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My book, A Vacant Throne: Dreams of the Sleeping Cat, will be on sale for 99¢ from February 19 to 25 on Amazon.
Trueterra is a world of cats. One in which Puss in Boots would have been comfortable. This thoughtful fantasy novel follows Sunny, a typical housecat, through a picture frame into a medieval world that awaits him. He appears to fulfill a prophecy, but he must grow into the role of hero to perform the task that lay destined in his path.
Ultimately, it is a story about purpose and new direction, discovery and consideration, life and death, with a little bit of fate thrown in.
One of my cohorts in this cross promotion is Bader M. Alsadeqi with The Chosen Rainheart: A Grand Epic Fantasy (Daedalusian Legends Series).
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Welcome to Galactic fun park, a universe of fun for kids… and the animals that live there! As the park gets more and more popular, careless visitors drop more food, which in turn feeds the critters who call The Galactic fun park home. Win ,Win. Right?
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It’s good to have Thalia back again, she having been stolen away from me during Christmas. As the winter doldrums set in, her presence is a continuing comfort. While the correct order of things has been restored, nothing stays quite the same. Shifts are usually subtle and minute.
Thalia sits in her comfy chair, a book on her lap, and the household tribe has gathered. I in my comfy chair, Johannes curled up on the window seat, the brownies in the shadows, and the fairy on Thalia’s shoulder.
But . . . the book on her lap is The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. Not Grimm. Not Lang. Not Jacobs. But rather Schönwerth. She must have plucked the book from my library, a volume I had almost forgotten about. I am struck by the irony. The world almost forgot Schönwerth.
The scholar Erika Eichenseer came across hundreds of stories that Schönwerth collected in Bavaria in the late nineteenth century, stored in a German municipal archive. She dusted them off and published a good number of them that now lay on Thalia’s lap.
“The Iron Shoes,” Thalia proclaims.
Hans, a ne’er-do-well son, is kicked out of his home by his father, to make his way in the world. In his wanderings, he stumbles onto an abandoned castle, taking refuge in one of its rooms. A woman, dressed in black, appears, lays food on a table, points to a bed, and wordlessly leaves.
At midnight, a man comes into the room and tries to choke Hans and otherwise torture the lad. The next morning the woman reappears, dressed in grey, again silently leaving him food. That night two men come to torture Hans.
By morning, Hans has had quite enough and prepares to leave. The woman, now dressed in white, asks him to stay one more night. For her sake he does, and three men show up to abuse him.
In the midst of this pummeling of the lad, the woman interrupts, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and drives the abusers off. What Hans achieved was breaking a spell over a princess, who gives Hans her hand in marriage.
Now, awash in wealth, he desires to visit his father to prove his success. The princess allows this, giving him a ring, which he need only turn on his finger for her to come to him. However, he must only do this in true distress.
His father, who works as the king’s groundskeeper, does not (could not, would not?) recognize his son. Hans ends up introducing himself to the king, who orders a feast to honor his guest.
The other noble guests, jealous of the lad’s handsome looks, challenge him to prove that his wife is as beautiful as he boasted. Hans turns the ring on his finger, and carriages roll up, from one of which steps his radiant princess.
Unfortunately for Hans, the next morning his old traveling clothing are laid out on the bed, a pair of iron shoes are on the floor, and a note states, “I am punishing you by leaving. Don’t try to find me. You will never discover where I am, even if you wear out these iron shoes.”
Undaunted, he searches for her, even though he cannot find their castle, where he met her. After some time, he comes across three fellows arguing over the ownership of three magical treasures: an unending bag of gold coins, a cloak of invisibility, and a pair of hundred-league boots. He agrees to settle their dispute but claims he needs to verify the magical validity of the items. Testing the cloak of invisibility, he steals the bag and the boots.
While fleeing rapidly, thanks to the boots, he sees a little man beside him, keeping pace. It is the wind, off to a certain town to dry the clothing of a princess who plans to marry that day. It turns out to be his wife. Hans crashes the wedding in his cloak, knocking the good book from the parson’s hands, and clobbering the bridegroom every time he tries to say, “I do.”
The marriage is given up, yet all go off to the wedding feast. Hans sits among the beggars, invisibly stealing food intended for the guests, and sharing it with his fellows. During his antics, he loses his ring. A servant finds it, and because it bears the princess’s initials, it is returned to her.
Realizing that Hans has found her, she calls for him, they are reconciled, and the real marriage takes place.
Thalia closes the book and smiles.
Fairy Tale of the Month: January 2023 The Iron Shoes – Part Two
As I enter Augustus’s tobacco shop, the familiar, ever-welcoming tinkle of the bell above his door . . . is missing! I stop in my tracks and look up. The bracket is there. The coiled metal spring is there. The bell is missing.
“It fell off,” Augustus explains, standing behind the counter.
“You will repair it, won’t you?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
Oh, but you must. We can’t let the world slowly fall into disorder.”
Augustus smiles at me. “I don’t know that my missing bell qualifies as falling into disorder. Haven’t you been listening to the news? That is disorder.”
“Of course I haven’t. I make it a point not to listen. Oh, I did in my youth, avidly. Then I realized it wasn’t going to make me happy. So, I gave it up.”
“Admirable,” Augustus concedes. “I will make sure to repair the bell.”
I am content.
“Are you familiar with Franz Schönwerth?” I ask.
“Yes, a competent fellow at whatever he did.”
“I know him as a folklorist,” I say.
Augustus sits on his stool on his side of the counter and I sit on one on my side.
“He was a servant of the Bavarian state, trusted by the royal family. He became the private secretary to the Crown Prince Maximillian and was entrusted with managing the prince’s and his wife’s personal wealth.
