Tag Archives: Beauty and the Beast

Thursday’s Tale: Little Broomstick

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Illustration by Eleanor Vere Boyle in Beauty and the Beast: An Old Tale New-Told. (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875.)

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.

Thursday’s Tale: The Bear Prince

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Polar Prince" 2002 by David Dancey-Wood

“Polar Prince” 2002 by David Dancey-Wood

Today’s story comes from Switzerland. “The Bear Prince” starts in a similar way to other Bauty and the Beast stories. A father, in this case a wealthy merchant, goes to the market and, at his daughters’ request,  buys pearls and precious stones for his oldest daughter and a dress for his middle daughter, but can’t find a grape for the youngest, his favorite.

On his way home he meets a dwarf who directs him to a nearby vineyard and warns him about the bear who lives there. The bear will growl, but the dwarf advises the man not to be frightened. This is a little different from the other variations. Usually, the father find the flower or whatever on his own, in this case the dwarf sends him, probably knowing what the outcome will be. Definitely not a helpful little man, in my opinion.

So dad gets the grape but the bear states that the man must give him that which greets him first when he arrives home. Of course, when the merchant arrives at his house, the youngest daughter is the first to run out and greet him. A year later, the bear arrives and asks for what he was promised and threatens to eat the man if he doesn’t receive it. The bear knows that it is neither the dog or the apple tree which the man tries first to give him. Eventually the man surrenders his youngest daughter to the bear. At that point, a carriage draws up and carries the young woman and the bear to the bear’s home, a lovely castle. “This was his home, he said, and from now on she would be his wife. He gave her everything that her heart could desire, so that with time it no longer occurred to her that her husband was a bear. There were just two things that seemed strange to her: Why did the bear insist on having no lights at nighttime, and why did he always feel so cold?”

After a year, the bear tells his wife that it is time to go to visit her father. She doesn’t request it, as a matter of fact she hasn’t even noticed how much time has passed, she’s been so content. When they arrive at her father’s home, she tells him all about life at the castle. The father tries to give her some matches, presumably so she can see the bear at night, but the bear sees it and tells him to stop or he’ll eat him. They go back to the castle.

Another year passes, and once again the bear tells his wife it’s time to visit her father, and the visit is the same as the first time. On the third visit (that magical three), the father does manage to sneak the young woman some matches. Back at the castle, at night when the bear is asleep beside her, she lights one of the matches and sees that he is actually a handsome young man wearing a gold crown. How coud she not have been able to tell the difference between a man and a bear in the dark?

Anyway, the man smiles and tells her that he had been under an enchantment and she has broken it. “Now we can celebrate our wedding properly, for now I am the king of this land.” And all the castle came to life, with servants appearing to wish the couple good luck. It hadn’t been mentioned until that time that the castle was empty or asleep or whatever.

There are a lot bears in fairy tales, aren’t there? Of course, they are probably one of the biggest, scariest animals that lived in the woods of Europe, truly beasts. I like that in this version, the woman is truly happy. She doesn’t miss her family, doesn’t long for her husband to be someone else. She’s content, I think, and then for her husband to turn into a king would have been a dream come true.

I read this story on-line here. It is from Kinder- und Hausmärchen aus der Schweiz  by Otto Sutermeister (1872) translated by D. L. Ashliman.

What’s your favorite Beauty and the Beast variation?

I’m thinking next month we’ll look at some Irish tales.

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

Thursday’s Tale: The Small-Tooth Dog

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small tooth dog

Illustration by Julie Paschkis

“The Small-Tooth Dog” is an English tale, collected by Sydney Oldall Addy in Household Tales               and Other Traditional Remains, 1895. It’s similar to “Beauty and the Beast,” but in this case the father doesn’t steal anything from the beast, but does owe him for a service.

“Once upon a time,” a merchant was attacked by robbers. They would have killed him and stolen all his money if a large dog hadn’t come to his aid. The dog rescued the man and took him to its home until he recovered. The merchant offered to give the dog many marvels in exchange for its help, such as a goose that laid golden eggs or a fish that could speak twelve languages, but the dog said that he wanted only the merchant’s daughter. The merchant grieved, but agreed. He went home, and when a week had gone by, the dog came for the daughter. He told her to get on his back, she did, and he carried her to his home.

After she had been living in the dog’s house for a month, she wept because she wanted to visit her father. The dog said that she could, if she stayed no more than three days, but asked what she called him. She said, “A great, foul, small-tooth dog,” and he refused to take her. She begged and said she would call him “Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb,” and they set out, but on the way, when they came to a fence, he asked what she would call him, and she said “a great, foul, small-tooth dog,” and he carried her back. A week later, they went again, and she called him “Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb,” at the first fence, but “a great, foul, small-tooth dog,” at the second, and he carried her back. A week after that, they set out again, and she called him “Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb” at the fences. When they reached the merchant’s home, he asked again, and she started to say “a great — ” but remembered how kind he had been to her and said, “Sweeter-than-a-Honeycomb”. He got up on his hind legs, threw off his dog head, shed his coat, and became a handsome young man. The two got married and, we assume, lived happily ever after.

I find it odd that she thought him kind and patient. He took her away from her home and family, with her permission, true, but he was not someone she would have gone with had her father not made the bargain. And then he wouldn’t let her go back to visit until she did what he wanted her to. I guess she must have fallen in love with his inner goodness, I guess that’s the assumption when it says she remembers how kind he had been and calls him even sweeter than honey. I do sometimes wonder how all these handsome young men end up under an enchantment that makes them the beast. Maybe he deserved 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.

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