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Posts Tagged ‘fairy tales’

The children have grown tired of your stories. 

How can you say this? The children love my stories.

Do you not hear them groan when you announce it is story time?

And do you not hear them gasp in amazement and wonder when I tell my stories?

I do hear them, but you have mistaken their open mouths for what they are; loud yawning.

Enough! I shall tell them one more story and leave it to them to decide whether or not I should continue telling stories.

 

Children for this story I shall require your assistance. Along the way I will ask you for details that will shape the story to your liking. And no matter how you turn it, the story will end just as I planned. Now, if you’re game enough, we shall begin.

Once there was a Wild Man who lived on the fringes of the kingdom. He slept by day and by night he would wander into the fields and flatten the corn and wheat crops, or steal pigs and cows, and occasionally would foul the drinking wells with his garbage. Finally the King sent his men out to find the Wild Man but none could. Then one day came a…

A Blind Huntress!

A Blind Huntress then, and she promised to catch the Wild Man and bring him back to the King. The King scoffed, after all how could a Blind Huntress do what even his best knights, guards, and huntsman could not?  Yet the King was at his wit’s end and agreed to give the Blind Huntress whatever she asked for if she succeeded. Her keen sense of smell allowed her to guide her horse to a river on the far edges of the kingdom. There she set down a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of whisky, and a bottle of beer, then went to lay in wait behind some nearby bushes. The Wild Man came and in quick succession drank the contents of all the bottles so fast that he almost instantaneously passed out cold. The Blind Huntress then casually was able to bind his hands and feet together and bring him to the King.

You thought that by making the Huntress blind that you could throw off my story, didn’t you children? In truth, there is nothing you could say or add that would alter the path this story takes, try as you might.

Is that it then? The Wild Man is caught?

Do you believe he would be so easily caught?

No.

Very well. Let us see what comes next. So the Blind Huntress asks for her reward and leaves just as mysteriously as she came. The Wild Man in the meantime is locked up in a cage in the dungeon until the King can decide what to do with him. As it happens one of the King’s sons goes down into the dungeon to gawk at the prisoners and is so startled by the Wild Man that he drops his…

Yo-yo!

Drops his yo-yo and it rolls into the cage. The Boy demands the Wild Man return the yo-yo but the Wild Man insists the Boy come and get it himself. Thinking this frail old man is no serious threat the boy opens the cage and–

No!

No, he shouldn’t open the cage? But he does! So now what happens?

It’s a trick! The Wild Man will escape!

He does? And what about the Boy?

He should… take the boy with him!

A kidnapping then! Very well. So the Wild Man uses the yo-yo string to hog tie the Boy and wedges the yo-yo into the Boy’s mouth to keep his quite while he steals away. He knows he will be hunted down again so the Wild Man carries the Boy to a far away kingdom where he is…

Forced to roll around in the mud!

And is then left in the care of…

The Emperor’s Gardener!

Are you sure you haven’t heard this story before, because that is precisely what happens next. The Gardener finds the Boy and asks him where he came from the Boy, fearing what the Wild Man might do to him, claims not to know how he got there. Every time the boy considered running away he would catch a glimpse of the Wild Man hiding behind a tree or a bush watching him. That night the Gardener set him up to sleep in a hay bin when the Wild Man visited in the night. He told the Boy to rise before the sun came up, wash himself and comb his hair, then put on some better clothes the Wild Man provided and he would find his life greatly changed for the better. The Boy did as he was told and in the morning found that the part of the garden where the Boy worked the day before had been transformed overnight into a lush landscape that even the Gardner could not have managed. Everyone was impressed, but especially the Emperor’s Daughter who gave the boy a gift of…

A chicken!

Stuffed with gold!

That’s quite a sum! So the Gardener set the Boy up in a different part of the palace grounds to work and see if he could reproduce his magic. And that night when the Wild Man visited the Boy gave him the gold and together they roasted the chicken and ate. It was clear to the Boy that the Wild Man had enchanted powers and began to feel he was better off not asking too many questions. The next morning the Boy awoke, and again that part of the royal grounds had transformed into a lush paradise in miniature. The Emperor’s Daughter rewarded him this time with…

A duck filled with silver!

Again with the bird, eh? So I suppose that when this happened a third time she gave him a…

A goose filled with diamonds!

Now that is a handsome reward, and as before the Boy handed over the prize to the Wild Man and they again feasted on the roasted meat. That night though the Wild Man warned the boy that come the morning he would need to prepare to accept whatever he was instructed to do and to trust that no harm would come to him. The next morning the Emperor himself came and found the Boy and told him his services were required. A neighboring country was on the verge of declaring war and the Boy would need to retrieve a message. When asked what he required the Boy requested…

A three-legged horse.

You would send a messenger into hostile territory on a three-legged horse?

Yes.

Very well. As we know, the Wild Man was prepared for this and brought the boy to a mountain made of clay. The Wild Man cut a groove into the clay and opened the mountain like split beast until out came an army of soldiers. The WIld Man explained that the Boy had been sent on a suicide mission, that if he went alone he would be slaughtered and thus give the Emperor cause to start the war, as both sides were waiting for the other to strike first. Sure enough, the Boy arrived at the edge of the country and was met by a hostile army ready to slaughter him. Only the Wild Man’s army put down the invaders quickly. The Boy knew they would send for reinforcements and returned to warn the Emperor. He left the Wild Man’s army in the clay mountain along the way, as instructed, and when he told the Emperor that he’d held off the attack the Emperor’s court was both amused and confused.

Certainly they didn’t expect the boy to return – for that was the plan all along, to remove the boy who was clearly winning the heart of the Emperor’s Daughter – but they also could not believe he held off an army all alone on a three-legged horse. So the boy was sent back with a message of warning, and again he went with the Wild Man’s army, and again he won the battle and returned to the Emperor. After he was sent a third time the Boy returned with a note of unconditional surrender which granted the Emperor control over the newly acquired land. As there was nothing left but to admit the Boy had succeeded, the Emperor allowed his Daughter to reward the boy with a goat full of–

No!

No? Should it be a bird of some kind? A turkey perhaps?

No! The Daughter and the Boy are married! That’s his reward. 

