Obscure Fairy Tale: Jack My Hedgehog
I ran into a lot of obscure fairy tales while I was researching INTO THE WILD, and this one stuck with me. (Get it? Hedgehog. Prickles. OK, fine, stupid pun.) It has a memorable protagonist who deserves his day in the sun. So without further ado... for the second edition of my Obscure Fairy Tale segment, I give you: "Jack My Hedgehog."
Jack My Hedgehog (from Andrew Lang's The Green Fairy Book)
Once upon a time... a farmer wants a child so badly that he says, "I must and will have a child of some sort or kind, even if it be only a hedgehog!" Shortly after, his wife gives birth to a son who is human from the waist down and a hedgehog from the waist up.
Thing I Love About This Story #1: hedgehog-boy. Who wouldn't love hedgehog-boy? Sounds like a superhero. He needs a theme song.
One day, the father plans a trip to the fair and asks his son what he wants. "Daddy," says he, "bring me a bagpipe."
Thing I Love #2: hedgehog-boy wants bagpipes. No real reason. Sure, he plays them later, but it's not that important to the story. He simply likes bagpipes. I'm thinking that he knows he needs a theme song...
Once he has his bagpipes, he asks his father to visit the smithy and have their rooster shod. In exchange, he promises to ride off and trouble his father no more. Delighted to get rid of him, his father does as Jack asks, and Jack rides off on his rooster followed by a herd of pigs.
Thing I Love #3: rooster shoes. I think it's very thoughtful of Jack to consider his poor rooster's feet, and I'd really love to know what rooster shoes look like. I'm thinking something like a ninja throwing star... Thing I Hate #1: his father's anti-hedgehog bigotry.
For a few years, Jack hangs out in a tree, playing his bagpipes and watching his herd. One day, a king loses his way in the forest. Jack offers to show him the way out of the woods if the king will promise to let him have whatever first meets him on his return. Jack demands this in writing, and the king (certain that a hedgehog-boy can't read) writes that he will not let him have whatever first meets him. Naturally, the first thing that meets him is his daughter. The king explains to her how he cleverly tricked Jack, and she's relieved that she doesn't have to marry hedgehog-boy.
Thing I Love #4: the king thinks he's clever. Perhaps most hedgehogs are illiterate, but why would Jack ask for a written promise if he can't read?
A little while later, a second king loses his way in the woods. Jack again offers to show this king the way out if he will promise to let Jack have whatever first meets him on his return. The second king writes a sincere promise, and naturally, the first thing that meets him when he returns home is his daughter. He explains his promise, and she says she will be willing to marry hedgehog-boy because of the great love she has for her father.
Thing I Love #5: kings with lousy directions. Two kings lost in the woods? Get a map, boys.
After a while, Jack's herd of pigs grows so large that he decides to leave the forest. He visits his dad again, everyone eats a whole lot of pork, he re-shoes his rooster, and off he rides. First, he stops at the castle of king #1 who has instructed his guards to keep out any half-hedgehog, rooster-riding, bagpipe-playing boy. They try to do so, but the rooster leaps over the castle gate...
Thing I Love #6: GO, ROOSTER!
... and lands at the king's window. Frightened, the king gives him his daughter. Jack takes her outside the city, strips off her clothes, pricks her with his bristles, and sends her home saying, "This is what you get for your treachery."
Thing I Hate #2: Um, how is this the girl's fault? Not cool, Jack. Not cool.
Jack goes to the castle of the second king, who has instructed his guards to welcome him with cheers. The king's daughter marries him, but she is afraid to let him kiss her because of the prickles. Jack asks the king to place four guards outside his bedroom door and light a fire. As he climbs into bed, he sheds his hedgehog skin. The guards rush in, grab the skin, and burn it -- thus releasing Jack from his enchantment.
Thing I Love #7: Jack knew all along how to break his enchantment. He must have. There's no wise old woman or whatever to tell him the trick. He orchestrates his own transformation, which implies that he could have done it at any time. He just didn't want to until now. He liked being hedgehog-boy. Thing I Love #8: a girl who puts her foot down about facial hair. Marry a stranger, no problem, but the guy has to shave. She has her priorities -- warped as they are -- and she sticks by them.
Later, Jack and the princess visit Jack's father. He doesn't recognize him at first sans-prickles, but once Jack explains, his father welcomes him with open arms.
Yeah, his dad is still a hedgehog-bigot, but if Jack can forgive him, so can I. I do wonder, though, what happened to the rooster?
And that, my friends, is the story of Jack My Hedgehog. In case you missed the first edition of Obscure Fairy Tales, here's a link to a story with a donkey who shoots gold out of his butt...