The Lost Fairy Tale

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.

The End.

Picture source here


47 thoughts on “The Lost Fairy Tale

  1. Now you’ve piqued my curiosity. There has to be a reason these apocryphal fairy tales were hidden away and didn’t make it into mainstream lore. What’s the story behind the story? (that you told so well!)

  2. i love your crisp shorthand version of a fairy tale. A lot of “rusty nails” get pulled from walls in today’s search for “happy ever after” for free. I wonder if pulling out the nail in the Beckhams’ household would work in reverse.

  3. Doesn’t it explain why the whole thing didn’t work the first time? Or did Prince Dim forget to stick the nail under a turnip?
    I suspect that Von S didn’t quite write it like this, and also that I am quite certain to prefer your masterly version.

  4. Very cool that they’ve discovered old folktales.. why must the woman be “ugly” when she’s old?? I plan to go down with a fight! No crowfeet for me.. I’d love a prince or two but my hubs would have a lot to say about that.. he’d be an old bear I imagine:D xx

  5. ah, good one, Kate, and trust you to ferret out the little lost treasures – hope I get to read more of those tales (I’ve half a mind to order that book…)

  6. But Kate! The nail was not put under a turnip. No wonder the danged story never saw the light of day. The Prince cheated. He got what he wanted and the beautiful woman was stuck with two dimwits.

  7. Maybe someone had a premonition of the rise of Disney? Disney always says they’re releasing something “out of the vault.” I enjoy the tales when they don’t end in violence. I was just sure the bear was going to eat Prince Dim, or the Witch was going to make him her slave. Nice research, Kate! Debra

  8. Oh, goody! More folk tales to read about, Kate. From the Russians and the Grimm’s we now have the Bavarians. There seems to be a fascination or sorts here in the States with fairy tales. A few new shows, grisly but often interesting. Just saw the pilot for one last night, a modern day police/FBI/covert operations series entitled Beauty and the Beast. Captured my attention last night – we’ll see how it goes.

    1. Sounds intriguing, Penny! Fairy tales are just so comforting in their extremity, I find. They are a polarised, bizarre view of life couched in such well-worn characters and dilemmas that even a serial killer feels like a comfortable, battered pair of slippers.

  9. I really enjoyed this fairy tale, I used to buy just about every fairytale book I could find for my neice when she was younger, all so enchanting.
    I saw that you had clicked the like button on my Fearless post, I was away for most of the summer so not sure when you came by but I wanted to thank you for the visit.

  10. I love tales like the Hare and the Tortoise – characters with a real personality and a story with a message that doesn’t carry the weight of a sledge hammer. But, there are many others that always cast the stepmother as the one who forces the child to be abandoned or mistreated (Hansel and Gretel, or Cinderella). You have to wonder why the fathers would have allowed their children to be treated that way.

  11. I love it best with your wry commentary, Kate. I’ve heard a version of that story somewhere, and it’s going to bug me until I recall where…

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