Hello, beloveds! Long time, no see. As proof that I’ve not been utterly idle this long while, here’s a new fairy tale fresh from the Fairy Tale Factory assembly line:

THE GOLDEN THREAD

Once upon a time a husband and his wife lived in a small cottage on the beach. They lived modestly and loved one another very much. Their names were John and Arra. One day they received notice from the king that John must go fight in the war across the ocean. The night before he left, they shared tender embraces, after which John fell deeply asleep. But Arra could not sleep for worrying, so she walked down to the shore to cry. As she wept, a small, sweet voice asked her what was the matter. She looked down and saw a tiny golden woman sitting on a seashell.

“Oh, little friend,” she said, “my husband has been called away to war and I’m afraid I will never see him again.”

“Do not worry,” the woman said. “Reach into your pocket and you will find a shell and a thread. Tie the thread from your heart to his and you will always be able to find him no matter where he goes. The shell is for you. Keep it with you always, and use it only in a time of great need.”

“Oh! Thank you so much,” Arra cried. “What can I do for you in return?”

“You owe me nothing. But remember this one piece of wisdom, and take it home to your husband: If he should meet any strange creature on his travels, he must not reveal his name. If asked for his name, he must look the creature in the eye and say, ‘My name is mine and mine alone.’ If he forgets this advice, he may lose his soul.”

Arra thanked her and ran back to the cottage. In the morning she tied the thread from her heart to his, and gave him the tiny woman’s advice. Then he set off to war.

The separation was hard on them, and harder on him than her. For while she had the comfort of the child growing in her belly, he had only the other sailors and the deep, indifferent sea. He rushed through his days, living only for his dreams at night, ignorant of his wife’s pregnancy.

When he wasn’t sleeping or working, he sat on the deck of the ship and played songs of love on his harmonica. The wind caught his music up and carried it to the sea witch, who cannot love and so must steal it from others. She took the form of a great, ugly bird and came every evening to hear him play. He loathed the sight of her from the start. Every time she appeared he would run at her, yelling, “Shoo! Shoo, you ugly thing!” But she would simply fly up to the rigging and wait for him to play again.

One day she spoke to him. “Why do you hate me so?”

“Ugh!” he replied. “You are so ugly and you stare at me so intensely that it feels like you would steal my soul if you could.”

The ugly bird shook her feathered head sorrowfully. “I cannot help what I am,” she said. “Even my own kind drive me away. Your music gives me the only joy in my lonely life, and I spend my days waiting to hear it.” Tears welled up in her red, beady eyes. “And yet when I come to hear you play, you attack me. What have I ever done to you?”

John was ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I am also alone and unhappy, and I see now that misery has made me cruel. How can I make it up to you? What song would you like to hear? I will play whatever you like.”

The wicked old bird cocked her head at him. “Truly, I would only like to know who to thank for this beautiful music.”

And he, in his shame and confusion, forgot his wife’s warning and delivered up his name.

As soon as he said it, his name became a fluttering butterfly that flew from his lips. The witch snapped it up in her great, ugly beak with a triumphant “CAW!” And they disappeared without a sound—man and monster alike. When the ship reached the next port, the captain wrote Arra to tell her that her husband was lost at sea, presumed dead.

And that is how Arra found herself, big with child, packing a bag and walking into the sea with nothing but a thread to guide her.

***************************************

After the first three days, Arra lost track of how long she followed the thread along the ocean floor. Many times she wanted to turn back, but the thread led only forward, and behind was nothing but darkness and the creatures of the deep.

Finally, when she was out of food and wholly exhausted, certain she would die, she came upon a wondrous sight—a castle, majestic in the gloom. Its twisting spires were shaped like narwhal horns and seashells. A high wall encircled it, studded with skulls of drowned sailors and jewels from sunken treasure. Its gates were made of beaten gold and inlaid with mother of pearl, and they were locked tight. The thread ran right between them. Arra beat on the gates, her small fists making almost no sound at all, muffled by the pressing water. “Let me in!” she cried.

There was no answer.

“Let me in,” she demanded. She pounded until her fists were bruised, she shouted until her voice nearly gave out.

Finally, defeated, she slumped against the gate and said softly, “Please, please let me in. The best part of my heart lies inside.”

The gates swung silently open. She followed the thread right into the castle, into the most beautiful room she’d ever seen. A fire burned warmly in a huge fireplace, and a hot, nourishing meal sat on the table. There was one place set. “Hello?” she called. There was no answer. The thread became a tangle of refracted beams that led nowhere, barely visible in the soft firelight, but Arra was so enchanted by the welcoming castle that she didn’t notice. “Hello? Is anyone home?” She walked through richly appointed room after richly appointed room, calling out, but there was not a soul in sight. The castle was as silent as the ocean floor.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, rubbing her pregnant belly, “there is more than enough food here to feed me and several others besides. Surely no one would mind if I ate a little. I must keep my strength up for the baby and the journey ahead.” And so she returned to the dining room and ate her fill.

