I hear feet treading in the hallway. Let me guess. Thalia coming to visit her poor old grandfather laid up with a twisted ankle. The door opens and Thalia walks in backwards towing some else’s hand with both of hers.
“Melissa.” I start to rise to greet her, but pain sets me back down in my comfy chair.
Thalia pulls Melissa to me, who with a bemused smile, hands me the copy of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales that I ordered.
“Oh,” I say, “You needn’t have taken all the trouble.”
“No trouble, really.” Her smile turns kindly. I gesture for her to take a seat. “Just for a minute,” she says.
“Read.” Thalia flopped into my lap, sending a lightning bolt of pain up my leg.
I open the book. The first story—same as the book’s title—I have already read to Thalia from an extract, and I move on to the second story, The Enchanted Quill.
A man falls asleep on horseback, and after three years a crow wakes him up, requesting one of the man’s three sisters as a wife. The crow gives the man a small picture of itself and flies away.
Two of the sisters are disgusted by the bird’s image, but the third blushes and keeps the picture. The next day a grand carriage appears and it is the youngest that invites the crow into their home.
Soon, all three sisters and the crow are in the carriage traveling to his castle. The way is dark and gloomy, and the sisters are afraid they are on the road to hell until the way opens up into a forest of lemon trees.
Once inside the castle, the crow tells the two older sisters not to be too curious, then takes the youngest off into another room. Nonetheless curious, the two sisters peek through a keyhole to see the crow is a handsome young man.
In the next moment, all three sisters are standing under a fig tree, the crow up in the branches scolding them.
In order to save the crow, the youngest, following his instructions, travels to the nearest town, dressed in rags, to take the first job offered her. She ends up as the local prince’s cook for which she has no talent and is mocked by her fellow servants.
The crow reappears, giving her one of his feathers to use as a quill. Whatever she writes down will happen. She writes the names of fine dishes and they appear. Her reputation as the cook of the castle rises, and because she is beautiful, the caretaker decides he wants her for his own.
When he comes into her room, she tells him to shut the door, and writes down that he should shut the door all night long, which he does repeatedly.
A huntsman and another servant are also suitors, but the huntsman takes his boots off and on, and the servant closes up the dovecote all night long.
Angered, the three suitors go after the cook with whips. She grabs her quill and the suitors end by lashing each other.
The crow returns, transformed into a prince, and takes the youngest sister off to his castle.
“That’s it?” Thalia’s face turns up to mine.
“Yup, that’s it. What did you think?”
“Sort of like it. I like crows, but weird.”
A good summation, I think.
Fairy Tale of the Month: August 2015 The Enchanted Quill – Part Two
“I must apologize,” Melissa says, as Thalia runs off to the kitchen to find herself some lemonade.
“Apologize for what?”
“For being unprofessional.”
“Is delivering a book to a customer unprofessional?”
“No, but reading it cover to cover before delivering it is.” Melissa blushes a little.
“Ah, and what did you think of it?” I fold my fingers together.
“Very engaging. So unlike the Grimm we have gotten used to.”
“Yes, Thalia wasn’t quite sure about The Enchanted Quill.”
“It is an interesting Beauty-and-the-Beast variant.” I see by her far-off expression she has slipped into thinking mode. I will be enjoying her company for more than the previously-stated minute.
“As I see it,” she continues, “the story breaks down into three distinct parts. First is the crow waking the man and asking for a bride, then giving him a picture. In the second part, we meet the sisters and observe their view of the crow. In the third, the youngest sister is on her own with some magical assistance from the crow, to establish herself and beat off the suitors.”
“I see a fourth part,” I say. “I’ve been reading Marie Louise Von Franz, and she states most fairy tales are in four parts, but the fourth is usually hard to see.”
Melissa gazes at me curiously. “What can be the fourth part? We’ve run out of story.”
I smile. “The crow comes and takes her away. It is the fourth and final act, different from what went on before it.”
Melissa nods and slips back into musing. I am enjoying her being in my study, thinking.
