is arranging all this deception, and return to Ermellina (for so the young girl was named).

I take back what I said. Watering basil may be the least grueling task set to a fairy-tale heroine, but anyone named Ermellina has suffered a great deal already.

The fairies had said to her, “See, Ermellina, we are going away, and shall be absent four days; now in this time take good care not to open the door to anyone, for some treachery is being prepared for you by your stepmother.”

She promised to open the door to no one: “Do not be anxious, I am well off, and my stepmother has nothing to do with me.”

But it was not so. The fairies went away, and the next day when Ermellina was alone, she heard a knocking at the door, and said to herself, “Knock away! I don’t open to anyone.”

She is also smarter than Snow White. Plus Snow only got little happy singing bluebirds, and Ermellina gets an eagle.

But meanwhile the blows redoubled, and curiosity forced her to look out of the window. What did she see? She saw one the servant girls of her own home (for the witch had disguised herself as one of her father’s servants). “O my dear Ermellina,” she said, “your father is shedding tears of sorrow for you, because he really believed you were dead, but the eagle which carried you off came and told him the good news that you were here with the fairies. Meanwhile your father, not knowing what civility to show you, for he understands very well that you are in need of nothing, has thought to send you this little basket of sweetmeats.”

Ermellina had not yet opened the door; the servant begged her to come down and take the basket and the letter, but she said, “No, I wish nothing!” but finally, since women, and especially young girls, are fond of sweetmeats, she descended and opened the door.

I don’t even know if it’s worth commenting on specific episodes of sexism in fairy tales any more. There are too many. Instead, I think I’ll stare out my window for a minute. There’s a white-throated sparrow and a couple of doves out there at the moment. No eagles at the time of this writing.

When the witch had given her the basket, she said, “Eat this,” and broke off for her a piece of the sweetmeats which she had poisoned. When Ermellina took the first mouthful the old woman disappeared. Ermellina had scarcely time to close the door, when she fell down on the stairs.

When the fairies returned they knocked at the door, but no one opened it for them; then they perceived that there had been some treachery, and began to weep. Then the chief of the fairies said, “We must break open the door,” and so they did, and saw Ermellina dead on the stairs.

Her other friends who loved her so dearly begged the chief of the fairies to bring her to life, but she would not, “for,” she said, “she has disobeyed me.”

I initially thought that the chief of the fairies was being a bit of a hard-ass here, but when you think about it, you know this isn’t her first heroine. She’s probably been through this a dozen times in the last few centuries, and after the first couple, I imagine you get pretty stern. Raising the dead can’t be a cakewalk even if you’re a fairy. The first couple were probably “Oh, you poor dear! Let me save you from your own stupidity!” but after awhile, you get to “I told you not to open the door! How many times do I have to tell you people never to open the door?! No resurrection for YOU!”

But one and the other asked her until she consented; she opened Ermellina’s mouth, took out a piece of the sweetmeat which she had not yet swallowed, raised her up, and Ermellina came to life again.

We can imagine what a pleasure it was for her friends; but the chief of the fairies reproved her for her disobedience, and she promised not to do so again.

Once more the fairies were obliged to depart. Their chief said, “Remember, Ermellina: The first time I cured you, but the second I will have nothing to do with you.”

“Seriously, kid, I can raise the dead once a month, no more. I was going to go rez a very nice lady with three small children who did good work in the community, but noooo, YOU had to go open the door. This time I’m off to save some lepers. Learn from your mistakes.”

Ermellina said they need not worry, that she would not open to anyone. But it was not so; for the eagle, thinking to increase her stepmother’s anger, told her again that Ermellina was alive.

Whatever you might think of Snow White’s bluebirds, at least they didn’t go start shit with the Queen.

The stepmother denied it all to the eagle, but she summoned anew the witch, and told her that her stepdaughter was still alive, saying, “Either you will really kill her, or I will be avenged on you.”

The old woman, finding herself caught, told her to buy a very handsome dress, one of the handsomest she could find, and transformed herself into a tailoress belonging to the family, took the dress, departed, went to poor Ermellina, knocked at the door and said, “Open, open, for I am your tailoress.”

Ermellina looked out of the window and saw her tailoress; and was, in truth, a little confused (indeed, anyone would have been so).

“Gee, the last time somebody disguised themselves as somebody I knew, but surely this could never happen again!”

The tailoress said, “Come down, I must fit a dress on you.”

She replied, “No, no; for I have been deceived once.”

“But I am not the old woman,” replied the tailoress, “you know me, for I have always made your dresses.”

WHAT old woman? Who mentioned an old woman? Where do old women come into this? The last one was disguised as a servant girl.

Poor Ermellina was persuaded, and descended the stairs; the tailoress took to flight while Ermellina was yet buttoning up the dress, and disappeared. Ermellina closed the door, and was mounting the stairs; but it was not permitted her to go up, for she fell down dead.

Let us return to the fairies, who came home and knocked at the door; but what good did it do to knock! There was no longer anyone there. They began to weep. The chief of the fairies said, “I told you that she would betray me again; but now I will have nothing more to do with her.”

“We’re all invited to a party at the leper’s house, though!”

So they broke open the door, and saw the poor girl with the beautiful dress on; but she was dead. They all wept, because they really loved her. But there was nothing to do; the chief struck her enchanted wand, and commanded a beautiful rich casket all covered with diamonds and other precious stones to appear; then the others made a beautiful garland of flowers and gold, put it on the young girl, and then laid her in the casket, which was so rich and beautiful that it was marvelous to behold. Then the old fairy struck her wand as usual and commanded a handsome horse, the like of which not even the king possessed. Then they took the casket, put it on the horse’s back, and led him into the public square of the city, and the chief of the fairies said, “Go, and do not stop until you find someone who says to you, ‘Stop, for pity’s sake, for I have lost my horse for you.'”

This is oddly specific. I always wonder how much lee-way there is in these things—does the horse get to stop if he finds someone who says “Stop, for god’s sake!” or “Stop, for the love of bunnies!”?

Now let us leave the afflicted fairies, and turn our attention to the horse, which ran away at full speed. Who happened to pass at that moment? The son of a king (the name of this king is not known);

Oh, I’ve been through the desert on a king with no name…

and saw this horse with that wonder on its back. Then the king began to spur his horse, and rode him so hard that he killed him, and had to leave him dead in the road; but the king kept running after the other horse.

I like to think the eagle came by and ate the dead horse. Possibly with basil.

The poor king could endure it no longer; he saw himself lost, and exclaimed, “Stop, for pity’s sake, for I have lost my horse for you!”

Then the horse stopped (for those were the words). When the king saw that beautiful girl dead in the casket, he thought no more about his own horse, but took the other to the city. The king’s mother knew that her son had gone hunting; when she saw him returning with this loaded horse, she did not know what to think. The son had no father, wherefore he was all powerful.

I thought he was the son of a king, but apparently he’s actually the king, or something like that, with a dowager queen in residence.

He reached the palace, had the horse unloaded, and the casket carried to his chamber; then he called his mother and said, “Mother, I went hunting, but I have found a wife.”

“But what is it? A doll? A dead woman?”

“Mother,” replied her son, “don’t trouble yourself about what it is, it is my wife.”

Necrophilia or real doll action? It’s hard to tell, because they start calling her “the doll” later on almost exclusively.

His mother began to laugh, and withdrew to her own room (what could she do, poor mother?).

Ha ha ha my son’s lost his shit oh god ha ha I need a drink…

Now this poor king no longer went hunting, took no diversion, did not even go to the table, but ate in his own room. By a fatality it happened that war was declared against him, and he was obliged to depart. He called his mother, and said, “Mother, I wish two careful chambermaids, whose business it shall be to guard this casket; for if on my return I find that anything has happened to my casket, I shall have the chambermaids killed.”

“Chambermaids killed. Got it,” she said, heading for the liquor cabinet.

His mother, who loved him, said, “Go, my son, fear nothing, for I myself will watch over your casket.”

Do those people who get really into their real doll thingies and talk to them and claim they’re married ever take them to meet their mothers? Does Mom have to sit through dinner with the real doll at the table? That’s sort of what I’m picturing here. “Oh, sure, yeah, I’ll take care of your, uh, “wife.” I’m sure we’ll…um….have a fine time. Yes. You go fight your war, dear. Damn, these bottles do not last as long as they used to, do they?”

He wept several days at being obliged to abandon this treasure of his, but there was no help for it, he had to go. After his departure he did nothing but commend his wife (so he called her) to his mother in his letters.

“Oh look, another letter from Junior. Majordomo! Send me up another bottle of the red. And the white. And those little butter cookies I like.”

Let us return to the mother, who no longer thought about the matter, not even to have the casket dusted; but all at once there came a letter which informed her that the king had been victorious, and should return to his palace in a few days. The mother called the chambermaids, and said to them, “Girls, we are ruined.”

They replied, “Why, Highness?”

“Because my son will be back in a few days, and how have we taken care of the doll?”

“In retrospect, using it for target practice was ill-advised.”

They answered, “True, true; now let us go and wash the doll’s face.”

They went to the king’s room and saw that the doll’s face and hands were covered with dust and fly specks, so they took a sponge and washed her face, but some drops of water fell on her dress and spotted it.

Apparently this was not a tightly sealed crystal casket, if the flies got in. Also, eww.

The poor chambermaids began to weep, and went to the queen for advice.

“You better have brought wine, girls. Momma’s going through a rough patch on the family front.”

The queen said, “Do you know what to do! Call a tailoress, and have a dress precisely like this bought, and take off this one before my son comes.”

This is the fairy tale equivalent of buying an identical goldfish.

They did so, and the chambermaids went to the room and began to unbutton the dress. The moment that they took off the first sleeve, Ermellina opened her eyes. The poor chambermaids sprang up in terror, but one of the most courageous said, “I am a woman, and so is this one; she will not eat me.”

She clearly hasn’t been reading enough fairy tales!