Afterwards, she was so sleepy she felt she might pass out. “How strange that no one has come home yet. Well, surely they wouldn’t begrudge a pregnant woman a night’s sleep. I can introduce myself in the morning.” And so she went down the hall to a particularly inviting bedroom, and found a fire roaring, a hot bath drawn, and a pretty nightgown just her size laid out on the bed. And so she bathed, put on the nightgown, and climbed gratefully into bed.

When she awoke, she found the fire freshly tended and an elegant new dress laid out for her. Her old clothes were washed and mended, and hung in a wardrobe next to lovely garments that seemed made just for her. There was still no sign of any living being. She put on the elegant dress and made her way to the dining room where she once again found a sumptuous meal waiting for her, this time with two place settings, one occupied by a woman so beautiful that Arra felt ashamed of her own common manners and features.

The beautiful woman smiled. “Good morning! I was wondering when you would wake up. How did you sleep?”

Arra stammered shyly, “Very well, thank you. Better than I ever have before. Thank you for the clothes and the supper and the bath and everything. I hope you don’t mind. I couldn’t find anyone when I got here, and I was so hungry and tired.”

“Please, sit and enjoy breakfast with me. I so rarely have company. This is a treat. Which leads me to my next question: How did you get here? This is not an easy place to find!” She laughed like silver bells.

“My husband is at the other end of this thread, which I followed along the ocean floor. ” Arra gestured to the place her thread had once shone bright and true, and for the first time noticed that it was all but gone. “Oh!” She clutched at her heart and tried to grasp the thread, but the tangled beam slipped through her fingers. “Oh! What’s happened to it? I don’t understand! It led through your gates, right up to your door.” She looked earnestly into the woman’s eyes, “Please. My husband was reported lost at sea, but I know he still lives. Do you have a lost sailor here? This,” she gestured at the pale tangle, “was once a true path between us. And I followed it all this way to find him.”

The lady furrowed her delicate brow. “I’m afraid there is no one here but you and me, my dear. You are the first person to visit this castle in more than a hundred years. And I’m not sure what you mean about a thread. I see no thread. Perhaps you are still exhausted from your journey. Perhaps it was a fever dream. You need to rest and recover.”

Arra shook her head impatiently. “It was no dream. Are you certain there is no one else here? Maybe your servants brought someone in unbeknownst to you.”

The lady laughed again, “My darling girl, not a creature draws breath in this place but I know about it. Did I not lay out a warm and welcoming supper for you last night? Did I not have a fire burning and a bath drawn and the most perfect clothes all waiting for you when you needed them? I think I would know if some waterlogged sailor had washed through my door.” She paused as Arra frowned. “Forgive me. I do not mean to disrespect your beloved.” She gestured to the empty place setting beside her. “Please. Eat while we talk. Your baby needs nourishment as much as you do.”

Arra sat, and tried to conceal her growing anger and fear—for she now understood that she was in the home of a fearsome witch. “Thank you for saving my life and the life of my child,” she said cautiously. “You are very kind.”

“Well, I couldn’t just leave you out there to die with your heart full of love, now could I?” The sea witch smiled and patted Arra gently on the knee. “You know, my dear, I feel we are on our way to becoming fast friends. Tell me, what’s your name?”

Arra’s heart pounded as she remembered her tiny friend’s warning. “You may think me quite rude,” she said apologetically, “but my name is mine and mine alone. I’ll tell you anything else you want to know, but I can’t give you my name.”

The sea witch crooked an exquisite eyebrow in displeasure. “Child, I don’t know where you come from, but in this land that’s a poor way to treat someone to whom you owe your life.”

“I know. I mean no offense. I am indebted to you, and I will do and give anything else. I simply cannot tell you my name.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” said the sea witch thoughtfully, “because I just remembered that I do have a man here. I’d completely forgotten about him until just this moment. He’s out of his mind, of course, has no idea who or where he is. But he’s very handsome and he plays the harmonica beautifully. It’s a shame you have such bad manners, else I might let you see him.”

“Oh! I’m sure that’s my husband—please let me see him! I’ll do anything you want.”

“All you have to do, my darling girl, is remember your manners and tell me your name.”

Arra Mae’s voice quavered. “I can’t.”

“Well, then. It seems our time together is done. I’ll show you out.” She stood and gestured gracefully towards the door. At this, Arra abandoned her pride and her fear, and pleaded with all her might to see the mysterious man. Finally the sea witch said, “Since you are so pitiful,” she said, “I’ll strike a bargain with you. You may clean my kitchen and cook dinner for me and my guest this evening. You will serve us in the great dining room. If you speak a word to him—even one—you will find yourself outside the castle walls, and the magic that let you walk along the ocean floor will no longer protect you from the crushing cold. If he recognizes you, you may have him. If he does not, you must tell me your name.”

Arra eagerly agreed. “He will remember himself as soon as he sees me. I know he will.”

