28
Aug
09

a fairytale

I’ve been reading “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde, which is all about gift economies and what it means to be an artist in today’s economic world. It’s pretty great, so far. And it includes a really nice  fairy tale that I thought I’d re-post here. The morals are pretty clear, I think: share your gifts and don’t cross your mom. It’s a little long, but I think it’s worth it, for it’s funny fairytale language. And I will insert a picture part way through, so you can have a break.

Once upon a time there was an old woman and she had a leash of daughters. One day the eldest daughter said to her mother, “it is time for me to go out into the world and seek my fortune.” “I shall bake a loaf of bread for you to carry with you,” said the mother. When the bread came from the oven the mother asked her daughter, “would you rather have a small piece and my blessing or a large piece and my curse?” “I would rather have a large piece and your curse,” replied the daughter.

Off she went down the road and when the night came wreathing around her she sat at the foot of a wall to eat her bread. A ground quail and her twelve puppies gathered near, and the little birds of the air. “Wilt thou give us a part of thy bread?” they asked. “I won’t, you ugly brutes,” she replied. “I haven’t enough for myself”. “My curse on thee,” said the quail, “and thy mother’s curse which is the worst of all.” The girl arose and went on her way, and the piece of bread had not been half enough.

She had not traveled far before she saw a little house, and though it seemed a long way off she soon found herself before its door. She knocked and heard a voice cry out, “who is there?” “A good maid seeking a master.” “We need that,” said the voice, and the door swung open.

The girl’s task was to stay awake every night and watch over a dead man, the brother of the housewife, whose corpse was restless. As her reward she was to receive a peck of gold and a peck of silver. And while she stayed she was to have as many nuts as she broke, as many needles as she lost, as many thimbles as she pierced, as much thread as she used, as many candles as she burned, a bed of green silk over her and a bed of green silk under her, sleeping by day and watching by night.
Green-giftOn the very first night, however, she fell asleep in her chair. The housewife came in, struck her with a magic club, killed her dead, and threw her out back on the pile of kitchen garbage.

Soon thereafter the middle daughter said her mother, it is time for me to follow my sister and seek my fortune.” Her mother baked her a loaf of bread and she too chose the larger piece and her mother’s curse. And what had happened to her sister happened to her.

Soon thereafter the youngest daughter said to her mother, “it is time for me to follow my sisters and seek my fortune.” “I had better bake you a loaf of bread,” said her mother, “and which would you rather have, a small piece and my blessing or a large piece and my curse?” “I would rather,” said the daughter,” have the smaller piece and your blessing.”

And so she set off down the road and when the night came wreathing around her she sat at the foot of a wall to eat her bread. The ground quail and her twelve puppies and the little birds of the air gather about. “Wilt thou give us some of that?” they asked. “I will, you pretty creatures, if you will keep me company.” She shared her bread, all of them ate their fill, and the birds clapped their wings about her ’til she was snug with the warmth.

The next morning she saw a house a long way off… [here the task and wages are repeated.]

She sat up at night to watch the corpse, sewing to pass the time. About midnight the dead man sat up and screwed up a grin. “If you do not lie down properly I will give you a good leathering with a stick,” she cried. He lay down. After a while he rose up on one elbow and screwed up a grin; and a third time he sat and screwed up a grin.

When he rose the third time she walloped him with the stick. The stick stuck to the dead man and her hand stuck to the stick and off they went! He dragged her through the woods, and when it was high for him it was low for her, and when it was low for him it was high for her. The nuts were knocking their eyes and the wild plums beat at their ears until they both got through the wood. Then they returned home.

The girl was given the peck of gold, the peck of silver, and a vessel of cordial. She found her two sisters and rubbed them with the cordial and brought them back to life. And they left me sitting here, and if they were well, ’tis well; if they were not, let them be.

The End.

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1 Response to “a fairytale”


  1. 1 tigerladykatie
    August 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I loved this part of “The Gift”, although I must admit i didn’t read much farther. But I’m going to pick it back up now, as I’m feeling inspired. How does Hyde interpret the fairy tale again?

    — Heather


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