Ah, but you see, the Daughter thinks the Boy is wealthy because of all the gold and silver and diamonds he’s been given, and when she learns that the Boy has given it all away and that they are dirt poor she leaves him. Heartbroken, the Boy returns to the Wild Man’s clay mountain and asks that he be buried with all the soldiers for the rest of his days. The end.

What?

No! That’s not what happened.

It isn’t?

It can’t be.

There has to be more to it. What of the Wild Man? 

What of him?

And the Boy. It can’t end with him just like that.

So what happened then?

What really happened was that the Wild Man brought the Boy back home to his father the King. During the Boy’s time away the King had grown weak and frail with age, but seeing his son was now a young man with an Emperor’s Daughter for a wife he was overjoyed to hand over his kingdom to him. Seeing that it had all been for the better, the King forgave the Wild Man of his crimes.

Then the Boy and the Emperor’s Daughter returned to her father where they explained that the Boy was really a Prince and that he had inherited his kingdom. The Emperor was so ashamed at having thrice tried to send the Boy to his death that he begged forgiveness and his Daughter insisted that his Empire be handed over to the Boy, for he had rightly protected an won it. And it was done, and at that moment the curse that had been put on the Wild Man was lifted and he was revealed to be…

To be…

Shall I tell you?

Yes!

The Wild Man was me.

What?!

When your mother was pregnant with you two she had a hankering for a salad made with kale, and I found some for her but it was in the garden of a witch, who was so mad at me for trampling in her garden that she placed the entire kingdom under a spell that sealed it in a mountain of clay…

But that’s a story for another night.

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King Leir lay dying.

“Water! Fair daughters, the first to bring me the healing water from the well shall inherit my fortune when I pass!”

The King’s eldest daughter, Goneril, went to the well and when she fetched the water it came up all brackish and brown. Out of the water popped a frog, who startled Goneril as he croaked out to her.

Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.

Goneril was almost as repulsed by the frog’s choice of song as she was with the water. The frog knew this.

“If you would concede to letting me call you my sweetheart I will give you clean water for your father to drink.”

Goneril would have none of the frog’s proposal and instead went to fetch a bucket of bleach to pour down into the well. She made sure to throw the frog back down into the well before dumping the bleach on his head.

“Perhaps a bit of chlorine will clear your brain as well as the water, frog,” she said.

Having failed at her task, Goneril sent her middle sister, Regan, to try her hand at getting the water. When Regan retrieved the water from the well she was nearly flattened by the chemical smell of the bleach and then got the surprise of her life when a mangy frog gurgled and croaked:

Meet me tonight in dreamland,
under the silvery moon;
Meet me tonight in dreamland,
where love’s sweet roses bloom.

“Really?” said Regan. “Tin Pan Alley? Frog, you aren’t going to get anywhere singing corny songs like that.”

“A kiss, dear darling, to send me off to dreamland, and I shall bring you healing water for your father.”

“A kiss?’ said Regan. “A mere kiss? I shall give you a bucketful of kisses!”

And Regan gathered the coal bucket and began hurling lumps of coal at the frog, knocking him back into the well where she continued to pelt him until she had run out of coal.

That night after dinner the three girls tended to their dying father, Goneril and Regan promising that they did all they could to fetch him healing water from the well. Later Goneril and Regan explained to their younger sister in private all that had happened with the well and the frog and together they wept. After all were asleep for the night Cordelia stole away to try her hand at the well. She drew up the bucket and there, in the moonlight, she found a bucket of the clearest water. And though she couldn’t tell where it was coming from at first, a broken and poisoned frog sang weakly from the rim of the bucket.

I’m Henery the Eighth, I am,
Henery the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’d been married seven times before.
And every one was an Henery
It wouldn’t be a Willie or a Sam
I’m her eighth old man named Henery
Henery the Eighth, I am!

“What a queer little frog you are,” said Cordelia. “But stranger still, this water is perfectly clear and pure.”

“Indeed,” said the frog. “Though your sisters hardly meant well, the bleach killed off the bacteria and the coal absorbed the chemicals, clearing the water.”

“It doesn’t seem to have helped you at all,” she said.

“Ah, me. I’m just a lonely frog. But perhaps you could do me one favor, one last bit of kindness before I go. Would you hold me in your hand and call me your sweetheart? Would you do that much, and then dream of me tonight?”

How could Cordelia refuse? He may have only been a frog but he deserved to leave this world beloved and beheld.

“Dear frog, my sweetheart, rest well and seek out your great reward.”

And the frog smiled and closed his eyes and died.

Returning to her father with the water Cordelia was shocked to see King Leir sitting up for her, fit and hearty.

“I have brought the water, father, but it appears you no longer need it.”

“Indeed, child, I never needed it. What I needed was to see the true nature of my daughters. While each of you went to fetch me water I followed in secret and watched to see what you did at the well. I heard the frog and your conversations, and I must say I’m glad at least one of my daughters has the compassion and courtesy to treat living things with respect.

While Goneril and Regan slept soundly, caring little enough about their father to sit vigil in the night, King Leir and Cordelia left immediately with orders to have the older girls sealed in their rooms until the palace could be relocated to a secret location with them left behind.

And later, when she slept, Cordelia dreamt of a frog sailing across the sky swallowing the moon as it passed. When she woke there was a song in her head.

Fly, Rana, fly.
Sing, Rana, sing.
My sisters set your spirit free,
But you’re forever here with me,
So sing, Rana, sing.
Fly, Rana, fly.

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In old New Orleans there was a young man named Soot, a blacksmith’s son, a young man totally without fear. Soot was fond of taking his lunch in the graveyards around the French Quarter, a tombstone for a back rest. If the townspeople needed someone to search the crypts their lost children they would send in Soot. In hurricanes when the people of the village would run for cover, Soot stared into the sky and would say “So much fuss over a little rain.”

One day Soot’s father sent him into the world. “You’ll soon enough discover fear on the road, and when you do return home.”

Soot traveled the swamps of the bayou by punt until he came to a Cajun village. As it was late at night and raining he took refuge beneath a gallows which had been built over the water like a high boat dock. He was nearly asleep when he noticed a body hanging above him.

“Now, what are you doing up there?” Soot asked.

“I was left here as an example for the people of this village, but I am innocent and deserve a decent burial ceremony with my people,” said the hanged man. “The Preacher stole from the church collection but he is a revered man in the village and I am a Houma so the people believed him when he accused me of theft. Perhaps you can help me.”