The woman chuckled. “I hope you’re a good cook, darling. I have a tremendous appetite. You might want to change back into your old clothes. You have a lot of work ahead of you.”

                                    ***************************************

Soon thereafter, she led Arra Mae through a maze of corridors to a huge kitchen that smelled of rot and seaweed. “We dine at six o’clock sharp. Heaven help you if you’re late with it.” And with that, she turned and vanished into the maze.

“But…” Arra stared at the derelict kitchen in dismay, “where’s the food? Where…where’s the fire? There must be a mistake…” A century of filth rose around her, tangles of silverware, cracked dishes, empty pots encrusted with old food. The bones of mysterious animals were jammed into the drains.

As she stared at the mess and the empty cupboards, she remembered the golden shell her little friend had given her. She dug it from her pocket and cracked it open. A dozen tiny golden women bustled out of the shell. “Well,” they snapped, “what do you need? What do you want?”

“Please,” said Arra, “I need this kitchen cleaned and sorted, and I need to serve the best supper anyone’s ever eaten. Can you help me?”

The women laughed. “That’s it? That’s your only request?”

“I beg you. My life and my husband’s life depend on it.”

The little women snorted contemptuously, turned without a word and got to work. By six o’clock, the pots and pans were gleaming, the crystal shone, and even the cracked dishes had been mended. Just in time, they presented her with a cart piled high with the most delicious dinner she’d ever seen. “Oh, thank you so much! Is there anything I can do to repay you?”

“Even if there was,” they said, “you’d probably not be smart enough to do it.” And with that, they disappeared, leaving Arra staring at the empty shell on the kitchen floor.

Arra wheeled the cart through the maze to the opulent dining room. As she stood outside the door, she heard her husband’s voice, followed by the sea witch’s silver-bell laugh. Her heart leapt into her throat. She took a deep breath and pushed the cart into the room. The witch held John’s hand and laughed as he smiled into her eyes. Arra barely stopped herself from exclaiming aloud as the sea witch turned and put her finger to her lips in a “hush” gesture.

And so Arra served dinner silently to her husband and the sea witch. He looked at her once, puzzled. “Who is this? She looks familiar to me…”

Arra smiled at him with tears in her eyes.

“Oh, just a stray that wandered in from the deeps. I can’t imagine someone of your rank would know someone so low, my darling. Here, have some more asparagus. Did I mention that I want to take you on a tour of the kingdom tomorrow?”

He reached a tentative hand towards Arra. “Why are you crying?” he asked. But she could only shake her head, mindful of the sea witch’s threat.

The witch caught his outstretched hand in her own. “Pregnancy plays havoc with a woman’s moods, darling.” She dismissed Arra with a wave. “That will be all, girl. Clear the table and go have a good cry in the kitchen.” She turned to John and frowned sympathetically. “Poor thing.”

Arra numbly wheeled the cart back to the immaculate kitchen and sat, waiting.

“Poor dear,” said the witch when she finally came to the kitchen, “I told you he wouldn’t recognize you. He doesn’t even know himself. I’ve told him he’s a lost king. I like him. I may offer him my hand in marriage. What can you offer him? A shack on the beach? Your love? What are those things compared to the entire ocean kingdom?”

Arra wiped her tears away proudly. “My love and our child are kingdom enough for any man.”

The sea witch narrowed her eyes. “Hm. You have a point. I cannot offer him a child. Since you failed so miserably at your last task, I’ll offer you another chance to save yourself and your family. How about this? I’ll hide your name somewhere in the castle. You’ll work for me as my servant, honestly and excellently, as you have shown you can do. In your free time, you may look for your name. If you find it before the baby is born, you can all go home. But if you don’t, you are mine, your husband is mine and your baby is mine, too.”

“Agreed.”

The sea witch laughed her silver laugh. “And so, my darling, my dear, I ask you for the final time: What is your name?” Arra spoke and her name fluttered forth and hung in the air between them. The sea witch caught it easily and watched with pleasure as Arra’s clear, direct gaze clouded and slowly turned inwards. “How are you feeling, my love?”

Arra looked at her anxiously, vaguely. “I’m…I feel so strange. I think I’ve lost something, but I can’t remember what it is. Can you help me?”

“I’m afraid I can’t, my darling.” The witch took her elbow and gently led her towards the sink of dirty dishes. “Perhaps you’ll remember what it is while you’re washing the dishes. They say thinking about something else is a good way to recall what you’ve forgotten.”

Then the witch turned, drew her hand from her pocket and swallowed the delicate butterfly in one greedy gulp.

                                  ***************************************

The days passed quickly after that, and soon they turned into weeks, and then months. She cooked meals and served them, making sure never to speak. She and John would look at one another with curiosity, but the witch always redirected his attention, and after each meal she’d remind Arra that she was never to speak to him. After each meal she’d call Arra into her sitting room so she could stroke Arra’s growing tummy. She’d ask with concern, “Did you find what you were looking for, my darling?”

Arra would shake her head in frustration. “No, ma’am. I’ve looked through every drawer in almost every room in the castle, but I haven’t found anything that looks like it.”

The sea witch would tsk-tsk sympathetically and rub Arra’s tummy. “Poor thing. Keep looking, my love, I’m sure you’ll find it.” Then she’d say, “This baby you’re carrying will rule this kingdom one day. It’s a noble task you’ve been charged with, carrying the royal heir. It’s quite an honor.”

“I know. It still makes me sad to think of giving it up.”

The sea witch would give her hand a sympathetic squeeze and say, “It’ll pass, darling. It’ll pass.”

***************************************

And then one night it happened—the contractions began. Arra labored and struggled for hours while the sea witch watched with hungry eyes. When the baby was finally born, Arra hugged her close and cried fiercely, “I won’t give you up!”

“You made a bargain, my dear, and you must keep it. If you don’t give her to me, I will put you out to drown.” She took the baby girl and walked away. “Now my family is complete. I can’t wait to show my king.”

Arra followed her down the hall. “Give me back my baby!”

“Shut up, girl, and go back to your room! I’m almost out of patience with you.”

John wandered out sleepily. “What’s going on? Why are you shouting at each other?” His face softened when he saw the baby in the sea witch’s arms.

The sea witch purred at him, “Congratulations, my darling. I’d like to introduce you to our daughter. Now our family is complete…my king.”

Arra grabbed for the baby. “I don’t care if you put me out to drown. I won’t give up my daughter!”

When he heard Arra’s voice, John shook his head, as if he were trying to recover from a blow. He looked at her with new eyes, and his heart remembered his loving wife, even if her name was forgotten. He put an arm protectively around Arra and scolded the sea witch. “She should be in bed now, not chasing after her little one. What’s the harm in letting her keep her baby for just one night?”

The sea witch snapped, “That slut gambled her own baby away. She’s mine now!” He looked at her with revulsion as she corrected herself, “I mean ours. This beautiful baby is ours, my darling.” She bounced the tiny girl softly in her arms. “What is your name, little one? I have your mama’s name, and I have your papa’s name, but I haven’t got a name for you.”

At this the infant’s tiny eyes flew open and terrible golden light shone from them. “I know my mother’s name, witch,” the baby exclaimed. She pronounced Arra’s name, and the sea witch’s mouth flew open as if by force. Arra’s name fluttered out and landed gently on her lips.

“And I know my father’s name, too!” She pronounced John’s name, which flew from the witch’s mouth to his own. John and Arra truly recognized each other for the first time, and embraced joyfully.

The baby turned her gaze to the terrified witch, “And I know your name, too!”

When she pronounced the ugly syllables of the sea witch’s name, all the names the witch had ever stolen flew from the her mouth in a shimmering cloud. The witch writhed and shrieked, growing thinner and thinner, until, when the last name fluttered from her lips, she turned to dust and blew away.

And that is how Arra and John and their beautiful daughter (whose name is hers and hers alone) came to rule the kingdom under the sea wisely and well for the rest of their days.

The End

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I got a random (but very nice) note through the Meetup group (which I’ve disbanded, BTW) about an upcoming writing workshop if any of you enterprising souls are interested:

“I wasn’t sure whether members of your group might be interested in a writer’s workshop, but in case they are, I’ll be conducting one starting April 18.

The six-week workshop is offered through the University of Washington’s ASUW continuing ed program (the Experimental College). “Revision Quest: A Creative Writing Workshop” is a six-week course that gets into the nitty-gritty of the revision process. Together, we’ll examine participants’ manuscripts to help them improve what they’ve written and gain the skills needed to revise future works.

Anyone interested can find details about the workshop on the ASUW class-listing page (https://depts.washington.edu/asuwxpcl/courses/view/13SP.20.18301). They can also find additional information about the workshop and about me at http://rhsheldon.com/classes/.

Please let me know if you have any questions. You can email me directly at rhsheldon@gmail.com. I’m also happy to send you a few flyers if you’re interested.

Thank you very much.

R. H. Sheldon”

So there you have it. R.H. Sheldon, gender unknown, invites one and all to attend. I have no idea how much it will cost you, but lucky for everyone there’s an abundance of contact information.

xo!

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The FTF is on hiatus for the duration of 2013, including the blog. So far it’s going swimmingly.

However, I may sporadically upload some home videos from FTF HQ. You know. For old time’s sake:

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Yeah, I know. It's "James and Giant Peach." You wouldn't BELIEVE the image search results for "Peach Darling." Google at your own risk.

Today’s fairy tale is a short one from Japan, called “Peach Darling.” It shares motifs with some of my favorite European tales (the magical child given to the childless couple, a posse of animal companions, a monster-killing quest), but even though the ingredients are the same, the overall flavor of the story is a little different. (You like that metaphor? I feel so clever.) It’s from a 1911 collection from Teresa Pierce Willitson, and if you like it, you can find more here.

