From “The Teachers’ and Pupils” Cyclopaedia
Thalia’s finger spirals in the air, landing on the table of contents in her beloved, battered copy of Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Teddy, securely scrunched between me and the padded arm of the comfy chair where Thalia has stuffed him, observes our antics.
Thalia’s finger partly obscures the title, Hans My Hedgehog.
A well-to-do farmer had only one failure in his life. He and his wife had no children. One day he cried out, “I will have a child, even if it’s a hedgehog.”
This is the sort of wish/curse one should never make. His wife gave birth to a male being, human below the waist, but a hedgehog above. He was christened Hans My Hedgehog and lived on a pile of straw behind the stove.
After a number of years, Hans asked for bagpipes and for a blacksmith to shoe his rooster, and then his unhappy father would not see him again (which turns out not to be true). Hans also took some pigs to be raised in the forest.
Every day Hans perched in a tree, on his rooster, playing his bagpipes as he tended his pigs, which multiplied.
One day, a king, lost in the forest, heard the bagpipes and sent a servant to inquire. The servant reported that there was a hedgehog, in a tree, mounted on a rooster, playing his bagpipes while tending his pigs.
Thalia giggles at this image.
The king’s concern was to be no longer lost and asked Hans for the way out of the forest. Hans agreed to guide the king, if the king would give him that which first greets the king upon his return. The king agreed, but with no intent to keep his promise.
After guiding the king, Hans returned to tending his pigs.
A second king found himself lost in the forest and also heard the bagpipes. The scenario repeated itself with the difference that this king was sincere in his agreement.
Who greeted these kings upon their return were, of course, their only daughters.
When the pigs overpopulated the forest, Hans returned to his village, offering them up to anyone who wanted them. To his father, who orchestrated this giveaway, Hans asked to have his rooster re-shod and promised to never return (which, again, is not true).
Thalia “hmms” a question mark into the air.
Hans ventured toward the kingdom of the first lost king. Neither the king nor his daughter wanted to adhere to the agreement and did whatever they could to stop his arrival. Nonetheless, being magical, Hans forced them to comply.
Possessing the king’s daughter, he injured her with his quills, rejected her, and sent her back to her father in disgrace.
With the honest king, the trajectory was quite different. Hans was welcomed into the kingdom. This daughter, keeping her father’s promise, agreed to marry the hedgehog.
On the wedding night, Hans slipped out of his hedgehog skin and instructed that it be burnt immediately. The princess found she had married a handsome man.
Sometime later, after Hans became the king, he revisited his father, who said he no longer had a son. Hans revealed himself and the father returned with him to his kingdom.
Giving me a peck on the cheek, Thalia extracts Teddy and wanders off to bed, dragging the poor bear behind her.
Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2019 Hans My Hedgehog – Part Two
Henry J Ford
As Thalia and Teddy pass through my study door, I see Thalia’s fairy perched on the carving of a raven atop its wooden lintel. Her black hair floating mist-like around the delicate features of her face.
“Strange story,” I say to her.
I am surprised she does not flutter away and ignore me. I seize the opportunity.
“As I see it,” I pronounce, “there is a moral to this tale. After all, Wilhelm had a hand in it.
“In Freudian terms, Hans achieves the role of superego, the judge of us mere mortals as it were, but first he must spend his time in the wilderness.
“He lives in the forest, mounted on a rooster in a tree, watching his pigs. I’ll assume the varmints that would threaten his pigs are musically sensitive and the bagpipes keep them away.
“During this time in the wilderness, he encounters two kings, the first the embodiment of self-serving evil, and the second the embodiment of inclusive goodness. In neither case does Hans, after fulfilling his part of the agreement, follow them to their kingdom to claim that which first greets them, which is, of course, the daughters, but returns to his home in the wilderness to complete that stage of his life.
“When it is time, when his pigs become too numerous, he divests himself of these worldly possessions, and enters the phase of being the superego.”
The fairy is squinting at me with narrowed eyes, but I push on.
“Now, as judge, he approaches the two kings, probably knowing what will come to pass. The first, of course, is punished for his deceit, and the second rewarded for his honesty.
“The more I think about this, the more Hans My Hedgehog parallels Jesus’s time in the wilderness, where he renounces evil and returns to preach salvation. Do you agree? Is this what the tales is about?”