“What can I do,” said Soot, who was not afraid to be talking with a dead man.

“The Preacher hid what he stole in his attic, beneath a board on the floor marked with an X. Bring this information to the attention of the Judge and he will set things right.”

And right then, in the middle of that rainy night, Soot found the Schoolteacher’s house and banged on the door. When the Preacher refused to open up Soot kicked the door in, threw the Preacher over his shoulder, and carried him to the Judge’s house.

“Judge, here is your thief. There is a board in his attic marked with an X and beneath it is what he stole from the church. You must take down that poor Indian who was hanged and give him to his people for a proper burial.”

Everything was as Soot had said, the Preacher admitted to accusing the Houma, and was hanged himself the next day. Soot was invited by the Houma tribe to the funeral ceremony where he was given a tea to drink that gave him visions of the man whose name he cleared.

“For what you have done, I thank you, and in appreciation I have left a staff in your boat that will beat away and vanquish any spirits you may come across.”

The next day Soot continued his journey on foot when he soon came upon a plantation owner crying by the side of the road. Now, Soot’s family had once been owned as slaves on a plantation but he did not know the fear his relatives had known so he approached the man.

“What troubles you, sir?” Soot asked.

“I was forced out of my house so the army could use it in battle, but so many died in there and their spirits won’t let me enter to collect my family possessions. I would gladly give my house for the photos and family mementos inside.”

Soot wasn’t certain this wasn’t some sort of a trick but if there was anything to fear in the house he was determined to find it. “Give me a day and I will clear the house for you.”

Now Soot hadn’t reckoned on finding over two dozen ghosts inside, but that’s what he found there. The spirits charged at him as he entered, their uniforms in tatters, their ghostly bodies blackened and charred, some still carrying their useless weapons. As they drew near Soot held out the staff the Houma had given him and stamped the floor with it. At once the spirits fell as if struck down by the loudest bell ringing around their ears. Soot found an old ammunition chest that he stuffed the enfeebled ghosts into like so much cotton batting, then found the lid and nailed the case shut. At night he walked around the Southern Gothic mansion and found it to his liking. The next morning he met up with the owner and invited him into the house.

“You’ve driven away the spirits?” he said.

“Come, collect what you want without fear,” said Soot.

The plantation owner was cautious at first, but soon realized he was able to move around freely without fear of a haunting.

“However can I thank you?” the owner said.

“I do believe you said you’d give your house for your family possessions…”

The plantation owner was struck dumb. “That was merely a figure of speech.”

“That may be, but I’ve done as you’ve wanted, and this house is how you can thank me.”

“This house has been in my family since it was built, I won’t give it up so casually as all that,” the owner said, growing more indignant.

“Very well. I’ll just release these spirits I’ve rounded up–”

“No! No! Take it, take the house, take the whole plantation!”

Soot was well pleased that he had not been so easily taken in by the plantation owner and he had planned to send for his family to join him there when he had finished his travels. That night he spent the night in the softest feather bed the mansion had to offer when, in the middle of the night, he awoke to a clatter of noise outside the house. He went to the window to investigate and saw a very large cross burning in front of the house, with shadowy men in white gowns and white hoods on horseback nearby.

“Oh father, now I know, fully know, what fear is,” said Soot.

Soot gathered up all the valuables in the house, loaded them along with the staff the Houma had given him into trunks on a carriage, with plans to leave at first light. One last thing he did before he left, he pried open the ammunition crate and let loose the spirits he had stuffed inside. The groggy ghosts didn’t seem to remember how they had ended up crammed into the crate. Soot was more than happy to inform them that they had been placed there by the owner of the house who was due to return any day. The soldier spirits thanked Soot and with that he returned to his father’s blacksmith shop.

*

Freely adapted from “The Young Man Who Went Out in Search of Fear,” story number 244 in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, edited by Jack Zipes. New Orleans came up in conversation as I was reading the original story and suddenly I could see how parts of the American South could easily fill in for the forests of the Grimmoire.

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Regular visitors to fomagrams on Thursdays know I’m working my way through reimagining every story collected by the Brothers Grimm.  One of the side effects of constantly immersing myself in the forests of the Grimmoire is the occasional bleed-through into other aspects of my writing. This week’s poem for example, the incident reports from the Grimmoire Police Department.

A local witch claimed
two children broke off pieces of her home.
Police noted damage to the gingerbread house
as the result of being an attractive nuisance.

A princess reported being harassed
by a frog who insisted on being kissed.
After failing to provide positive ID
police sent the frog hopping with a warning.

The bears reported a break-in at their cottage.
Police noted a broken chair and tousled bedspreads
were sticky and covered in gingerbread crumbs.
Police recommended the bears change their locks.

A large pumpkin tethered to a dozen mice
was found dumped in front of the palace.
Following witness accounts police are looking
for the owner of a glass slipper for questioning.

A wolf was reported sighted wearing
a “granny nightgown and a nightcap.”
Police discovered a hirsute woman on her porch
sweeping up half-chewed gumdrops and gingerbread.

Responding to reports of a domestic dispute
police arrived to find the fisherman’s wife
accusing her husband of being a liar and a drunk
for insisting he met a wish-granting flounder.

Two children who said their parents left them
in the forest to die were questioned by the police
on unrelated incidents when it was noted
their faces and hands were sticky with candy.

I never did trust that Hansel and Gretel. I mean, honestly, the only way we know any of the details of that story have to come from those two little forest scamps.

Anyway, according the the schedule at Kidlitosphere Central the roundup for Poetry Friday this week is over at Secrets and Sharing Soda.

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Two maidens sat at the edge of a well, spinning. As they were spinning on the edge of a well one can only presume there was something not quite right about them, and indeed one was beautiful and the other was horrid. Or rather, they each thought themselves beautiful and thought the other was horrid.

Bored with each others company they elected to entertain themselves through a sort of contest. “Whoever lets her skirt fall into the water must dive in after it,” said the maiden with the hair of yellow straw, and the maiden with hair as brown as flax agreed.

Almost as soon as that the straw-haired maiden got her skirt wet and so she dove into the well. However, instead of popping back up she found herself diving down toward another opening in the well, into another land. There she came upon a pear tree that seemed to be humming to itself.

