Obscure Fairy Tale: Mother Holle
Today's obscure fairy tale is Mother Holle.
I think it's kind of funny (funny-peculiar, not funny ha-ha) that this is an obscure tale. It has so many of the quintessential-fairy-tale elements. It's nearly identical to the Russian tale Grandfather Frost, and it shares a lot in common with tales like The Two Daughters, The Fairies, and The Twelve Months.
Mother Holle (from the Brothers Grimm)
Once upon a time... there are two sisters, one lazy and ugly and the other one industrious and beautiful.
I love fairy tales, but I think that the idea of "beautiful = good" is one of the most insidiously damaging messages in fairy tales, even worse than "if you dress your rodents in cute little outfits and believe they sing in lisping English for your amusement, you'll marry a prince instead of being hauled off to the loony bin."
Their mother coddles the lazy one (her daughter) and overworks the industrious one (her stepdaughter). As part of her daily chores, the stepdaughter is forced to spin until her fingers bleed.
One day, she bleeds so much that when she tries to rinse the reel in a well, it slips out of her fingers and falls to the bottom.
As I said: ewww. Also, what's a reel? I'm thinking it's spinning equipment. I'm also thinking that if I were in a fairy tale and had to sew my own clothes, I'd end up in a burlap sack. I can barely sew on a button.
Her stepmother tells her that she must fetch it back. She jumps into the well, hits the bottom, and loses consciousness.
Um, hello? Ladder? Rope?
When she wakes, she discovers she's next to an oven. Inside the oven, baking bread cries to her, "Take me out, or I'll burn!" She removes the bread.
Why isn't she disturbed by the talking bread? I'd be disturbed. I mean, what would happen if you ate talking bread? Would it scream as you bit into it? Not to disgress or anything, but when I was little, my brother used to moo whenever I bit into a hamburger...
Next, she finds an apple tree overloaded with apples. "Shake me," the tree cries. "My apples are ripe!" So she shakes the tree and gathers the apples.
...and any time we ate lobsters, my brother would turn them all toward me so that they were all staring at me while I ate.
Then the stepdaughter finds a cottage with a woman (Mother Holle) whose teeth are so enormous that the girl is frightened.
How huge would someone's teeth have to be to be frightening? I'm just sayin'.
Mother Holle tells her not to be scared. If she stays and does housework, all will be well. But she must take special care to always fluff the bed. So the girl stays and does the housework, taking special care to fluff the bed, though it's made of snow and is so cold that her hands whiten and freeze.
Might I suggest some gloves?
She heals the girl's hands and treats her more kindly than she's treated in her own home. Eventually, the stepdaughter feels homesick and asks to return home.
Um, why? Does she miss the whole fingers-bleeding thing? Or is that balanced out by the fingers-freezing thing? What's up with this story's obsession with unhappy hands?
Mother Holle thanks the stepdaughter for her hard work and escorts her through the door. As she passes through the door, a shower of gold pours over her and sticks to her.
That's a reward? Molten gold poured over you? Ouch. And even if it wasn't hot (which it would have to be to be pourable), it would get all stuck in your hair, drip in your ears... You'd be sneezing out gold snot for days.
When the stepdaughter reaches home, the rooster crows, "Cock-a-doodle-doo, my golden maiden, what's new with you?"
They have a talking rooster? And no one thought to mention this earlier? Is this, like, a reject rooster from some other fairy tale who lost the important part because he made lousy rhymes? (FYI, I'm quoting the rooster verbatim from my copy of Grimm's.)
The girl is welcomed home enthusiastically.
How do they get the gold off? I presume it's stuck to her since she transported it home attached to her. It'll hurt like the worst Band-Aid ever when they rip that gold off her...
The mother wants her own daughter to have such wealth so she instructs her to bloody herself with the reel, throw it down, and jump after it, which the girl does.
I bet she's wondering why her sister didn't use a ladder too.
At the bottom, she finds an oven. The bread cries, "Take me out, or I'll burn!" The girl replies, "Take yourself out! I don't want to get dirty."
Maybe the talking bread is the next step in the evolution of bread mold... I suddenly have the urge to clean out my kitchen...
Next, she finds an apple tree. "Shake me," the tree cries. "No way," the girl says, "I'm not shaking those heavy branches."
I'm not as bothered by talking trees. Perhaps I've seen enough talking trees in other stories. You just don't run across talking food all that often, except in commercials -- and really, those never made much sense to me. Why would talking food want to encourage eating? Shouldn't the talking cereal have some self-preservation instinct?
Then she finds Mother Holle. On the first day, she tries to work hard, but by the second day, she begins to laze about. She refuses to touch the snow bed, and Mother Holle has to cook and clean for her instead.
Really don't blame her for avoiding the snow-bed thing.
Soon, Mother Holle dismisses the lazy girl and sends her home through the door. But instead of gold, a shower of pitch pours on her.
Yikes, pitch! Isn't that a little harsh? So the girl didn't make a bed or two... is that really a tar-and-feather kind of offense? Really?
When the lazy girl reaches home, the rooster crows, "Cock-a-doodle-doo, my dirty girl, what's new with you?"
Talk about insult to injury. Mocked by a rooster. If he's not careful, Mr. Chatty Fowl is going to be renamed "dinner"... unless of course these folks have my issues with talking food...
The pitch sticks to the lazy girl for the rest of her life.
And the moral is: Don't seek employment from women who live at the bottom of wells.
For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.
2 days until the Wild returns...