Category Archives: Thursday’s Tales

Thursdays Tale: The Three Snake Leaves

by

Illustration by H. J. Ford

I found a Grimm story I hadn’t read before today.

A poor young man left his home with his father’s blessing, as his father could no longer support him, and went to war for a King. He was brave in battle, rallying the troops when all seemed lost, and defeating the enemy. When the King heard that he owed the victory to him alone, he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom.

The King had a daughter who was very beautiful, but she was also very strange. She had made a vow to take no one as her husband who did not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. On her side she would do the same, and if he died first, would go down to the grave with him. This strange oath had up to this time frightened away all suitors, but the young man was so charmed by her beauty that he agreed and promised to be buried with her should she die first. Then the King consented, and the two had a splendid wedding.

They lived quite happily for a while, but then the young princess became ill and none of the doctors was able to save her. As she lay there dead, the prince remembered what he had promised, and was horrified at having to lie down alive in the grave, but there was no escape. When the day came when the corpse was to be buried, he was taken down into the royal vault with it and then the door was shut and bolted.

Near the coffin stood a table on which were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine, and when this provision came to an end, he would have to die of hunger. And now he sat there full of pain and grief, ate every day only a little piece of bread, drank only a mouthful of wine, and saw death daily drawing nearer. One day, a snake crept out of a corner of the vault and approached the dead body. Thinking the snake was going to attack the body, he drew his sword cut the snake into three pieces. After a time a second snake crept out of the hole, and when it saw the other lying dead and cut in pieces, it went back, but soon came again with three green leaves in its mouth. It took the three pieces of the snake, laid them together, and placed one of the leaves on each wound. Immediately the severed parts joined themselves together, the snake moved, and became alive again, and both of them hastened away together. Of course, the prince wondered if the leaves could save his wife also. He picked up the leaves and laid one of them on the mouth of his dead wife, and the two others on her eyes. Almost immediately the color came back into her face, she drew a breath, and opened her eyes. The prince explained all that had happened, gave her some wine and bread, and called for the sentries. The sentries called for the King who came down himself and opened the door. He found both strong and well, and rejoiced with them. The prince took the three snake-leaves with him, gave them to a servant, and said, “Keep them for me carefully, and carry them constantly. Who knows in what trouble they may be of service to us!” (Gee, I wonder.)

A change had, however, taken place in his wife. It seemed as if all love for her husband had gone out of her heart. (Coming back from the dead can do that to a person.) After some time, the prince and princess went on a voyage to visit the prince’s father. Aboard the ship, the princess forgot about any feelings she had for her husband, even gratitude, and fell in love with the skipper. Together she and the skipper seized the prince when he was sleeping and threw him into the sea. The princess told the skipper that they would return home, make up a story about how the prince died, and marry. But the prince’s faithful servant had seen all that they did. Secretly, he unfastened a little boat from the ship, got into it, sailed after his master, letting the traitors go on their way. He fished up the dead body, and with the three snake-leaves, he brought the prince back to life.

They both rowed with all their strength day and night, and reached the old King before the others did. They told the king all that had happened and the king at first couldn’t believe his daughter was so horrible but vowed to learn the truth. He sent both the prince and his servant to a secret chamber where they could be hidden from everyone. Soon the great ship came sailing in, and the princess appeared before her father looking troubled. She told her father that the prince had become suddenly ill on the trip and died. The King said, “I will make the dead alive again,” and opened the chamber, and the two come out. When the woman saw her husband, she was thunderstruck, and fell on her knees and begged for mercy. The King said, “There is no mercy. He was ready to die with you and restored you to life again, but you murdered him in his sleep, and will receive the reward that you deserve.” She and the skipper were placed in a ship which had been pierced with holes, and sent out to sea, where they soon sank amid the waves.

Kind of a different story for the Grimms. Usually the couple lives happily ever after despite the evil mother or witch or whoever. This time, the king ends up killing his own daughter. Our hero is a man willing to sacrifice himself, leaving his father so he is no longer a burden, battling an enemy against all odds in war, and promising to love a woman in spite of her requirements. He is honorable, but the princess does not stand by a single oath she has made. Maybe she deserved her fate. Of course, the Grimms do like justice, it’s just not usually the princess who deserves it.

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.

