Christmas Eve in my study has a form that must be followed. Thalia, although of tender years, insists on decorum. Traditions survive because of children.
We start with my reading The Night Before Christmas to her and Teddy, all of us squeezed between the arms of the comfy chair by the hearth. Over the hearth fire is a three-legged cast-iron pot containing mulled cider warming up to be ladled out into cups; the convenience of a microwave is not to be considered.
I recently found out there is a controversy surrounding C. C. Moore’s rendition of the poem, but that sort of thing cannot be mentioned now. The poem—tonight—is sacred.
Following that, it is my choice what to read. Grimm has nothing about Christmas in their canon. A winter-themed story that I have not already read to her and Teddy proves hard to come by, but I manage. I peruse my copy of Jack Zipe’s translation of Grimm, finding what I want in the third story from the last. The Winter Rose.
It is a Beauty and the Beast variant, complete with a traveling merchant, three daughters, and three requests, the youngest asking for a rose. As it is winter, the merchant cannot find a rose. On his return trip home, he comes across a garden, half in winter, half in summer. The summer half has roses in bloom. The merchant picks a rose and returns to the road. A black beast chases after him, demanding with a threat that his rose be returned.
The merchant ends up keeping the rose, thinking he has outwitted the beast, but the beast forcefully seizes his youngest daughter and take her to his castle.
There the violence ends. The beast dotes on the girl until she becomes fond of him. After a time, she wishes news of her family. The beast shows her a mirror in which she can see what is happening at home. Her father lies on his deathbed.
At this point in the story, we stop to serve ourselves some cider. Thalia provides a doll’s teacup for Teddy’s cider, but I am sure he is going to spill it.
The daughter pleads with the beast to let her visit home and he relents, allowing her a week but no more. During her visit the father dies. In her grief, she overstays her time. Upon return to the beast’s castle, she finds he has disappeared. Winter dominates the garden. There she finds a heap of rotting cabbages, under which she uncovers the beast, who appears to be dead.
She pours a bucket of water over the beast to revive him. Up rises a handsome prince, the garden returns to summer, and they marry.
“I like the garden,” says Thalia, finishing her cider.
I like the garden too.
She toddles off to bed, dragging Teddy behind her. I clean up the cups and the spill.
Has anyone explored the role of gardens and cabbages in fairy tales? That does sound like a pedantic inquiry, even to me. But I am conscious that while popular fiction dwells on the unusual, exotic, and exciting, my genre pulls from the mundane. Popular fiction plucks low-hanging fruit, fairy tales look at the root.
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2014 The Winter Rose – Part Two
It’s Boxing Day and I visit Augustus, bearing the gift of a quality fountain pen, knowing his abhorrence for other ink devices. The shop isn’t open, but Augustus lives above his store, and his friends know the shop door is unlocked on this day after Christmas. As I enter, I am delighted to see Duckworth already there, the two of them surrounded by a haze of pipe smoke.
As I enter into this fraternal matrix, Duckworth asks me, “What have you been spouting at your granddaughter these days?”
“Spouting, spouting,” I object. “This is Christmas; I am sharing.”
Duckworth’s waves his hand in a gesture of acquiescence.
“The Winter Rose,” I supply.
“Winter Rose,” Augustus echoes. “Ah, yes, The Summer and Winter Garden.”
Behind Augustus’ eyes I know his encyclopedic mind is sorting through the data. “The story appeared in the 1812 edition as The Summer and Winter Garden, but was soon replaced by The Singing Springing Lark, the first version appearing in the notes, until it reappeared, as I recall, in the last edition as The Winter Rose.”
Duckworth looks mildly amused. “How many editions were there?”
“Seven,” I say, taking out my pipe.
“For a children’s book, really?”
Augustus smiles. “They initially produced the work for an intellectual, nationalistic Germanic audience. As it gathered a popular following, they kept re-editing it to suit bourgeois tastes.”
I settle into one of the comfy chairs and tamp my pipe. “It seems to me—with The Winter Rose being an example—there are at least as many gardens in fairy tales as spinning wheels.”