“Schönwerth proved his loyalty when, during the revolutions of 1848, he transferred the royal family’s wealth to Nymphenberg Palace for safekeeping. He did this by disguising himself as a common workingman, loading three million thalers worth of cash, securities, and valuables onto a handcart and wheeling it through the streets of Munich, filled with the very rebels who would have otherwise plundered it.”
“Remarkable,” I say. “I hope he was rewarded for such a thing.”
“Oh, yes. He became ennobled, always rising in the soon-to-be king’s estimation. Schönwerth had the privilege of guiding the king in the patronage of the arts and sciences.”
“Excellent, but how did he get involved with folklore studies?”
“I suspect as he rose in stature he ended up with more free time to pursue his interests. Both he and his wife, Maria, were native Bavarians. Like other intellectuals of the nineteenth century, he saw his world going through upheaval and rapid change. The old ways of his beloved Bavaria were being lost and forgotten.
“He started collecting information from his wife, a person knowledgeable about folkways, then moved on to his housekeeper. His housekeeper introduced him to her acquaintances, leading him to make collecting tours through the countryside. He apparently had a knack for getting commoners to open up to him through the application of much coffee and cigars.
“And, he collected everything: legends, fairy tales, comic stories, children’s games, nursery rhymes, children’s songs, proverbs, how people lived, everyday-life details, customs, and traditional dress. Much of this material he published in a three-volume work, From the Upper Palatinate—Customs and Legends. The Grimms’ considered him heir to what they were accomplishing. They recognized his competence and skill as a folklorist.”
“Yet,” I say, “the better part of his work ended up collecting dust in that vault in Regensburg.”
“Well, for him it was a hobby. Also a passion, but he wasn’t trying to make a living at it as the Grimms were.
Fairy Tale of the Month: January 2023 The Iron Shoes – Part Three
“Why, though,” inquires Augustus, “are you asking me about Schönwerth?”
“Ah, Thalia has taken an interest in him. She read The Iron Shoes . . . last night.” (I almost said “to us,” which would have needed an explanation.)
“Iron shoes,” murmured Augustus. “There is more than one story with iron shoes in it. There is the Grimms’ Little Snow White, where the witch/queen is danced to death in red-hot iron shoes. Then there’s The Enchanted Pig. In that the heroine must wear out three pairs of iron shoes looking for her husband.”
“You’re getting warmer,” I say.
“Now I remember. The Schönwerth version is where the Psyche-looking-for-her-husband motif gets turned on its head. The hero . . .”
“Hans,” I interject.
August rolls his eyes. “Of course it’s Hans. This is a German story. Hans is the one looking for his bride after violating some rule set up by the spouse, as is always the case in this motif. Let me find my copy of Schönwerth.”
I fill my pipe with Fairies’ Delight from the courtesy canister on the counter. As I light up, Augustus returns with book in hand, reading as he walks.
“Right. Hans is a delightful rogue, not the usual hero who starts out being portrayed as a simpleton but then shows unexpected wisdom. Hans stays something of a rogue straight through. He gets kicked out of his home by an irate father for being useless. He never does get reconciled with his father, but on the other hand, he bears no ill will toward anyone. He is happy-go-lucky.
“His luck is in finding the enchanted castle and its occupant, putting up with beatings for food, and almost unintentionally breaking the spell over the princess. Then he blows it all by not listening closely to his wife’s instructions about the ring. He calls her to him to show her off to the other nobles, not out of dire necessity.”
I pick up the thread of his thinking and say, “Roguishly, he steals the three magical gifts from the quarreling fellows. With the magical boots he can travel with the wind, which leads him to find the princess.
“But wait.” I ponder for a moment. “Hasn’t he exchanged the iron shoes for the magical boots? Is there some symbolic significance in that? Some act of transformation?”
Augustus is lighting his pipe and takes some time to reply. “Nope. Not likely. Not unless you decide to shoehorn a metaphor into the tale. When Schönwerth collected these stories, he was actually formulating for himself methods later used by professional folklorists. He did not allow his thoughts and opinions to creep into what he collected. With the tales, he recorded what he heard.
“Had the Grimms collected this tale, they would have edited it for their bourgeois audience. Being romantics, they might have found a connection between the iron shoes and the magical boots and put that into the story. For the teller that Schönwerth recorded, the iron shoes were a challenge by the princess, thrown at Hans’s feet—notice my pun, please—for him to go find her. Having served that purpose, he could give them up for a better pair of footwear to help him.”
“I loved the bit about him punching the suitor in the mouth before he could say, ‘I do.’”
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Abandoned for Christmas! How has this happened? My daughter has taken Thalia to visit other relatives for the season. Part of me is glad that she is taking more interest in her progeny, but what about my Christmas without Thalia to hang her stocking at the foot of her bed?
The plot against me thickens when I realize Melissa, Augustus, and Duckworth have all gone off to visit family members. It is a relative conspiracy, I think. Ultima is of no use to me on this holiday. She and all her people have dragon familiars, and religion died out a long time ago in her world.
I will not be defeated. In October, I made my Christmas pudding. Yesterday, I bought all the ingredients for my Yorkshire pudding. (Why are they both called puddings when they are nothing alike?) I had to draw the line at the minced pie. I can only eat so much. Today, I went out and bought a Christmas tree, very small since I had to carry it home. I plan to read The Night Before Christmas to the brownies, the fairy, and Johannes on Christmas Eve. That is an oldie but goodie, American though it is, and maybe something else.
I now venture to the third floor to find my box of Christmas decorations. I can’t help noticing snow drifting from beneath the storage-room door.
Is there a window left up?
I open the door and am pulled into a wintery Russian landscape. It must be Russia because the crone sitting on a tree stump beckoning to me is, by her traditional headscarf, none other than Babushka. Despite my age, I sit at her feet in the snow like a two-year-old.