Thursday’s Tale: The Crow

by

We visited Kenyon College again yesterday. The Admissions office is in Ransom Hall, named after Kenyon poet John Crowe Ransom. Across the top of the building are a set of crows, the work of Peter Woytuk, a 1980 Kenyon graduate who is considered one the foremost sculptors of animal forms in the world. I wanted to share a photo of the crows, so I found a crow story to go along with them today. “The Crow” is a Polish fairy tale that Andrew Lang included in his Yellow Fairy Book, 1889.

A king has three beautiful daughters, although the youngest of them is the most loveable. And as we know, the youngest is almost always the hero/heroine of a fairy tale. While walking in a garden near the ruins of a nearby castle, the youngest princess comes upon a crow that has been badly wounded. Noticing that the princess pities it, the crow reveals to her that he is a prince enchanted into taking the form of a crow for seven years. However, should the princess agree to live in the one remaining habitable room of the castle and sleep on the golden bed each night without making a sound, she might free him. He warns her that if she does not obey this, his suffering will be doubled.

The princess agrees and moves into the ruined castle without hesitation. Every night at midnight, wicked ghosts appear and threaten her until dawn, yet in spite of her terror she makes no sound. Each morning the visitor disappear when the cock crows. The crow visits her daily, telling her that his suffering is less and less. One of her visiting sisters attempts to sleep in the golden bed with the youngest princess, yet is so terrified by the apparitions she screams; the youngest princess insists on being alone after this incident. The princess continues on with her silence.

After two years, the crow tells her he will soon be free of his spell, as seven years is almost over. However, before he can regain his form, the princess must find work as a servant for one year. She succeeds, but is treated poorly by her new master despite her youth and beauty. As the year comes to an end, the prince regains his human form and marries the princess. They return to live in the ruined castle, which has now been fully restored. “And there they lived for a hundred years, a hundred years of joy and happiness.”

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.

Thursday’s Tale: Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Lion

by

Illustration from Nights with Uncle Remus : myths and legends of the old plantation by Joel Chandler Harris, 1911

I don’t think I’ve ever featured a Br’er Rabbit story. Br’er Rabbit stories were told in the Southern US. I actually found this one because I was looking for hurricane tales.

One day Br’er Rabbit was hopping through the woods when a great wind started to blow. Br’er Rabbit was busy watching the leaves swirling around in the wind and didn’t notice that he was about to run right into a lion. Then Br’er Lion roared!

Br’er Rabbit jumped way up the air, but as soon as his feet hit the ground, he knew what he had to do. “Run, Br’er Lion, run for your life! Can’t you tell there’s a hurricane coming?”

Br’er Lion was an old lion, and he was also rather fat. “Br’er Rabbit,” he said, “I’m too old and fat to run so fast. Can you tell me what to do to survive the hurricane?”

“Well,” said Br’er Rabbit, “you better lie down and get close to the ground.”

“The wind would pick me up and just carry me away,” wailed the lion.

“Then hug tight to a tree,” Br’er Rabbit told him.

Br’er Lion hugged as tight as he could to a tree. “It’s not good enough, Br’er Rabbit! Save me from the hurricane!”

“Well, I’ll just have to tie you to that tree,” said Br’er Rabbit as he picked some stout vines up off the ground and wrapped them tight around the lion, binding him to the tree.

“Thank you, Br’er Rabbit,” said the lion, “thank you kindly.”

After a few moments, Br’er Lion said, “I don’t feel any wind.”

“Me neither,” said the rabbit.

Then the lion said, “I don’t feel any hurricane coming.”

“Me neither,” said the rabbit.

“SO UNTIE ME!” roared the lion.

“I’m in somewhat of a hurry just now, Br’er Lion,” replied the rabbit, “but I’m sure someone will release you, sooner or later! Meanwhile, steer clear of those hurricanes!”

With those words, Br’er Rabbit scampered off into the woods, remembering this time to watch where he was going!

Br’er Rabbit is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn, provoking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. The Br’er Rabbit stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in West, Central, and Southern Africa. These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore throughout those regions. For both Africans and African Americans, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior that people may be forced to adopt in extreme circumstances in order to survive. The trickster is not to be admired in every situation. He is an example of what to do, but also an example of what not to do.

These stories were popularized for the mainstream audience in the late 19th century by Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote down and published many such stories that had been passed down by oral tradition. Harris heard these tales in Georgia. Very similar versions of the same stories were recorded independently at the same time by the folklorist Alcée Fortier in southern Louisiana, where the Rabbit character was known as Compair Lapin in Creole French.

I remember Br’er Rabbit from Disney cartoons, which probably picture him as a little more loveable than the original stories. Disney tends to do that.

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.

%d bloggers like this: