Thursday, October 11, 2012

Looking at a Fresh Old Fairy Tale

I've previously mentioned the five hundred fairy tales "discovered" in a fault that were collected in Germany around the same time the Grimm brothers were collecting and publishing theirs.  You can read the Guardian article here.

copyright Wataru Yanagida/Gety

The Guardian also published one of the tales, called "The Turnip Princess."  

This fairy tale is simple, functional, minimalist.  Distilled down to its primary ingredients, even to the point of leaving out elements of plot and character, it could be valuable for those wishing to examine the cogs and wheels of what makes a fairy tale.  Especially as we have never encountered them before and so are not bringing to them previously read scholarship or childhood expectations.

Here it is as presented in the Guardian (I don't know anything about the translation):

A YOUNG prince lost his way in the forest and came to a cave. He passed the night there, and when he awoke there stood next to him an old woman with a bear and a dog. The old witch seemed very beautiful and wished that the prince would stay with her and marry her. He could not endure her, yet could not leave that place.

One day, the bear was alone with him and spoke to the prince: "Pull the rusty nail from the wall, so that I shall be delivered, and place it beneath a turnip in the field, and in this way you shall have a beautiful wife." The prince seized the nail so strongly that the cave shook and the nail cracked loudly like a clap of thunder. Behind him a bear stood up from the ground like a man, bearded and with a crown on his head.

"Now I shall find a beautiful maiden," cried the prince and went forth nimbly. He came to a field of turnips and was about to place the nail beneath one of them when there appeared above him a monster, so that he dropped the nail, pricked his finger on a hedge and bled until he fell down senseless. When he awoke he saw that he was elsewhere and that he had long slumbered, for his smooth chin was now frizzy with a blond beard.

He arose and set off across field and forest and searched through every turnip field but nowhere found what he was looking for. Day passed and night, too, and one evening, he sat down on a ridge beneath a bush, a flowering blackthorn with red blossoms on one branch. He broke off the branch, and because there was before him, amongst the other things on the ground, a large, white turnip, he stuck the blackthorn branch into the turnip and fell asleep.

Click here to finish reading.

There are so many things in this story that are understood on the instinctual level.  This just-barely-grasped magic is something inherent to most fairy tales; just in the better developed ones, it is not so easy to notice.

What are your thoughts on "The Turnip Princess"?


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