To cut the matter short, she took off the dress, and when it was removed Ermellina began to get out of the casket to walk about and see where she was. The chambermaids fell on their knees before her and begged her to tell them who she was. She, poor girl, told them the whole story. Then she said, “I wish to know where I am.”

Then the chambermaids called the king’s mother to explain it to her. The mother did not fail to tell her everything, and she, poor girl, did nothing but weep penitently, thinking of what the fairies had done for her.

Well, at least she’s learned from her mistakes, one hopes.

The king was on the point of arriving, and his mother said to the doll, “Come her; put on one of my best dresses.” In short, she arrayed her like a queen. Then came her son. They shut the doll up in a small room, so that she could not be seen.

The fact they’re still calling her “the doll” throws a creepy sort of light over all this.

The king came with great joy, with trumpets blowing, and banners flying for the victory. But he took no interest in all this, and ran at once to his room to see the doll; the chambermaids fell on their knees before him saying that the doll smelled so badly that they could not stay in the palace, and were obliged to bury her.

Incidentally, two of the compounds caused by the putrefaction of flesh are called “putrescine” and “cadaverine.” Which is neither here nor there, but rather interesting.

The king would not listen to this excuse, but at once called two of the palace servants to erect the gallows. His mother comforted him in vain: “My son, it was a dead woman.”

“No, no, I will not listen to any reasons; dead or alive, you should have left it for me.”

Finally, when his mother saw that he was in earnest about the gallows, she rang a little bell, and there cam forth no longer the doll, but a very beautiful girl, whose like was never seen.

What I find kind of interesting here is that the queen is obviously trying to keep him from meeting this girl, and only produces her in the end in order to save the two chambermaids from being killed. I could see two reasons for this. One, she doesn’t want him to marry a total stranger with a trash-talking eagle familiar and a pathological fear of basil. This would be quite understandable. On the other hand, I like to think that maybe she realizes that anybody who moons over a maybe-a-doll-but-maybe-a-dead-body in a casket is probably not a good mate for a living woman.

On the gripping hand, maybe she plans to kill him and rule the kingdom with an iron, if somewhat drunken fist. I would also be good with this option.

The king was amazed, and said, “What is this!”

Then his mother, the chambermaids, and Ermellina were obliged to tell him all that had happened.

Sorry, sweetie, I thought we might be able to smuggle you out of the country on eagle-back. Instead you’re gonna have to stick around. Let me pour you some wine…

He said, “Mother, since I adored her when dead, and called her my wife, now I mean her to be my wife in truth.”

“Yes, my son,” replied his mother, “do so, for I am willing.”

You’re sufficiently crazy-pants to kill me if I say no, I expect. Or send me to water the basil. (Maybe this has been a euphemism all along, and “water the basil” is the medieval Italian equivalent of “away in the cornfield.”)

They arranged the wedding, and in a few days were man and wife.

Not to be, um, excessively graphic here, but am I the only person wondering if the king was going to ask her to lay really really still when…ugh. Now I’ve squicked myself out. Where’s that wine, again?

Annotated Fairy Tale #3 — The Prince and the Tortoise

You didn’t think you were getting off this easy, did you? This has always been one of my favorites, probably because a great many people act surprisingly rationally, (instead of everybody acting batshit crazy) and it contains one of the greatest lines in all fairytale-dom. Compared to the sheer cracked-ness of “Master-Maid,” though, this one is pretty straightforward.

This is from a translation of the Arabian Nights from Powys Mathers, 1964.

The Prince and the Tortoise

It is related that there was once, in the antiquity of time and the passage of the age and of the moment, a powerful sultan whom Allah had blessed with three sons: Ali, the eldest, Hussein, the second, and Muhammad, the youngest. They were all indomitable males and heroic warriors; but the youngest was the most handsome, the bravest and the most generous. Their father loved them equally and, in the justice of his heart, had resolved to leave to each an equal part of his riches and his kingdom.

Compared to the last couple of kings we’ve dealt with, this sultan is awesome. No beatings, and I bet he didn’t skimp on the pensions, either.

Also, when they came to marriageable age, the king called his wise and prudent wazir to him, saying, “O wazir, I wish to find wives for my three sons, and have called you to me that you may give me your advice.”

Seeking wise and prudent advice! This is wonderful! Go, Sultan! Buck that trend!

The wazir reflected for an hour, and then answered, lifting his head, “O king of time, the matter is delicate, for good and evil chance are not to be told beforehand, and against the decree of destiny there is no provision. I suggest that you take the three princes, armed with their bows and arrows, up to the terrace of the palace, and there, after bandaging their eyes, make them each turn round several times, After that, let them fire their arrows straight ahead of them, and let the houses upon which the arrows fall be visited. Have the owners of the houses brought before you and ask of each his daughter in marriage for the marksman of the arrow which fell upon his house. Thus each of your sons will have a bride chosen by destiny.”

…or, y’know, not so much. Seriously, what are you paying this guy? What if the prince shoots his bride-to-be in the head? That’s going to be really awkward.

“Your advice is excellent, and I shall act upon it!” cried the sultan.

I applaud his enthusiasm, even as I question his judgement.

As soon as his sons returned from hunting, he told them of the trial which was to be made and led them up, with their bows and quivers, to the terrace of his palace.

The dignitaries of the court followed and watched with breathless interest while the eyes of the young men were bandaged.

Small bets were placed on whether they would accidentally shoot anyone important. 

The eldest prince was turned about, and then discharged his arrow straight in front of him. It flew through the air with great swiftness and fell upon the dwelling of a most noble lord. In like manner the second prince’s arrow fell upon the terrace of the commander-in-chief of the king’s army.

But, when Muhammad drew his bow, the arrow fell upon a house whose owner was not known.

The king, with his retinue, set forth to visit the three houses, and found the great lord’s daughter and the commander-in-chief’s daughter were girls as fair as moons, and that their parents were delighted to marry them to the two princes. But when the king visited the third house, on which Muhammed’s shaft had fallen, he found in it no inhabitant except a large and lonely tortoise.

Awww. I admit, the fact that it is a large and lonely tortoise gets me. You go, lonely tortoise!

Therefore, deeming that there could be no thought for a moment of marrying a prince to such an animal, the sultan decided that the test should be made again. The youngest prince mounted again to the terrace and again shot an arrow blindfold, but it fell true upon the house of the large and lonely tortoise.

The tortoise, by this point, was probably getting a little annoyed at all the holes in her roof. It’s not easy to climb a ladder when you’re a tortoise.

The king grew angry at this, and cried, “By Allah, your shooting is not fortunate today, my son! Pray for the prophet!”

“Blessing and peace be upon him and upon his companions and those who are faithful to him!” answered Muhammad.

“Now invoke the name of Allah,” exclaimed the king, “and shoot a third arrow.”

“In the name of the merciful, the compassionate!” exclaimed Muhammad, as he strongly drew his bow and sent a third shaft onto the roof of the house inhabited by the large and lonely tortoise.

We should probably take a moment here to point out that the tortoise is a homeowner, which is pretty impressive. You may be large and lonely and lacking in thumbs, but you’re livin’ the dream, baby!

When the Sultan saw, beyond any manner of doubt, that destiny favored the tortoise, he decided that his youngest son should remain a bachelor, and said to him, “My son, as this tortoise is not of our race, or our kind, or our religion, it would be better for you not to marry at all until Allah takes us again into his compassion.”

You do get the impression that if she had been a Muslim tortoise, there would have been fewer objections. Nevertheless, please note how rational the sultan is being here—pray, ask for mercy, try again, then give it up and call it a day. At no point is the tortoise persecuted (other than the holes in her roof) and he hasn’t started beating his son with weasels. There is nothing freaky going on here!

This is deeply unusual for a fairy tale.

But young Muhammad cried in dissent from this, “I swear by the virtues of the prophet (upon whom be prayer and peace!) that the time of my celibacy is over! If the large tortoise is written in my destiny I shall assuredly marry her.”

…well, we knew it couldn’t last.

Celibacy does strange things to a young man’s brain. (Including, apparently, making tortoises hella sexy.) So…err…yeah.

“She is certainly written in your destiny!” cried the astonished sultan. “But it would be a monstrous thing for a human being to wed with a tortoise!”


It’s worth noting that there are probably a round dozen Animal Bride stories, and the most objection anyone makes in any of the others is “Dumbass, you married a frog.” Nobody ever points out that it is freaky and wrong to be married to a frog, nobody speculates on what the frog and the fella get up to, it’s just “Dude, only losers marry frogs.” (I will have to review one of these later, just for the contrast.) The sultan is winning mad props from me on this one, for being the only guy in a fairy tale I’ve read to point out that it is Not Cool To Marry A Reptile.

“I have no predilection for tortoises in general,” cried the prince. “It is this particular one whom I wish to marry.”

Despite my above statement, I have to admit, that is possibly my favorite line in any fairy tale ever.

The sultan, who loved his son, made no more objections but, though the weddings of Ali and Hussein were celebrated with great splendor for forty days and forty nights and then felicitously consummated, no one at court, neither his two brothers, nor their wives, nor the wives of the amirs and dignitaries, would accept an invitation to Muhammed’s bridal feast, and, instead, they did all in their power to spoil and make it sad.

Aw, c’mon! Sure, your brother’s developed a freaky terrapin fetish, but the tortoise was already large and lonely, and now you’re being mean. I hope your roof leaks from all those arrow holes.

Poor Muhammad was bitterly humiliated by the mocking smiles and turned backs which everywhere greeted him; but of his marriage night he would say nothing, and only Allah, from whom no secrets are hid, can tell what passed between the two. It is certain, at least, that no one in that kingdom could imagine how a human youth might couple with a tortoise, even though she were as big as a stock jar.

And let’s give the Arabian Nights a big hand here for actually addressing the mechanics-of-hot-tortoise-lovin’ issue that we were all mentally either trying to work out or trying really hard not to work out! You don’t get that in the Brothers Grimm!

