Posts Tagged ‘original’

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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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.

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Katie and Freddy were a pair of fools, or so the people of the village thought. They seemed to have fool’s luck, the kind of luck that only a fool would have. Their worthless piece of farm land became fertile when the river changed its course, never mind that Freddy dammed up and diverted the river himself. And when there was record rainfall one season all the other homes in the village sprang leaks in their roofs while the fools stayed dry, no doubt the copper lining to their shingled roof helped.

So when Freddy and Katie came into town with a sack full of gold the people of the village assumed the fools had once again found their luck. As the spent the night in a tavern, buying drinks for all, they refused to tell a soul how they came upon their money until they were good and drunk. That is, they pretended to be drunk and then chose one person in whom they felt the could confide.

“In the woods there is a tree marked with an X carved into its trunk. At the base of the tree is a hollow and inside that hollow is where a band of local robbers stash their loot. As they have just left for another round of looting it is probably safe to go and help yourself to a sack or two of coins. But tell no one else! If too many were to know of this then surely the robbers will notice and look elsewhere for a hiding place!”

The villager, usually overcome with greed or desiring to stake their claim before the fools sobered up and came to their senses, would make their haste in finding the tree almost immediately. Into the dark woods they went, in search of the marked tree, usually finding it within the course of an hour.

And they were never heard from again.

Katie and Freddy never worried when the villagers would take their leave, they never hurried themselves out of the tavern, and often they spent the night in town and returned home the next day. It was with a secret smile that Freddy and Katie would wake up the next day and go to the home of the villager before returning to their own cottage. They knew they would not be disturbed, or caught, as they ransacked the homes of those who they tempted away with the lure of easy money.

Because they knew that person was dead, at the bottom of a dead-fall trap, impaled by sharpened spikes. This was what Katie and Freddy did.

After finding a suitable spot in the woods they would carve an X in a tree and dig a large pit in front of it. The bottom of the pit with fitted with sharpened rods of steel and spikes of the hardest wood. Then over the pit would be stretched a linen cloth which was covered with a thin layer of earth from the forest so that it looked natural. As the unsuspecting villagers saw the X in the tree they would quicken their pace, tumbling with their full weight into the pit and onto the spikes. After ransacking the villager’s home of all their valuables Katie and Freddy would travel to distant towns and sell off the valuables for more gold. In the time they spent away from the trap wolves and other animals would come and clean the bones of the fallen villager. All that remained for Freddy to do when they returned home was collect whatever valuable rings or gold hadn’t been eaten by the animals and to burn the clothing before rebuilding the trap.

Month after month the fools would come into town, arousing the greed and suspicion of villagers, and month after month another citizen of the village would mysteriously disappear. Because Freddy and Katie were careful in choosing their victims – telling only those who lived alone, or sending family members a day apart after resetting the dead-fall – few in the village saw the connection between the two incidents.

Soon the remaining villagers became spooked. People were disappearing and without a word, without a sound. Families would move away in the dead of night without warning, sometimes leaving behind their possessions. And with fewer and fewer people around the artisans and craftsmen and guildsmen left to ply their trades elsewhere. The last remaining villager was the owner of the inn connected to the tavern. The fools, taking pity on him, offered him all the money they had plus what the robber had hidden in the tree in exchange for the inn and tavern. It would be money enough to start anew in another town and the innkeeper jumped at the opportunity… and fell to his death just like all the others.

But the fools, they made sure the inn that had been formally signed over to them before they told the innkeeper where to go, and with no one else around to contradict or lay claim, they assumed ownership of all the buildings in the village and the surrounding land. From their dealings with the far away villages where the sold their pillaged goods, the fools spread word that they had inherited an empty village and were looking to populate it with good people. They sold the homes and business stalls for a good price and ran the inn for themselves. Freddy and Katie often entertained their new neighbors with fables, including one about   a couple who had allegedly lured unsuspecting villagers to their death in the woods. In turn the villagers told the story to their children to keep them from going there, and when those children grew up they told a pair of brothers the tale for a collection they were compiling. The new occupants of the village were all warmly received by Freddy and Katie, thought they were two of the nicest people they’d ever met, and none ever thought them fools.

Though there was a pit in the forest waiting, just in case these new neighbors turned out to be as rude as the old ones.



“Fool’s Gold” can be found in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. It’s story #247 and if you’re having a sense of deja vu the way I did, this is a varaition of the story that I reimagined as “Dumb Luck: A Rube Goldberg Grimmoire” which was story #265. Oh, and also, both of these are variants of story #59 called “Freddy and Katie” which, at the rate of one story a week, I’ll probably hit around this time in 2015.

