There are the Brothers Grimm.
And then, there is Von Schönwerth.
In the recent past- since I have been blogging- the scales have fallen from the eyes of the world of folklore to reveal an engrossing set of stories.
The academics and enthusiasts scanned the dusty shelves and realised that for a century and a half, they have been ignoring three self-effacing volumes. Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen was the result of decades of footwork, as Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth talked to folk and recorded a disappearing oral storytelling tradition. But for the last 150 years they have been locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany.
The three volumes- which are said simply to have faded into obscurity- contain 500 previously unsung fairy tales.
Like this one.
It concerns a witch. She has a figure which has travelled south, and crows’ feet round the eyes, and while thirty years before, a woman like her could have snapped her fingers and had any male in the village at her beck and call, now she appears to have left all that behind.
But she doesn’t care. Life is interesting. There are many fascinations in the forest, and the people of the village are good, kind souls. She is apart from them, but she loves them.
She lives with a bear. Unconventional, I know, but oh, so Bavarian-Folk-Tale.
So there is this prince, as usual, and he loses his way in the forest.
You know how it goes. He stumbles on the little log house in a clearing and meets the witch and the bear. The witch falls in love with his young fresh face, and somehow, though she repulses him, he feels compelled to stick around.
So one day the bear manages to get the prince on his own. He’s been trying to do this for a while, but the Prince doesn’t do conversations with bears. They’re a mite fierce. Sharp claws.
The bear edges up and says helpfully through the side of his mouth: “Pull the rusty nail from the wall, so that I shall be delivered, and place it beneath a turnip in the field, and in this way you shall have a beautiful wife.”
The prince frees the bear and grabs the nail. The bear stands up like a king, but the Prince doesn’t really have time to register this because, first, it is a good idea always to run away from bears you have just released; and second, he has a nail to plant and a subsequent appointment with a beautiful woman.
He is Prince Nice But Dim. He cuts himself on a hedge in the turnip field, and faints for so long that when he wakes up he has grown blond grizzle on his chin. And then he trails disconsolately through all the local turnip fields looking for beautiful women.
After a few days he slopes back to the cave feeling aggrieved. It is deserted. But when he puts the nail back in the wall, who should appear but the woman and the bear.
I would love to tell you the Prince is polite. But sleeping under hedges and a diet of raw turnips have taken their toll on his manners and when he speaks to the bear it is in a snarl.
“Tell me, for you know for certain, where have you put the beautiful girl from the parlour?”
And the woman laughs: a Morgan Le Fay tinkling musical siren’s laugh. And she says: “Here I am. Why do you scorn me?”
Oh, no, the Prince retorts, he is not going to be an old woman’s fool a second time around.
The bear glares. “Just pull out the nail,” he says.
And lo: the old woman is a beautiful young girl, freed forever from an enchantment, and the bear her father the King. The nail burns up, and everyone sets out with all haste to the palace.
Me? If I were the father, I’d be thinking very hard about my family’s gene pool.
But he isn’t, and the young woman retains all the wisdom and contentment of her former incarnation. When age comes, she won’t fear it.
And they all live happily ever after.
Picture source here