Having said that, let’s just assume they cuddled.

In the time which came after the three weddings, the years and preoccupations of his reign, added to the emotion of his disappointment in Muhammad, bowed the king’s back and thinned his bones. He pined away and became yellow. He lost his appetite and, with his appetite, his vision, so that he became almost completely blind.

The fact that he turned yellow presumably means his liver is in a bad way...

The three princes, who loved their father dearly, resolved to leave his health no longer in the ignorant and superstitious care of the harem.

I’d think the harem would rather resemble the tastes of the man who assembled it, so we may have a finally got a strike against the sultan here.

When they had concerted together, they approached the sultan and kissed his hand, saying, “Dear father, your face is becoming yellow, your appetite is weakening, and your sight is failing you. If these things go on, we shall soon be tearing our garments for grief that we have lost the prop of all our life. Therefore you must listen to our counsel and obey it. We have determined that our wives and not the women of the harem shall henceforth prepare your food, for these last are great experts in the kitchen and by their cookery can give you back appetite which shall furnish strength, strength which will furnish health, and health which will restore your vision.”

The sultan was deeply touched by this care on his sons’ part. “May Allah shower his blessings upon you!” he said. “But I am afraid that this will be a great nuisance for your wives.”

Leaving aside the harem, the Sultan still comes across as incredibly self-effacing. “No, no, don’t let me be a bother…”

“A nuisance to our wives?” they cried. “They are your slaves and have no more urgent object in life than to prepare the food which will restore you to health.”

Do your wives know about this? I hear the tortoise has been going to grad school…

“We have agreed that each of them shall prepare a separate dish, and that you shall choose your favorite in appearance, odor, and taste. Thus appetite will come back to you, and your eyes be cured.”

“You know better than I do what is for the best,” answered the sultan, as he embraced them.

Particularly after that debacle where you picked wives by shooting at them. We fired the wazir.

The three princes went joyfully to their wives and bade them prepare the most admirable dish they could, and each said further, to excite a spirit of emulation, “It is essential that our father should prefer the cooking of our house.”

Really, guys, wouldn’t it be enough to have your beloved father recover from being blind and jaundiced? Do we have to make this into a competition?

After they had given their orders, the two elder brothers were for ever mocking Muhammad and asking him how a tortoise cooked, but he met all their jests with a calm smile.

I have an image of her gripping the frying pan handle in her beak and practicing omelet flips. “Better get the towel, Bob, the mistress has blinded herself with fried eggs again…”

His wife, the large and lonely tortoise,

She’s still lonely? Aw, man. That poor tortoise. You live your life, you save enough to buy a house, and then some dude shoots arrows in your roof and expects you to cook a dinner that will reverse advanced liver disease and macular degeneration. I was hoping the cuddling would help with the loneliness.

had only been waiting for such an opportunity to show what she could do. At once she set to work, and her first care was to send a confidential servant to her elder sister-in-law, begging her to send back all the rat and mouse dung which she could collect in her house, that the tortoise, who never employed any other condiment, might use these matters for seasoning the rice dishes which she was preparing for the sultan.

I am now picturing the most unsettling set of salt and pepper shakers ever.

“As Allah lives, I will do no such thing!” said Ali’s wife to herself. “If these things make really good seasoning, let the wretched tortoise find her own. I can make all the use of them that is necessary.” Then aloud to the servant she said, “I regret that I have to refuse your mistress’s request, but I have hardly enough rat and mouse dung for my own requirements.”

Why you gotta be hating on the tortoise? What did the tortoise ever do to you?

When the servant returned with this answer, the tortoise laughed happily, and sent her to Hussein’s wife with a request for all the hens’ and pigeon’s droppings which she had by her. The servant returned from this mission empty handed, with a bitter and disobliging message from the second princess. But when the tortoise had caused the words to be repeated to her, she fell into an ecstasy of contentment and laughed so heartily that she fell over on her backside.

Get the pry-bar, Bob, the mistress is flipped on her shell again.”

As soon as she was a little recovered, she prepared those meats which she could cook best, covered the dish which held them with a wicker cover, and wrapped the whole in a rose-scented napkin. Then she dispatched her servant with the dish to the sultan, at the same moment as his other two daughters-in-law were sending theirs by slaves.

The time of the meal arrived, and the sultan sat down before the three dishes; but, when he had lifted the lid of that sent by the eldest son’s wife, there rose so foul a steam and odor of rat turds that it might well have asphyxiated an elephant.

Now, let’s stop and think about this for a minute. Let’s assume that for some reason you have a grudge against a large and lonely tortoise, who, I don’t know, wore the same hat as you to a party once.  And now the tortoise has sent to you for rat turds and pigeon crap, claiming that she is going to make a dinner out of them.

Even assuming that you are so lost to reason as to believe this, wouldn’t you think “Ha, ha, stupid tortoise and her lack of understanding of human spices!”and go make your best dinner?

But okay, fine. Let’s even assume that you envy the tortoise for her snazzy house, now that the roof has been patched, and the bit where she’s trying to get her PhD in Chelonian Studies. You’re about to prepare a meal so awesome that it is expected to heal the dying.

Have you ever seen the cooks on Chopped panic when they get a secret ingredient in the basket that they’ve never heard of before? You need a little time to figure out what an ingredient does and how you cook it and all kinds of things. And it’s not like Chopped, and somebody handed you a basket and said “Hearts of palm, pomegranate seeds, gummi bears and RAT TURDS! You have fifteen minutes–go!” You don’t have to use the rat turds!

And even assuming all these things, would you not at least sample the dish beforehand, and then go “Hmm, maybe tortoise palates are different!”

People have been acting so intelligently so far. This is a real disappointment.

The sultan was so disagreeably affected by this stench that he fell head over heels in a swoon, and, when his sons succeeded in bringing him to with rose-water and the use of fans, he sat up and cursed his daughter-in-law heartily.

In a little while he became calmer and consented to try the second dish; but, as soon as it was uncovered, a fetid stink of burnt birds’ droppings took him by the throat and eyes so that he thought that the hour of blindness and death was upon him. It was not until the windows had been thrown open and the dish removed and benzoin burnt with incense to purify the air, that the disgusted old man felt himself strong enough to say, “What harm have I done to your wives, my sons, that they should try to dig me a grave before my time?”

It’s a fair question. (And “took him by the throat and the eyes so that he thought that the hour of blindness and death was upon him”—now how’s that for vivid writing?)

The two elder princes could only answer that the thing passed their understanding; but young Muhammad kissed his father’s hand and begged him to forget his previous disappointments in the delight of the third dish.

“What is that, Muhammad?” cried the king in an indignant rage. “Do you mock your old father? When women can prepare such frightful foods, do you expect me to touch the cooking of a tortoise? I can see that you have all sworn to destroy me.”

It’s well known in the marketplace that she’s ruined a fortune in omelet pans!

Muhammad went on his knees and swore, by his life and by the verity of the faith, that the third dish would make up for all, and that he himself would eat anything of it which was not to his father’s taste. He urged with such fervor and humility that the sultan at last signed to the slave to lift the third cover, and waited with a set jaw, murmuring, “I seek refuge in the protection of Allah!”

You gotta admire the old guy’s fortitude.

But it was the soul of all fine cooking which rose from the dish that the tortoise had prepared. It exquisitely dilated the fans of the old man’s heart, it nourished the fans of his lungs, it shook the fans of this nostrils, it brought back lost appetite, it opened his eyes and clarified his vision. He ate for an hour without stopping, then drank an excellent sherbet of musk and pounded snow, and finally gurked several times from the very bottom of his satisfied stomach.

I like a good gurk myself, in the privacy of my own kitchen.

In great delight he gave thanks to Allah and praised the cooking of the tortoise. Muhammad accepted his congratulations modestly, in order not to excite the jealousy of his brothers. “That is only one of my wife’s talents, dear father,” he said. “Allah grant that she may some day find a chance really to earn your praises.” Then he begged the king to allow his future nourishment to be entirely in the hands of the tortoise, and his delighted father readily agreed to the arrangement, which in a few weeks entirely reestablished his health and eyesight.

Fortunately she had just completed her thesis by this time and could turn to cooking.

To celebrate his cure the sultan gave a great feast, and bade his three sons attend it with their wives. At once the two elder princesses began to make preparation that they might appear with honor and success before their father-in-law.

The large tortoise also schemed how to whiten her husband’s visage before the people by the beauty of her escorting and the elegance of her clothes.

Her first step was to send her confidential servant to Ali’s wife with a request for the loan of the big goose which she had in her courtyard, that the tortoise might use it as a fitting steed on which to ride to the festivities. The princess gave so peremptory a refusal that the good tortoise fell over on her backside in the convulsions of laughter which it occasioned her.

“Bob, get the prybar, the mistress—” “Already on it.”

Then she sent to the second sister to borrow her large he-goat for the same purpose, and never has the tortoise been so convulsed and dilated with pure joy as was this one when she received a second and much ruder refusal.

There is still no reason to be rude about this! It is perfectly possible to compose a civil note about why you can’t spare the he-goat!

The hour of the feast came, and the old queen’s women were drawn up in good order at the outside door of the harem to receive the three royal brides. As they waited, a cloud of dust rolled towards them and, when it dissipated, they saw a gigantic goose waddling forward with the speed of the wind, throwing her legs to left and right, beating her wings, and carrying the first princess of the kingdom clinging to her neck in disordered fright.

Dude, forget the rest of this fairy tale—she’s got a riding goose! How awesome is THAT? Forget warhorses! Can you imagine the enemy’s reaction when geese come at them? Geese are savage! A goose will kill a man just to watch him die! Pound for pound, the only thing meaner than a goose is a mantis shrimp, and those don’t do well on land for prolonged periods.

Almost immediately afterwards, a he-goat, rearing and savagely bleating, came up to the entrance also, bearing upon his back the second princess, all stained with dust and dung.