Augustus nods. “Part of that is the extensive number of these Beauty and the Beast variants littering the fairy-tale field, the better number of them having a rose plucked from a garden. However, beyond these variants and still staying within Grimms’ collection there is Rapunzel, The Lettuce Donkey, and The Hare’s Bride, in which the garden plays a large role, and the garden is mentioned in passing in such stories as The Fisherman and his Wife and The Pink Flower.”
Duckworth clicked the stem of his pipe on his teeth. “Spinning wheels and gardens are ordinary things. Why are they of any interest?”
“Exactly because they are ordinary.” Augustus relights his pipe. “Fairy tales move from the everyday to the extraordinary, suggesting to us that the common can be imbued with meaning we did not notice before.”
“I am taken by the image of a garden half in summer and half in winter.” I look to Augustus for his thoughts. “I didn’t realize the first incarnation used that image in its title.”
“The tale is not that well known.” Augustus’ eyes are not focused. This is good. He is formulating, not recounting. “But anyone who has read it is struck by the garden in two seasons. What is it? Ying and yang? Folk recognition of duality? The cycle of life and death?”
“All of the above, I’d guess.” Duckworth puffs contentedly. He’s smoking “Elfish Gold” I realize.
“I’ll concur,” I say. “Pre-Freudian listeners were not schooled to analyze the hidden meanings of images. They felt the images, emotionally, as I am sure modern listeners still do—initially—before their brains take over.”
“I like that,” says Duckworth. “You suggest moderns try to think their way out of a fairy tale.”
Augustus looks dubious.
Fairy Tale of the Month: December 2014 The Winter Rose – Part Three
The smell of burning logs on the hearth sets me at ease. The glow from the fireplace illuminates my corner of the study. A Chromebook glows over my fingers, a Christmas present from my daughter. I like that they call it a “book.” That gives me permission to have it in my lap.
My favorite computer game is treasure hunting across the web, searching for tidbits on a topic. My topic tonight is “roses.”
I tip-tap in “roses in fairy tales.” Below the offers to buy roses in fairy tales from various proprietors, Grimm stories with the word “rose” appear, Snow White and Rose Red, Briar Rose, and The Rose. I follow the link to The Rose. It’s an odd little, grim Grimm tale about a youngest son encountering a child in the wood, who gives him a rosebud, saying he will visit again when the rose blooms. The next day the rose blooms, and the mother finds her youngest son dead.
The Winter Rose does not appear in the listings.
Typing in “roses symbolism” brings a wealth of information. Starting with the Wikipedia entry, and linking through the other offerings, a consensus emerges. The rose, as a symbol, pervades Western culture.
The entries like to start with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and their goddesses’ connection with the rose. I ran across two references to the Roman practice of hanging a rose on the door or from the ceiling of a room where matters of secret are to be discussed. Hence the term “sub rosa,” that is to say, “under the rose.”
The name Rosicrucian has something of the same origin, in that the rose lies at the heart of their symbol, the Rose Cross.
Another fun item: the rose holds the honored position of being the national flower of England. That came about with Henry VII, who introduced the heraldic Tudor Rose, which is composed of the red rose of the House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York. Henry ended the fifteenth-century civil war—later branded the War of the Roses—between the two houses by defeating Richard III in battle (A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!) and marrying into the House of York.
Continuing my search, I find a lot about the rose representing the Virgin Mary and other sainted women, the rose garden symbolizing Paradise, and the rosary connection to our flower. When I consider the rose appeared in the Old Testament largely metaphorically and not symbolically, and does not appear in the New Testament (according to my source), I jump to the assumption that the rose in Christianity is a medieval invention.
My “Ah ha!” moment comes when the internet provides a link to Tam Lin. Tam Lin, of course, that quintessential Scottish ballad.
She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Saying “Lady, pull thou no more.”
“Why pullest thou the rose, Janet,
And why breakest thou the wand?
Or why comest thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?”
I had not seen Tam Lin in the usual list of Beauty and the Beast variants, probably because it is a ballad. The ballad dates to at least as early as 1549. Given its age, I wonder if it might not be the inspiration for that plucking-of-the-rose motif.
I look up at the hearth. For a moment I see a rose in the flames, its solid red petals and verdant green leaves in contrast to the orange and yellow flames. It quickly turns to ash.