We are good people but we must instill in our children the fear of those who are not like us, outsiders who we fear. We must instruct them but we must do it in ways that instill these values so that they do not question them. We must get them while they are young, yes, and we must use the power and the magic of stories to bind their thinking.
We must start with a nobleman, a count or a king, and give him a beautiful wife, for what child cannot imagine their own mother as most beautiful? And we must put the Count in some sort of peril so that his wife is shown to be without protection. The rending of the family shall scare them and cause them worry over their own family. It is the only way.
And so we shall have the Count captured by our unnatural enemies, those whom we fear irrationally. We shall call them the Marauders. The Mauraders have captured the Count and to humiliate him — and by extension, humiliating our people, good people — they have forced him into slave labor working in a mine. Our children will overlook the reality that we have mines of our own, and that we treat some sections of our own people as bad as or worse than slaves, because they know that no matter what we do, the Marauders are worse. They would not be our enemies if this were not true, yes?
But now we must show the children how right and good our Count is, and how by extension we are equally right and good, and we must do so with magic. Down in the mine, no matter how much the Count works, his shirt never gets dirty. Imagine! Where in a day other shirts go as black as coal the Count’s remains white as snow, and doesn’t that send the children a message? And so the Count is brought before the King of the Marauders and is asked to explain himself.
“I am a Count,” the Count replies, as naturally as if he were announcing the sky was blue. “I have a beautiful wife, and as long as I am faithful to her the shirt shall remain white.”
A ha! And so we see that not only are we good people, as represented by a Count with a magical tunic, but it is our faithfulness to our motherland that keeps us pure! We need not say anymore about this, the children will know it.
“Send for your wife,” said the King of the Marauders, “So that I may see this beauty. And when you do this I will set you free.”
A trick! The King of the Maruaders has said nothing about sending the Count’s wife free. And what sort of trap is he laying by having the Count send for his wife? But we know the Count to be like us, cunning and brave, and so he shall secretly send a letter to his wife to hide so the Marauders do not find her.
Now, the Count was only doing what he felt best to protect his wife, but is not the Countess one of our people as well? Would she not be as cunning and brave? And so when she heard all the Countess cut off her hair and disguised herself as a wandering musician. That way when the Marauders came looking for the beautiful Countess they would overlook anyone so plain and peasant-like. Naturally, the Marauder’s were furious to return to their King empty-handed, but what else could they do? They were Marauders, not like us, and were too stupid and too lazy to do the task assigned them.
The Countess, now a musician, had plans of her own. She found the ship the Marauders were returning home on and stole away on board. There, she played so beautifully (would you expect less from our Countess?) that the Marauders decided she would make a good consolation prize for their King. And indeed, when the King of the Marauders heard her play he instantly forgot about the Count and the ever-white tunic. Even more, when the King of the Marauders asked for the Countess to play for his slaves near the mines even the Count forgot his place and thought nothing of returning home. Her voice was so beautiful, so familiar, that soon enough the Count had secretly fallen in love with the musician.
Such a conundrum for the children! The Count, who we know to be good, has seemingly become unfaithful to his own wife with his own wife! Naturally his tunic should have begun to darken or at least yellow with his longing, should it not? And yet it remained white, which should have said something to the Count, should it not? And yet, as neither the Count nor the Countess had been unfaithful in their lives they wouldn’t know for sure what sort of transformation the tunic would take, and so they were left wondering.
Also, by this time, our children will have discovered that no matter what the Marauders do to keep our people apart it is our bond that will always keep us together. We are good and smart people, and it is only a matter of time before our good and smart Count and Countess are reunited and returned home safely. Watch now.
The Countess has done her job and wormed her way into the King of the Marauder’s heart. From within his weakened emotions and even weaker thinking she has convinced him that she will remain by his side forever to play him beautiful music. But she has a plan. She has asked a favor, for which the King of the Marauders is unable to refuse. She has asked for three slave, three of our people, to be released. The King suspects nothing, is at a loss to question the Countess, and so he lets the Count and two others go. At the last minute as the ship is setting sail, the Countess jumps aboard and joins the Count and the others for a return to the motherland.
But before the Countess reveals herself to be a stowaway, she overhears the Count looks wistfully back and sigh.
“There was but a beautiful woman there I wish I could have said farewell to.”
At this the Count’s tunic goes black. This is most unaccountable, for if he had been unfaithful it had been to his own wife! And yet the tunic seems only to know the wearer’s thinking and not the object of his affection. Never mind that his unfaithfulness was unspoken until that moment, the mere fact of it is enough to let the children know that both in thoughts and in deeds are we good people. It is bad enough to think such things as to do them. So while the Count might not have truly been unfaithful, his tunic betrays his fleeting weakness. For the time being the Countess does not reveal herself. She has her reasons.
If questioned about this after the fact we should comfort the children with the idea that the Count’s weakness was the result of having spent too much time with the Marauders. In this way we shall reinforce just how bad these people are, these others who threaten us, and confirm that they are to be avoided at all costs. Simply look at how they can weaken us morally by mere proximity!
Once home, The Countess hurries home to change into her better clothes before the Count arrives. When he does she can see his tunic has gone black and there is nothing more for him to say. The Countess asks that he wait, then she changes back into her garb as a musician and the Count falls to his knees begging forgiveness. This is a key part of the story because not only do we need to return order to our nobility but we must also train our children what to expect of each other as adults. Our boys will no doubt be unfaithful to their wives, our girls will no doubt discover their husbands philandering ways, so our boys must learn how to prostrate themselves and our girls must show forgiveness. By this we have come to tell them a story that supports our xenophobia while at the same time inserting a cultural expectation about gender. Again, we do these things because we know the power and the magic of the story at such an early age.
But we must end on a happy note. The Count and Countess forever remained happy and faithful to one another, living their days together as children sometimes dream. And in an alcove in the chapel there hangs a black tunic and a musician’s lute as a reminder of their adventure.
Yes, in the chapel. Where else does one keep the reliquaries of the faith that teaches such lessons through story?
Though it might seem I have put a cynical or somewhat negative spin on on the original, “The Faithful Wife,” the fact remains that much of these views are within the scope of the text. The Count and Countess are clearly labeled as Germans while the Marauders are noted Turks. The request by the Countess was for the Turkish king to release three Christians (clearly delineating that the Turks were Muslims, or at the very least not “good” Christians), while the chapel holds their clearly symbolic items in the reliquary. The original is clearly a morality tale that underscores the superior beliefs of the tellers meant to instill a morally-based hated for their known enemies. My intent was merely to pull back the veil and tell the tale honestly.