Friday, October 02, 2009

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body

4 days until ICE!!!

So, so, so excited.

I thought I'd pass the time by telling you all about another obscure fairy tale that I love. It's a Norse tale collected by Asbjornsen and Moe, the folklorists who recorded "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (the tale that inspired ICE).

The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body (from Asbjornsen and Moe)

Catchy title. I would have gone with "The Heartless Giant." Reminds me of the original title for "War and Peace": "War and the Time That Was Less Full of Death and Destruction."

Once upon a time... six princes leave home to find brides, but they forget to bring home a bride for the seventh brother.

"My brothers went a-wooing and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

On their way home, the brothers and their brides encounter a giant who turns them all to stone.

Bummer. So much for that road trip.

The seventh brother (named Boots) borrows a horse from his father and goes to search for them.

His brothers are Hat, Scarf, Socks, Cravat, Mittens, and Fred.

He meets a hungry raven and gives the bird all his bread.

This is a very common fairy-tale trope: the animal helper. You help an animal in need, and then later you encounter a problem that only that specific animal is able to solve. Animal helpers typically occur in threes. So this is number one.

He meets a stranded salmon and tosses the fish into the water.

Number two.

Lastly, he meets a starving wolf and feeds him his horse.

Number... feeds him his HORSE?!

He puts his saddle on the wolf and rides him to the giant's castle.

Okay, that's kinda awesome.

At the castle, the wolf tells him to obey the princess.

He talks. Sweet. I want a friendly, talking wolf large enough to ride. *adds to wish list under "pet gryphon" and "magic wand"*

Inside, the princess tells Boots that the giant can't be killed because he has removed his heart and hidden it.

Call Harry! He made a Horcrux!

She instructs Boots to hide under the bed. The giant comes home and says, "Eww, it stinks of human in here."

"Fee-fie-foe-fum" has such a better ring to it. Just sayin'.

The princess says, "A bird dropped a human bone down the chimney. You know how hard it is to get the smell of human out."

I am suddenly picturing a Glade air freshener commercial...

At night, the princess and giant cuddle, and she asks him where he hid his heart. "Under the door-sill, my pudding pie," he replies.

Not to get hung up on logistics, but how giant is our giant? Are we talking Shaq or King Kong? Is she hugging his thumb? Having trouble picturing this.

Next day, Boots and the princess dig under the door but find nothing.

How exactly are they going to hide a dug up door threshold?

So the princess decorates the door with flowers. When the giant comes home, he asks about the flowers. She says she wanted to honor his heart because she loves him so much.

Brilliant! I love smart princesses.

He thinks that's sweet but his heart isn't there. It's in the cupboard.

Peanut butter, pasta, cereal, oversized living organ most likely still beating in an alarming Poe-like fashion... Explain to me how you miss noticing a beating heart in the cabinet when you fetch your morning cereal.

Next day, they search the cupboard. No heart. Again, the princess decorates the search site with flowers. Again, the giant says, "You're my sweet sugarbear, but my heart isn't there. It's actually in an egg in a duck in a well in a church on an island in a lake."

Directions like that make me happy. I love the concept of hiding something inside an egg.

Next day, Boots rides the wolf to the lake and swims to the island, but the church is locked, and the key is on the steeple, too high to reach.

At first I wanted to make some snide comment about this, but really, it's logical. He's a giant. A steeple is a perfectly cromulent key-hook.

Boots calls the raven to fetch the key. Inside, Boots lifts the duck out of the well, but the duck is so frightened that she lays the egg, and it sinks to the bottom of the well.

I once had a guinea pig who would pee every time you picked him up. Sort of the same thing. Really made you not want to cuddle the guinea pig.

He calls the salmon to fetch it and then returns to the castle.

See, told you the animal helpers would be useful.

Facing the giant, Boots squeezes the egg. The giant screams in agony. Boots says, "Release my brothers and their brides, and I will spare you."

How do you squeeze an egg without breaking it? Did Mythbusters ever do an episode on improbable fairy-tale events? Read somewhere that if a goose really laid a golden egg, it would shoot out of the goose at high velocity...

The giant transforms the princes and brides back to human. The wolf says, "Squeeze it anyway." Boots does, the egg breaks, and the giant explodes.