“Let me tell you the story called Jack Frost,” she says.
An old woman had a daughter and a stepdaughter. One day, she demanded that the old husband take his daughter out and abandon her to die. The father did not have the will to disobey his wife and took his daughter out on his sledge. Making the sign of the cross, he left her to die in an open field without any covering.
Jack Frost came saying, “Maiden, maiden, I am Jack Frost the Ruby-Nosed!” She answered, “Welcome Jack Frost! God must have sent you to save my sinful soul.” Jack Frost, touched by her gentle words, took pity and gave her a fur coat.
He approached her a second time in the same manner, and she answered him as before. He gave her a coffer filled with things for her dowry. On the third visit, he gave her a magnificent robe.
Meanwhile, the old woman prepared the funeral dinner and ordered the husband to bring back the corpse. The little dog under the table prophesized the stepdaughter would return in glory and no suitor would want the old woman’s daughter. The old woman fed the dog pancakes to cajole him into saying something other, but the animal would not change his tune.
When the stepdaughter did return in glory, the old woman commanded her husband to take her daughter out to the very same spot and leave her there to attain her dowry. Jack Frost approached the girl but hearing no kind words, killed her.
Again, the little dog predicted the end, and the old woman fed him pancakes to make him say something to her liking. Soon her husband returned with the frozen corpse of the old woman’s daughter.
As the story ends, the light fades, and the snow disappears along with the winter landscape. I find myself sitting in front of the box of Christmas ornaments that I’d come for.
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2022 Jack Frost – Part Two
I contemplate Babushka’s story as I trim my Christmas tree, taking out the ornaments one-by-one, old friends that come around once a year.
At first thought, Jack Frost is full of the usual tropes. Certainly, the evil stepmother is the most common of all. But as I think about it, the tale has its unusual aspects, its own feel as it were.
The weak and/or disappearing father figure is in the story but in its most extreme form. Often, as in Beauty and the Beast, the father brings disaster upon his daughter then disappears from the story. Another version of the weak/disappearing father is in Hansel and Gretel, where the father follows his wife’s advice to abandon their children to save themselves from starvation.
In Jack Frost, the wife directs her husband to expose his daughter to the elements for no other reason than her dislike of the girl. He has not the will to oppose her.
I have in my hand Thalia’s favorite ornament, a flat, cardboard cutout, very colorful, printed on both sides, depicting a Santa stuffing a naughty little boy into a sack. She never liked little boys. I hope that does not change too quickly. I hang the ornament with a sense of longing.
What occurs to me is that fairy tales containing the weak/disappearing father image exist in all European countries, which are male dominated. Isn’t this bad PR for men? Why do they put up with it? I have two, somewhat opposing, notions about this.
The first notion is that these fairy tales reflect the unrecognized reality that common women in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries—the time period in which our current fairy tales were being conceived—held greater status than has been recorded. They bore as heavy a workload as the men. If their husbands were off fighting in a war, enlisted or drafted, they bore all the workload of raising a family.
Among the upper classes, women seldom held property and were almost considered chattel. All the legalisms concerning women’s rights probably applied to them in that male-dominated sphere. The peasantry, male and female, were chattel. They, being equals at the bottom of the heap, could have quite a different relationship with each other than members of the royalty.
I now hold in my hand a spider ornament made out of pipe cleaners. I believe this may have been some school art project foisted upon Thalia. I know there is a German tale about a Christmas spider, but no arachnid will grace my Christmas tree. I put it back in the box.
My second notion about the weak/disappearing father is that it is intended to be a cautionary tale. In other words, this is what happens if a man leaves his wife in charge. They will make bad and cruel decisions. They do not have the moral fortitude of men. Etc.
Our young heroine achieves her new status by being subservient and humble, as a woman should be, and not controlling like the old woman. Of one thing I can be certain, I will not try to defend this position with Melissa.
I pick another ornament out of the box. It is one my wife bought in a charity shop. It is a blown-glass bulb, hand painted, inscribed with the name “Esther.” We never had a clue who Esther may have been, but the bulb meant something to someone at some time. Therefore, we honor her every year. The bulb goes on my tree.
And what about that little dog under the table? Talking animals are familiar, but this particular scenario I have not run across before. I cannot help feeling the little dog is not so much prophetic as it is playing the role of the super-ego. That would make the old woman the id, and the unfortunate husband the ego. I could toy with that idea.
The last peculiar bit of this story is that it does not end in marriage, as those of this type usually do, when the girl on her own is found by a prince. Rather, there is the acquisition of a dowry that assures a good marriage. Not romantic but practical. I wonder if that is not a Russian touch?
Coming to the end of the box’s useful contents, I now hold an angel in one hand and a star in the other. Which one should crown my tree this year?
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2022 Jack Frost – Part Three
“Is Jack Frost originally a Russian folk character?” I ask the hearth, where I have started a fire, pulled up my comfy chair, and settled down. To me, Jack Frost is English. Rising again, I get my laptop out of the closet. Usually, my questions are addressed to Thalia. She then takes her “oracle” out of her pocket and finds the answers. That is, if she is not talking on it, which she does more and more of late. After plugging myself in, I soon come across the following jumble of information.
The tale Jack Frost comes from the nineteenth-century collector Aleksandr Afanas՜ev, now compiled in Russian Fairy Tales.However, different translators have labeled the story Father Frost, or King Frost. In Russia, there is also a Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), who is really a Santa figure. All this does not give me much clarity.
