Fairy Tale Pondering Archive

The Twelve Brothers

The Grimm brothers felt a deep affinity for the following fairy tale and others like it. The Twelve Brothers is just one of three variations on this theme the Grimms included in their collection. The other two are the The Six Swans and The Seven Ravens. These stories are about sibling solidarity, heroic behavior and self-sacrifice in order to survive the destruction of the family unit. This is not unlike the Grimms’ own life story. The children in these tales band together and through “industry, cleanliness, order” as Zipes puts it they overcome adversity.

Unfortunately, as all Grimm fairy tales are, this literary fairy tale is aimed at a male audience and written from a male perspective so the women in this fairy tale get put through the wringer. To be fair to The Twelve Brothers, though, this fairy tale alone of the three features a heroine who is (relatively) independent and aggressive in her pursuit of what she believes to be right.

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The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats

What makes this fairy tale stand out from the others is its almost mythic themes of life and death and rebirth. We have two opposing main characters set up against each other in a battle over the lives of seven children. On the one hand a self-centered, devouring dark wolf who wishes to kill and eat the children. On the other is a self-sacrificing, saving light mother who wishes to protect and nurture the children. In between them are the mother goat’s seven kids who have to learn to distinguish between the two.

The fairy tale opens with the mother saying good-bye to her children as she is going into market to buy food for her family. She tells the children not to let anyone in but her and to beware the big bad wolf. He has black fur denoting his evil while the mother has white fur denoting her purity and goodness. She also tells the children that the wolf has a deep gruff voice while hers is soft and melodic. The children promise their mother they will remember all of this and off she goes to market.

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Little Jack Horner

Like most fairy tales or nursery rhymes that feature a character named Jack “Little Jack Horner” is up to no good.

In this famous nursery rhyme we have a short tale on opportunism and the reward and gloating that goes along with managing to acquire something valued, in this case a plum.

The text is short and simple enough.

Little Jack Horner

Sat in the corner,

Eating his Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out a plum,

And said, “What a good boy am I!”

Many interpretations of this nursery rhyme simply stuck with the opportunistic undertones and the rhyme was often used as social commentary on various people throughout history that took advantage of a situation for personal gain. Remember most nursery rhymes were deliberately vague and written and recited during a time when outright social commentary that named names was at best not a politically smart move and at worst a good way to get yourself be-headed.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that scholars began to assign the nursery rhyme to a particular event during the Tudor era. King Henry VIII was attempting to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon and getting a lot of trouble for it from the Catholic church (after all they gave him special dispensation to marry her in the first place, since she was his brother’s widow). As a result he made himself head of the Church of England and declared England a Protestant nation so that he could divorce and marry who he pleased.

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Beauty and the Beast’s Origins

The Golden Ass was written in the late 2nd century and was the only latin novel to survive in its entirety.

In the course of the story, told in several “books”, many other inset stories were related including, in book four, the story of Cupid and Psyche. This rendering of the story is the oldest recorded telling of this ancient fairy tale and is presented as a retelling so its origins go even farther back. It has been suggested that the tale was changed slightly to suit what was going on in the novel so how the myth originally went no one knows anymore.

In the novel the protagonist was transformed into, well, a golden ass and in this particular book he has been stolen by thieves. The thieves throw the protagonist into a cave along with a young woman they had also kidnapped. The young woman is scared and crying so an old woman, in league with the thieves, tells her the story of Cupid and Psyche.

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The Frog King

When the Grimm brothers got a hold of this tale they went to town changing it to suit their agenda. The Frog King (you might know it as The Princess and the Frog) is a Grimm fairy tale about a princess, a frog and her promise to him that she really doesn’t want to keep. There were many versions before the Grimm one that involved multiple princesses, the youngest of which was the only one to find interest in the frog. The frog promises fresh clean water to each but only the youngest took him up on his offer. When the frog turns up later the princess reminds herself of her promise and keeps it in good faith all on her own. He asks for love and devotion and that devotion was shown by allowing him to sleep under her pillow thus breaking the spell. When he becomes a prince they consummate their love immediately and live happily ever after. Needless to say there was not nearly enough violence and entirely too much immorality (premarital sex!) for the Grimm brothers. So they combined a few fairy tales and added quite a bit to make theirs.

In the Grimm fairy tale The Frog King a princess plays alone at a stream in the woods. She is so lovely that the sun marvels at her beauty. She also is tossing a golden ball at this time because it is her favorite play thing. She accidentally drops the ball into the stream and starts to cry. The frog hops up at this point and says, “What’s going on, princess? Stones would be moved to tears if they could hear you.” She thinks the frog is slimy and repulsive but decides to share her woe about her favorite golden ball. The frog promises to fetch the ball if she would make him her companion. She is shocked at this suggestion for who has a frog as a companion? That’s disgusting! She agrees to it but when the frog gives her the ball she immediately takes it and runs away with the frog calling after her.

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