The Fearful Fairy
Mochulla at Fortanne milk was once offered to them. Food and drink, however, have been, until at least the present century, set out in plates and cups in Inchiquin and Moyarta Baronies, and in the latter, on the Shannon bank, the slops were thrown out and clean plates, water, chairs, and a well-swept hearth left by a punctilious servant for fairy guests in or Dumhach or Sand Dune , near Lehinch. A well-known Irish scholar and antiquary, Andrew MacCurtin, before addressed a political petition to Donn of Dumhach complaining, like most Irish antiquaries, of the neglect of the gentry, and praying for any menial post at his Court.
A small patch of land was left untilled in the midst of a cornfield at the end of the steep descent from Carran old church to Eanty in the Burren. It was left for three years amidst the tillage, and then the field was allowed to return to grass. The owners obviously disliked to explain the matter, but the act was clearly understood in the neighbourhood as a concession to the spirits of the field when the grass land was broken up for the first time in human memory. The appearances of the fairies also seem now very rare indeed.
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At Newmarket-on-Fergus, a centre of much folklore, we find that, besides the two forts named above and a low earth mound perhaps sepulchral , only one spot has been honoured by an actual apparition in the last ten years. In this case a man walking on the Ennis road, not far from Lough Gaish, saw a very little man neatly dressed in green and walking on the path. Suspecting the green man to be a leprechaun ,—and hence an owner of gold,—the Clare man tried to grasp him, but the sprite vanished out of his hands.
In one notable instance, King Conor A. Chonchobhar or Conor.
I know of two cases of reputed changelings. My second sister, whose delicacy, when an infant, excited remark, was, about , taken out by a servant to be exposed on a shovel on the doorstep at Carnelly. The poor child turned over on the bed with a groan, and was a little later found to be dead.
I have dealt with place names and legends of names, banshees, the death coach, and fairies, and I propose to deal mainly with other appearances of a spectral or spiritual character. In doing this it is necessary carefully to avoid attributing to older writers beliefs which they never held. The very moment that she felt the prick she sank down into the bed that was right there and fell into a deep sleep. And that sleep spread throughout the entire palace.
The king and the queen, who had just come home and entered the great hall, fell asleep, and the whole court with them. The horses fell asleep in the stables, the dogs in the courtyard, the pigeons on the roof, and the flies on the wall. And the wind died down and not a single little leaf stirred on the trees by the castle. All around the castle a briar hedge began to grow. Each year it grew higher, and finally it surrounded the entire castle and grew so thickly beyond it that not a trace of the castle was to be seen, not even the flag on the roof.
But the brothers should not be reproached for departing from the original. First of all, whose original? Most literary tales were derived in some measure from folk sources, and, once they were published, they in turn influenced folk versions. Finally, oral tales, when transcribed faithfully, are often barely readable. Though a scholar might publish this in, say, the Journal of American Folklore , nobody else would try to get anyone to read it. The Grimms, however, changed more than the style of the tales. They changed the content.
Their first edition was not intended for the young, nor, apparently, were the tales told at rural firesides. Other collections, geared to children, had been more successful, and the brothers decided that their second edition would take that route. In the introduction, they dropped the claim of fidelity to folk sources.
Above all, any matter unsuitable for the young had been expunged. As with the rating committee of the Motion Picture Association of America, what they regarded as unsuitable for the young was information about sex. In the first edition, Rapunzel, imprisoned in the tower by her wicked godmother, goes to the window every evening and lets down her long hair so that the prince can climb up and enjoy her company.
Finally, one day, when her godmother is dressing her, Rapunzel wonders out loud why her clothes have become so tight. Such bowdlerizing went on for a half century. By the final edition, the stories were far cleaner than at the start. But they were not less violent. The Grimms were told by friends that some of the material in the first edition was too frightening for children, and they did make a few changes.
In later editions, it is the stepmother who makes the suggestion, and the father repeatedly hesitates before he finally agrees. Apparently, the Grimms could not bear the idea that the mother, the person who bore these children, would do such a thing, or that the father would readily consent. This is an admirable scruple, but a puzzling one, because it is largely absent from other Grimm tales, many of which feature mutilation, dismemberment, and cannibalism, not to speak of ordinary homicide, often inflicted on children by their parents or guardians.
