With Beauty and the Beast coming out in theaters this weekend, I though I’d look at a variation of the story. “Little Broomstick” comes from Germany. The tale was told by Ludwig Bechstein in Deutsches Märchenbuch, 5th edition, 1847. I read D. L. Ashliman’s translation on his website. According to Ashliman, Bechstein was Germany’s most widely read collector and editor of folktales during the nineteenth century. In Germany, his popularity surpassed that of his more scholarly contemporaries, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
The story starts with a merchant who had three daughters. The two older ones were proud and haughty. The younger one, however, was well-behaved and modest, although her beauty greatly surpassed that of her sisters. She dressed simply, and thus unconsciously enhanced her beauty more than her sisters were able to do with the most expensive clothing and jewelry. She was pretty much the standard fairy tale heroine. Her name was Nettchen.
Nettchen had a dear friend who was very poor, but equally beautiful and virtuous. She was a broom binder’s daughter, and was for this reason was called Little Broomstick by young and old alike. The girls entrusted one another with their little secrets, and between them all class distinctions fell by the wayside. This angered the older sisters greatly, but Nettchen ignored them.
Once the merchant was planning a long journey, although the season was already very advanced. He asked his daughters if they had a wish as to what he should bring home to them. The two oldest asked for jewelry. The youngest said that she had no wish, but when the merchant insisted, she asked for me three roses growing on one stem. I’m not quite sure why she asked for that, since it was unlikely that he would be able to find one in the middle of winter. He set forth on his journey.
He was on his way home when he remembered the presents that he was supposed to get for his daughters. He soon found a golden necklace and a pair of splendid earrings, but not the three roses for Nettchen. The father had just decided to buy some other valuable present for his darling, when suddenly — to his surprise — he came upon a green area. He stepped through a wide gateway and found himself in a large, blossoming garden adjacent to a splendid castle. Outside everything was covered with snow, but in the garden the trees were in blossom, nightingales were singing in the bushes, and finally he even saw a blossoming rosebush, and on one of its branches were three of the most beautiful half-open buds. Elated, he thought that now he would be able to fulfill Nettchen’s wish, and he broke off the branch.
He had scarcely done so when an enormous beast with a long ugly snout, ears hanging down, and a shaggy coat and tail appeared before him and laid his long sharp claws on his shoulder. The merchant was deathly frightened, and even worse when the beast began to speak, threatening him with death for his misdeed.
The merchant begged, telling him why he wanted the roses, whereupon the beast answered, “Your youngest daughter must be a true pearl. Very well, if you will promise to give her to me as a wife in seven months, then you shall live.” Pretty much the standard promise. The merchant’s fear made him agree, thinking that he would be able to trick the monster.
The merchant returned and distributed the gifts, but he was sad and melancholy. Nettchen asked him to tell her what was troubling him, but he only gave her excuses. He told the secret only to the two older daughters, who wickedly took pleasure in the situation.
So that the father could keep his eyes on her, Nettchen was almost never allowed to leave the house. Only Little Broomstick came to visit her from time to time.
One day — the seventh month had just passed — she and Little Broomstick were again together when a carriage stopped before the house. A servant, gesturing silently, handed a note to the merchant. On it were written the words, “Fulfill your promise!”
The merchant was terrified, but he collected himself and asked Little Broomstick to come to him. The girl came, expecting nothing bad. The merchant pointed at her. She was lifted into the carriage, and away they went in a thundering gallop.
However, the beast recognized the deception as soon as Little Broomstick was brought before him, and he ordered the girl to go home immediately and bring back the right one. The carriage stopped again before the merchant’s house, and when Little Broomstick stepped out, Nettchen fell around her neck with friendly greetings. But then she was picked up and shoved into the carriage, which drove away with its booty as fast as an arrow.
Nettchen was very frightened, but she soon collected herself. Inside the strange, beautiful castle she was received with honor, although with silent gestures, and she no longer felt concerned. Silent servants brought her the most delicious things to eat and showed her to a bedroom, where a blinding white canopy bed invited her to rest. After saying her prayers, she surrendered to the arms of sleep.
When she awoke she saw to her fright that a disgusting shaggy monster lay next to her. But it was lying there still and quiet, so she left it alone. Then it left, and she had time to think about her adventure. Just a little creepy, wouldn’t you say?
