What is a pear tree, and what does it mean for a king to have one in front of his castle that provided the most beautiful fruit? And why most beautiful, why not the sweetest or the juiciest?
And why should we concern ourselves that each year, at the moment the pears were juiciest, they would disappear before the could be harvested? How was it that no one saw the culprit or knew what happened to the fruit?
We know the king had three sons, and that three is a cardinal number for such tales, but why is there always only one son who is somehow different? Why could there not be more than one dullard in the bunch, or if it be girls, more than one beauty? Why this singling out?
How predictable is it that the older, smarter brothers who guard the tree fail in their duty, and how do they manage to both do it in exactly the same way? Could the first brother not warn the second brother to be extra cautious the night before harvesting? Would not the king bring on other guard to help the second brother after his failure? Is this are just kingly pride and arrogance?
So when the older brothers fail in their task, does anyone expect the younger brother, the simpleton, to succeed? Each time before it took a full year for the fruit to mature, you begin to wonder, is it really worth all this effort? Again we come back to that pear tree: what made it so special? Was it rare? Were there no others like it? Did everyone imagine the most beautiful fruit possessed some special powers?
Is anyone surprised when the simpleton succeeds?
So what do we make of this dove that comes the night before the harvest and carries each pear away one by one silently in the night? Is it significant that it is white? What alarms does a white dove signal, what symbolism is at play here? Purity? Virginity? Fidelity? Beauty? Peace?
A partridge in a pear tree, perhaps?
But when the simpleton follows the dove to a mountain and finds a little gray man standing beside him, why say “God bless you?” Is this an archaic form of surprise, a sort of religious expletive designed to delight through blasphemy?
So… how exactly do these words, then, release the little gray man from his spell? What spell? How is he changed by all this? Is he no longer middle, or gray? Does being a little gray man suggest middle age? Is this all an allegory for midlife crisis?
When the little gray man tells the simpleton that he will find his happiness in the cliffs on the mountain, where the dove has disappeared to, why does he go? Is it because he’s a simpleton or because the story demands it? Is this simpleton truly so simple that he does what he’s told without question? Was he even unhappy to begin with?
And now he finds the bird, this dove, trapped in a massive spiders web… and he does nothing? He stands there watching the bird struggle to become free? Why? And what is it that compels the bird to struggle in such a way that it breaks free of the web, as if it would not wish to survive were it not for the audience? And when she does, this bird, this dove, break free, how does this act break her particular spell? Was she not freed from the web by her own actions? Again, is the simpleton as a spectator really all it took to free here?
Honestly, were both the little gray man and the dove waiting years for someone to follow a thieving bird in the hopes of being free? What are the odds?
Is anyone surprised that the dove was really a princess, and does anyone believe the married and lived happily ever after?
Does the king’s pear tree continue to produce beautiful fruit, or was that part of the enchantment as well?
Did people tell this story to their simpleton children in order to give them hope?
“The White Dove” is freely adapted from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. This story, number 246, ran into a bit of a delay due to problems surrounding my proposed vacation to an area currently getting pounded by hurricane Irene. That issue — my vacation — is still being hammered out, but the Tales from the New Grimmoire continue forward. Eventually.