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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Old Rinkrank

“There was once upon a time a King who had a daughter, and he caused a glass-mountain to be made, and said that whosoever could cross the other side of it without falling should have his daughter to wife.”

This fairy tale did not go in the direction I guessed it would. I figured a man would fall in love with the Princess and be challenged to cross the mountain – which did happen. However, the Princess says she will go with him to the mountain, “and would hold him if he were about to fall.” The King apparently had no say in this part of the challenge, as he did not speak against her going along – is this bizarre to only me?

“So they set out together to go over it, and when they were halfway up the Princess slipped and fell, and the glass mountain opened and shut her up inside it, and her betrothed could not see where she had gone, for the mountain closed immediately.”

This I was not expecting: that the Princess would be the one to fall, and that the actual danger of the mountain would not be its height but its ability to suddenly open and swallow someone up, then close just as quickly. This absurdity made me look back at that first line, which states that the King “caused a glass-mountain to be made.”

“Caused” is an interesting word here, because it implicates the King in the mountain’s creation, but avoids exposing the King’s specific connection to the mountain’s physical creation. Did the King order someone to make it/is its existence beneficial or positive? Was its creation a blow to the King? Did he fail to accomplish something and an evil force constructed the mountain to spite him? Is it a curse? Alternatively, when Google translating that part from Deutsch directly to English, there is an interesting difference – “caused” becomes “had”.

“Had a glass mountain made” shifts the ambiguity to a more clear picture. The King definitely decided himself that the mountain would exist. Am I grasping at straws here? Well, the reason I am grasping is that the significance of the rest of the story sort of depends on or is further complicated by which word or narrative the reader believes. If he ordered someone to create the mountain, he wouldn’t necessarily be aware of its activity, or the activity within it. If he himself created the mountain, how would he not be aware of its properties? For the sake of keeping this post under thousands of words long, I’m just going to say that – especially in the case of translations and even modern editions of stories – WORDS ARE GREAT. 

So after the Princess is swallowed up, her betrothed returns to the King and they both express their misery. The King “had the mountain broken open where she had been lost,” but to no avail – the Princess was not to be found.

In the next paragraph, we rejoin the Princess far into the earth, where a random old man “with a very long gray beard” meets her and tells her that she must be his servant, or else he will kill her. She agrees to serve him, and he puts her to work washing dishes, making his bed, and cooking him dinner. Every morning, the old man would take “his ladder out of his pocket, and set it up against the mountain and climbed to the top by its help, and then he drew up the ladder after him.” At the end of every day, he would return  with “a heap of gold and silver.” The story goes on to say that the Princess lived there “for many years, and had grown quite old,” and the old man insisted on calling her Mother Mansrot, and had her call him Old Rinkrank. No explanation is given for this, of course. 

One day after Old Rinkrank left, and Mother Mansrot completed her work, she went around the house – even though she arrived from a hole in the mountain, this place of habitation is described as a house – and shut the doors and windows, except for one. Old Rinkrank comes back and is not happy to see that he is shut out, so he pleads to be let in via rhyme. That doesn’t convince the Princess to let him in, so he runs around and finds the open window. He can’t fit his head into the window, but his beard fits through, and when it does, “Mother Mansrot came by and pulled the window down with a cord which she had tied to it, and his beard was shut fast in it.” Old Rinkrank cries out, but Mother Mansrot told him she would not do a thing unless he gave up the ladder. He does, and she climbs up and out of the mountain, holding a ribbon fastened to the window so she could pull it open when she reached the top. She returns to her father and her betrothed and explains what happened; luckily they are still waiting for her. All of them go back and dig up the mountain (why wasn’t this done right after the Princess was swallowed up?), and the King orders Old Rinkrank’s death right before taking the gold and silver. “The Princess married her betrothed, and lived right happily in great luxury and joy.” 

This fairy tale had the typical fairy tale elements: love thwarted by tragedy but returned to for a happily ever after ending; a whimsical extra/side character and entrapment; gold and silver; death – and one minimally familiar element: a magical mountain. Simeli Mountain is similar to the glass one in this tale, with riches inside and a secret entrance. There is at least one more Grimm’s Fairy Tale that features a mountain, and other than the physical size, assumed wildness, and connection to the natural world they provide, I’m interested to learn about the significance of these land forms in fairy tales. 

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  • You Can Always Start Now

    I’m leaning more towards the word cause or whatever the original language was. I’m not sure what to take away from this – some stories there is a learning. Just read The Flounder and Fisherman ??? Grimm’s fairy tale and definitely had a take away!!

    • Kelsey

      It has been interesting to see how the stories vary between tales of entertainment and tales of morality. I still have a ways to go before I read that one – it’s number 160 in my book.

  • simonmbrooks

    You brought up some interesting points. It makes me wonder that if the king has the glass mountain made, did he know it would open? He should if he had or caused it to be made. Did he know of the old man? Again, he should if he had it built. Did he plan to have his daughter vanish or was the plan that his daughter would never marry and it is the man (all men) who should have fallen through the magical glass (glass is after all a liquid – quite often liquid is seen as love -Cups in Tarot etc)? Rinkrank goes to collect gold and silver – his promised payment from the king? A ransom now? The king too frightened to bring the glass mountain down in case Rinkrank gives away the secret to his daughter? Maybe this is why, when she escapes, the king has the old man killed. This is a very interesting story and, if taken from this point of view, very dark indeed! I love it.

    • Kelsey @ There's Something About KM

      Thrilled to read your questions and speculations, since I was filled with them myself while reading this tale! Old Rinkrank is still one of the most interesting stories in this collection (in my opinion), as it seems so intentionally detail-oriented while maintaining that whimsical, face value quality that many [most] other fairy tales have. I love it too.

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