Sunday, June 27, 2010

Teaching My Children

This is what I shall tell them:

At the christening of your long-wished-for daughter, do not overlook any fairy, otherwise your daughter will fall asleep - some say surrounded by briar roses, others say by fire, and there shall be no more spindles in your kingdom. What the German brothers might not be telling you is that the Prince's mother is an ogress, who might try to eat the princess at dinner. But then again, I might be mistaken, and the sleeping princess might simply be a valkyrie.
What the German brothers also hide from you is that both little girl and grandmother were devoured, and there came no hunter to save them.
Evil stepmothers are always around, apparently, envious of your beauty and kindness:
1. If you have brothers, take care of them: your stepmother might turn the six of them into swans - or the seven of them into ravens. She might also curse the waters of a spring, which will turn your only brother into a deer;
2. If she has two other daughters, then the three of them will make you sleep among the cinders. In that case, make sure you always have a pumpkin around. And the smaller your feet, the better for you! You'll also attend three balls - and not only one, as some would have you believe;
3. If your evil stepmother has only one other daughter, she'll send you to the well to fetch water - but worry not: diamonds and flowers will fall from your mouth henceforth, whereas your sister shall speak of nothing but viapers and toads;
4.If she's got no other daughters, then she might possess a mirror mirror on the wall, and quizz it on who the fairest of them all really is. In that case, she'll try to have you killed - but if your skin's as white as snow you might be spared. You might even get away with breaking and entering a dwarves' house! Just make sure you don't accept laces, combs and apples from old ugly peddlers, or you might choke to almost certain death. Luckily, the dwarves are skillful enough to make you a crystal coffin.
But dwarves are not always kind, mind: some will spin straw into gold, but only if you promise to give them your first-born. Guessing his name will be a handful, but also the only way out of it! Others are really ungrateful, and treat you badly each time you save them - you, with your hair as red as a rose, and your sister, with her skin as white as snow. But if a gentle bear comes along, all will be well.
And don't confuse the two fair-skinned princesses: one is hyphenated, and the other is not.
But even good mothers can harm you, albeit not on purpose, and make you forget your loved one, when they come at night to place a motherly kiss on your forehead.
Evil husbands too, you may encounter some on your way - beware of blue beards and English crowns! Some evil husbands might turn out to be your own father, resulting in you being wrapped up in all kinds of fur.
We have eyes to see, remember. So if you look in the mirror and see yourself not wearing anything at all, well, that's because you ARE wearing nothing at all. Trust your eyes, no matter what.
For all we know, the greedy king might still be ferrying people over to the other side of the river - who would tell him to give the oars to his passenger? Only tell him that after you're safe and sound on the other side.
Do not allow your maid-in-waiting to talk back to you, or she might take your place and marry the prince herself.
Trust John at all times, he's always at your service, even when he draws blood from your loved one - but do not trust wolves.
If you're experiencing a sleepless night, look under the matresses: there might be a pea underneath it all.
If you're living in the garden of eternal summer, know then that your true love lives now in a palace of winter and, with glass splinters in his eyes and heart, does not know how to spell "eternity".
Know that a swan is always a good thing: it might be one of your brothers or a fair maiden; it can also be a formerly ridiculed duckling, whose beauty now all admire.
Be careful when you sit on a wall, for you may have a great fall - and then, not even all the king's men and horses (reportedly, threescore of them) will be able to put you together again!
If you're forced to go to Baba Yaga's house, be sure to take your mother's doll and blessing with you.
On your way to the Underworld, seeking Pershephone's beauty, eat nothing but bread.
If you see a crow trying to free a dove, try to befriend him, and if you see a giant egg, do not break it, for the Roc will come and destroy all of you.

The Rule of Three never fails, for good or evil: the third pig's house will be the only one to withstand the wolf's blow, the third goat will throw the troll off the bridge, and the farmer's wife will cut the tails of three blind mice; there shall be three cursed springs, three balls to attend, and three chances to get the dwarf's name right; you shall attempt to climb the beanstalk three times, three times shall your stepmother try to poison you and three tasks shall Venus give you. Three animals will appear to you (a carp, a raven and an owl) and if you help them, they shall help you in return. The devil's grandmother will give you three golden hairs, and the answer to three ridlles. Beware of the third kiss of the Snow Queen, for it will kill you. And up to this day, no one knows who ate the three bears' porridge - was it a pretty little girl with golden locks or a foul-mouthed old woman?
The third and youngest son is despised by the others - but is also the cleverest, the kindest and the most persistent. The third and youngest daughter is the fairest by far, the only one who'll keep her word and the only one to marry or survive. 
But rules are meant to be broken, or so I've been told: the middle sister was the one to have two eyes (while the eldest had one, and the youngest had - guess how many? - three), and was the only one to marry a knightly prince. And while the youngest Elliot was, indeed, the first to be married, it was the middle Elliot, the easily persuaded one, to make the better match. And there was also an eldest daughter, in Ingary, who turned out to be the luckiest - assuming that marrying the wizard from Wales is, indeed, luck!
Whatever bargain you strike, stick to your word no matter what - or else the children of your town will forever disappear.
And don't make uneven bargains with enchanted beings - you'll end up giving your daughters to witches in exchange for radishes, or to hedious beasts for a single rose. Or your cow for beans.

But then again, all of that was a long time ago - and many of those people turned out quite well, so what do I know?

(Inspired by Neil Gaiman's Instructions.)


RicAdeMus said...

The cautionary tales from the Brothers are too depressing, but tack on a happy ending and they're perfect for children.

I like the song that threatens to put the kid's cradle in a tree-top--that will teach them to obey next time!

You've given me quite a reading assignment for the week--I'm not familiar with all of those stories.

Have a great week!

Rml said...

Very interesting comment: indeed, the only thing that leads pple into thinking these are tales for children are the happy endings, and the wicked being punished some way or another in the end. But some stories are frightfully gory (the little mermaid, little red riding hood and pinnochio), or depressing (the snow queen, for one, is just sooooo gloomy!)!
Funny that you should mention that lullaby: I was just telling my students about it yesterday! I mentioned that I found the lyrics simply appaling! I'm very much surprised that kids do not grow traumatized by it.
Hahaha, I'm a fairy tale addict, and like to compare versions and buy books about them. Some of the ones I mentioned are somewhat obscure - enjoy all the links! And hail Wikipedia!