I confess to having a strong preference for the European tales, and I’ll also confess to feeling some good old-fashioned Anglo-Protestant guilt about that. So I’m on a quest to find stories from East and Southeast Asia, as well as Africa, that I like as much as I like the English, French, German, and Eastern European tales. Stay tuned. It’s about to get multi-cultural up in here.

PEACH DARLING

HERE once lived an old man and an old woman who had no child of their own. They felt very sad about this, for they said: “Who will care for us when we are too old to care for ourselves?”

Since they had no children of their own to love, they loved all other children and tried to make them happy. Even the cats and dogs, the birds and squirrels, knew they had friends in the old man and woman.

No cherry trees ever bore such beautiful blossoms as the ones by their cottage door, and all the bees of the village came to hum with delight at the long and graceful catkins on their willow tree.

One day the old man said: “To-day I must go to the mountains to cut grass. Oh, if I only had a stout young boy who could take this long journey for me! But then I must not complain, for we have each other.” So off he went, happy and contented, in spite of it all.

Then the old woman said to herself: “If my good husband must take such a long, hard journey to-day, I, too, will be at work. I will take all these clothes down to the river and wash them.”

Soon she was on the river bank, washing merrily, while the birds sang above her. “How jolly our little friends are to-day!” thought the old woman. “They twitter and sing as though they were trying to tell me a secret.

Just then something came splashing and tumbling down the river and caught among her clean clothes. The old woman took a stick and pulled it out. It was a huge peach. “I will take this home for my husband’s supper; he will be so tired, and this will taste very good,” she said. Oh! how the birds sang then!

That evening when the old man came home from the mountains his wife said: “Just see, here is a peach for your supper, which came floating down the river to me. I fancy the birds must have sent it, for they laughed and sang so when it came.”

The old man said: “Bring me a knife, that I may cut it in two, for you shall have half of it.”

When they opened the peach, there within it lay a tiny baby boy, as round and fat and smiling as could be. Because of his first cradle they called him “Peach Darling,” and loved him as a child sent from the gods.

Find out what this divine child did when he grew big and strong.

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Don't mess with the Ash Lad.

Today’s trickster tale comes to us courtesy of FTF friend Lisa, who said it reminded her of Pinkel the Thief (which was a Friday story back in April). It’s a Norwegian tale, and if you like your stories cold, dark, and full of trolls, you can find more like it at the Norwegian Folk Tales page of ancestry.com.

Side note: The Ash Lad is apparently a recurring figure in Norwegian folklore, and also the surprisingly foxy star of an ad campaign for underwear. [Thanks to Gypsy at the always great Once Upon a Blog for the tip.]

The Ash Lad Who Had an Eating Match with a Troll 

There was once a farmer who had three sons. He was badly off. and old and feeble, and his sons wouldn’t turn their hands to a thing. To the farm belonged a large, good forest, and there the father wanted the boys to chop wood and see about paying off some of the debt. At last he got them around to his way of thinking, and the eldest was to go out chipping first.

When he had made his way into the forest, and had started chopping a shaggy firtree, a big, burly Troll came up to him. “If you’re chopping in my forest, I’m going to kill you!” said the Troll. When the boy heard that, he flung aside the ax and headed for home again as best he could. He got home clean out of breath, and told them what had happened to him. But his father said he was chicken-hearted. The Trolls had never scared him from chopping wood when he was young, he said.

On the next day the second son was to set out, and he fared just like the first. When he had struck the fir tree a few blows with his ax, the Troll came up to him, too, and said,” If you’re chopping in my forest, I’m going to kill you!” The boy hardly dared look at him. He flung aside the ax and took to his heels just like his brother, and just as fast. When he came home again, his father became angry and said that the Trolls had never scared him when he was young.

On the third day the Ash Lad wanted to set out. “You?” said the two eldest. “You’ll certainly manage it – you who’ve never been beyond the front door!” He didn’t say much to that, the Ash Lad didn’t, but just asked for a big a lunch as possible to take with him. His mother had no curds, so she hung the cauldron over the fire to curdle a little cheese for him. This he put in his knapsack, and set out on his way.

When he had been chopping for a little while, the Troll came to him and said, “If you’re chopping in my forest, I’m going to kill you!”

But the boy wasn’t slow. He ran over to the knapsack to get the cheese, and squeezed it till the whey spurted.”If you don’t hold your tongue,” he shrieked to the Troll, “I’ll squeeze you the way I’m squeezing the water out of this white stone!”

“Nay, dear fellow! Spare me!” said the Troll. “I’ll help you to chop!” Well, on that condition the boy would sparehim, and the Troll was clever at chopping, so they managed to fell and cut many cords of wood during the day.

As evening was drawing night, the Troll said,” Now you can come home with me. My house is closer than yours.” Well, the boy went along, and when they came to the Troll’s home, he was to make up the fire in the hearth, while the boy was to fetch water for the porridge pot. But the two iron buckets were so big and heavy that he couldn’t so much as budge them.