As far as origins go, that is no clearer. Just about every mythology has some deity or deities connected to the cold; even sunny Greece (Khione and Boreas). The temptation is to connect Jack Frost with the Viking “Frosti” and his brother “Jokul,” sons of Kari, a wind god. Their names translate to “Frost” and “Icicle.” However, scholars see no connection between them and our Jack Frost.
The spritely Jack Frost that we know appears to have come out of the early nineteenth century. He is elvish and mischievous but not to be feared as is the character of our Russian tale. The English Jack Frost will nip your nose, cheeks, and ears but nothing worse. He is also assigned to paint the leaves on trees with their fall colors. I stumbled across a painting by Maxfield Parrish of Jack Frost at this task, the work labeled as a self-portrait.
Jack Frost often appears in popular culture. For example, L Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902). In the 1940s, there was a comic-book series called Jack Frost, put out by Timely Comics, later named Marvel Comics.
There are two movies called Jack Frost. One is a sentimental story about a father who during his lifetime neglected his family. Upon his accidental death, he returns in the form of a snowman named Jack Frost, to help his young son. There are two notable items about the film. Three of Frank Zappa’s children have roles, and it was a box-office bomb, grossing about half of what it cost to produce.
The second production, critically panned but achieving a cult following, was a black-comedy, slasher, direct-to-video film. A serial murderer named Jack Frost is being driven to his execution in the fictional town of Snowmonton, when there is a collision with a “genetics” truck. The genetic material causes Jack’s body, lying in the snow, to mutate into a killer snowman.
Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman has a family of ravenous snowmen attacking tourists on a tropical island. The director threatens a third film to be called Jackzilla. So far, we have been spared.
I suppose this is a study in what can happen to a popular icon or fairy-tale character. Santa may have started with Saint Nicholas, a third-century Greek who became a bishop in Myra, Turkey. Around him gathered a number of tales about gift giving.
The Dutch version of this saint was Sint Nicolaas, which became SinterKlaus and was anglicized in America to Santa Claus. Clement C. Moore (or was it Henry Livingston Jr. as some suggest) in his Twas the Night Before Christmas, made him a plump, jolly, old elf dressed in fur and driving a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Coca-Cola, in 1931, codified Santa as being fully human in size, decked out in a red suit with white trim, bereft of the long cloak of previous Santa illustrations.
I close down my laptop and put it back in the closet. It crossed my mind to Google “Slasher Claus.” I am sure it is out there, but I don’t want to know.
Rather, I settle back in my comfy chair, clearing my mind of all that silliness, and consider the deeper meaning of Christmas by contemplating the star on the top of my tree.
Treat yourself to an early Christmas present at the cost of a review. Here is the deal. Any of the fantasy books listed in the link below are yours for free if you promise to review the book. Only honest reviews, please! The connecting theme for these works is that they have to do with their protagonists passing through portals. In my case, A Vacant Throne, the portal is a picture frame (a nod to C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
Help yourself to a bit of fun. Click here to enter a world of make-believe.
I open my front door. It is an overcast, drizzly, gloomy Monday morning out there. I’m feeling a bit under the weather and feel the need to get out from beneath its oppression. Going into my study to look out of the French doors, I see the sky over the Magic Forest is clear and bright. I’ll go take a walk out there.
My notion is to wander deeper into the Magic Forest than I ever have before, but am saved from that adventure when I get to the pond, and there is Ultima, sitting under a walnut tree, her back against the trunk, reading a book.
“Ah, darling,” she says, “how good to see you.”
“My greetings in return. What are you reading?”
“One of the tomes from your library, The Welsh Fairy Book. I assume Welsh is one of your countries.”
“Wales,” I say. “How do you get into my library without me ever seeing you?”
“You’re never there when I visit.”
I suppose there is some time slippage between our two worlds.
“You are welcome to borrow my books, but now you must pay by reading me a story.”
I settle down on one of the comfortable sitting stones that line the pond’s banks. That these stones should be comfortable is one of the magical things of this place.
A young widow in the parish of Llanfabon had a son, who was all she had in the world and all she loved. Llanfabon was rife with fairies, the sort of fairies that would lead a man into the bogs at night with false lights. The widow knew that fairies would steal human infants, and she took precautions but to no avail.
One day, the sound of her cows in distress lured her out of the house, she forgetting, in the moment, to place the fire tongs crossways over the cradle in which her son slept. Upon returning, she felt uncertain that the child in the cradle was her own.
Over time, the once pleasant child became grouchy, less attractive, and didn’t grow. She went to a wise man, reputed to understand dark matters, and told him her story. He advised her to follow his instruction, faithfully and minutely, to brew beer in an eggshell, and to listen for what the child might say.
When she did this, the child, actually the changeling, expressed in rhyme that throughout his long life he’d never seen anyone brew beer in an eggshell.
She repeated the verse to the wise man. He then instructed her to go at midnight, under a full moon, to a specific crossroads to see what she could see, but without being seen herself upon danger to her life.
What she spied were hundreds of fairies in procession, playing music and singing, the likes of which she had never heard. However, among the procession came her own dear child. She could not rescue him and returned to the wise man.
He now told her to find a black hen with no other color of feathers on it, bake it over a wood fire (not peat) with feathers and all, and close up all passageways and holes except the chimney flue. As she did this, she was not to look at the child.
It took her a long time to find the black hen, but when she baked it and the last of its feathers burnt away, the changeling disappeared, and she heard the music she had heard at the crossroads coming from outside her door. Opening the door, there she found her own child, who could not account for where he had been but said that he had been listening to beautiful music.
Ultima closes the book. “The fairies in your world are not very nice!”
The Fairy Raid: Carrying off a Changeling, Midsummer Eve (oil on canvas) by Sir Joseph Noel Paton, 1867
Fairy Tale of the Month: November 2022 The Llanfabon Changeling – Part Two
Martino di Bartolomeo
Legend of St Stephen
“Well,” I say, trying to keep defensiveness out of my voice, “there are three types of fairies.”