And positively anti-climatic after the goose.

The sultan and his wife were deeply offended by this double exhibition, and the former cried, “See, they are not content with strangling and poisoning me; they wish to mock me before the people!”

First note of the existence of his wife. Nevertheless, I would think that a great warrior like yourself would recognize the awesome potential of the War Goose.

The queen received the two women coldly, and an uncomfortable pause was only broken by the arrival of the third princess. The king and his wife were full of apprehension, saying to each other, “If two humans could show so absurdly, what can we expect from a tortoise? There is no power or might save in Allah!” So saying, they waited with caught breath for what might appear.

We seem to be switching erratically between “king” and “sultan,” which we’ll chalk up to translation.

The first rank of couriers appeared, announcing the arrival of prince Muhammed’s wife, and presently four handsome grooms, dressed in brocade and rich tunics with trailing sleeves, led up the palanquin. It was covered with bright-colored silks, and the black men who carried it set it down by the stairs. An unknown princess of bright splendor stepped from it, and the women, supposing her to be a maid of honor, waited for the alighting of the tortoise. Yet, when the palanquin was borne away, and this delightful vision mounted the steps alone, they recognized her as Muhammed’s bride and received her with honor and effusion. The sultan’s heart rejoiced to see her grace and nobility, her charming manners and musical movements.

At once the sultan bade his sons and their wives be seated by him and by the queen, and, when they had taken their places, the feast was served.

The first dish was, as usual, a profusion of rice swollen in butter. Before anyone could take a mouthful the beautiful princess lifted the dish and poured all its contents over her hair. Immediately each grain of rice turned to a pearl, and the pearls ran down the long strands of hair and tinkled to the floor in a bright cascade.

“Dude. I was eating that.”

Before the company could recover its wits after so admirable a prodigy, she also lifted a large tureen, filled with thick green soup, and poured its contents over her head in the same way. The green soup changed to an infinity of emeralds among her hair, and these fell about her like green rain, to mingle their sea-tints with the pearls upon the floor.

“Muhammed, your wife is gorgeous, but her table manners leave something to be desired.”

During the delighted confusion which followed, the servants brought other supplies of rice and green soup for the guests to eat, and the two elder princesses, now yellow with jealousy, could not leave well alone. The eldest seized on the dish of rice and the second on the tureen of green soup; both poured the contents of these things upon their heads. But the rice remained rice in the hair of the first, horribly daubing her with butter, and the soup, remaining soup, ran down in a sticky course over the hair and face and garments of the second, for all the world like cow slop.

And again we have the “when someone is behaving strangely, we do not imitate them!” problem. Sigh.

The sultan was disgusted at these accidents and commanded his two elder daughters-in-law to withdraw from the feast, also he proclaimed that he wished never to see them again, or smell them, or hear of them. Their husbands, therefore, led them away in a great rage, and you may suppose that all four noses trailed very near the ground. So much for them.

“Even though I made you marry women chosen by shooting blindly into the air, I am appalled!” Sultan loses points here. Although “So much for them” is a nicely conversational dismissal. 

When prince Muhammad and his magic princess were left alone with the sultan, he embraced them and took them to his heart, saying, “You alone are my children!” He wrote a will leaving his throne to his youngest son and, calling together his amirs and wazirs, made his intention known to them. Then to the two young people, he said, “I wish you both to stay with me in my palace until the end.”

“To hear is to obey,” they answered. “Our father’s desire is upon our heads and before our eyes.”

That she might never again be tempted to resume the appearance of a tortoise and so shock the old sultan, the princess ordered her servant to bring the large and lonely shell which she had left at home that day and, when it was fetched, burnt it without compunction. Ever afterwards she remained in her own delightful form. And glory be to Allah who gave her a faultless body, a marvel to the eyes of men!

And a doctorate. Looks only last so long, kids.

The giver showered his blessings upon these two and delighted them with numerous children.

Several of whom were tortoises.

Standard ending of course, but one way that this runs counter to the usual run of fairy-tales is that the bride is the one who burns the tortoise shell. The vast majority of Animal Bride tales require the husband to find the skin that the bride wears in animal form and then burn it (the response from the bride varies wildly.) but this is the only one I know where the bride takes the matter into her own hands. Which is an interesting bit of agency.

But I really just love it for the line about having a predilection for tortoises.


Annotated Fairy Tale #2 — The Master-Maid

Okay, I had fun with the last one, and apparently people enjoyed it, so without further ado, The Master Maid. This one is from the Blue Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang, and was collected in Norway in the mid-1800s. It’s one of Aarne-Thompson Type 313 (which is broadly tales of magical flight from a supernatural opponent.)

The Master Maid

ONCE upon a time there was a king who had many sons. I do not exactly know how many there were, but the youngest of them could not stay quietly at home, and was determined to go out into the world and try his luck, and after a long time the King was forced to give him leave to go.

Well, that’s a pretty standard opening, although I do like the “I do not know how many there were,” rather than a bald number.

When he had traveled about for several days, he came to a giant’s house, and hired himself to the giant as a servant.

This is a bad move. Giants are always bad. Fairies can go either way, dwarves can go either way, but witches and giants are always bad. Once in a blue moon you might get a helpful Baba Yaga, but only if you’re not a dumbass.

In the morning the giant had to go out to pasture his goats, and as he was leaving the house he told the King’s son that he must clean out the stable. “And after you have done that,” he said, “you need not do any more work today, for you have come to a kind master, and that you shall find. But what I set you to do must be done both well and thoroughly, and you must on no account go into any of the rooms which lead out of the room in which you slept last night. If you do, I will take your life.”

“Well to be sure, he is an easy master!” said the Prince to himself as he walked up and down the room humming and singing, for he thought there would be plenty of time left to clean out the stable; “but it would be amusing to steal a glance into his other rooms as well,” thought the Prince, “for there must be something that he is afraid of my seeing, as I am not allowed to enter them.”

The fact that the giant just told him that he’d kill him if he went into the other rooms and the Prince still thinks he’s an easy master without irony kinda makes me wonder what the Prince’s home life was like. That’s seriously not normal.

So he went into the first room. A cauldron was hanging from the walls; it was boiling, but the Prince could see no fire under it. “I wonder what is inside it,” he thought, and dipped a lock of his hair in, and the hair became just as if it were all made of copper. “That’s a nice kind of soup. If anyone were to taste that his throat would be gilded,” said the youth, and then he went into the next chamber.

Personally I always sample soup with my hair first.

There, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall, bubbling and boiling, but there was no fire under this either. “I will just try what this is like too,” said the Prince, thrusting another lock of his hair into it, and it came out silvered over. “Such costly soup is not to be had in my father’s palace,” said the Prince; “but everything depends on how it tastes,” and then he went into the third room. There, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall, boiling, exactly the same as in the two other rooms, and the Prince took pleasure in trying this also, so he dipped a lock of hair in, and it came out so brightly gilded that it shone again. “Some talk about going from bad to worse,” said the Prince; “but this is better and better. If he boils gold here, what can he boil in there?”

As this is never mentioned again anywhere in the story, I envision the prince going through the rest of the plot with weird three-tone metallic hair, and possibly 80’s shoulderpads as well.

He was determined to see, and went through the door into the fourth room. No cauldron was to be seen there, but on a bench someone was seated who was like a king’s daughter, but, whosoever she was, she was so beautiful that never in the Prince’s life had he seen her equal.

“Oh! in heaven’s name what are you doing here?” said she who sat upon the bench.

“I took the place of servant here yesterday,” said the Prince .

“May you soon have a better place, if you have come to serve here!” said she.

“Oh, but I think I have got a kind master,” said the Prince. “He has not given me hard work to do today. When I have cleaned out the stable I shall be done.”

Back home, we shoveled stables all day, with our tongues! Then they beat us and then we drew straws for who got eaten by weasels that night! This place is awesome! Nobody’s waved a weasel at me in a threatening manner at all!

“Yes, but how will you be able to do that?” she asked again. “If you clean it out as other people do, ten pitch- forksful will come in for every one you throw out. But I will teach you how to do it; you must turn your pitch- fork upside down, and work with the handle, and then all will fly out of its own accord.”

This doesn’t work in my garden. I’ve tried.

“Yes, I will attend to that,” said the Prince, and stayed sitting where he was the whole day, for it was soon settled between them that they would marry each other, he and the King’s daughter; so the first day of his service with the giant did not seem long to him.

I sort of wonder at this point whether she’s agreeing to marry the first guy who comes along in hopes of getting free of the giant, or if the giant has killed ten or twenty princes and she’s been waiting until one came along who tickled her fancy.

But when evening was drawing near she said that it would now be better for him to clean out the stable before the giant came home. When he got there he had a fancy to try if what she had said were true, so he began to work in the same way that he had seen the stable-boys doing in his father’s stables, but he soon saw that he must give up that, for when he had worked a very short time he had scarcely any room left to stand.

I do approve of the fact that he’s actually testing this, rather than just accepting straight out that it’s magic manure.

So he did what the Princess had taught him, turned the pitchfork round, and worked with the handle, and in the twinkling of an eye the stable was as clean as if it had been scoured. When he had done that, he went back again into the room in which the giant had given him leave to stay, and there he walked backward and forward on the floor, and began to hum and sing.

Then came the giant home with the goats. “Have you cleaned the stable?” asked the giant.

“Yes, now it is clean and sweet, master,” said the King’s son.

“I shall see about that,” said the giant, and went round to the stable, but it was just as the Prince had said.

“You have certainly been talking to my Master-maid, for you never got that out of your own head,” said the giant.

The funny thing about this is that the giant is going to say this every time, and yet at no point does he ever do anything about it. Also, apparently the King’s daughter is the Master-maid, and shall henceforth be known as such, even though I get a totally weird cross-dressing vibe out of that, myself.