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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
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.



“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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I’m at camp, but not really. I’m once again working the summer residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts for the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program as a Graduate Assistant. My duties are varied, but basically I’m here to help make things run smooth for the students, faculty, and program administrators. I also get to sit in on awesome lectures by award-winning writers and get some hints (and reminders) about ways to make my writing better.

I’ve joked before that a part of this feels like camp, and it’s the part at the end of the day when people congregate in one of the lounges and play writerly games or just talk shop and perhaps enjoy an occasional adult beverage. But the one thing this camp does have is a campfire full of camp songs. I thought back to some of the songs I learned back in my camp days and thought “The Quartermaster’s Stores” might be adaptable. I have done my best, given he lateness of the hour.

My neck is stiff, my wrists they ache,
I cannot stop to take a break.
I can-hey! not-ho! stop to take a break!

Oh there’s friction, friction, friction building tension in our fiction,
In the box, in the box.
Yes, there’s friction, friction, friction building tension in our fiction,
That we carry in our old toolbox!

My eyes are dim, my hands are cramped,
My climax needs to be revamped!
My cli-hey! max-ho! needs to be revamped!

We’ve got drawers, drawers, drawers, all crammed with metaphors,
In the box, in the box.
Lots of drawers, drawers, drawers, all stuffed with metaphors
That we carry in our old tool box!

My back is sore, my shoulders knot,
There’s massive holes inside my plot!
There’s mas-hey! sive-ho! holes inside my plot!

We’ve must flog, flog, flog our listless dialog
In the box, in the box.
Let those beats unclog the listless dialog
That we carry in our old tool box!

My jaw is tight, my ass is numb,
There’s paper cuts on both my thumbs!
There’s pa-hey! per-ho! cuts on both my thumbs!

We must feed, feed, feed our character needs,
In the box, in the box.
Yes, we must feed, feed, feed our character needs,
That we carry in our old tool box!

With furrowed brow and wrinkles deep,
I must deprive myself of sleep!
I must-hey! de-ho! prive myself of sleep…

Like all good (?) camp songs, this can go on forever. In the original the song can last for as long as people can think up foodstuffs and rhymes for all the things the quartermaster might (or might not) carry. Should the spirit move you, feel free to add a chorus or verse to “The Writer’s Toolbox.”

Well, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with something this week, but it’s Poetry Friday and here we are! A Year of Reading is hosting the round-up of poetry this week, and I bet they’d go good with s’mores!

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Okay, so first, the name. It isn’t like I had a lot of choice in the matter.  Who does?  Apparently it’s an old family name, not that I believe that, but there you go.

Then there’s this whole ladle-riding business. That happened exactly once, at an office party, and I didn’t know the punch was spiked. Oh, look, Rumpenschtumpen’s plastered. Here, give the little guy this ladle and tell him it’s a hobby-horse! It’ll be a scream! Yeah. I guess some people are easily amused.

Now, this girl who could spin straw into gold thread, or so I heard. What’s her name? Eh, doesn’t matter. All I know is that the spinning wheel used to belong to my grandmother, it’s a family heirloom. I ran into my friend Khlamushka and he told me there’s some miller who claimed his daughter was magical and could spin gold. I only ever heard of one other person who could do that and that was Gran-Gran so I went to check things out.

I have to tell you, that girl was miserable. Her father was a brute and if I’d been a few yards taller I’d given him a knuckle sandwich for the stories that girl told me. He’d locked her up in a hayloft with that wheel and had her spinning spools until her fingers bled. Then he’d wallop her for not making his dinner fast enough, and send her to bed with only an old crust to gnaw on. You know, the kind of thing you hear in fairy tales, only this guy was the real deal.

So I came up with this plan. I’d find some guy from out-of-town to come and pretend to be a prince and whisk her away and in exchange she’d give me Gran-Gran’s wheel. Sounds fair, right? She agrees and off I go. It didn’t take long to find some yokel who’d take a bath and wear come clean breeches for a few hours work and I promised him a sackful of ducats if he pulled it off.

The whole thing went down just like I planned. Our fake prince swoops in and hauls the girl away, the father thinks he’s going to become part of a royal family, the kids split up in the woods, and I get my wheel back.

Except that’s not what went down.

Turns out our prince was some kind of wannabe Romeo and the girl falls in love. They hightail it out-of-town with my Gran-Gran’s wheel, and once I heard that there wasn’t much I could do. I wrote the whole thing off as a loss.