“Three?” Ultima cocks her head.
“The fairies of legend, folklore, and literature. What I think of as the original fairies are those of legend, such as the Tuatha De Danann. They are entirely of human shape if a bit more handsome and superior. They live in a realm separate from ours where time moves at a different pace.
“There is a tragic Irish legend of Oisίn, the warrior poet, and Niamh of the Golden Hair. Naimh, daughter of the sea god, Manannán mac Lir, kidnaps the willing Oisίn, taking him to Tir na nÓg, the land of the young. After living there for three years, he desires to see his family and friends again. What he finds is that in his birth world not three years have passed but three hundred years, and his family and friends are a distant memory.”
“Oh, how sad.” Ultima’s lips droop.
“It gets worse,” I confess. “When he dismounts from his fairy horse and his foot touches the ground, the three centuries catch up with him, and he turns into an ancient being.”
“Good gracious.” Ultima is perturbed.
“The folklore fairies,” I continue, “the fairies of our story, are of a different lot. These are the fallen angels. I guess I should ask, is there a Christian god in your world?
“Oh, plenty of gods, as well as goddesses,” Ultima assures me.
“Right. Do you have any angels in your world?”
“I believe the Zoroastrians do.”
“Close enough. In our tradition, there is a war in heaven among the angels, some siding with God and others with the angel Satan. The Satanic forces lose and are cast out of heaven. Some of them fall all the way to hell, but others fall only as far as earth. And here they wait until Judgement Day, not knowing if they will be allowed to return to heaven or spend eternity in the other place.
“Their relationship with humans can be very mixed. They are at least touchy to deal with. Visiting with the fairies may also have the time-lapse problem of Oisίn’s. What is notable, they, for the most part, have shrunk in stature, sometimes mistaken for children. As shown in our story, they are noted for producing the most beautiful music.
“When we come to, what I call, the literary fairies, or British fairies, their diminutive stature becomes more pronounced. They are the size of small birds, complete with wings.”
“Ah,” says Ultima, “those I would like. The fairies in my world are all of the legendary sort. Little winged people sound delightful.”
“I am told they can bite, but that has not been my experience.”
Ultima’s eyebrows narrow. “Why do your fairies keep getting smaller?”
I felt this question coming the longer I pontificated about the three fairy types.
“It has to do,” I say with shame, “with our fear of the ‘other.’ We cannot abide a thing different from ourselves. When placed up against a thing unfamiliar, we need to make it smaller in order to comprehend it. By then we have already distorted it.”
Ultima shakes her head. “You so need to have dragons in your lives. What would I be thinking without mine?”
Fairy Tale of the Month: 2022 The Llanfabon Changeling – Part Three
The Fairy Raid: Carrying Off a Changeling – 1867
by Sir Joseph Noel Paton
“Tell me more about this changeling thing,” said Ultima. “Why did the fairies want human children?”
“The folktales are all over the map on that one. Some stories indicate fairies cannot nurse their own children, and they substitute their child for a human child. In other tales, a human wet nurse is either abducted or hired for a handsome wage.
“In our story, an old fairy, under a glamour to appear as a child, is taken care of by the duped mother while the fairies enjoy the company of the human child.
“Then there is the ‘tithe to hell,’ owed by the fairies every seven years.”
“That does not sound like it will bode well.” Ultima grimaces.
“No, not at all,” I say. “Rather than give one of their own for the tithe, they will kidnap and offer up a human. However, not necessarily a child. Adults, too, may be stolen. The changeling in these cases can be a piece of wood glamoured to look like a sickly version of the person that soon passes away, leaving the living adult in the hands of the fairies with no one thinking to look for them.
“Perhaps the most famous of these humans destined to be the tithe to hell is Tam Lin. He fell into the hands of the Fairy Queen, who intended to sacrifice him for the tithe. However, Tam Lin instructs his lover, Janet, on how to save him. She is to go to a certain crossroads at midnight on Halloween and wait for the fairy procession.”
“Wait,” Ultima chimes in, “that is what the wise man told the young widow to do.”
“Exactly that, they are known as the Trouping Fairies. In the case of Tam Lin, they were on their way to give him over. He told Janet how to identify him, then drag him from his white horse, and hold him in her arms while the Fairy Queen appears to turn him into dangerous beasts and finally into red hot coals. This she does, stealing him back from the Fairy Queen.”
“Oh, that’s a much better story,” Ultima gushes. “But what about the funny bit with the young widow forgetting to put the iron tongs over the cradle to protect the child? What help would that have been?”
“Fire tongs were made of iron. Iron has always been a talisman against evil. It keeps away ghosts, witches, and fairies. In our world, cemeteries are often enclosed by iron fences and gates. It is not to keep people out at night but rather the ghosts in and not bothering the living.”
“That is a curious item,” I admit. “The notion is to catch the fairy off guard and let him utter something in amazement about what he is witnessing. And, by the way, the kidnapped children are always boys. It is not until a girl becomes a young bride or a young mother that the fairies have any interest in her. Don’t ask me why.”
I saw that question rising in Ultima’s eyes.
“Nonetheless,” I continue, “the ruse almost always has to do with brewing or cooking in an eggshell in many of this story’s versions all throughout Europe. There is an association of eggshells with fairies. It is said a half-shell can serve as a boat for a fairy, but I suspect that may apply to the British fairies.”
I feel a raindrop and glance up at the darkening sky over the Magic Forest. Ultima and I sigh with disappointment. It appears I am back under the weather.