The ugly beast gradually became her sleeping companion, and she grew less and less afraid of him. He cuddled up to her, and she stroked his shaggy coat and even allowed him to touch her lips with his long, cold snout. This had gone on for four weeks when one night the beast did not come to her. Nettchen could not sleep for worry and concern about what might have happened to the beast, whom she had become quite fond of.
The next morning she was walking in the garden when she saw the beast lying all stretched out on the bank of a pond that served as a bath. He did not move a limb and showed every sign of being dead. A bitter pain penetrated her breast, and she cried over the death of the poor beast. But her tears had scarcely started to flow when the monster was transformed into a handsome youth.
He stood up before her, pressed her hand to his breast, and said, “You have redeemed me from a terrible curse. My father wanted me to marry a woman whom I did not love. I refused steadfastly, and in his anger, my father had a sorceress transform me into a monster. The transformation was to last until an innocent virgin would fall in love with me in spite of my ugly form, and would cry tears on my behalf. You with your heart of an angel have done just that, and I cannot thank you enough. If you will become my wife, I will repay with love what you have done for me.” Ah, so she had to be a virgin. I guess that means the bed-sharing really was innocent enough.
Nettchen extended him her hand, and they were married. Then the quiet castle awoke in a hustle and bustle. Joy ruled everywhere, and the newlyweds lived in bliss.
Now the young wife had been given the requirement that she not return to her father’s house for one year. However, she obtained a mirror in which she could see everything that was happening in her family circle. Nettchen looked into the mirror often, and she saw her father in his sorrow, although her sisters were cheerful and gay. She observed Little Broomstick as well, and how she mourned for her lost girlfriend. She did not look into the mirror for some time, and when she returned to it, she saw her father on his deathbed and her sisters in the next room making merry with their friends.
This saddened the good sister, and she confided her sorrow with her husband. He comforted her, saying, “Your father will not die. In my garden there is a plant whose sap can call back the fleeing life-spirits. The year is nearly over. Then we will fetch your father, and you will not have to be separated from him any longer.” I assume the year had something to do with the curse, since otherwise her they could have gone earlier, as Nettchen clearly missed him.
As soon as the year had passed, the husband and wife and their entourage journeyed to Nettchen’s home city. The two older sisters nearly burst with envy and anger, while the father’s joy brought back his health. The sap restored his full strength and well-being. Little Broomstick too was overjoyed, and Nettchen was her old girlfriend once again. Little Broomstick and the merchant accompanied them back to the prince’s castle.
Nettchen had a forgiving heart, and however much she had been hurt by her sisters, she wanted to share her good fortune with them. Therefore she invited them to visit her, and showed them all her wealth. However, the splendor angered the sisters, and they resolved to kill their happy sister. Once when they were in the bath, they forced Nettchen under the water, and she drowned.
They had scarcely done this when a tall female figure rose up before them and glared at them with angry eyes. She touched the dead woman with a wand, and she came back to life. “I am the sorceress who once transformed the prince,” said the tall figure. I have noted your good heart and taken you under my protection. These miserable ones killed you. Now I leave their fate in your hands!”
Nettchen begged for mercy for them, but the sorceress shook her head and said, “They must die, for you will never be safe from their malice, and as soon as they have been punished, my power will cease.”
“Then do with them what you will!” sobbed Nettchen.
“Let them be transformed into columns and remain such until a man falls in love with them, and that will never happen.”
She touched the sisters with her hand, and they were immediately transformed into two stone columns, which to this day are still standing in the garden of the splendid castle, for it has not yet occurred to any man that he should fall in love with cold, heartless stones.
The good Little Broomstick remained Nettchen’s most faithful girlfriend. She still shares her good fortune with her, if in the meantime the two of them have not died.
The sorceress coming back at the end to Nettchen is an interesting twist. And of course, the evil sisters get their just desserts. The best friend is also a variation I haven’t read before. It’s interesting to me that the story is named after her. I think it puts more emphasis on the attempted substitution. the merchant didn’t consider how Little Broomstick’s family would feel to lose her to a monster, or even how his daughter would feel losing her best friend. She didn’t have any value to him, but she did to his daughter. She gets to share in the wealth and good fortune in the end.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.