“A wonderful musician was walking through a forest, thinking of nothing in particular. When he had nothing more left to think about, he said to himself, ‘I shall grow tired of being in this wood, so I will bring out a good companion.'”
A wonderful musician he might be, but everything in this tale proves he is nothing more than a terrible person.
Content Warning: This tale and my discussion of it contain animal cruelty.
The way that the musician calls out for a companion is by playing his fiddle “so that the wood echoed.” A wolf hears it and comes up to the musician, who is horrified and says to himself “‘Oh, here comes a wolf! I had no particular wish for such company'”. The wolf tells the musician he would like to play, to which the musician replies “‘That is easily done…you have only to do exactly as I tell you.'” The musician walks to an oak tree and tells the wolf he must put his front feet into the cleft of the tree. “The wolf obeyed, but the musician took up a stone and quickly wedged both his paws with one stroke, so fast, that the wolf was a prisoner, and there obliged to stop. ‘Stay there until I come by again,’ said the musician, and went his way.”
Unfortunately the musician still wants a companion, so he plays his fiddle again. This time, a fox appears [to the musician’s disdain]. He resorts to animal imprisonment once again, by convincing the fox to put his front paws into the branches of a hazel hedge. The musician binds the feet to the branches and leaves the fox trapped there.
Once again the musician plays his fiddle, and once again an animal that the musician dislikes shows up. The hare compliments the musician’s talent and says it wants to learn how to play the fiddle, to which the musician responds by tying one end of a string around the neck of the hare and the other end to a tree. He then tells the hare to run twenty times around the tree, which causes the hare to be bound up on the trunk. “‘Wait there until I come back again,’ said the musician, and walked on.”
At this point, the wolf managed to get unstuck from the cleft of the oak tree, and “full of anger and fury he hastened after the musician to tear him to pieces.” He meets the fox and tears away the branches holding the fox hostage, and then they both meet the hare “and set him likewise free, and then they all went on together to seek their enemy.”
Meanwhile, the musician had played his fiddle once again, but this time “the sound had reached the ears of a poor wood-cutter, who immediately, and in spite of himself, left his work, and, with his axe under his arm, came to listen to the music.” The musician is pleased by this – “‘it was a man I wanted, not wild animals'” – and continued to play for the wood-cutter. The wolf, the fox, and the hare arrive on the scene to take their revenge on the musician, but the wood-cutter raises his axe to defend the musician, “as if to say, ‘Whoever means harm to him had better take care of himself, for he will have to deal with me!’ Then the animals were frightened, and ran back into the wood, and the musician, when he had played once more to the man to show his gratitude, went on his way.”
Apart from giving musicians and/or fiddlers a negative reputation, what can be learned from this tale that isn’t terrible? Even the wood-cutter, who is unaware of the musician’s attitude towards animals, resorts to threatening the creatures without understanding their motive. The musician does these terrible things to the wolf, fox, and hare boldly and without any consequences (sound familiar?); if the purpose of this tale is one of entertainment only (sans lesson), it’s not one for me.
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 151: Music Lessons for Wild Animals
- Watch and listen to an animated version of The Wonderful Musician
- In her poetry collection Transformations, Anne Sexton presented her own version of The Wonderful Musician