“Master-maid! What kind of a thing is that, master?” said the Prince, making himself look as stupid as an ass; “I should like to see that.”

“Well, you will see her quite soon enough,” said the giant.

On the second morning the giant had again to go out with his goats, so he told the Prince that on that day he was to fetch home his horse, which was out on the mountain-side, and when he had done that he might rest himself for the remainder of the day, “for you have come to a kind master, and that you shall find,” said the giant once more. “But do not go into any of the rooms that I spoke of yesterday, or I will wring your head off,” said he, and then went away with his flock of goats.

“Yes, indeed, you are a kind master,” said the Prince;

Oh, well, sure, he threatened to wring my head off, but still, what a guy! Back home we were beaten with live hedgehogs for sneezing! This place is like a resort!

“but I will go in and talk to the Master-maid again; perhaps before long she may like better to be mine than yours.” So he went to her. Then she asked him what he had to do that day.

“Oh! not very dangerous work, I fancy,” said the King’s son. “I have only to go up the mountain-side after his horse.”

You would think after the bit with the stables it might occur to him to be just a teensy bit suspicious.

“Well, how do you mean to set about it?” asked the Master-maid.

“Oh! there is no great art in riding a horse home,” said the King’s son. “I think I must have ridden friskier horses before now.”

That’s how we lost the last six princes. The three before that didn’t figure out the pitchfork trick and suffocated in manure.

“Yes, but it is not so easy a thing as you think to ride the horse home,” said the Master-maid; “but I will teach you what to do. When you go near it, fire will burst out of its nostrils like flames from a pine torch; but be very careful, and take the bridle which is hanging by the door there, and fling the bit straight into his jaws, and then it will become so tame that you will be able to do what you like with it.” He said he would bear this in mind, and then he again sat in there the whole day by the Mastermaid, and they chatted and talked of one thing and another, but the first thing and the last now was, how happy and delightful it would be if they could but marry each other, and get safely away from the giant; and the Prince would have forgotten both the mountain-side and the horse if the Master-maid had not reminded him of them as evening drew near, and said that now it would be better if he went to fetch the horse before the giant came. So he did this, and took the bridle which was hanging on a crook, and strode up the mountain-side, and it was not long before he met with the horse, and fire and red flames streamed forth out of its nostrils. But the youth carefully watched his opportunity, and just as it was rushing at him with open jaws he threw the bit straight into its mouth, and the horse stood as quiet as a young lamb, and there was no difficulty at all in getting it home to the stable. Then the Prince went back into his room again, and began to hum and to sing.

Three-tone metallic hair, and he sings. Did anybody ever see the video for “You Spin Me Round?”

Toward evening the giant came home. “Have you fetched the horse back from the mountain-side?” he asked.

“That I have, master; it was an amusing horse to ride, but I rode him straight home, and put him in the stable too,” said the Prince.

“I will see about that,” said the giant, and went out to the stable, but the horse was standing there just as the Prince had said. “You have certainly been talking with my Master-maid, for you never got that out of your own head,” said the giant again.

Normally the hero’s a bit of an idiot, but the fact that the giant KNOWS that there is fraternizing and hasn’t stopped it does not speak well of the villain either.

“Yesterday, master, you talked about this Master- maid, and today you are talking about her; ah, heaven bless you, master, why will you not show me the thing? for it would be a real pleasure to me to see it,” said the Prince, who again pretended to be silly and stupid.

“Oh! you will see her quite soon enough,” said the giant.

On the morning of the third day the giant again had to go into the wood with the goats. “Today you must go underground and fetch my taxes,” he said to the Prince. “When you have done this, you may rest for the remainder of the day, for you shall see what an easy master you have come to,” and then he went away.

“Well, however easy a master you may be, you set me very hard work to do,” thought the Prince;


“but I will see if I cannot find your Master-maid; you say she is yours, but for all that she may be able to tell me what to do now,” and he went back to her. So, when the Mastermaid asked him what the giant had set him to do that day, he told her that he was to go underground and get the taxes.

“And how will you set about that?” said the Mastermaid .

“Oh! you must tell me how to do it,” said the Prince, “for I have never yet been underground, and even if I knew the way I do not know how much I am to demand.”

The prince has definitely learned his lesson on this one. This is so rare in fairy tales and in princes that we must be quite impressed.

“Oh! yes, I will soon tell you that; you must go to the rock there under the mountain-ridge, and take the club that is there, and knock on the rocky wall,” said the Master-maid. “Then someone will come out who will sparkle with fire; you shall tell him your errand, and when he asks you how much you want to have you are to say: `As much as I can carry.'”

“Yes, I will keep that in mind,” said he, and then he sat there with the Master-maid the whole day, until night drew near, and he would gladly have stayed there till now if the Master-maid had not reminded him that it was time to be off to fetch the taxes before the giant came.

So he set out on his way, and did exactly what the Master-maid had told him. He went to the rocky wall, and took the club, and knocked on it. Then came one so full of sparks that they flew both out of his eyes and his nose. “What do you want?” said he.

“I was to come here for the giant, and demand the tax for him,” said the King’s son.

“How much are you to have then?” said the other.

“I ask for no more than I am able to carry with me,” said the Prince.

“It is well for you that you have not asked for a horse- load,” said he who had come out of the rock. “But now come in with me.”

I suspect that I am not alone in really wanting to know what would have happened if he’d asked for a horse-load. Would they eat him? Turn him into a horse to carry it all? Sadly, this goes unanswered. We are also somewhat tantalized by what exactly the “one” that comes out of the rock wall is. Curse you, vague Norwegian folklorists!

This the Prince did, and what a quantity of gold and silver he saw! It was lying inside the mountain like heaps of stones in a waste place, and he got a load that was as large as he was able to carry, and with that he went his way. So in the evening, when the giant came home with the goats, the Prince went into the chamber and hummed and sang again as he had done on the other two evenings.

“Have you been for the tax?” said the giant.

“Yes, that I have, master,” said the Prince.

“Where have you put it then?” said the giant again.

“The bag of gold is standing there on the bench,” said the Prince.

“I will see about that,” said the giant, and went away to the bench, but the bag was standing there, and it was so full that gold and silver dropped out when the giant untied the string.

“You have certainly been talking with my Master- maid!” said the giant, “and if you have I will wring your neck.”

Always with the neck wringing…

“Master-maid?” said the Prince; “yesterday my master talked about this Master-maid, and today he is talking about her again, and the first day of all it was talk of the same kind. I do wish I could see the thing myself,” said he.

“Yes, yes, wait till to-morrow,” said the giant, “and then I myself will take you to her.”

“Ah! master, I thank you–but you are only mocking me,” said the King’s son.

Next day the giant took him to the Master-maid. “Now you shall kill him, and boil him in the great big cauldron you know of, and when you have got the broth ready give me a call,” said the giant; then he lay down on the bench to sleep, and almost immediately began to snore so that it sounded like thunder among the hills.

Sooner or later all fairy-tales descend into cannibalism.

The interesting thing here is that the giant obviously trusts the Master-maid to carry this out, despite the fact that he knows she’s been giving the prince advice. Has he got something on her? She can’t be under a geas, as we’ll shortly see. Does he think she’s too scared to defy him? Does he still believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that she’s on his side?

…were they a thing? They might have been a thing. That’s unsettling. Might explain a few things, though.

We also note that he has absolutely no doubts that the Master-maid is capable of overpowering this young man without any help. This is the sort of thing that makes you go “Whoa. The Master-maid is clearly a badass.”

So the Master-maid took a knife, and cut the Prince’s little finger, and dropped three drops of blood upon a wooden stool; then she took all the old rags, and shoe- soles, and all the rubbish she could lay hands on, and put them in the cauldron; and then she filled a chest with gold dust, and a lump of salt, and a water-flask which was hanging by the door, and she also took with her a golden apple, and two gold chickens; and then she and the Prince went away with all the speed they could.

You kinda get the impression that the Master-maid has thought her escape attempt through. Most fairy tales like this, the princess receives a series of magical items and they become useful in unexpected ways, sort of like the plot of Paycheck. The Master-maid, on the other hand, clearly has a checklist. “Golden chickens…check…lump of salt…check…”

And when they had gone a little way they came to the sea, and then they sailed, but where they got the ship from I have never been able to learn.

I am so explaining away my next plot-hole with this one. “And where they got the tactical nuke from, I have never been able to learn.”

Now, when the giant had slept a good long time, he began to stretch himself on the bench on which he was lying. “Will it soon boil?” said he

“It is just beginning,” said the first drop of blood on the stool.

For whatever weird reason, there’s a long history of talking blood-drops in fairy tales. You get them in “The Goosegirl” too (and I may have to talk about that one sometime, because whenever the heroine spends her days talking to a decapitated talking horse-head, you’ve got somethin’ weird going on.)

So the giant lay down to sleep again, and slept for a long, long time. Then he began to move about a little again. “Will it soon be ready now?” said he, but he did not look up this time any more than he had done the first time, for he was still half asleep.

“Half done!” said the second drop of blood, and the giant believed it was the Master-maid again, and turned himself on the bench, and lay down to sleep once more.

Sadly, hemo-ventriloquism is a mostly vanished art.

When he had slept again for many hours, he began to move and stretch himself. “Is it not done yet?” said he.

“It is quite ready,” said the third drop of blood. Then the giant began to sit up and rub his eyes, but he could not see who it was who had spoken to him, so he asked for the Master-maid, and called her. But there was no one to give him an answer.

“Ah! well, she has just stolen out for a little,” thought the giant, and he took a spoon, and went off to the cauldron to have a taste; but there was nothing in it but shoe-soles, and rags, and such trumpery as that, and all was boiled up together, so that he could not tell whether it was porridge or milk pottage. When he saw this, he understood what had happened, and fell into such a rage that he hardly knew what he was doing. Away he went after the Prince and the Master-maid so fast that the wind whistled behind him, and it was not long before he came to the water, but he could not get over it. “Well, well, I will soon find a cure for that; I have only to call my river-sucker,” said the giant, and he did call him. So his river-sucker came and lay down, and drank one, two, three draughts, and with that the water in the sea fell so low that the giant saw the Master-maid and the Prince out on the sea in their ship.

