Diamonds have enchanted people for centuries. They are symbols of love, excellence and purity. They may be used to represent power, strength, brilliance and are of unparalleled beauty. It would be quite a treasure to have as many diamonds and jewels as you could imagine. But what if they fell from your mouth whenever you spoke?
In Charles Perrault’s “Diamonds and Toads” that’s exactly the gift a young woman is given. She is the younger daughter of a widow. Of the two girls, she is of course the nicer, more beautiful one, but the mother’s favorite is the older sister. The mother makes the younger one work all the time, including going twice a day to a fountain over a mile away to draw water. One day while at the well, she meets a poor woman who begs for a drink of water. The young woman kindly agrees and holds up the pitcher for the woman to drink from. We’re not surprised when the woman turns out to be a fairy who grants the girl a gift: “that, at every word [she] speaks, there shall come out of [her] mouth either a flower or a jewel.”
The girl goes home and when she apologizes for being late, two roses, two pearls and two diamonds fall from her lips. Then she has to tell her mother all that happened. Mom, predictably, sends her favorite daughter to the well, hoping to have the same outcome, but this time the fairy disguises herself as a rich woman. The older daughter gives her a drink, but is rude about it and, in return, the fairy gives her a different gift: “at every word [she] speaks there shall come out of [her] mouth a snake or a toad.”
So the older daughter comes home, complaining and spouting snakes and toads. The mother’s angry and wants to beat the younger daughter, but she runs away and hides in the woods. Happily, as so often happens in fairy tales, a prince who is hunting find her, thinks she’s quite pretty, and asks why she’s in the woods. She tells her sad story, with diamonds and pearls falling out of her mouth. The prince “falls in love with her” and deeming the jewels worth more than any dowry, takes her back to the palace and marries her.
As for the other sister, she makes herself so disliked that her mother throws her out. When no one else will take her in, she dies alone and miserable in the woods.
I think the moral of the story is to be nice to everyone, no matter how they look, and to speak kindly. After all, the younger girl’s kind words are rewarded with something of monetary value. But I just don’t think having jewels and flowers falling out of your mouth whenever you speak can actually be a good thing. First off, it would be flat-out annoying I would imagine. Second, how could she ever know if the prince truly loved her or just loved the treasure she represents?
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.8
Thursday’s Tale: Diamonds and Toads