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The usual crowd gathers for Thalia’s Halloween-night story: Melissa, Johannes, the fairy, the brownies, and myself. However, the story is being told early—the sun is not yet set—because Thalia will be going off to a Halloween party with Jini.
To Johannes’s amusement, I think, Thalia wears a black cat costume. It is made up of black leggings and a black jumper replete with a tail. Pointy ears and painted-on whiskers do the rest. When Jini and her mother come, she’ll be ready to go.
She waits until I get the fire in the hearth going, then announces, “The Three Army Surgeons.” She is holding her old, battered copy of Grimm’s fairy tales.
One evening, three army surgeons were at an inn where they intended to stay for the night. The friendly innkeeper asked them where they were going and what they did. They told him they traveled the world practicing their profession. This led to boasting. The first surgeon said he would cut off his hand that evening and restore it in the morning. The second said he would do the same with his heart, and the third said he would too with his eyes.
No one else knew that these surgeons had a magic salve that could heal anything.
Before the surgeons went to bed, they cut out their assigned body parts, the innkeeper put them on a platter, and the maid put them in a cupboard for safekeeping.
Unfortunately for all, this maid had a soldier/sweetheart who showed up after everyone else was asleep, and the maid brought out food for him, leaving the cupboard door open. In came the cat, who made a meal of the surgeons’ body parts. When the maid found out what had happened, she declared all was lost.
The clever soldier had other ideas. Borrowing a butcher knife, he popped out and returned with the hand of a thief he’d seen hanging from the gallows. Then he grabbed a cat and poked out its eyes.
“What!” objects Johannes. He rises from his window seat, his tail straight in the air, and, with indignation, strides from the study.
The brownies titter, Thalia sighs, and she continues.
The heart of a pig, butchered that day, made up for the last of the losses. In the morning, the surgeons restored the substituted body parts with the magic salve, much to the praise of the innkeeper.
The three surgeons traveled on their way, but the surgeon with the pig’s heart delayed their travel by rooting through whatever garbage he could find, while the others tried to drag him back by his coattails.
That evening, in the next inn, the surgeon with the thief’s hand, stole money from an unwary patron. After they had gone the bed, the surgeon with the cat’s eyes could see in the dark and commented upon all the mice in their room that the others could not see. They then concluded they didn’t have their original body parts, and it was the fault of the previous innkeeper.
They return, accusing the innocent man of cheating them. He—rightly so—accuses the maid. But the maid, seeing the surgeons coming, ducked out the back door never to be seen again. The surgeons demanded as much money as the innkeeper had or they would burn down his house. They got a goodly sum, but it was in no way a replacement for their lost body parts.
The doorbell rings.
“It’s them. Bye.” Thalia darts out the study door, leaving the fairy, previously settled on her shoulder, fluttering in mid-air.
Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2022 The Three Army Surgeons – Part Two
A little to our surprise, the fairy settles into Melissa’s lap and curls up to nap.
“I think I’ve been honored,” Melissa smiles, “but now I can’t get up. Will you pour me some more wine?”
I pour her half a glass.
“Oh,” she says, “you are remembering last year.”
“Yes, and not to mention we have started drinking early and on empty stomachs. However, I have made some pumpkin soup and squash toast for us to dine on.”
“That sounds much better than candy. What is squash toast?”
“You will see.”
I leave for the kitchen and soon return with steaming mugs of soup and small plates of squash toast. “It appears we will dine in the study since you are anchored by Thalia’s fairy.”
“Off to a Halloween party. My, but she’s growing up,” Melissa reflects.
We settle into sipping our soup by the hearth.
“What an odd Grimm tale,” she muses. “Not their usual fare.”
“Well,” I say, “there are a number of what I call ‘foolish tales’ in the Grimm collection, such as Riffraff.”
“I don’t recall that one.” Melissa samples the squash toast. “Oh, this is good!”
“As I recall, the story starts out with a rooster and his hen going up a hill to eat nuts before the squirrels get them all. After eating their fill, they don’t feel like walking home. Instead, the rooster builds a coach out of nutshells, then waylays a duck, with whom he has an argument, to pull the coach.
In this way, they journey until they come upon two other travelers.”
“Wait a moment,” Melissa says with laughter in her voice, “I thought they were just up a hill.”
“Home seems to be getting inexplicably farther away, but wait, it gets worse.
“The two travelers are a needle and a pin who had drunk too much beer at the Tailor’s Tavern—I am sure that was meant to be some sort of pun—and could not find their way home. The rooster allows them into the carriage since they did not take up much room.
“When they come to an inn, they decide not to travel any farther.”
“Oh dear,” Melissa smirks, “this coming back down the hill has gotten rather surreal.”
“Hasn’t it though. A foolish tale, as I said.
“Well, the innkeeper raises objections to their spending the night, but the rooster promises him the egg the hen laid along the way, plus he can keep the duck. After settling that, they have a merry evening.
“However, the rooster and the hen rise early, crack open the egg, and devour it. . .”
“Wait. What? That was cannibalistic of them,” she says.
“. . . then they take the still sleeping pin and needle, putting the pin in the innkeeper’s towel and the needle in his comfy chair, and fly off. The duck, seeing them escape, does the same.
“The innkeeper, of course, scratches his face with the pin and sits on the needle, declaring he’ll never allow riffraff like them again at his inn.”
“I see your point. Your foolish tales are those filled with absurdities rather than princes, princesses, and magic.”
“There is the magic salve in The Three Army Surgeons, but it is more of a prop than anything else.”
Melissa nods. “I can just hear these two tales being told at an inn along with much drinking. By the way, instead of more wine, can you get me more of this toast?”
That I am glad to do.
Fairy Tale of the Month: October 2022 The Three Army Surgeons – Part Three
I return with more squash toast to find the fairy still curled up in Melissa’s lap.