“Little pear tree, shake and shake, rattle yourself,” she said.

And the little pear tree shimmied and swayed and rattled in a way that amused her.

She continued to explore this new land and soon came upon a little calf dancing among the clover. Feeling rather imperial in this new place the straw-haired maiden point to the calf and said “Bow down!”

And the little calf bowed low like a loyal subject.

Next the maiden came upon a little oven doing its level best to dance in place as much as its cast iron heaviness would allow. “Little oven,” the maiden said, “bake me a loaf of bread!”

And the little oven did just that, as happily as it could.

Wandering further still the straw-haired maiden came upon a house made of pancakes! A house of pancakes! Can you imagine? Well, there was no need for the maiden to imagine, she simply walked up to the house and began eating away at its walls, never once considering there might be someone living inside. Indeed, she got quite a shock when a voice called out “You’re letting in the wind, dear child, and it’s agitating the lice on my head! Come and pick out the lice for me?”

When the maiden entered the house of pancakes she found a little old woman whose skin was fire-red. Graciously (though part of her was disgusted to do so) the maiden picked the lice from the old woman’s hair until she fell asleep. Then the maiden carefully got up and searched out the old woman’s pancake house until she came upon a room full of golden objects. Among them was a dress of spun gold, which the maiden put on and then dashed out of the house.

When she came upon the little over she said “Little oven, please don’t tell on me.”

“Oh, no, of course not!”

And when she came upon the calf and the pear tree she asked the same of them, and they agreed not to tell on her.

Once she reached the well she dove back in and surfaced just as day was dawning. A rooster saw the maiden and cried out, “Our golden maiden has returned home!”

Seeing this the flax-haired maiden asked what had happened and the straw-haired maiden explained everything. Hearing this the flax-haired maiden dove into the well and did just as she had been told. She asked the pear tree to shake, told the lamb to bow down, had the little oven baker her bread, and ate from house of pancakes. This time the little old red woman realized that word had gotten out about her room full of golden objects and she was not pleased. She played along as before, asking the maiden to pick the lice from her hair, and then pretended to fall asleep. When the flax-haired maiden escaped with another golden dress she asked the little oven, the calf, and the pear tree not to tell on her, and they all agreed, just as before.

But soon he little old red woman came along and asked the little oven where the maiden went. When the oven pretended not to know the old woman said, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it!” And so the little oven pointed the way. She had to do the same with the calf and the pear tree until she came upon the well and dove in.

As the flax-haired maiden was reunited with the straw-haired maiden they complimented each other on their choice of dress, though secretly they thought themselves most beautiful and the other simply horrid. Suddenly out of the well popped the little red woman and when the rooster saw her cried out, “Our fiery demon has returned home!”

“It wasn’t enough that you came to my land and demanded my tree to sway, to make my lamb bow down, to force my oven and my house to feed you, but you both felt you had to steal from a little old lady as well? I know your thoughts and can see you both for the horrid creatures you really are, but I know something else. Those dresses will obey my every command, and I command them to return home with you in them and to see that you never return!”

With that the dresses forced the two maidens to dive head-first into the well where they were never heard from again. And to this day that rooster stares down into the well each morning and cries whenever he catches a glimpse of gold at the bottom of the well.

Spinning on the edge of a well, indeed!

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A wealthy merchant had cause to visit a neighboring town but before he left he asked his three daughters if they wished for him to bring anything home. The oldest daughter asked for a dress, the middle daughter asked for shoes, and the youngest, who was the merchant’s favorite, asked for a single red rose.

“A rose in winter!” the oldest daughter laughed.

“Who does she think she is?” said the middle daughter.

The merchant promised his youngest daughter he would do his best and left to tend to his business. In short order he was able to find a dress and a pair of shoes for his older daughters, but finding a rose in winter eluded the merchant. The keeper of the inn where the merchant was staying overheard the merchant discussing the matter with another and recommended a craftsman in town who specialized in flowers made of silk. The merchant was so thrilled he rushed straight to the craftsman’s shop.

The shop was bursting with bouquets of the most beautiful flowers in every shade and color imaginable. The innkeeper had not exaggerated the craftsman’s art, for the flowers had been installed on the ends of twigs and stems that made their appearance near-perfect, and the air was thick with the perfume of every bud as if in a meadow in spring. At first the merchant didn’t even see the craftsman at his bench behind an explosion of gardenias piled high before him.

“Excuse the mess,” the craftsman said. “I’m just finishing up an order for a wedding. How may I help you?”

“My youngest daughter has charged me with finding her a red rose in winter,” the merchant said. “You can appreciate the impossibility of this task.”

The craftsman smiled and nodded. Then, without another word, he removed a ribbon of red silk and brushed one of the edges with a small glue brush. Then he removed a thorny rose branch from a bin behind him and began winding and binding the ribbon around the edge of the rose branch. In a matter of moments before the merchant’s eye he had produced a single, perfect red rose bud. The merchant looked at it with an amazement that begged the craftsman to speak.

“I have soaked and dried the stem in rosewater so that when it is placed in a vase with water is will not only smell like a rose but will cause the bud to open to its fullest bloom.”

As if to prove himself the craftsman took a silk tulip from his stock and placed it in a glass of water. Slowly the flower opened up and the gentle smell of tulips seemed to burst forth and fill the shop.

“Miraculous!” said the merchant. “What will such a thing as this rose cost me?”

“Well…” the craftsman considered. “I am looking for a wife. You bring this rose home and your daughter would be willing to meet with me I would consider that payment enough. If she will not meet me than we can arrange a fair amount the next time you come to town.”

The merchant was pleased with this offer, for not only would he return home with a rose for his daughter but he stood to gain a brilliant (and by all accounts handsome) craftsman as a son-in-law. At home his two older daughters loved their gifts but when the youngest daughter saw the rose she scoffed.

“You didn’t bring a paper dress or toy shoes home for my sisters, but you mock me with a ball of ribbon on a stick?”

The merchant begged her to wait until her could show her the majesty of the craftsman art. He placed the rose in a vase and, as promised, the bud sprang open and the air filled with the gentle caress of roses. The older girls were impressed but the younger daughter smirked.