Toes are chopped off; severed fingers fly through the air. He comes home one day and she asks him if he wants an apple. But no sooner does the boy lean over the trunk where the apples are stored than she slams the lid down and cuts off his head. Now she starts to worry. The girl comments that her stepbrother seems pale.
Well, give him a slap, the mother says. He loves it. You get used to the outrages, though. They may even come to seem funny. When, in a jolly tale, a boy sees half a man fall down the chimney, are you supposed to get upset?
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Some stories do tear you apart, usually those where the violence is joined to some emphatically opposite quality, such as peace or tenderness. That way, his daughter will inherit more money. So he has twelve coffins built, each with a little pillow. Little pillows! For boys whom he is willing to murder!
In sum, the Grimm tales contain almost no psychology—a fact underlined by their brevity. However much detail Wilhelm added, the stories are still extremely short. They come in, clobber you over the head, and then go away. As with sections of the Bible, the conciseness makes them seem more profound. Since the Second World War, some people have argued that the violence of the Grimm tales is an expression of the German character.
Of course, the Grimm tales were nationalist: the brothers hoped to make their young readers feel and be more German. But in the nineteenth century there were fervent nationalist campaigns in most European countries. That is how many Western empires fell. Nazism fed on many trends that, previously, had been harmless—for example, the physical-culture movement of the early twentieth century, the fad for going on nature hikes and doing calisthenics. This became a feature of Nazism—an argument for purity, strength, the soil—but it existed also in countries that fought the Nazis, including the United States.
Nevertheless, the Grimms are premier representatives of the nationalism that became Aryanism in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, and the Nazis were grateful to them. After the war, accordingly, the Allies banned the Grimm tales from the school curricula in some cities. Still today, certain people, notably feminists, would like to move them to the back shelves of the library, because, so often, the villain is a woman, doing violence to girls, and also because the girls seldom resist.
- Fearful fairies.
- Transylvanian Moonrise.
- MORE IN LIFE.
Finally, she sinks into utter passivity, immobilized in a glass coffin, waiting for her prince to come. Such feelings are widespread. Over the years, her head has been sawed off repeatedly; she has been blasted off her rock with explosives. At the same time, some writers have recommended that the feminist critics look more closely at the Grimm collection. Others of the stories have spunky heroines. Writers reluctant to part with the Grimm tales suggested that we go on reading them to our children but point out the poisonous stereotypes they contain. Other writers have proposed that we revise the tales again.
Why not? Why should the Grimms have the last word? She has no idea how to do this. A gnome, Rumpelstiltskin, offers to do the job for her. But, once she marries, he says, she must give him her first child. When, at the end, she reneges on the deal, he becomes so angry that he tears himself in two. He would have climbed on a chair and would have given the queen a kiss on her cheek. And they would have been happy with each other until the end of their days. Then, there are those who believe that the Grimm tales, whatever their cruelty, are indirectly good for us.
Bettelheim argued that fairy tales, by allowing children to attach their unsavory repressed desires to villains dragons, witches who were then conquered, helped the children to integrate and control such desires. To Bettelheim, a Freudian, the most important conflict was the Oedipus complex. In his view, it was because of that nasty struggle that the Grimm tales so often featured a wicked stepmother. The child is given the opportunity to hate her mother in the form of the stepmother and still, as she does in life, love her mother the real mother, conveniently absent from the tale.
Such an interpretation makes some sense. Bettelheim went further, though. To provoke such recoil, you do not have to resemble a sex organ. Furthermore, this particular frog has been pursuing the princess day and night. Finally, he invades her bed. In response, she picks him up and hurls him against a wall, whereupon he explodes and his little guts dribble down the plaster. While Bettelheim tells us that fairy tales help us adjust, Jack Zipes has said the opposite: that the value of fairy tales is that they teach us not to adjust, because the oppressive society in which we live is something we should refuse to adjust to.
Zipes, a professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, has written sixty books on or of folk tales: critical studies, collections, translations. Zipes is a Marxist of the Frankfurt school. He was also heavily influenced by the German philosopher Ernst Bloch and by the student movement of the nineteen-sixties. Such are the mysteries of literary criticism. This makes some of the notes in her edition bewilderingly latitudinarian—she nods to Zipes, to Bettelheim, to Gilbert and Gubar.
Also, at times she seems very wide-eyed. She tries to find some basis for what seems to her the surprising appearance of anti-Semitic feeling in a few of these nineteenth-century stories.