Whoa. Exploding giant. Morally problematic, but still kinda awesome.

Boots marries the princess, and everyone returns home to live happily ever after.

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.

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At 4:43 AM, Blogger Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Wow. So many moral issues with this story!

1. His horse? HIS HORSE? To a random wolf? Horses are your sole companion on a long trip, right? And you feed this to some starving scavenger you come by? Sure, you saved the wolf's life, but you killed your SOLE COMPANION! (Maybe he should have just cut off his own arm or something and fed that to the wolf. Everyone happy, and no lives lost. Let's just hope the wolf knows some first aid for the bleeding shoulder.)

2. He did the usual movie-bad-guy thing. "Do this or I'll ---." *other person obeys* *bad guy does it anyway*

3. Married the traitress princess who's probably been keeping more than the giant's thumb warm... *shakes head*

Very interesting to hear the fairy tale, I gotta say. But I'm glad you chose the fairy-tale you chose, to base your book on. ;)

Can't wait for my copy to get here.... :)

At 8:13 AM, Blogger tanita✿davis said...

Okay: cromulent? I had to look up. And laugh. Somehow, "embiggens" was the word that stuck with me from that episode.

I was surprised that Boots squeezed the egg/exploded the dragon anyway, but what else can you say about a boy who a.) is named after shoes, b.) is forgotten, when it comes time to bring home the brides, and c.) follows directions from the wolf to whom he fed his horse. Our boy Boots is a tool. A tool with a cool wolf to ride, nonetheless.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Beatrix Cottonpants said...

His horse! Were I to end up in a fairy tale, I think I might have ill luck indeed, because if a wolf (even a talking, rider-friendly wolf) demanded my horse to eat, I would say no. That's not cool.

I'm also wondering about our princess here -- she clearly has the smarts to find the heart, and she's willing to do it, knowing it means the death of the giant. So why hasn't she done this already? Why does Boots need to show up and ask for it?

I love that you do this, btw.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Priya said...

lol, I love this! It's like the hairy heart story in The Tales of Beedle the Bard but less gruesome and with a happy ending :)

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Ruth: Yeah, the princess is not good at break-ups. And as for the movie-bad-guy scene, I totally picture the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction kicking in...

Tanita: "A tool with a cool wolf to ride." Exactly!

Beatrix: You're completely right. There's no reason for the princess to wait around for Boots. She pretty much saves herself. I think she could have handled squeezing an egg.

Priya: I haven't read Beedle the Bard yet. The hairy heart sounds intriguing...

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Q said...

Again, you are brilliant.

Can't wait for Ice.

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

Awesome story. Love the commentary. Can't wait til Sunday. Yes, this is the first time since May that I've been on here.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Kirthi said...

I love these Obscure fairy tales, your commentary just makes the story soo hilarious!! This is like, my most favorite part of your blog. haha

At 12:33 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Q: Thanks! It's coming soon!!!

Lucas: Welcome back!

Kiki: Glad you like them!

Tanita: Also, cromulent is a perfectly cromulent word. It's greatness embiggens the smallest of words.

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Meagan said...

Obscure, yes, but I think thts actually one of the more sensible faerie tales I've heard.

Where do you find these? Do the authors you mentioned have a collection? All the Scandinavian faerie tale collections I could find were Hans Christian Anderson, or lame handfulls of stories re-written for 4 year-olds. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough.

At 1:20 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Meagan: It does make a surprising amount of sense for an obscure tale.

All of the Asbjornsen and Moe tales that I've done so far are from a fabulous collection called East of the Sun and West of the Moon illustrated by Kay Nielsen. It's a GORGEOUS book.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Enna Isilee said...

SARAH!!! You've been Squeaked!

Review of ICE!

Tee hee.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Laini Taylor said...

yeee! i found Ice at my local children's bookstore today (early! and yet: their order of Lips Touch was late!!) So I snagged it and am reading it next:-) The cover is GORGEOUS.

hope all is well!

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Jim Di Bartolo said...

Hi Sarah! We just came from our local children's bookstore a couple of hours ago with "ICE" in our mitts! We're looking forward to reading it and wish you MANY warm (*slight pun intended*) wishes on your book's birthday!