“What is most puzzling is that ending.” She reaches out, picking up the book, and reads the last paragraph of the story.
“The time had come. The crow arrived, and now he had turned into a prince. He rode with the beautiful cook to his magnificent castle.”
She sets the book back down. “That’s more of an in-case-you-didn’t-notice-the-story-is- over ending, rather than the culmination of all the preceding.”
I see her point. “Does that suggest the ending is not what the story is about?”
Melissa intertwines her fingers in her lap. “The ending certainly is cryptic. The teller could have at least dragged out the carriage with the four horses again. If the story is not about the ending, then what is it about?”
It is my turn to muse. “The youngest sister is the protagonist. The story is about her, not about saving the crow. He is under some sort of spell, but the story never bothers to tell us about it. He instigates the action by waking the man and requesting a wife. He interjects himself into the story, and is there at the conclusion. Yet, it is not his story.”
Melissa brightens. “It is her story. In the end she is using her magical gift effectively, all by herself. Her family has fallen away. Her brother is heard of at the start of part two, but disappears quickly. Her sisters all but betray her with their curiosity, and also disappear at the end of part two. Part three is all about her travail. But, ultimately, what is she about?”
I do like the way she thinks.
Fairy Tale of the Month: August 2015 The Enchanted Quill – Part Three
I should be offering Melissa some tea, or ice tea given the warm weather, but it would be difficult to manage with crutches. Besides, she is deep in thought over The Enchanted Quill.
“What,” she says after some time, “is it that the youngest sister does or proves?”
“Well,” I contemplate, “she has inherent qualities. It is she who sees something in the crow’s picture that makes her blush.”
“Yes, the picture, isn’t that a queer item, not to mention the three-year sleep.”
“No dearth of threes in the story either: three-year sleep, three sisters, three suitors.”
Melissa’s brow knits. “Did the crow induce the sleep so that the brother would be obliged to him when awakened?”
“I get that sense.” I shift a little in my comfy chair and hope it will not hurt. “I think the crow set up the sisters as well by tempting them to spy, knowing what would happen. The crow is manipulating events and is testing the youngest sister.”
Melissa leans forward in her chair. “I think you’ve touched on something. I’m sure I’m projecting, and the fairy tales are good for projecting ourselves. This is a journey. Her older sisters adamantly refuse the crow, and her brother’s promise falls upon her. She submits. She is also submissive when the crow instructs her to go to the next town and take the first job offered. The crow has weaned her away from her family and cast her into an unfamiliar role. She hits bottom.”
I pick up on her line of thought. “Enter the magical device! The crow gives her one of his feathers with which to write. He has essentially given her power.”
“Yes, but,” Melissa raises a finger in the air, “with rather little instruction. Often fairy tales telegraph how the device will be used, but not in this case. She finds her own way to make it work for her.
“Now, when she is approached by the demanding suitors, she puts them in their place. She has moved from being submissive to assertive. That is what the crow is seeking, and he returns for her. As the story says, ‘The time had come.’”
“I assume,” I chuckle, “the bit about the suitors stuck opening and closing doors, and taking their boots off and on went over well in the taverns. Ahh, the power of the written word.”
I expect Melissa to agree, but her countenance has completely changed. With an accusing eye she glances at another book on the table between us. There, lying open to its title page, is English Fairy Tales, with Jacob’s autograph. She knows it was not there when she sold it to me.
“You forged . . . you wouldn’t . . .” Her eyes narrow. “You didn’t, you who cavort with fairies.” Her eyes grow wide and her skin pales. “Necromancy.”
“Good heavens, no!” I sit upright sending another jolt of pain up my leg. “It’s much more innocent.”
What do I say?
“It’s Miss Cox’s garden.”
Melissa folds her arms and with a toss of her red hair declares, “Explain this or I will never speak to you again, nor allow you in my shop.”
I could not bear that. I take a deep breath. “Whom from the past would you like to meet?”
She stares at me. I fear she will walk away.
She thumps her index finger on the book she brought. “Schönwerth.”