09 November 2013

Grimm tales

The Ungrateful Son

A man and his wife were once sitting by the door of their house, and they had a roasted chicken set before them, and were about to eat it together. Then the man saw that his aged father was coming, and hastily took the chicken and hid it, for he would not permit him to have any of it.

The old man came, took a drink, and went away. Now the son wanted to put the roasted chicken on the table again, but when he took it up, it had become a great toad, which jumped into his face and sat there and never went away again, and if any one wanted to take it off, it looked venomously at him as if it would jump in his face, so that no one would venture to touch it.

And the ungrateful son was forced to feed the toad every day, or else it fed itself on his face; and thus he went about the world knowing no rest.

(I found this in Jacob and Willhem Grimm: Complete Fairy Tales, Routledge 2002, first published 1944, and you can find it in many places on the internet, including here where there are links to other information about the Grimm brothers and their work, and to an essay on aging and death in folklore. This blog post is about old age and fairy tales, and contains a less "grim" story about a grandfather.)

The Old Grandfather's Corner 

An old grandfather lives with his son and daughter-in-law. He is deaf, can barely walk, and can barely eat without spilling. Eventually his son and daughter-in-law set him in a corner behind a screen, out of their sight. The old man would look mournfully toward the table but say nothing.

One day he accidentally broke his bowl, and the young mother had to buy him a new wooden bowl for a penny. One day, the couple saw their small boy making something out of wood. They asked him what he was doing. "I am making a little bowl for papa and mamma to eat their food in when I grow up," he replied. The parents looked at each other and began to cry. They brought the aged grandfather back to the table with them and never again treated him unkindly.

(A version of Household Tales, first published in 1886 and illustrated by Walter Crane, is available at www.gutenberg.org - the illustrations come from there.)
In Mother Hulda, the industrious girl gets a reward and her lazy, greedy sister gets what she deserves. My grandmother used to read me this and other tales, in German, from the big black book that was printed in blackletter. The book is lost but not my love of these stories.
The Almond Tree is a sanitised version of The Juniper Tree - leaving a slight discontinuity between the "black broth" and the gathering of the bones from under the table once the dreadful meal was over. In the end, justice is done, just as it should be.

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