“A clever parlor trick, but it isn’t any closer to being the rose I asked for. I trust you didn’t spend too much on this.”

The merchant explained the terms of his agreement with the craftsman and this time all three girls laughed.

“Oh father!” said the oldest.

“You honestly don’t think us so desperate that we would need to have our marriages arranged, do you?” said the middle daughter.

“Seriously,” said the youngest, “You would trade my happiness for this? Find this craftsman the next time you are in that town and pay him whatever he demands. There would be no price to high for this lesson.”

It was many months before the merchant returned, but when he did the following summer he found the neighboring town festooned with flowers and decorations all made of the finest silk. The merchant recognized instantly the decorations as the handiwork of the craftsman he sought.

“What is the occasion?” the merchant asked the innkeeper from his previous visit.

“The prince is getting married today.”

Satisfied with this explanation the merchant went in search of the craftsman to pay both for the rose of his last visit but in compliment for his latest accomplishment in decorating the village. At the craftsman’s quarters he found footmen of the palace exiting with armfuls of bouquets intended for the wedding banquet.

“Excuse me, but can you point me in the direction of the craftsman,” said the merchant. “I have a debt to settle with him.”

“Out of the question,” said one of the footman, “As the prince is busy getting ready for his wedding ceremony.”

The merchant was naturally confused so he returned to the innkeeper for confirmation.

“Indeed! The prince lived among us as a simple craftsman for years without betraying his true station. And today he marries the daughter of a merchant who graciously conceded to meet him in payment for a silk lotus flower he created…”

The merchant fell into an instant funk as he realized his daughter had spurned a prince. He stayed in town for the wedding and in the receiving line he found the craftsman prince recognized him immediately.

“Thank you for attending my wedding, though I suspect by the dour look on your face you have come to settle our accounts.”

“It is unfortunate that my daughter could not appreciate all you had to offer. What will this insult to your highness cost me?”

“It is too joyous an occasion for me to feel insulted. Return home and tell your daughters of all you have learned and we shall consider the matter settled.”

Which he did. And when the merchant’s daughters heard it all they wept for days on end, especially the younger daughter who never married and was buried holding a single rose that had been spun from silk.

And the rose still smelled as sweet as the day it was created.

.

.

“The Winter Rose” is adapted from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes, part of a very long project to adapt and revise all the tales collected therein.

The original of “The Winter Rose” is the Grimm version of the story better known as “La Belle et la Bête” often credited to Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont though hers was an adaptation of a much longer version by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. So I’m just part of a grand tradition of revising and reinterpreting tales!

Actually, it always bothered me that Belle made such a seemingly absurd demand that put her father at such risk. In the Grimm version the father dies before Belle can save him from destitution and death, and she returns to her prince and lives happily ever after. No, no prince for you, Belle, not this time.

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“I had a strange and wondrous dream,” Julianne told her mother upon waking. “In it met a beautiful swan who was unable to fly because it was tangled in yarn. As I collected and balled the yarn the swan became free and flew off into the sky. As it circled overhead the swan said it was a prince caught in an evil spell and he begged me to come free him, then he flew off to who-knows-where.”

“If there’s anyone who can make sense of such things it would be your aunties,” said Julianne’s mother.

“But they’ve each married cannibals!” Julianne cried. “Surely you wouldn’t send me to risk my life simply to learn the message of a dream?”

“Darling one, they’re omnivores, not cannibals. You know that everyone in the world isn’t vegetarian like we are.”

So Julianne packed herself off to visit her aunties in turn, beginning first with Auntie Sun. As she related her dream Auntie Sun sat and rocked with her eyes closed, imagining the scene as is was described to her.

“Yes, yes,” said Auntie Sun, “I can see why this dream left such a strong impression on you. I can only explain part of the dream to you, my sisters will have to explain the rest, but you have to be sure this is really what you want.”

“I do, I do!” said Julianne.

Then Auntie Sun hands Julianne a necklace with a golden ring hanging from it.

“The swan is indeed a prince, that much is clear from the dream. He did not seek you out but he was grateful you found him, and so he shall be if you seek him out now. This golden ring will help you gain access to him.”

Julianne was grateful for her auntie’s help and skipped off to see her Auntie Moon. She told Auntie Moon of her dream and of Auntie’s Sun’s interpretation of the dream.

“Very well,” said Auntie Moon, “I suspect that you like what you heard and wish to hear more? That’s what you have come to me?”

“I do, I do!” said Julianne.

“Very well. The swan-prince of your dream is indeed entangled, bound by a spell of words, but he agreed to the terms of this spell without giving it much thought. If you continue to seek him out the prince will understand the true weight of this spell and will be released. That is all I can tell you, child.”

With this Auntie Moon gave Julianne a bracelet full of green emeralds. “This will help you to weaken the spell, but I must warn you that you put yourself in danger if you proceed. My other sister will explain it to you no doubt.”

Julianne didn’t care about danger. She had reimagined the swan-prince in her mind over and over to the point where he would be worth any risk she might have to undertake. She anxiously went to her Auntie Star and related her dream, as well as the interpretations by her sisters Sun and Moon, and grunted in response.

“My foolish sisters have done you a disservice be filling you head with romantic notions,” Auntie Star said. “This dream is a warning, for you and your swan prince, and no good can come from all this.”

“But Auntie Moon said that my prince is indeed entangled in a spell, and Auntie Sun said he would be grateful that I should find him. Are you saying they weren’t telling the truth?”

“Child, you aren’t seeing the clear picture here. The swan in your dream was grateful, and you did release him, but you yourself said he flew off without you.”

“But clearly he couldn’t stay with me in the dream because he was still bound by the spell in real life. Only his spirit in the shape of a swan could come and show me what was necessary for me to see. Now, what is this danger that Auntie Moon spoke of?”

“There are guardians at the gate of the prince’s palace. Every kingdom has guardians at the gate.”

“Fierce monsters, like dragons and lions?” said Julianne.

“They make take that shape in your mind, but I promise you nothing more than ugly men. You will need to get past them, and when you do is when you will face your greatest danger. That is when you will meet the one who has cast the spell over your prince and as bound him in place. But beware, she will not be what you expect, and in fact you will doubt everything my sisters and I have told you. Nonetheless, she will help you get near enough to the prince that you may undo the spell. Once free, however, the prince will do as he did in the dream and fly off without you.”