So the boy said, “It’s not worth taking along these thimbles. I’m going after the whole well, I am!”

“Nay, my dear fellow,” said the Troll. “I can’t lose my well. You make the fire and I’ll go after the water.” When he came back with the water, they cooked up a huge pot of porridge.

“If it’s the same to you,” said the boy, “let’s have an eating match!”

“Oh, yes,” replied the Troll, for at that he felt he could always hold his own. Well, they sat down at the table, but the boy stole over and took the knapsack and tied it in the front of him, and he scooped more into the knapsack than he ate himself. When the knapsack was full, he took up his knife and ripped a gash in it. The Troll looked at him, but didn’t say anything. When they had eaten a good while longer, the Troll put down his spoon. “”Nay! Now I can’t manage any more!” he said

“You must eat!” said the boy. “I’m barely half full yet. Do as I did and cut a hole in your stomach, then you can eat as much as you wish!”

“But doesn’t that hurt dreadfully?” asked the Troll.

“Oh, nothing to speak of,” replied the boy. So the Troll did as the boy said, and then, you might know, that was the end of him. But the boy took all the silver and gold to be found in the mountain, and went home with it. With that he could at least pay off some of the debt.

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Have you met zefrank yet? He doesn’t do fairy tales, but he’s totally one of us anyway.

p.s. He says the word “penis” more than once. Several times more than once. So, you know – wear headphones if you’re at work.

 

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Don Cornelius isn't afraid of the Terrible Head! (This was one of the top image search results for "The Terrible Head." No joke.)

 

This peculiar tale from Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book is strongly flavored with cruelty, as well as Greek and Roman mythology. See how many different myths you can name as you read. (I count two in this first section alone.)

The Terrible Head

ONCE upon a time there was a king whose only child was a girl. Now the King had been very anxious to have a son, or at least a grandson, to come after him, but he was told by a prophet whom he consulted that his own daughter’s son should kill him. This news terrified him so much that he determined never to let his daughter be married, for he thought it was better to have no grandson at all than to be killed by his grandson. He therefore called his workmen together, and bade them dig a deep round hole in the earth, and then he had a prison of brass built in the hole, and then, when it was finished, he locked up his daughter. No man ever saw her, and she never saw even the fields and the sea, but only the sky and the sun, for there was a wide open window in the roof of the house of brass. So the Princess would sit looking up at the sky, and watching the clouds float across, and wondering whether she should ever get out of her prison. Now one day it seemed to her that the sky opened above her, and a great shower of shining gold fell through the window in the roof, and lay glittering in her room. Not very long after, the Princess had a baby, a little boy, but when the King her father heard of it he was very angry and afraid, for now the child was born that should be his death. Yet, cowardly as he was, he had not quite the heart to kill the Princess and her baby outright, but he had them put in a huge brass-bound chest and thrust out to sea, that they might either be drowned or starved, or perhaps come to a country where they would be out of his way.

So the Princess and the baby floated and drifted in the chest on the sea all day and night, but the baby was not afraid of the waves nor of the wind, for he did not know that they could hurt him, and he slept quite soundly. And the Princess sang a song over him, and this was her song:

“Child, my child, how sound you sleep! Though your mother’s care is deep, You can lie with heart at rest In the narrow brass-bound chest; In the starless night and drear You can sleep, and never hear Billows breaking, and the cry Of the night-wind wandering by; In soft purple mantle sleeping With your little face on mine, Hearing not your mother weeping And the breaking of the brine.”

Well, the daylight came at last, and the great chest was driven by the waves against the shore of an island. There the brass-bound chest lay, with the Princess and her baby in it, till a man of that country came past, and saw it, and dragged it on to the beach, and when he had broken it open, behold! there was a beautiful lady and a little boy. So he took them home, and was very kind to them, and brought up the boy till he was a young man. Now when the boy had come to his full strength the King of that country fell in love with his mother, and wanted to marry her, but he knew that she would never part from her boy. So he thought of a plan to get rid of the boy, and this was his plan: A great Queen of a country not far off was going to be married, and this king said that all his subjects must bring him wedding presents to give her. And he made a feast to which he invited them all, and they all brought their presents; some brought gold cups, and some brought necklaces of gold and amber, and some brought beautiful horses; but the boy had nothing, though he was the son of a princess, for his mother had nothing to give him. Then the rest of the company began to laugh at him, and the King said: “If you have nothing else to give, at least you might go and fetch the Terrible Head.”

The boy was proud, and spoke without thinking:

“Then I swear that I WILL bring the Terrible Head, if it may be brought by a living man. But of what head you speak I know not.”

Then they told him that somewhere, a long way off, there dwelt three dreadful sisters, monstrous ogrish women, with golden wings and claws of brass, and with serpents growing on their heads instead of hair. Now these women were so awful to look on that whoever saw them was turned at once into stone. And two of them could not be put to death, but the youngest, whose face was very beautiful, could be killed, and it was HER head that the boy had promised to bring. You may imagine it was no easy adventure.