“I hope Johannes is not too upset about the cat in the story.” Melissa nibbles.
“He’ll get over it.”
“The poor pig was already done for,” Melissa goes on, “but the image that got to me the most is that of the thief’s hand.”
“And why is that?”
“I’m not sure. The Grimms were a bit more descriptive about this soldier going to the gallows and cutting off the hand than they were about the demise of the animals. “
“Ahh,” I say, “the gallows. That is bound to engage the imagination. I think the Grimms knew that and referred to them numerous times in the tales.”
“Do they figure in other stories?” she asks.
“Well, let me think. There isThe Two Travelers, in which one of the travelers has his eyes gouged out by the other as a matter of spite. The victim ends up falling asleep under a gallows. During the night, he hears two hanging corpses talking to each other and learns that the dew on the grass beneath them will restore a man’s sight.
As the story goes on, he acquires animal helpers and eventually ends up in the employment of a king who also employs his previous fellow traveler. The spiteful fellow causes trouble for our hero, but he is saved by his animal friends, and the villain is eventually banished. The villain ends up sleeping under the very same gallows as before. Crows, resting on the corpses, fly down and peek out his eyes.”
“In this tale, whose hero is rather dense, the lad has never felt fear, which he calls
‘the creeps.’ In part of the tale, he is assigned to spend a cold night under the gallows. The winter wind knocks the bodies together, and the lad feels sorry for them. He brings them down and sets them around his fire to warm them up a bit. They prove to be boring company; he can’t get a word out of them. In disappointment, he hangs them all back up again.”
I get another round of applause.
“Oh, how could I have forgotten,” I remember, “The Master Thief.A count has challenged a master thief to prove himself. One of the tasks is to steal the bedsheet from under him and his wife. One night the master thief cuts down a corpse from the gallows, sets a ladder up against the count’s bedroom window, and pushes the corpse ahead of him up the ladder.
“The count, expecting such a move, is ready with a pistol. When the corpse’s head appears in the window, the count fires. The master thief lets the corpse drop. The count rushes out to see what he has done, and the thief slips in, pretending, in the dark, to be the count, and tells the wife he has killed the man and needs the bedsheets in which to wrap the body. She, of course, complies. “
“Oh, how gruesome,” Melissa exclaims.
Her raised voice awakens the fairy, who yawns, stretches, flutters up, and leaves the study.
“Sorry,” Melissa calls after her. “Well, at least I can now get my own wine.”
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The traditional evening gathering is at hand. Thalia has taken her position on her comfy chair closest to the hearth. The weather is cool enough for me to have lit a fire. I in my comfy chair, the fairy on Thalia’s shoulder, Johannes on the window pretending not to be listening, and the brownie lurking in the shadows despite how familiar we are with each other, have all gathered for the evening read in my study.
“Tonight,” Thalia announces, “I shall read from the English Fairy Tales, The Red Ettin.”
An old widow sends the older of her two sons off into the world to find his fortune. First, however, she instructs him to bring her water in a can for her to bake him a cake. The can leaks most of the water and, therefore, the cake is small. Then he has to choose if he will take half the cake with his mother’s blessings or the whole cake with her curse. The cake, being so small, he takes it whole.
Before leaving, he gives his brother a knife, telling him if the knife grows rusty then he, the elder brother, has met with trouble.
He soon comes across a shepherd, who, in these words, warns him of the Red Ettin, a three-headed monster:
The Red Ettin of Ireland
Once lived in Ballygan,
And stole King Malcolm’s daughter
The king of fair Scotland.
He beats her, he binds her,
He lays her on a band;
And every day he strikes her
With a bright silver wand.
Like Julian the Roman,
He’s one that fears no man.
It’s said there’s one predestinate
To be his mortal foe;
But that man is yet unborn,
And long may it be so.
The shepherd also warns him of the strange beasts he will soon encounter.
As the shepherd foretold, he comes across rampaging beasts with two heads and four horns on each. Terrified, he flees to a castle for shelter. Despite an old woman’s efforts, the Red Ettin, whose castle this is, discovers him but offers him that he can still save his life if he can answer three riddles.
The first head asks, “What is a thing without end?”
The second head says, “The smaller the more dangerous. What’s that?”
The third head asks, “When does the dead carry the living? Riddle me that.”
The young man cannot answer any of them, and the Ettin turns him into a stone pillar.
His brother sees the knife given to him covered in rust and tells his mother it is time for him to travel. She sends him with the leaky can to fetch water. A raven warns him that the water is being lost and he stops the leak.
The mother bakes a larger cake for him than she had for his brother but with the same conditions. He too chooses the larger cake with her curse.
He shares his cake with an old woman, actually a fairy, who gives him a magic wand and advice. He meets the shepherd, who repeats the verses but with one change. The last stanza is:
But now I fear his end is near,
And destiny at hand;
And you’re to be, I plainly see,
The heir of all his land.
He then confronts the rampaging beasts, and with the magic wand, he kills one of them, then goes off to the castle. The brother is warned by the old woman of the castle, but he does not attempt to hide from the Red Ettin.
The Ettin asks him the three riddles.
The first head asks, “What is a thing without end?” The brother, who has been given the answers by the fairy, answers, “A bowl.”
The second head says, “The smaller the more dangerous. What’s that?” The brother answers, “A bridge.”
The third head asks, “When does the dead carry the living? Riddle me that.” And the brother answers, “When a ship sails the sea with men inside her.”
The Red Ettin’s powers are undone, and the brother kills him with an axe. The old woman aids the brother, showing him where the king’s daughter is held along with many other ladies captured by the Red Ettin. With the magic wand, he also restores his brother back to life.
