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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Old Hildebrand

“Once upon a time lived a peasant and his wife, and the parson of the village had a fancy for the wife, and had wished for a long while to spend a whole day happily with her, and the peasant woman, too, was quite willing.”

Hey there, ONCE UPON A TIME! 20 fairy tales into Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, and this infamous story starter makes its first appearance. I haven’t been waiting for it, but since I immediately picked up on this first use I figured I’d give it some recognition.

Anyway, back to the story.

In Old Hildebrand, the parson of the village comes up with a plan to get the peasant out of the house so he and the peasant’s wife can enjoy some time together. The parson tells the peasant’s wife to feign ill, and insist that her husband go to listen to the parson’s sermon. The parson’s sermon happens to be about laurel-leaves which will bring a sick person back to good health right away, but these leaves can only be found on a faraway hill in Italy. What a coincidence, right? The peasant thinks so, and he sets off to get the laurel-leaves to cure his wife. Along the way, he meets an egg-merchant who points out the peasant’s stupidity, and hides him in his egg basket to return to the peasant’s home in order to expose the wife and the parson.

Once they arrive, the egg-merchant makes up a story about needing shelter for the night, and the wife lets him in. Once inside, the wife starts singing at the request of the parson: “‘I’ve sent my husband away from me / To the Göckerli hill in Italy.'” The parson then sings a verse, then the egg-merchant. It is not until his verse that we learn the peasant’s name: Hildebrand. Finally, the peasant jumps out of the basket and sings: “‘All singing I ever shall hate from this day, / And here in this basket no longer I’ll stay. / Hallelujah.'” He then drives the parson out of the house, and the story ends.

The parson, being the religious character he is in this story, adds an extra element to an already interesting situation. He purposely misleads the peasant looking for guidance, in an attempt to indulge his desires with that peasant’s wife – this is obviously not respectable behavior, but especially not so for someone who is trusted by and is a leader of a group (in this case, a village) of people/followers. I like that this is done, as it exposes that a spot on a holy high ground does not always equal out to a spot on a moral high ground.

There’s really nothing more I want to say about this fairy tale, so I will end this blog post by announcing that I finally got my hands on a book about the Grimm brothers (thank you, library!). The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World (Second Edition) is an examination of “the interaction between the Grimms’ lives and their work” by renowned  academic and folklorist Jack Zipes (in addition to many other books, he edited The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales). Just by reading the prologue of this 2002 edition, I think I’m going to enjoy Jack Zipes’ analysis. Here’s a piece of it:

Films (like many historians) have a propensity to twist history to reinvent it, and we have a propensity to accept what is cinematically popular as history. Thus Hans Christian Andersen, the troubled and desperate writer, becomes a cheerful singing bungler played by Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen (1952), and the Grimms have fared no better. For instance, there are two god-awful, kitschy films about the Brothers Grimms’ lives and how they came to write fairy tales – The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), starring Lawrence Harvey and Claire Bloom, and Once Upon a Brothers Grimm (1977), featuring Dean Jones and Paul Sand. Both “frame” the Grimms in such a way that the background to their lives and the purpose of their collecting tales are totally distorted to create lively entertainment. In both films, the Grimms come off more as loveable fops than serious scholars, and history itself is mocked. Entertainment is always more important than truth. We live in realms of fiction. Even the news is part of popular culture.

Oh yes, I am ready for this. I am thinking that I will be giving Jack Zipes’ book its own post once I finish it – I plan on finishing it as long is it’s not overwhelmingly dull – but as of this writing I’m not sure that post will go live this month. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll be carrying on with this Reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales project.



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