About a year later I’ve got the local constable at my door calling me some kind of a deadbeat dad. The way I pieced it together, this girl – the miller’s girl, the one I saved – she got herself with child and Prince Romeo freaked out and skedaddled. To save face she claimed I was the father and the constable tracked me down. Only she didn’t say Rumpleschtumpen knocked me up, no, what she said was You know, that little guy who used to ride around on a ladle?

There’s just no way I’m ever going to live that down, am I?

But suddenly I get an idea. I tell the constable that he’s got the wrong guy, and if in fact the girl he’s talking about is the miller’s daughter, then she stole something from me when she left town and I’d like to collect it. By this point I could tell the constable regretted getting involved, but I was fairly sure I could get my Gran-Gran’s spinning wheel back and teach this girl a lesson about respecting her elders in the process.

Now the version of this story that you might have heard is that I went to lay claim to the child, was defeated by the girl’s trickery, and sent packing on my ladle. That’s because in the end all she had was her story to cling to and she spent the rest of her life trying to sell it to the tabloids. Here’s what really happened.

We’re there, the three of us – me, the girl, and the constable – and she points me out like it’s some police line up, screeching That’s the one!  I smile, I only smile. Because I know in a minute this girl is going regret ever having crossed me. So I say I’d have thought you could at least remember the name of your child’s father. Boy, that stumped her. Then I rubbed it in a little. I tell you what. If you can remember my name within three tries I’ll take responsibility for that child of yours and we’ll call the whole thing settled.

Did she ever fume. Her face rippled like laundry in the breeze as she tried to conjure up some sort of name.

“It’s Hollingsworth,” she declared.


“No, not Hollingsworth. I don’t know why I said that.”

“That’s your first guess.”

” It’s something else, right there on the tip of my tongue. I remember we used to sing a song about you when we were young and played in the woods.”

“Yes, I remember. You children could be so cruel. Here, let me give you a hint. He dances like a little flame, Something-something is his name!”

“Tricky Dicky!”

“Such a preposterous name, child. That was your second guess. One last chance.”

“Oh, wait! I remember now. Wrinkledinkle. That’s it, Wrinkledinkle.”

Needless to say the constable was not amused by the girl’s false accusations and demanded the return of my Gran-Gran’s spinning wheel. The last she saw of me I was on the next horse-drawn cart out of town – a proper cart, mind, and not a ladle. She never did get my name right when those brothers came around and paid her a five-spot to tell her tale.



This is story number 252, “Rumpenstunzchen,” from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes.

This is one of the original versions of a tale known in the United States as “Rumpelstiltskin.” Something I’ve never understood what the how and why of name-changing from other languages into English. The name Rumpelstilzchen means “little rattle stick” and the other variations of his name tend to reference the main character as noisy little talker. It would seem that a proper transformation of the name should be something like Chitterchatterbox and not a nonsensical approximation of the original name. But then even the Brothers Grimm seemed to come up with a variant on the original.

As for riding around on a cooking ladle, I’ve always found that to be a baffling bit of nonsense. I hope my explanation clears this matter up once and for all.

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Yes indeed, it’s time for me to skedaddle my way back to the Vermont College of Fine Arts to serve once again as a Graduate Assistant for the summer residency of the Writing For Children and Young Adults MFA program. And consistent with every residency, I’m in my last-minute list-making and packing for the twelve days I’ll be away. After six previous residencies (five as a student and one as a GA last summer) you’d think I would know what and how to pack, or at the very least be able to find my lists from previous trips.

Which leads me to today’s poem.

i’ve got a list, i’ve checked it twice
before i can proceed.
i’ve packed and repacked each bag thrice
with everything i need.

kenneled the plants, watered the cat
(no! other way around!)
i can’t forget my favorite hat
for strolling into town

unplugged the phone so it won’t wail,
the windows sealed tight,
i put a hold on all my mail,
a timer on a light.

i bought a GPS device
to help me find my way.
the route it planned is so precise
i won’t get lost today!

I’m gone! i’m out! i’m with the tide!
i’ve got no time to spare…
but, wait! i’ve locked my keys inside!
i’m in my underwear!

No, I have never left the house in my underwear, but I have locked myself out many a time. And no matter how many times I make a list, and how carefully I consider everything I’m going to need, invariably I forget at least one thing.

So here it is, Poetry Friday. Next week I’ll be posting from a my cinder block cave in Montpelier, hopefully inspired enough to have something new to post. In the here-and-now Poetry Friday is being hosted by Elaine over at Wild Rose Reader.

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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.
“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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