“The she-wolf brought forth a young one, and invited the fox to be godfather. ‘After all, he is a near relative of ours,’ said she, ‘he has a good understanding, and much talent; he can instruct my little son, and help him forward in the world.'”
The next tale in a series of wolf stories, Gossip Wolf and the Fox, is short and contains similar horrors as those in the previous three tales (animal cruelty). The beginning lines have just about nothing to do with the following events, other than they introduce the wolf and fox’s relationship.
Before talking about the details of this tale, I want to briefly focus on the meaning of “Gossip” here. The reason that the fox calls the wolf “Gossip Wolf” or “Mrs. Gossip” is not directly made clear in the narrative – for a 21st century reader who is also not a student of etymology. And as I ascribed what I know the current definition of “gossip” to be to this title given by the fox, I was a little unsure how this title came to be. However, I have since learned that the use of “gossip” can be traced back before 12th century, and is derived from the Old English word “godsibb”. “Godsibb” describes a person who is given a godparent role, so the use of “gossip” in this fairy tale is quite appropriate – sort of. When the wolf introduces the fox to the “young one”, I assumed it was the wolf’s offspring (“‘my little son'”). But is she actually the godmother? If so, why isn’t the fox given the “gossip” title too?
I could dwell on these questions much longer, but to spare you, reader (or maybe you’re already gone), I will now describe the rest of the story.
The fox accepts the wolf’s invitation to be the young one’s godfather, although his brief speech is a little questionable: “‘Worthy Mrs. Gossip, I thank you for the honor which you are doing me; I will, however, conduct myself in such a way that you shall be repaid for it.'” In hindsight, this absolutely resembles a threat.
After a celebratory feast, the fox proposes a plan. He knows of a sheep pen (sheep-fold in the tale) from which they could retrieve a sheep for the youngling. The wolf agrees to this plan, and once they get in sight of the farmyard, the fox elaborated on his “plan”.
[The fox] pointed out the fold from afar, and said, “You will be able to creep in there without being seen, and in the meantime I will look about on the other side to see if I can pick up a chicken.” He, however, did not go there, but sat down at the entrance to the forest, stretched his legs and rested.
If you have followed my most recent wolf-fox posts, or just have good intuition, you likely have an idea of what happens next. The peasants at the farm catch the wolf jumping into the sheep pen, “and poured a strong burning mixture, which had been prepared for washing, over her skin. At last she escaped, and dragged herself outside.”
There lay the fox, who pretended to be full of complaints, and said, “Ah, dear Mistress Gossip, how ill I have fared, the peasants have fallen on me, and have broken every limb I have; If you do not want me to lie where I am and perish, you must carry me away.” The she-wolf herself was only able to go away slowly, but she was in such concern about the fox that she took him on her back, and slowly carried him perfectly safe and sound to her house.
Then the fox cried to her, “Farewell, dear Mistress Gossip, may the roasting you have had do you good,” laughed heartily at her, and bounded off.
If the Grimm’s purpose was to make their readers distrustful of foxes, mission accomplished. Or was it to not let your own decisions about someone’s (a relative) integrity prevent you from thinking for yourself or seeing what’s right in front of you?
What do you think?
- Listen to a reading of Gossip Wolf and the Fox (SoundCloud)
- The “strong burning mixture” that was poured over the wolf was likely a lye solution.
- The resources I use to list the Aarne-Thompson classification do not include this tale. I’m not quite sure what this means, and I’m curious to find out if I will encounter this with other tales in my bindup.