“Impossible! Auntie, if everything else turns out to be as you and your sisters have said it then in the end the prince will be mine. Now, what do you have to help me get past the guardians?”

With a weary sigh Auntie Star gave a basket full of stinking cheeses and savory pies made with organ meats. Julianne found the meal revolting but understood the power it would have in attracting the guardians.

“You will see when I return, Auntie Star, that I was right and you were wrong.”

“I hope so, child, for if I am right you will never return.”

Undaunted, Julianne headed off toward the castle on the mountain where Auntie Star said she would find the swan-prince. As she neared the front gate she saw two very large guards whose faces had been scarred and ruined from many a battle. She set out a small blanket like a picnic and unpacked the meats and cheeses and then retreated to a hiding place. In time the guards smelled the food and went to investigate. Satisfied no one was around they presumed it had been set for them through some sort of magic and set in to eating. While they ate Julianne silently crept away and entered the unguarded castle.

Wandering the grounds of the castle Julianne was surveying the palace to determine where the prince might be located when she was stopped by the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.

“Are you lost, dear?” the woman said.

“I have traveled far, following instructions from a dream, and have come to free one who is bound by a spell.”

“Well, then! You should meet my husband, the prince, and tell him of your mission! He will be most astonished!”

Julianne hadn’t thought to wonder if the prince was married and now realized that the beautiful woman, a princess is ever there was one, had been the one that placed the spell over the prince. As they entered the throne room the prince sat up when he saw Julianne enter with his wife.

“Husband, this child has come claiming to have followed instructions from a dream. It is just as you said!”

Julianne was taken aback. The prince had dreamed of her arrival and told his wife? What hadn’t her Auntie’s told her this would be the case, or that the prince was married and that his wife’s spell was surely her beauty? She wanted to escape, to run away, but she had come this far and couldn’t do so without being rude to the prince.

“It is true!” the prince said. “I dreamed a maiden would come and speak to me of having met in a dream, but I fear I don’t understand the rest of it. In the dream you were as you are but I was a large bird and could not understand what you said.”

“A swan, your highness. You were a swan, and…” Julianne was unsure how much to disclose in front of the prince’s wife. “And I could not understand you as well.” A strange welling of guilt caught in Julianne’s throat. She had never lied before, and now she was sure that lying might possibly bring about the dangers she had been warned of. She noticed the princess couldn’t remove her eyes from the emerald bracelet so she removed it.

“In my dream I was to give you this gift. I know not why, but the dream hasn’t led me astray thus far…”

Julianne handed the princess the bracelet and was thanked with a warm embrace.

“It is the most exquisite thing I have ever seen! And to think I feared what you might be when my husband told me of his dream.”

“What was it you feared, your highness?”

“That you had come to steal my prince from me!”

And though they all laughed at such a thought, Julianne’s heart broke inside at the realization that she had been foolish to ignore her Auntie Star, foolish to think a dream like that had only one interpretation.

That night they feasted and Julianne played the part of a gracious guest, promising herself that she would stay a reasonable length of time and then beg her leave in a way that didn’t seem suspicious. As the night wore on the princess insisted Julianne spend the night. While she lay in her bed truing to decide whether or not to leave at first light before everyone else woke up, or to make a more dignified exit later in the morning, Julianne jumped as a secret door of her room opened and the prince entered.

“You and I both know there is more to the dream than we would ever admit in public,” the prince said as he sat on the edge of Julianne’s bed.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The prince reached over and pulled out the necklace with the ring on it from beneath her dressing gown.

“Why else would you be wearing this,” the prince said. “In my dream you came to the palace with this ring intended as a wedding band.”

“Impossible,” Julianne said. “You are already married, and to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

“Yes, but what is beauty compared with the power of a dream that comes true? There is a reason the fates have brought us together like this, and I have to believe this is a powerful magic that supercedes all others.”

Julianne took a breath in an attempt to harness her fear. She smiled and patted the prince’s hand.

“I have a plan” said Julianne. “In the morning you shall offer to take me on a walk and we will use that opportunity to run off together.”

The prince smiled and leaned in for a kiss but Julianne turned away.

“Very well, my sweet Julianne. Until the morrow when we shall be free to fly off together.”

As soon as the prince left Julianne made herself ready to escape the palace and return home under the cover of night. She made it past the sleeping guards at the gate and was about to enter the forest when the princess stepped out from the shadows of the trees.

“I had feared you might not come,” said the princess. “In my dream it wasn’t clear whether or not you would.”

“I don’t understand, your highness.”

“I, too, had a dream. I had a dream that my faithless husband had paid a call on an unsuspecting maiden in her bedchamber and had charmed her into running off together. In exchange she would give me a bracelet of emerald jewels and I was to be satisfied that a fair deal had been struck. I suspect that the dream you shared with my husband had a similar variation on that scheme. But unlike my husband, you and I have chosen not to accept our fanciful dreams as die-cast fate. I suspect this has something to do with the strength of our womanly character.”

Julianne fell to her knees and began to cry. “I’ve been so foolish,” she said. “Please forgive me.”

The princess handed Julianne back the emerald bracelet and begged her to rise. “Further along the trail you will find one of my footmen with a horse. He will accompany you to safety wherever you wish go. If necessary he is prepared to negotiate a fair trade on the value of that bracelet so that you may begin your life anew and in some comfort. He is instructed to stay as long as you need him and to come to me if you should ever require further assistance. And should you find happiness and a husband you are more than welcome to return here for a visit.”

Though it was unheard of to do so Julianne gave the princess a warm embrace and left without another word. She found the footman as promised and together they proceeded to a small village where he was able to acquire a small farm and a fair bit of coin in exchange for the bracelet. The footman stayed on to help Julianne run the farm and they eventually were married. For the rest of their lives Julianne and the princess – and later, queen – exchanged letters to one another and became close friends, though they never saw each other again.

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A little hen’s
Discovery
Along the fens:
A little key!

A little cock
With puffed-out breast
Stumbled on
A little chest!

Inside the chest,
all stiff and dead;
A little tail
With fur of red!

That’s it?

Yes, it’s a short tale.

It’s not a tale at all! It stops just as it was getting interesting!

Well, what do you think happens next?