Frowning, the fairy shakes her head in dissent.
“I should have guessed so,” I exhale.
“If the tale is not a Christian allegory, then it must be about Hans himself.”
The fairy raises a painfully-thin finger in encouragement.
“Hans,” I go on, talking and thinking at the same time, “is half-human and half-beast.”
The fairy rolls her hand, telling me to go on.
“Half-human and half-beast,” I echo myself, “or half-humane and half-bestial. We are of two natures.”
The fairy nods.
“When Hans sees that the first king and his daughter disrespect him, they evoke in him his bestial nature. They all descend into a cycle of mutual harm. Hans, through his magic, takes the princess by force, pierces her with his quills—his bestial nature—and sends her home permanently harmed. Hans is not better for it but for a sense of revenge.
“When Hans comes to the honest king and his daughter, he is accepted and honored for having led the king out of the forest. They evoke his humane side, allowing him to shed his bestial nature. He sheds his skin and calls for it destruction. The princess, unknowingly, has saved Hans from “himself”—his bestial side—bringing forth the good side of Hans, which, we would like to believe, is inside all of us, buried beneath our own bestial natures.”
The fairy applauds, then flutters away.
That was fun.
Fairy Tale of the Month: September 2019 Hans My Hedgehog – Part Three
The heavy smell of tobacco greets my senses in concert with the cheerful alarm of the bell above Augustus’s shop door. Busy with customers, Augustus motions me with a slight gesture of his finger toward the testing room. I happily comply.
Waiting for me is this week’s tobacco-blend attempt, which he tries out on select customers. I am halfway through a bowl when he enters the room, picking up his own pipe.
“I’m thinking it might be called ‘Rooster Red,’” he says.
“It is red in color,” I affirm.
“That’s the Tennessee Red Leaf in the blend.”
“It leans toward being a cigarette,” I observe.
Augustus sniffs a pinch of it between his fingers. “Maybe too much Virginia.”
“It’s coincidental you came up with Rooster Red for a name. I am contemplating a fairy tale with a rooster in it.”
“Little Red Rooster and the Turkish Sultan?” He raises an eyebrow.
“No, Hans My Hedgehog.”
“I should have known you would not stray far from the Grimm canon.”
“Wait, I have,” I protest.
“Hans My Hedgehog is considered to be one of the ‘rise tales,’” Augustus goes on after settling into his comfy chair.
“That’s the name given by folklorist Ruth Bottigheimer to the notion of a peasant rising to become a king.”
“Oh, of course, a notion as old as the fairy tale itself.”
“Well,” Augustus hesitates as he draws on his pipe, “not according to Bottigheimer. She suggests Giovanni Straparola in his literary work of fairy tales in the mid-sixteenth century, invented the rise tale, and from there it entered into the tool bag of the common storytellers.”
“What? I am shocked. I thought that bit of wishful thinking, wild and impossible as it is, would spring naturally from the folk.”
“There are numerous folklorists who agree with you and are intellectually outraged that Bottigheimer proposed it. She triggered a controversy that has lasted more than two decades and promises to linger longer.”
“Hmmm,” I ponder, “folklore studies is more than a century old. One would think matters would be settled by now.”
Augustus guffaws and chokes on smoke. “Hardly,” he says upon recovery. “The center of this controversy is whether the folk can create their own motifs, or are they dependent upon literary storytellers for their source material? Do storytellers borrow from writers or do writers borrow from storytellers? I suspect the answer is ‘yes.’”
“By the way,” he says, “to raise the status of your story, The Types of International Folk Tales classification ATU (that’s authors/scholars Aarne, Thompson, and Uther) 441 bears the moniker ‘Hans My Hedgehog.’
“ATU 441 represents all the variants. Although Grimms’ version is the most famous, there are others. Some have two kings, some have three. Some have a wealthy merchant instead of a king. In some there are three daughters.
“Always, one of the daughters marries the hedgehog, returning him to his human form; sometimes with a kiss, sometimes by whipping him, or simply by cutting off his head.”
“I find it interesting,” I say, “that kissing, whipping, and decapitation are all viable alternatives for transformation. If I were a Hans, I know which one I would choose.”