Okay, forget the rest of the story, what the heck is a river-sucker? And how is it so completely common that the storyteller doesn’t even bother to explain—“You know, a river-sucker, jeez, what’re you, dumb?”—as if they’re as common as horses, stables, and porridge.

I’m seeing a giant plecostomus, myself. Perhaps kept in a duffel-bag for just such occasion.

“Now you must throw out the lump of salt,” said the Master-maid, and the Prince did so, and it grew up into such a great high mountain right across the sea that the giant could not come over it, and the river-sucker could not drink any more water.

“Bleah!” said the giant plecostomus. “It’s all salty! I can feel my arteries clanging shut!”

“Well, well, I will soon find a cure for that,” said the giant, so he called to his hill-borer to come and bore through the mountain so that the river-sucker might be able to drink up the water again.

The hill-borer is kept in a different colored duffel-bag. There was a mix-up once, and it ended with a hillside with a giant hickey, and it was just awkward for everyone. (Giant mole, you think?)

But just as the hole was made, and the river-sucker was beginning to drink, the Master-maid told the Prince to throw one or two drops out of the flask, and when he did this the sea instantly became full of water again, and before the river- sucker could take one drink they reached the land and were in safety.

On a more serious note, we’re getting some parallels to Medea and Jason here, with the throwing things off the boat to confound pursuit, although this is very much sanitized for your protection.

So they determined to go home to the Prince’s father, but the Prince would on no account permit the Master-maid to walk there, for he thought that it was unbecoming either for her or for him to go on foot.

You were shoveling stables three days ago. This is an unexpected bit of snobbery.

“Wait here the least little bit of time, while I go home for the seven horses which stand in my father’s stable,” said he; “it is not far off, and I shall not be long away, but I will not let my betrothed bride go on foot to the palace.”

“Oh! no, do not go, for if you go home to the King’s palace you will forget me, I foresee that.”

“How could I forget you? We have suffered so much evil together, and love each other so much,” said the Prince; and he insisted on going home for the coach with the seven horses, and she was to wait for him there, by the sea-shore. So at last the Master-maid had to yield, for he was so absolutely determined to do it. “But when you get there you must not even give yourself time to greet anyone, but go straight into the stable, and take the horses, and put them in the coach, and drive back as quickly as you can. For they will all come round about you; but you must behave just as if you did not see them, and on no account must you taste anything, for if you do it will cause great misery both to you and to me,” said she; and this he promised.

All those who think that the prince will have learned to listen to the absurdly competent Master-maid and will be very sure not to break his promise, raise your hand!

Okay, if your hand is raised, you have failed Fairytales 101. Please report to the office for our remedial class, entitled “Why We Do Not Insult Old Women At Wells And Other Vital Lessons.”

But when he got home to the King’s palace one of his brothers was just going to be married, and the bride and all her kith and kin had come to the palace; so they all thronged round him, and questioned him about this and that, and wanted him to go in with them; but he behaved as if he did not see them, and went straight to the stable, and got out the horses and began to harness them. When they saw that they could not by any means prevail on him to go in with them, they came out to him with meat and drink, and the best of everything that they had prepared for the wedding; but the Prince refused to touch anything, and would do nothing but put the horses in as quickly as he could.

He’s making a noble effort, anyhow. I give the prince in this story credit for that, even if everybody comes off badly in comparison to the Master-maid.

At last, however, the bride’s sister rolled an apple across the yard to him, and said: “As you won’t eat anything else, you may like to take a bite of that, for you must be both hungry and thirsty after your long journey.” And he took up the apple and bit a piece out of it.

Oh, surprise, surprise.

But no sooner had he got the piece of apple in his mouth than he forgot the Master-maid and that he was to go back in the coach to fetch her.

“I think I must be mad! what do I want with this coach and horses?” said he; and then he put the horses back into the stable, and went into the King’s palace, and there it was settled that he should marry the bride’s sister, who had rolled the apple to him.

Is that an enchanted apple in your pocket, or are you the woman of my dreams?

The Master-maid sat by the sea-shore for a long, long time, waiting for the Prince, but no Prince came.

No word if she sold seashells during this period.

So she went away, and when she had walked a short distance she came to a little hut which stood all alone in a small wood, hard by the King’s palace. She entered it and asked if she might be allowed to stay there. The hut belonged to an old crone, who was also an ill-tempered and malicious troll. At first she would not let the Master-maid remain with her; but at last, after a long time, by means of good words and good payment, she obtained leave. But the hut was as dirty and black inside as a pigsty, so the Master-maid said that she would smarten it up a little, that it might look a little more like what other people’s houses looked inside. The old crone did not like this either. She scowled, and was very cross, but the Master- maid did not trouble herself about that.

She slices! She dices! She redecorates people’s houses against their will!

She took out her chest of gold, and flung a handful of it or so into the fire, and the gold boiled up and poured out over the whole of the hut, until every part of it both inside and out was gilded. But when the gold began to bubble up the old hag grew so terrified that she fled as if the Evil One himself were pursuing her, and she did not remember to stoop down as she went through the doorway, and so she split her head and died.

This whole sequence is just deeply bizarre. Mind you, I’d try to avoid wildly spewing molten gold myself, so I can’t argue with the crone. But seriously, if the house was filthy and she gilded it, wouldn’t that still be pretty nasty? Have you ever seen when people paint over a surface without cleaning it first, and you get weird dust lumps and gunk? I’m seeing an episode of Hoarders with every surface gilded. Rotten fruit? Gild it! Back issues of Hag Quarterly? Gild ’em! Dress you wore to the troll-prom twenty-seven years ago? Gild it! Cockroaches? Gild them and use them as festive napkin rings!

Next morning the sheriff came traveling by there. He was greatly astonished when he saw the gold hut shining and glittering there in the copse, and he was still more astonished when he went in and caught sight of the beautiful young maiden who was sitting there; he fell in love with her at once, and straightway on the spot he begged her, both prettily and kindly, to marry him.

“Well,but have you a great deal of money?” said the Master-maid.

Can you still be a gold-digger when you are technically living in a gold house? Or does she just want to be sure that he’s not marrying her for her fabulous freaky gilded trash-heap?

“Oh! yes; so far as that is concerned, I am not ill off,” said the sheriff. So now he had to go home to get the money, and in the evening he came back, bringing with him a bag with two bushels in it, which he set down on the bench. Well, as he had such a fine lot of money, the Master-maid said she would have him, so they sat down to talk.

Hey, the prince betrayed her. I can see the Master-maid deciding that she was only marrying for money from here on out, and anyway he did beg her both prettily and kindly. There’s something to be said about that.

But scarcely had they sat down together before the Master-maid wanted to jump up again. “I have forgotten to see to the fire,” she said.

“Why should you jump up to do that?” said the sheriff; “I will do that!” So he jumped up, and went to the chimney in one bound.

“Just tell me when you have got hold of the shovel,” said the Master-maid.

“Well, I have hold of it now,” said the sheriff.

“Then you may hold the shovel, and the shovel you, and pour red-hot coals over you, till day dawns,” said the Master-maid. So the sheriff had to stand there the whole night and pour red-hot coals over himself, and, no matter how much he cried and begged and entreated, the red-hot coals did not grow the colder for that.

This was really quite unwarranted behavior by the Master-maid. You’re not interested, fine, but you don’t need to leave him with burns over 90% of his body. If he had been aggressively pressing his suit, that would be one thing, but they specified that he was really quite nice about the wooing, and you did agree to marry him.

On the other hand, maybe after the giant and the amnesiac prince, she’s just really really bitter.

When the day began to dawn, and he had power to throw down the shovel, he did not stay long where he was, but ran away as fast as he possibly could; and everyone who met him stared and looked after him, for he was flying as if he were mad, and he could not have looked worse if he had been both flayed and tanned, and everyone wondered where he had been, but for very shame he would tell nothing.

Sweety, you don’t need to be ashamed! The Master-maid is the one at fault here! Also, you might want to run to the hospital!

The next day the attorney came riding by the place where the Master-maid dwelt. He saw how brightly the hut shone and gleamed through the wood, and he too went into it to see who lived there, and when he entered and saw the beautiful young maiden he fell even more in love with her than the sheriff had done, and began to woo her at once. So the Master-maid asked him, as she had asked the sheriff, if he had a great deal of money, and the attorney said he was not ill off for that, and would at once go home to get it; and at night he came with a great big sack of money–this time it was a four-bushel sack–and set it on the bench by the Master-maid. So she promised to have him, and he sat down on the bench by her to arrange about it, but suddenly she said that she had forgotten to lock the door of the porch that night, and must do it.

“Why should you do that?” said the attorney; “sit still, I will do it.”

So he was on his feet in a moment, and out in the porch.

“Tell me when you have got hold of the door-latch,” said the Master-maid.

“Ihave hold of it now,” cried the attorney.

“Then you may hold the door, and the door you, and may you go between wall and wall till day dawns.”

What a dance the attorney had that night! He had never had such a waltz before, and he never wished to have such a dance again. Sometimes he was in front of the door, and sometimes the door was in front of him, and it went from one side of the porch to the other, till the attorney was well-nigh beaten to death. At first he began to abuse the Master-maid, and then to beg and pray, but the door did not care for anything but keeping him where he was till break of day.

Good god, this woman is out of control.

Also, is it just me, or is it pretty obvious by now that the Master-maid is one heck of a witch? She’s like a magical MacGyver! Give her a coal-shovel or a door-handle and she’ll beat you senseless! If you give her a paperclip and a handgun, she can perform brain surgery AND start a supernova!