What do I think happens next? What about what happened before?! Someone had to have a reason to lock up that tail and toss the key somewhere else. Maybe no one was supposed to find that chest, maybe opening it let out some kind of evil!

That’s an interesting possibility.

And what happened to the chickens when they opened it up? Did they die of fright? Did the tail jump out at them and chase them around the woodlands? Maybe it was the devil’s tail!

All of these are equally plausible, little one.

I don’t like this tale, it cheats.

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“The Short Tale,” story number 250 from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes, as reinterpreted by me, David Elzey. Part of a complete breakfast an ongoing project to reinterpret the Grimm tales over the course of many, many Thursdays.

The original of this story is 43 words long and makes just as much sense as my rhymed verses. Two birds, a key, a chest, and a little red fur inside, the end. Woe to the child who was gyped at bedtime with this tale.

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It was winter, a desperate call was made to Heaven for a child. But heaven did not answer and desperation turned to despair. The woman shed her own blood upon the snow, glistening spots of cherry red flowing out across sugar crystal banks, faded at the edges to sun-burnt peaches.

The bears came. They divided what they found and left only the heart behind. The heart froze throughout winter, sank into the snow banks, took root in the earth during the thaw, and with the shed blood raised a fairy ring of deadly red cap mushrooms in the spring.

A band of woodsmen and huntsman came upon the fairy ring, seven-strong in all, who knew better than to step into the ring for fear of entrapment. Combining their wits and strategies they dangled a carrot above the center of the ring from a tree branch then they took cover. In time a white rabbit came forth, stepping into the ring to sample the carrots, and upon standing on the spot where the heart was buried became instantly transformed into a small child. The seven men waited until the infant withdrew from the enchanted circle of her own accord and then brought her home with them.

They named the rabbit-child Snow.

The seven woodsmen and huntsmen raised Snow as their own, teaching her all a young woman should know, always with the message that the world outside the house was dangerous and she was not to leave under any circumstance. The seven men knew that despite her beauty she contained whatever heart had been at the center of the fairy ring and that she could bring about great danger. For her part Snow knew nothing about how she came to be, only that the seven men found her in the woods one day and rescued her from the elements. For that, Snow was most grateful.

In time the rabbit-girl grew to be the most beautiful of young women. Her voice could literally call water to spring forth from the ground and cause trees to bear ripened fruit within seconds. Logs wood split into firewood if she hummed to them, rocks would spark and create fires for her with a wink of he eye. Upon surveying her talents the seven huntsman and woodsmen knew that Snow’s heart contained a great yearning that they would be powerless to stop on their own.

And so the seven men went into various nearby towns with tales of a beauty in the woods so perfect and rare that surly she was the fairest child any would ever lay eyes on. Their hope had been to entice men to seek Snow out, to draw out the power of her bitter heart, because they believed that bitterness would take root and transform Snow into an evil sorceress. But in spreading the word the Queen had heard raves of Snow’s beauty and in her jealously insisted on seeing the child people considered most beautiful.

While the seven were away the Queen called upon Snow’s house in the woods in the guise of a weaver and mender of garments. Snow remembered her guardian’s warnings and refused to come out and speak to the Queen-in-disguise. Explaining that she was forbidden to speak with strangers the Queen caught a look of Snow in the window and was stunned beyond belief: she was the spitting image of her long-gone sister, the sister she had despised, the sister whose tea she had slowly poisoned over time to make her barren, the sister whose husband, the King, she had calmed in his grief and later married. It had been nearly seventeen years since her sister vanished and now here she was as if she hadn’t aged in all that time.

Frantically, the Queen returned home and told her husband that there was an evil spirit lurking in the woods. She had heard that there was a Harpy luring all the men from the village to trick them into killing themselves and then devour their remains. The King didn’t initially believe his wife’s story until he saw men in the villages making plans and setting out to find this mystical beauty named Snow. At once the King sent his fleetest messengers to announce that none would view Snow until the King had laid eyes upon her himself. If the Queen was right, and that the Harpy could read the minds of those it saw and take the shape of the dead, then the King would be the one to slay the Harpy and save the kingdom.

Hearing all this the huntsmen and woodsmen began to understand what the fairy ring had brought forth. They returned home before the King or any suitors could to tell Snow the truth of her providence. They explained that they did not know what would happen, or what she should do, only that they would be powerless to help her and that she should not be afraid. After all they had done for her Snow trusted the seven men and knew in her heart that what they said was right. A great calming peace came over Snow as she sat by the fire and tended to her sewing. The woodsmen and huntsmen each took a turn kissing Snow’s head before retreating to the edge of the clearing where they could secretly watch what happened.

The King arrived with his men, followed by the Queen and the men from the village curious to glimpse the one called Snow. Pounding on the door the King demanded Snow to step outside. He had repeated the conflicting rumors that she was most beautiful and that he had reason to suspect there was a Harpy in the woods and would get to the bottom of things. Slowly the door to the cottage opened and out stepped Snow. Those old enough to remember gasped as they saw the King’s long-lost wife appear before them, while the younger men were taken in by her beauty. Standing there, Snow felt as if she had known every single face in the crowd, as if from dreams or perhaps a secret life before this one.

The King’s heart filled with poisonous pain, a combination of rage and grief. “How dare you appear before me in that guise!” the King said. He turned and grabbed an ax he had strapped to his saddle and planted himself squarely before Snow. His eyes reddened as they flooded with tears. “Have you anything to say before I kill you, witch?”

Snow began to hum and a pile of logs nearby split of their own accord. She winked and the rocks tumbled together to send off sparks. She opened her mouth to sing and the trees burst with ripened fruit while pools of water created burbling hot springs all around. Then she stopped singing and nature calmed. “My heart is ready to be released,” she said.

Though it pained him to raise his ax against the image of his one true love, the King shifted his stance and prepared to fell Snow like a tree. He took careful aim at her chest, and deep breath, then closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to remember the image of what he was about to do. But the King’s gloves had been recently oiled and the ax flew from his hands as he drew back, sending the ax flying out of his hands and blade squarely into the chest of the Queen. In the commotion that followed, no one noticed that Snow seemed to have vanished into thin air, and they certainly didn’t notice the white rabbit that hopped back into the woods never to be seen again.

