Thursday’s Tale: The Queen Bee

Illustration by Walter Crane from Household Stories from the Collection of the Brothers Grimm translated by Lucy Crane. London: Macmillan & Co., 1882.

 

“The Queen Bee” is one of Grimm’s tales that I hadn’t heard of until the Grimm episode “Beeware” back in November. The TV show really had little to do with the Grimm story though.

Two king’s sons went out to seek their fortune, but fell into a wild, disorderly way of living. The youngest, Simpleton, went out to find them, but they only laughed at him, to think that he, who was so young and simple, should try to travel through the world, when they, who were so much wiser, had been unable to get on. The three traveled on together, and Simpleton prevented his brothers from destroying an ant hill, killing some ducks, and suffocating a bee hive with smoke, each time saying, “Leave the creatures in peace; I will not allow you to disturb them.” Then they came to a castle with stone horses in the stable, and no sign of anyone. They hunted through the castle and found a room with a little gray man, who gave them a feast for dinner. In the morning, he showed the oldest son a stone table, on which were written three tasks. Whoever performed them would free the castle.

The first was to collect the princess’s thousand pearls, scattered in the woods. Whoever tried and failed would be turned to stone. The older brothers tried and failed. For the youngest, however, the ants collected the pearls, in thanks for saving their lives. The second was to fetch the key to the princess’s bedchamber from the lake, which the ducks did for him. The third was to pick out the youngest princess from the three sleeping princesses; they looked exactly alike, and the only difference was that the oldest had eaten a bit of sugar before they slept, the second a little syrup, and the youngest some honey. The queen bee picked out the youngest.

This woke the castle, and restored all those who had been turned to stone. The youngest son married the youngest princess and eventually become king, and his two brothers married the other princesses.

Rather a classic fairytale. We have the youngest son, the one looked down on, the one of least value, completing a quest. We have the beautiful princess who needs rescued. And that magical number three is all over the place – three brothers, three princesses, three parts to the quest. We have friendly animals who help with the quest because they are grateful to the hero. And we actually have a happy ending for all involved. The enchantment is broken and everyone is de-statuefied. Simpleton marries the King’s dearest daughter and becomes King after his death. Even the wayward sons are rewarded by being allowed to marry the other princesses. I’m going to assume those are happy marriages.

I’m not quite sure why all three of the brothers felt the need to accomplish the impossible task. Were the princesses just that beautiful? Is it that in Fairy Tale Land, you go on the quest, regardless of how ridiculous it seems? Of course, none of the three were doing much with their lives anyway.

So, what’s the moral? I think it’s a pro-environmental message. You should respect nature. But somehow I think the Grimm’s were probably thinking more along the lines of leave things as they are, don’t disrupt the natural order.

You can read the story several places on-line, including at SurLaLune.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

The A to Z Challenge is hosted at its own blog.

6 Comments

  1. I also had never heard of this one until that “Grimm” episode. I like the imagery of the ants tracking down the pearls.

    Are you watching “Once Upon a Time” too? I think it’s cool that two shows popped up the same year using fairy tales, but yet are very different.

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