As soon as the door let go its hold of him, off went the attorney. He forgot who ought to be paid off for what he had suffered, he forgot both his sack of money and his wooing, for he was so afraid lest the house-door should come dancing after him. Everyone who met him stared and looked after him, for he was flying like a madman, and he could not have looked worse if a herd of rams had been butting at him all night long.

You beat an attorney until he forgot to sue? Daaaaamn.

On the third day the bailiff came by, and he too saw the gold house in the little wood, and he too felt that he must go and see who lived there; and when he caught sight of the Master-maid he became so much in love with her that he wooed her almost before he greeted her.

The Master-maid answered him as she had answered the other two, that if he had a great deal of money, she would have him. “So far as that is concerned, I am not ill off,” said the bailiff; so he was at once told to go home and fetch it, and this he did. At night he came back, and he had a still larger sack of money with him than the attorney had brought; it must have been at least six bushels, and he set it down on the bench. So it was settled that he was to have the Master-maid. But hardly had they sat down together before she said that she had forgotten to bring in the calf, and must go out to put it in the byre.

“No, indeed, you shall not do that,” said the bailiff; “I am the one to do that.” And, big and fat as he was, he went out as briskly as a boy.

“Tell me when you have got hold of the calf’s tail,” said the Master-maid.

“I have hold of it now,” cried the bailiff.

“Then may you hold the calf’s tail, and the calf’s tail hold you, and may you go round the world together till day dawns!” said the Master-maid. So the bailiff had to bestir himself, for the calf went over rough and smooth, over hill and dale, and, the more the bailiff cried and screamed, the faster the calf went. When daylight began to appear, the bailiff was half dead; and so glad was he to leave loose of the calf’s tail, that he forgot the sack of money and all else. He walked now slowly–more slowly than the sheriff and the attorney had done, but, the slower he went, the more time had everyone to stare and look at him; and they used it too, and no one can imagine how tired out and ragged he looked after his dance with the calf.

If someone who wasn’t a beautiful princess was doing all this, we’d be sending a hero out to have her killed. This is prime crazy-witch behavior.

On the following day the wedding was to take place in the King’s palace, and the elder brother was to drive to church with his bride, and the brother who had been with the giant with her sister. But when they had seated themselves in the coach and were about to drive off from the palace one of the trace-pins broke, and, though they made one, two, and three to put in its place, that did not help them, for each broke in turn, no matter what kind of wood they used to make them of. This went on for a long time, and they could not get away from the palace, so they were all in great trouble. Then the sheriff said (for he too had been bidden to the wedding at Court):

Fresh off the burn ward, and so high on morphine he could say this without screaming!

“Yonder away in the thicket dwells a maiden, and if you can get her to lend you the handle of the shovel that she uses to make up her fire I know very well that it will hold fast.” So they sent off a messenger to the thicket, and begged so prettily that they might have the loan of her shovel-handle of which the sheriff had spoken that they were not refused; so now they had a trace-pin which would not snap in two.

Yeah, the last person who begged her prettily for something didn’t do so well...

But all at once, just as they were starting, the bottom of the coach fell in pieces. They made a new bottom as fast as they could, but, no matter how they nailed it together, or what kind of wood they used, no sooner had they got the new bottom into the coach and were about to drive off than it broke again, so that they were still worse off than when they had broken the trace-pin. Then the attorney said, for he too was at the wedding in the palace: “Away there in the thicket dwells a maiden, and if you could but get her to lend you one-half of her porch- door I am certain that it will hold together.”

He was probably weeping uncontrollably while he said this.

So they again sent a messenger to the thicket, and begged so prettily for the loan of the gilded porch-door of which the attorney had told them that they got it at once. They were just setting out again, but now the horses were not able to draw the coach. They had six horses already, and now they put in eight, and then ten, and then twelve, but the more they put in, and the more the coachman whipped them, the less good it did; and the coach never stirred from the spot. It was already beginning to be late in the day, and to church they must and would go, so everyone who was in the palace was in a state of distress. Then the bailiff spoke up and said: “Out there in the gilded cottage in the thicket dwells a girl, and if you could but get her to lend you her calf I know it could draw the coach, even if it were as heavy as a mountain.” They all thought that it was ridiculous to be drawn to church by a calf, but there was nothing else for it but to send a messenger once more, and beg as prettily as they could, on behalf of the King, that she would let them have the loan of the calf that the bailiff had told them about. The Master- maid let them have it immediately–this time also she would not say “no.”

“No,” hasn’t been her problem. It’s the “Yes, of course I’ll marry you–GOTCHA!” that I’d worry about.

Then they harnessed the calf to see if the coach would move; and away it went, over rough and smooth, over stock and stone, so that they could scarcely breathe, and sometimes they were on the ground, and sometimes up in the air; and when they came to the church the coach began to go round and round like a spinning-wheel, and it was with the utmost difficulty and danger that they were able to get out of the coach and into the church. And when they went back again the coach went quicker still, so that most of them did not know how they got back to the palace at all.

I’m starting to wonder where she got this calf. It wasn’t one of the things she packed, as I recall, so apparently there was just a magic calf laying around the house. Possibly having been gilded.

When they had seated themselves at the table the Prince who had been in service with the giant said that he thought they ought to have invited the maiden who had lent them the shovel-handle, and the porch-door, and the calf up to the palace, “for,” said he, “if we had not got these three things, we should never have got away from the palace.”

The King also thought that this was both just and proper, so he sent five of his best men down to the gilded hut, to greet the maiden courteously from the King, and to beg her to be so good as to come up to the palace to dinner at mid-day.

“But whatever you do, don’t propose to her! No good will come of it!”

“Greet the King, and tell him that, if he is too good to come to me, I am too good to come to him,” replied the Master-maid.

So the King had to go himself, and the Master-maid went with him immediately, and, as the King believed that she was more than she appeared to be, he seated her in the place of honor by the youngest bridegroom.

The King is not an idiot, even if he apparently beat his sons with weasels during their childhood.

When they had sat at the table for a short time, the Master- maid took out the cock, and the hen, and the golden apple which she had brought away with her from the giant’s house, and set them on the table in front of her, and instantly the cock and the hen began to fight with each other for the golden apple.

Now I’m seeing her with two gold chickens stuffed under her clothes, sitting down to dinner. “Excuse me, ma’am, but did your brassiere just…cluck?”

“Oh! look how those two there are fighting for the golden apple,” said the King’s son.

“Also, do you normally throw gilded fowl on the table during nice dinners?”

“Yes,and so did we two fight to get out that time when we were in the mountain,” said the Master-maid.

So the Prince knew her again, and you may imagine how delighted he was. He ordered the troll-witch who had rolled the apple to him to be torn in pieces between four- and-twenty horses, so that not a bit of her was left, and then for the first time they began really to keep the wedding, and, weary as they were, the sheriff, the attorney, and the bailiff kept it up too.

Okay, there’s a LOT freaky with this ending. For one thing, we established earlier that the troll-witch was the bride’s sister, right? So she’s expected to party down after her sister was just drawn and quartered? Was this light entertainment before the cheese course? Fine, okay, people routinely get horribly murdered at the end of fairy-tales, just to make sure that everything comes out properly, but I’ll point out that a) apparently they now have troll-witches as in-laws, and b) the late troll-witch’s great sin is making the prince forget the Master-maid, whereas the Master-maid herself has killed an old woman, taken her house, beaten three members of the community half to death, and engaged in illicit transportation of fowl. (And probably stole a boat, too. You can’t tell me that she got that boat by legal means! There’s a trail of gilded corpses on the way to that boat, mark my words!)

And the sheriff, the attorney, and the bailiff, who can barely walk and could be forgiven for bursting into uncontrollable screaming at the sight of the Master-maid, are limping through the ceremony as well? Yeeesh. If the troll-witch had still be available to make them forget her, I bet they’d be fighting over that apple like…well…golden chickens.

I give this fairy tale major props for having a competent and empowered heroine, but…well…dude.

An Annotated Fairy Tale

I frequently find myself on-line reading fairy tales. And being me, I frequently find myself maintaining a sort of mental running commentary about said fairy tales, and since I am spending today recuperating from Con-mode, I have nothing better to do than inflict it upon you!

The Blue Light is a folktale of Aaren-Thompson type 562. There’s a half-dozen versions or so. This one’s from Grimm, by way of the marvelous folktale collection put on-line by the University of Pittsburgh.

The Blue Light

Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served the king loyally for many long years. When the war was over and the soldier could no longer serve because of the many wounds he had received, the king said to him, “You can go home now. I no longer need you. There will be no more money for you, because wages are only for those who earn them.”

So, the king’s a dick. Good to know.

Because the soldier did not know how he could earn a living, he sadly walked the whole day long, until he came to a forest in the evening. As darkness fell he saw a light. He approached it and came to a little house, where a witch lived. “Give me a night’s shelter and a little to eat and drink,” he said to her, “otherwise I will perish.”

“Oho!” she answered. “Who gives anything to a runaway soldier? But I will have pity and take you in after all, if you will do what I ask of you.”

Insomuch as there is a moral to fairy tales, it’s that you should always be nice to the less fortunate. You’re probably better off being nice to the less fortunate when they’re animals and old women, however, since there’s an equally large body of folksongs that detail the hazards of letting soldiers sleep over. In situations like these, the witch pretty much has to flip a coin and hope she doesn’t wind up pregnant.

“What do you want?” asked the soldier.

“For you to dig up my garden tomorrow.”

Ideally you should ask to see the garden first in these cases, as it is entirely likely that it is guarded by ravenous griffins and hip deep in griffin crap.

The soldier agreed, and the next day he worked with all his might, but could not finish before evening. “I see,” said the witch, “that you can do no more work today. I will take you in for one more night if tomorrow you will cut up and split a stack of wood for me.”

Compared to a lot of people, the witch is being very nice about this. The ogre in “Master-Maid” threatened to eat the hero if he didn’t finish by sunset. I’m surprised the witch isn’t bringing him a pillow and some Dr. Scholl’s inserts.