All best,

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I know I should have issues with the giant-who-has-no-heart-yet-is-alive, the morally moribund (that doesn't really work but I am really into the alliteration and will stick with it!) horse-feeding prince and the lazy-as princess, but actually the thing that upset me most about that story was the way the prince decided that the best course of action was to follow the instructions of a talking wolf.

That's going to be a happy marriage.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Antonietta May said...

i've always envisioned myself as a helper animal- most often the giant eagle , yadda yadda.. because i am a coward, yet might be able to help out. once or twice, tops. great story- again, a ton like one of Calvino's, save that there was no wolf. i recall a lion though.

i can't wait for ice. that is the only thing keeping me going this past week- i've been saying' just wait till tuseday, everything will be fine come tuseday...'

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Enna Isilee: Yay! So happy you liked it!

Laini: So cool! It's real! *does a happy dance* Thank you for telling me! Yours will be there soon.

Jim: You guys are so sweet! (And punny too.) Happy book birthday!

Hannah: Bet they'll bring the wolf along to their couples therapy...

Hedgi: It would be fun to be a giant eagle. Tuesday is almost here!

At 1:13 AM, Anonymous boojumlol said...

Have you heard the ballad 'King Henry'? The king in question is out hunting when he gets attacked by a monster. A girl monster. She demands that he kill his horse and feed it to her. Then his hounds. Then his hawk. Then he has to fill his horses hide with wine and make her a bed. Then he has to take off his clothes, lie down by her side and swear to marry her. Naturally, by the next morning she is a beautiful woman, but I always wondered if he bore her a grudge for eating his horse. I think I'd find it hard to forgive.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Boojumlol: That's... awesome. Wrong in so many ways, but awesome.

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Ms. Garcia said...

I can't remember if I've commented here before, but I absolutely adore your obscure fairy tales and am eagerly awaiting ICE since "East of the Sun..." has always been one of my fvorite obscure fairy tales in general.

And this has always been one of my most, um, REDONE stories...that is, when I recount it to various small children, I inevitably reform the giant and change the ending. Jim Henson's Storyteller did a particularly heartbreaking version of this one (called "The Heartless Giant," iirc) that's probably floating around Youtube.

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah,

I love your book "Into the
wild". It's awesome! I'm on
your chap.5. All of my friends say it's one of the coolest books they have ever read. Tell you more later...

-Jordan Shone

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

I'm waiting for more obscure fairy tales. Still think you can do wonders with "The Tale of the Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was".

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Ash said...

I know you probably are way past these, but I just had to let you know how much I love your commentary. Even though I descovered it two years ago, your writing always makes me laugh. Thanks.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger storydevi said...

I began telling this story after 9/11 and am writing a book with this story as the through thread.. a bit differently. Did you write a book about this story? would love to read it.. know how you used it. I am in NY.

At 3:33 AM, Blogger loramindi said...

These obscure fairy tales reviews are hilarious! All of them made me laugh at least a little, and some of them made me laugh a lot. I know it's been several years since the last one, but if you're still doing this, please write more!

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Ralph Palasek, Arlington VA said...

THANK YOU for this beautiful site.
For about a week, I've been looking for a variant of this tale which I remember reading back in the 1970s. "The Man without a Heart" in Andrew Lang's PINK FAIRY BOOK is the version that seems to come closest--from George MacDonald through "Kaschei, the Deathless." The final version contained the repeated phrase, "Anyone who wishes to share this meal with me is welcome"--spoken out into the empty woods. A very powerful memory for me, after so many decades. THANKS SO MUCH for doing what you do. - r.p.

At 4:23 AM, Anonymous AL TAN said...

The princess can kill boots too since she have been like carrying a cuddling affair with the giant before she manipulate him and get him killed by boots.

At 4:40 AM, Blogger Rhianna Hawk said...

2:39 in the morning, and I finally read all the stories. Gonna go to bed now, I have work tomorrow. Yeah, let's not question my issues of not staying up late reading stuff. You're awesome and hilarious, by the way!

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Emma said...


At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

you think the horse was confided in his own murder-and-then-fed-to-some-random-talking-wolf? Nooooo I think not!


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