A happy entourage returns to the king’s castle, where the younger brother marries the king’s daughter and the older brother is wedded to a nobleman’s daughter. All ends in happily-ever-after.
“A red what?” I say. Thalia shrugs her shoulders, and the fairy flutters up.
Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2022 The Red Ettin – Part Two
I set the eggy bread and kippers on the breakfast table between Thalia and me. She forks herself an eggy bread without taking her eyes off her cell phone.
“This Red Ettin thing gets complicated.” She eats one-handedly, the other busy holding what I call her oracle. It has the answers to everything.
This is a conversation that would have taken place last evening except that Jini rang her up, and the rest of the night was gone.
“First, what is an ettin?” I dig into my kipper. Its smokey scent tickles my nose.
‘Well, besides being a character in Dungeons and Dragons, it’s the same as a Nordic jötunn.”
“That does not help.”
Thalia giggles. “There is a lot of gibberish here about what happened to the word as it moved from proto-German to Old English. Anyway, it more or less means ‘giant.’ The ettin is also a bogle, but there are different sorts of those; he’s just one kind.”
“Anything about the ‘red’ part of his name?” I ask.
“Not seeing anything.”
“What jumps to my mind is ‘redcap,’ a murderous goblin, who soaks his cap in his victim’s blood.”
“My point being, ‘red’ can indicate malevolence.”
“Works for me. Anyway, the story’s got a variant.”
“All the fairy tales have a variant, but go on.” I finish my kipper and start on the eggy bread.
“Well, there’s a Lang version that starts with two widows with three sons between them, which is kind of weird. The rusty knife is still there and the leaky can, but besides the shepherd, there is also a swineherd and a goatherd, all telling him the same stuff.”
Thalia pauses to take more eggy bread.
“When we get to the riddles, they are different and aren’t riddles. They are . . .” Thalia scans the information on her cell. “Which was inhabited first, Scotland or Ireland; was man made first or woman; and was man or brute made first. I think those are stupid riddles, but then the story doesn’t even give the answers, it just says the fairy woman told him everything.
“The only thing that makes sense was the third brother, who gets the bigger cake, only took half and got his mother’s blessing. Outside of that, I didn’t like the Lang version at all. Is there still some tea?”
I pour tea for her, then go find my copy of English Fairy Tales and check the “notes and references” for our story. Jacobs informs us he edited and simplified the story and found better riddles. Both he and Lang used Popular Rhymes of Scotland, by Robert Chambers, as their source. I also found that Lang reproduced his version word for word from Chambers, making Lang the more accurate folklorist. I point this out to Thalia.
“It’s still stupid,” she says.
I decide to play devil’s advocate. “Should not we try to stick to the oldest versions of these tales, the ones closest to their origins?”
“Not if they’re stupid.”
“Perhaps this is a question for the Magic Forest.”
Thalia looks at me sideways.
“Would you like to visit the Magic Forest?”
Thalia’s eyes glow.
Fairy Tales of the Month: September 2022 The Red Ettin – Part Three
Thalia and I cross the back garden and enter the Magic Forest. We take the trail past the pond and head for the Glass Mountain, Thalia’s wide eyes taking in everything.
There, as I knew he would be, sitting on the edge of a glass cliff, just out of reach, is Old Rinkrank.
“Thought I smelled you coming,” he sneers.
“Good to see you again,” I say.
“And who’s this with ya?” he expresses a little interest.
“This is my granddaughter, Thalia.”
She smiles and curtsies.
“Good,” approves Rinkrank, “she has manners.”
Wait, she’s wearing a dress. She never wears dresses anymore. She planned on this.
We take our seats on smooth glass boulders at his feet, so to speak. Actually, we sit below his long dangling legs.
“We are here,” I announce, “to ask about the importance of finding a story’s origin.”
“I suppose I can’t stop ya,” he grumbles.
“You don’t think it is important?”
“Doesn’t matter to me.”
I try again.
“To be specific, Thalia has read to me The Red Ettin.”
“Nasty fellow. Deserved what he got.”
It crosses my mind that Rinkrank’s fate in his story was no better, but I won’t go there.
“Thalia’s story was collected by Joseph Jacobs, but we found another collected by Andrew Lang, each quite different. They both cited Robert Chambers as their source, but only Lang was faithful to the source.
“Therefore, is not Lang’s version better than Jacob’s?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Rinkrank waves his bony-fingered hand in the air. “They’re all rumors. None of them were there when it happened, not even me.
“The rumor I heard from some fellow, I forget his name, there were two widows each with a son. One goes off to find his fortune, and later the other goes off to find the unfortunate. They both meet the Red Ettin’s herders, who tell them, in rhyme, the man has not been born who will kill the Red Ettin.
“Well, these sons of widows should’ve taken warning, but, no, on they go to get turned into stone pillars.
“Eventually, one of the two widows has another son,” Rinkrank chuckles. “Think about that for a moment.”
Thalia’s eyebrows rise and Rinkrank continues.
“He grows up and goes off on his adventure. The herders tell him he’s the one to kill the ettin, not to mention the magic wand the fairy gave him. He can’t lose.
“That’s the rumor I heard.”
“Ah,” I say, “the rhyme; that explains the inconsistency. I thought maybe there was some poetic license going on.”
“I noticed that too,” Thalia nods.
“Therefore,” I say, “I now declare this earlier version to be the better.”
“Nooo,” pouts Thalia.
“Why should that be?” Rinkrank shouts me down. “Just because it’s older? Bah! If ya want a rumor to keep going ya got to make it better, more interesting. Everyone who spreads a rumor puts their own touches on it. It’s their right to do so.
“Old, bah, I’m old, do you think I’m better for it?”
He’s got a point there.
I catch him winking at Thalia. Why do I talk to him? He’s so contrary.