The soldier took the entire day to do this, and that evening the witch proposed that he remain a third night. “Tomorrow I have only a small task for you. Behind my house there is a dry well into which my light has fallen. It burns blue and never goes out. I want you to get it for me.”

I am pretty sure you are not supposed to go into tunnels when the lights start burning blue.

The next day the old woman led him to the well and lowered him down it in a basket. He found the blue light and gave a sign that she should pull him up again. And she did pull him up, but when he was close to the edge, she wanted to take the blue light from him. “No,” he said, sensing her evil thoughts, “I shall not give you the light until I am standing on the ground with both feet.”

Then the witch became furious, let him fall back into the well, and walked away. The poor soldier fell to the damp floor without being injured. The blue light continued to burn, but how could that help him?

I am not sure if this was a radical about-face by the witch, or if she was planning on killing him the whole time and thought she’d at least get some manual labor out of the bargain first. In some of the other versions, the witch is replaced by a charcoal burner who conveniently dies in his sleep, and in at least one, the witch is a perfectly nice person who gave him piles and piles of money, and the soldier hacks her head off when she won’t tell him what the light is for. But we’ll go with strange soldier-telepathy for the moment.

He saw that would not be able to escape death. He sadly sat there for a while. Then he happened to reach into his pocket and found his tobacco pipe, which was still half full. “This will be your last pleasure,” he thought, pulled it out, lit it with the blue light, and began to smoke.

You lit a fire in a tunnel where the flames were burning blue. By rights you should be spread all over the landscape in an inch-thick layer of goo.

After the fumes had wafted about the cavern, suddenly there stood before him a little black dwarf, who said, “Master, what do you command?”

“Why should I command you?” replied the bewildered soldier.

“I must do everything that you demand,” said the dwarf.

The plot thickens!

“Good,” said the soldier, “then first help me out of this well.”

The dwarf took him by the hand and led him through an underground passage, and he did not forget to take the blue light with him. Along the way he showed him the treasures that the witch had collected and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold as he could carry.

In some of the other versions, the dwarf is replaced by a man made of iron, and in about half of them, it’s a trio of dogs, with eyes as big and round as a series of big round things. (Millstones, towers, etc.)  My mental image of the dogs with huge eyes involved a series of mutant pugs and was a trifle unsettling. Pugs already have that problem with their eyes popping out when they sneeze too hard or get whacked in the back of the head, and if you’ve got eyes like millstones, I imagine you don’t even dare swallow hard. And good luck catching THAT in a wet towel and taking the dog to the vet. They’d have to be like those freaky Margaret Keane animals. Let’s stick with the dwarf.

When he was above ground, he said to the dwarf, “Now go and bind the old witch and take her to the judge.”

Not long afterward she came riding by on a tomcat as fast as the wind and screaming horribly. And not long after that the dwarf was back. “It is all taken care of,” he said. “The witch is hanging on the gallows. Master, what do you command now?”

Well, I’ll give the soldier some credit for having the witch sent to the judge instead of having the dwarf kill her outright. We’ll assume there was a fair trial, as Vaguely Medieval Europe was always so good about that with witches.

I would have liked to know more about the tomcat as fast as the wind, though.

“Nothing at the moment,” answered the soldier. “You can go home, but be ready when I call you.”

“It is only necessary,” said the dwarf, “for you to light your pipe with the blue light, and I will be with you.” With that he disappeared before his very eyes.

The soldier returned to the city from which he had come. He moved into the best inn and had beautiful clothes made for himself. Then he told the innkeeper to furnish his room as luxuriously as possible. When it was finished he summoned the black dwarf and said, “I served the king loyally, but he sent me away to starve. For this I now want revenge.”

“What am I to do?” asked the little man.

“Late this evening, when the king’s daughter is lying in bed, bring her here to me in her sleep. She shall do maid service for me.”

I see we’re just going to abandon the moral high ground right away.

The dwarf said, “That is an easy thing for me, but a dangerous thing for you. If you are found out, it will not go well for you.”

The dwarf may be the only person in this story with any sense.

At the strike of twelve the door opened, and the dwarf carried the king’s daughter in.

“Aha, is that you?” cried the soldier. “Get to work now! Go fetch the broom and sweep the room.” When she was finished he called her to his chair, stuck his feet out at her, and said, “Pull off my boots,” then threw them in her face, and she had to pick them up and clean them and make them shine.

I had been wondering if “maid service” was a euphemism. I suppose it could be worse. But my sympathy is definitely gone. I realize that the king’s a dick, but I’m pretty sure his daughter didn’t have anything to do with the military pension situation, and you’re using your amazing magic tinderbox just so you can throw boots at her head?

She did everything that he ordered her to do, without resisting, silently, and with half-closed eyes.

Nothing creepy ’bout that at all.

At the first cock’s crow, the dwarf carried her to the royal palace and back to her bed.

The next morning, after the king’s daughter had gotten up, she went to her father and told him that she had had an amazing dream. “I was carried away through the streets as fast as lightning and taken to a soldier’s room. I had to serve as his maid and wait on him and do common work, sweep the room, and clean his boots. It was only a dream, but still I am as tired as if I had really done it all.”

“The dream could have been true,” said the king. “I will give you some advice. Fill your pocket with peas, then make a small hole in your pocket. If you are carried away again, they will fall out and leave a track on the street.”

The king may be a dick, but this is really rather clever. (In other versions he sees a spot of boot-grease on her face, which explains a little better why he was willing to believe that this was really happening.)

As the king was thus speaking, the dwarf was invisibly standing nearby and heard everything.

Honestly, the dwarf deserves Employee of the Year. You notice the the soldier never thanks him for any of this.

That night when he once again carried the sleeping princess through the streets, a few peas did indeed fall out of her pocket, but they did not leave a track, because the cunning dwarf had already scattered peas in all the streets. And once again the king’s daughter had to do maid service until the cock crowed.

The next morning the king sent his people out to look for the track, but it was to no end, for in all the streets there were poor children gathering peas and saying, “Last night it rained peas.”

Personally I might have just closed up her pocket, but I suppose if one of your superpowers is making it rain peas, you take any chance to can get to use it. I would imagine this annoys the heck out of the dwarf’s friends. “Damnit, Bob! We’re just locked out of the house here! This is not an appropriate situation for the rain of peas!” 

“We must think of something else,” said the king. “Leave your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you return from there, hide one of them. I will be sure to find it.”

The black dwarf overheard this proposal, and that evening when the soldier again wanted the king’s daughter brought to him, the dwarf advised him against this, saying that he had no way to protect him against such trickery. If the shoe were to be found in his room, it would not go well with him.

Let me get this straight. The dwarf can make it rain vegetables, go invisible, drag witches off to be tried fairly by a jury of their peers (I am clinging to this one, damnit) and smuggle sleeping women all over town, but if somebody throws a shoe under the bed, he’s powerless?

“Do what I tell you,” replied the soldier, and for a third night the king’s daughter had to work like a maid. But before she was carried back, she hid a shoe under the bed.

Maybe the dwarf is a recovering brownie, and he can’t touch shoes. He’ll lose his mind if shoes get involved. He had to join Shoes Anonymous for recovering fairy cobblers.

On the other hand, it’s a fairy tale, and there are so many red-hot iron shoes, shoes that make you dance endlessly, shoes that cause passing farmhouses to fall on your head, etc, that maybe he’s being quite sensible about this.

The next morning the king had the entire city searched for the shoe, and it was found in the soldier’s room. The soldier himself, following the little man’s request, was already outside the city gate, but they soon overtook him and threw him into prison.

Bet you wish you’d kept that tomcat-as-fast-as-the-wind now, huh?

In his haste, he had forgotten to take along his most valuable things: the blue light and the gold.

Translation: The soldier is too stupid to live. This is not like forgetting to pack your toothbrush.

He had only one ducat in his pocket. Standing at the window of his prison and weighted down with chains, he saw one of his comrades walking by. He knocked on the glass, and as he walked by, he said, “Be so good and bring me the little bundle that I left at the inn. I’ll give you a ducat for it.”

The comrade ran forth and brought back the desired things. As soon as the soldier was alone again, he lit his pipe and summoned the black dwarf. “Have no fear,” he said to his master. “Just go where they lead you, and let everything happen, but take the blue light with you.”

If I were the dwarf, I might be trying to shed this guy by now and go back to my nice well, which isn’t full of ingrates.

The next day the soldier was tried, and although he had done nothing wrong, the judge still sentenced him to death.

No, actually I’m pretty sure kidnapping and throwing boots at the princess for revenge counts as wrong, and there’s still the question of the possibly innocent witch, since I am growing increasingly suspicious of the accuracy of soldier telepathy. Frankly, maybe the witch was the telepathic one and realized what a jerk you are and decided to drop you down the well for a reason.

As he was being led out, he asked the king for one last wish.

“What sort of a wish?” asked the king.

“That I might smoke one more pipe on the way.”

“You can smoke three,” answered the king, “but do not think that I will let you live.”

Never ever ever grant the last wishes of people with known magical associates.

Then the soldier pulled out his pipe and lit it with the blue light. As soon as a few rings of smoke had risen, the dwarf was standing there. He had a cudgel in his hand and said, “What does my master command?”

“Strike the false judges and their henchmen to the ground for me. And don’t spare the king either, who has treated me so badly.”

I will give you that the king was a dick about the pensions, and if you want to strike him down, I’m willing to turn a blind eye. But the judges nailing you for kidnapping really don’t qualify as “false” and let me point out that you thought they were good enough for the witch (who increasingly has my sympathy.)

Then the dwarf took off like lightning, zip-zap, back and forth, and everyone he even touched with his cudgel fell to the ground and did not dare to move. The king became afraid. He begged for mercy, and in order to save his life, he gave to the soldier his kingdom as well as his daughter for a wife.

I bet she was thrilled.

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