But the boy was up to it, wasn’t he? Or WAS HE? Find out!

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Wicked Pinkel robs one of these creatures and steals the other. (Side note: Do you let your goats get into the bed with you? Discuss.)

 

Last week kicked off the latest Intro to Writing Fairy Tales class, and the students had to find a fairy tale they love or hate, then post a link to it on the FTF Facebook page. My favorite so far is “Pinkel the Thief,” yet another from Andrew Lang (this time from the Orange Fairy Book). It’s a trickster tale, featuring the clever, industrious, youngest son who consistently outwits his two lazy, envious brothers AND the evil witch who lives on an island.

Unlike many of my other featured stories, it does not contain any instances of cannibalism, mutilation, or jaw-dropping wickedness. Except for that one part where the girl gets pushed into the well.

How can a story be any good without cannibalism, mutilation, or jaw-dropping wickedness? You’ll just have to read and find out.

PINKEL THE THIEF

Long, long ago there lived a widow who had three sons. The two eldest were grown up, and though they were known to be idle fellows, some of the neighbours had given them work to do on account of the respect in which their mother was held. But at the time this story begins they had both been so careless and idle that their masters declared they would keep them no longer.

So home they went to their mother and youngest brother, of whom they thought little, because he made himself useful about the house, and looked after the hens, and milked the cow. ‘Pinkel,’ they called him in scorn, and by-and-by ‘Pinkel’ became his name throughout the village.

The two young men thought it was much nicer to live at home and be idle than to be obliged to do a quantity of disagreeable things they did not like, and they would have stayed by the fire till the end of their lives had not the widow lost patience with them and said that since they would not look for work at home they must seek it elsewhere, for she would not have them under her roof any longer. But she repented bitterly of her words when Pinkel told her that he too was old enough to go out into the world, and that when he had made a fortune he would send for his mother to keep house for him.

The widow wept many tears at parting from her youngest son, but as she saw that his heart was set upon going with his brothers, she did not try to keep him. So the young men started off one morning in high spirits, never doubting that work such as they might be willing to do would be had for the asking, as soon as their little store of money was spent.

But a very few days of wandering opened their eyes. Nobody seemed to want them, or, if they did, the young men declared that they were not able to undertake all that the farmers or millers or woodcutters required of them. The youngest brother, who was wiser, would gladly have done some of the work that the others refused, but he was small and slight, and no one thought of offering him any. Therefore they went from one place to another, living only on the fruit and nuts they could find in the woods, and getting hungrier every day.

One night, after they had been walking for many hours and were very tired, they came to a large lake with an island in the middle of it. From the island streamed a strong light, by which they could see everything almost as clearly as if the sun had been shining, and they perceived that, lying half hidden in the rushes, was a boat.

‘Let us take it and row over to the island, where there must be a house,’ said the eldest brother; ‘and perhaps they will give us food and shelter.’ And they all got in and rowed across in the direction of the light. As they drew near the island they saw that it came from a golden lantern hanging over the door of a hut, while sweet tinkling music proceeded from some bells attached to the golden horns of a goat which was feeding near the cottage. The young men’s hearts rejoiced as they thought that at last they would be able to rest their weary limbs, and they entered the hut, but were amazed to see an ugly old woman inside, wrapped in a cloak of gold which lighted up the whole house. They looked at each other uneasily as she came forward with her daughter, as they knew by the cloak that this was a famous witch.

‘What do you want?’ asked she, at the same time signing to her daughter to stir the large pot on the fire.

‘We are tired and hungry, and would fain have shelter for the night,’ answered the eldest brother.

‘You cannot get it here,’ said the witch, ‘but you will find both food and shelter in the palace on the other side of the lake. Take your boat and go; but leave this boy with me–I can find work for him, though something tells me he is quick and cunning, and will do me ill.’

‘What harm can a poor boy like me do a great Troll like you?’ answered Pinkel. ‘Let me go, I pray you, with my brothers. I will promise never to hurt you.’ And at last the witch let him go, and he followed his brothers to the boat.

Find out whether Pinkel keeps his promise.

 

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I need a frog bride, pronto! Can y'all hook me up?

In preparation for the upcoming section of Intro to Writing Fairy Tales (it starts tomorrow! I’m so excited!), I’m re-reading The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise von Franz, which is one of my all-time favorite books. In it, she uses today’s fairy tale to explain how fairy tales can function as Rosetta stones for the collective unconscious. And she does so in such an eloquent, expressive way that even a layperson like me can understand what she’s saying. YUM.

Today’s fairy tale is from the Bros. Grimm, and features an animal bride, a secret world hidden below your feet, and a jumping contest between a bunch of ladies. And, apparently, it’s secretly a tale of rejuvenating our relationship with intuition by embracing the mysterious and the subconscious in our daily lives. So fancy.

 

The Three Feathers

Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons, two of whom were clever and intelligent, but the third one did not talk very much, was simple minded, and the only name they gave him wasthe Simpleton.