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Freely adapted from “Snow White, Snow White, or The Unfortunate Child,” story number 251 in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. This is part of a series of reinterpretations of every Grimm tale, usually appearing every Thursday though occasionally (like today) on Friday.

Some things I found interesting about the original tale: originally the Queen was from England, suggesting a certain regionalism where natives of the Grimmoire might have told tales of a vain and vengeful queen who was jealous of local beauty; that the Queen tries to kill Snow with a lace (corseting her so tight she cannot breath) and a comb (perhaps sticking its teeth into a nerve point at the neck that paralyzes her?) before finally poisoning her with an apple; and finally, that no prince comes to save her with a kiss, but instead it is her father and some experienced doctors who revive Snow (something to do with a rope) and they all return home to torture the Queen to dance to death.

I’m fairly certain this is a variant telling of the tale, that elsewhere (if memory serves) a version exists where a prince does come and removes the bite of poison apple from Snow’s mouth which brings about her revival. In the retelling I wanted Snow to be something more than beautiful, I wanted to find a way for her and the Queen to have some connection and thus a greater threat. I don’t imagine some people will appreciate my mixing a fairy ring and Harpies into the mix, but then things are always a little different in the Grimmoire than they are elsewhere in the fairy tale world.

 

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Once upon a time there was a young boy, which means that he is not longer.

When his mother died his father took on a new wife, the boy’s new stepmother, and we can all pretty much guess how the story went from there.

Or can we?

The boy’s new stepmother had a daughter and both loved the young boy very much. During the day the girl would play with her new brother and they became close companions. The stepmother devoted herself to the children, baking cakes and other small treats for them. Together they were a happy family.

But we know the boy is no longer alive, so something must have happened that would cause us to tell his tale.

Ah, yes. The pear tree.

One day the young boy had traveled into the nearby woods on his own. Exploring, as young boys do, he imagined himself a brave prince climbing a tower to rescue a princess. He had found a pear tree with a stout trunk made for a perfect tower.  He was so overcome with victory at reaching the top that he lost his footing and tumbled down through the tree, breaking his neck as his body wedged in tight among the branches.

His family spent days looking for the young boy, the girl weeping for weeks on end after it had been concluded that he had been lost for good. Consumed with grief, the family fell out of their routines and failed to notice that their stores of rye grain had begun to sprout a fungus before the stepmother baked it into a loaf of bread. That night at dinner, and again the next morning when they ate the bread with breakfast, the family ingested the ergot and began to hallucinate wildly. The father imagined his ax in the corner taunting him to chop his family to bits. The stepmother became dizzy and saw the world in hues never before seen. And the girl heard her brother’s voice in the song of a little bird that alighted in their window.

If you want to know
What happened to me
Look to the boughs
Of the old pear tree!

The girl knew exactly which tree she imagined the bird was talking about. She rushed into the woods with her parents following and when they reached the tree they looked up and saw what was left of the boy among the branches. Another bird – or perhaps the same one – landed nearby and began singing.

Although she seems kind
And full of good cheer
Stepmother’s the one
Who threw me up here!

The girl, horrified, related what the bird had told her and demanded an explanation from her mother. Unclear in her own mind, the stepmother began weeping and confessed to having killed the boy and throwing his body up the tree, though she admitted not remembering doing so. While the girl and her mother wept the father returned home to ask the ax for advice. The ax suggested he hack his wife to bits, and the father had determined to do so, but when he returned to the pear tree he found both his wife and her daughter had been flattened by a boulder that rolled down the hill and came to a stop at the foot of the tree.
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“Stepmother” freely adapted from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brother Grimm, edited by Jack Zipes. This is story number 253.

Once again we have the evil stepmother character, and aside from being tired of the repeated notion that a not-of-blood parent is inherently evil, what most interested me about the original was the ending. In the original the stepmother secretly chops up and serves the boy for dinner, the girl ties the bones together and tosses them into a pear tree, and the boy turns into a bird that comes back to tell them all what has happened. Then, out of nowhere, the stepmother is flattened by a giant millstone. Where? How? What the hell? I get that the stepmother must be punished, but the overall effect was of an old Monty Python sketch where someone would suddenly have a 16 ton weight dropped onto them from out of the sky.

So instead, I went with a more common set of explanations in keeping with the time: death by misadventure, and ergot poisoning, similar to what probably was responsible for that unfortunate business with the witches of Salem.

And a bloody boulder-out-of-nowhere.

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All night long the Moon dashed across the sky, from one horizon to the other, around and around the Earth. Then one day the Moon stopped and sang to his mother:

Mother, dear Mother
Please make me a coat!
The Nighttime is freezing
My face is like ice!

So she measured the Moon and began cutting and sewing pieces of the night sky to make him a coat. While she was busy working the Moon skimmed the cream off the Milky Way and drank it greedily. When he was full and grew cold again he returned home.

Mother, dear Mother
Please give me my coat!
The Nighttime is freezing
My face is like ice!

When the Moon tried on the coat he discovered that he had grown fuller and the coat did not fit him. While his mother tore the coat apart to make a larger one the Moon dashed over the horizon nibbled away at the candy Sunset. The more the Moon ate of the Sunset the colder he felt when he returned to the nighttime.

Mother, dear Mother
Have you fixed my coat?
The Nighttime is freezing
My face is like ice!

But the coat was too small, the Moon had grown from snacking on the Sunset. So his mother took the coat apart and began to make a larger coat with even more pieces of the night sky. Meanwhile the Moon ran off and played hide-and-seek behind the sun, eating up Stardrops and drinking in Earthshine. When he tired of playing and eating and drinking he returned home.

Mother, dear Mother,
Is my coat done yet?
This Nighttime is freezing
My face is like ice!

Once again he tried on the coat and once again it was too small for the Moon. With this his mother tore the coat to pieces and handed him only the back of the coat with its collar attached.

Darling, dear Darling
You don’t need a coat!
You’ve tried all my patience
This cape will suffice!

And so, in order to keep himself warm, the Moon was forced to keep moving his cape around his plump little body as he crossed the night sky. Which explains why when you see the Moon overhead sometimes he is partially covered, sometimes half covered, sometime three-quarters covered, and sometimes completely covered. The Moon’s cape cannot cover more than any half of him at one time.

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