When the king became old and weak, and thought that he was nearing his end, he did not know which of his sons should inherit the kingdom after him, so he said to them, “Go forth, and the one of you who brings me the finest carpet, he shall be king after my death.”

So there would be no dispute among them, he led them to the front of his castle, blew three feathers into the air, and said, “As they fly, so shall you go.”

The one feather flew to the east, the other to the west, and the third feather flew straight ahead, falling quickly to the ground after going only a short distance. The one brother went to the right, the other to the left, and they laughed at the Simpleton who had to stand there where the third feather had fallen.

The Simpleton sat down and was sad. Then he suddenly noticed that there was a trapdoor next to his feather. He lifted it up, found a stairway, and climbed down inside. He came to another door and knocked on it, upon which he heard someone calling out from within:

Maiden green and small,
Hopping toad,
Hopping toad’s puppy,
Hop to and fro,
Quickly see who is outside.

The door opened, and he saw a big, fat toad sitting there, surrounded by a large number of little toads. The fat toad asked what he wanted.

The Simpleton answered, “I would like the most beautiful and finest carpet.”

Find out what the fat toad offers him.

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Would you trust these girls with your beard?

What with all the Snow White going around these days, I thought I’d bring the OTHER Snow White tale to your attention: “Snow White and Rose Red.” It’s not as complex and wonderfully evil as the seven dwarves tale, but it’s still a sweet story with enough weirdness to satisfy. And what it lacks in wicked witches, it totally makes up for in uncomfortably flirtatious bears.

I would love to see someone do a mash-up of the two versions someday…

Snow White and Rose Red

THERE was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, one of which bore white and the other red roses. She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, and one was called Snow-white and the other Rose-red. They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful, as ever two children in the world were, only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields seeking flowers and catching butterflies; but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her house-work, or read to her when there was nothing to do.

The two children were so fond of each other that they always held each other by the hand when they went out together, and when Snow-white said, “We will not leave each other,” Rose-red answered, “Never so long as we live,” and their mother would add, “What one has she must share with the other.”

They often ran about the forest alone and gathered red berries, and no beasts did them any harm, but came close to them trustfully. The little hare would eat a cabbage-leaf out of their hands, the roe grazed by their side, the stag leapt merrily by them, and the birds sat still upon the boughs, and sang whatever they knew.

No mishap overtook them; if they had stayed too late in the forest and night came on, they laid themselves down near one another upon the moss, and slept until morning came, and their mother knew this and had not distress on their account.

Once when they had spent the night in the wood and the dawn had roused them, they saw a beautiful child in a shining white dress sitting near their bed. He got up and looked quite kindly at them, but said nothing and went away into the forest. And when they looked round they found that they had been sleeping quite close to a precipice, and would certainly have fallen into it in the darkness if they had gone only a few paces further. And their mother told them that it must have been the angel who watches over good children.

Snow-white and Rose-red kept their mother’s little cottage so neat that it was a pleasure to look inside it. In the summer Rose-red took care of the house, and every morning laid a wreath of flowers by her mother’s bed before she awoke, in which was a rose from each tree. In the winter Snow-white lit the fire and hung the kettle on the wrekin. The kettle was of copper and shone like gold, so brightly was it polished. In the evening, when the snowflakes fell, the mother said, “Go, Snow-white, and bolt the door,” and then they sat round the hearth, and the mother took her spectacles and read aloud out of a large book, and the two girls listened as they sat and span. And close by them lay a lamb upon the floor, and behind them upon a perch sat a, white dove with its head hidden beneath its wings.

One evening, as they were thus sitting comfortably together, some one knocked at the door, as if he wished to be let in. The mother said. “Quick, Rose-red, open the door, it must be a traveller who is seeking shelter.” Rose-red went and pushed back the bolt, thinking that it was a poor man, but it was not; it was a bear that stretched his broad, black head within the door.

Rose-red screamed and sprang back, the lamb bleated, the dove fluttered, and Snow-white hid herself behind her mother’s bed. But the bear began to speak and said, “Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm! I am half-frozen, and only want to warm myself a little beside you.”

“Poor bear,” said the mother, “lie down by the fire, only take care that you do not burn your coat.” Then she cried, “Snow-white, Rose-red, come out, the bear will do you no harm, he means well.” So they both came out, and by-and-by the lamb and dove came nearer, and were not afraid of him. The bear said, “Here, children, knock the snow out of my coat a little;” so they brought the broom and swept the bear’s hide clean; and he stretched himself by the fire and growled contentedly and comfortably. It was not long before they grew quite at home, and played tricks with their clumsy guest. They tugged his hair with their hands, put their feet upon his back and rolled him about, or they took a hazel-switch and beat him, and when he growled they laughed. But the bear took it all in good part, only, when they were too rough, he called out, “Leave me alive, children,

“Snowy-white, Rosy-red,
Will you beat your lover dead?”

Right. He totally said that. Find out what happens next.

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