Wicked Motherly Love…

Welcome again fairy tale adventurers. Today’s fairy/folk tale is possibly one you haven’t heard of, I certainly hadn’t until I read it. This should in theory be a simple continuation of yesterday’s post on Hansel & Gretel (How To Grow Up Courageously), but like I said before they seem a little bit different to me and I’m not sure they belong in the Hansel & Gretel section. But I guess we are about to find out what The Juniper Tree has in store for us.

The Grimm Brothers yet again make an appearance on my blog and their story goes like this…

There’s a happily married couple but maybe they aren’t so happy because they want children and don’t seem to be able to have any. One snowy day while sat under a juniper tree the wife cuts her finger (the dingbat) and the blood falls on the snow. She sighs and wishes she had a kid that was red as blood and white as snow (hang on a minute, haven’t I heard this somewhere before?). Anyway nine months later wifey miraculously gives birth to a baby boy. But the trouble is when she sees the baby she is so happy she dies… The husband is pretty bummed about this, obviously, but he buries her under the juniper tree and eventually gets over it and remarries. In walks the dreaded stepmother! The man has a daughter with his new wife and she loved her daughter, she just happened to feel sick every time she looked at her stepson. He stood in the way a lot, at home he was always getting in the way and he stood in the way of her daughter inheriting all the money.

At some point the evil stepmother is “possessed by the devil” at least that’s what she claims. So when her stepson is reaching into their apple chest (I know, I can’t say I keep my apples in a chest either, and also there’s that stepmother and apples link again, more snow white in this than I would have expected). Anyway the stepson reaches into the chest of apples and stepmother slams the lid down tight on his neck. She does such a good job she goes clean through and decapitates the poor little mite. The stepmother in her wisdom realises she could get in some real trouble for this so she tricks her own daughter into thinking she did it (now there’s some parenting for you, convince your kid they cut their half brothers head off). Her daughter doesn’t want to get in trouble either so she agrees to keep quiet about the whole thing and to get rid of the body the stepmother chucks it in a stew. So when the husband comes home to eat his dinner he gets a special treat, awkwardly he thinks it’s the best stew he ever had… The daughter is still feeling pretty guilty about all this so she collects up the bones, wraps them in a silk handkerchief and buries them by the juniper tree. Naturally this causes a fire to start, a bird to rise from the flames and start heading off on a plan of revenge. First stop he heads to the goldsmith and sings so beautifully (about his death…) that he’s given a gold chain. Next stop was a cobbler (shoe maker) who he sang his heart out to (again about his death) until he got a lovely pair of red shoes (oooh Wizard of Oz?). This weird bird’s final stop was the mill, where he sang for the miller in exchange for a millstone. Now it was time to put his plan into action, he flew home with his collection of crap (I have literally no idea how a bird flew while carrying a mill stone, have you seen those things? They are bloody heavy). So the bird starts singing outside his home and when he does his father thinks it’s so lovely he goes out to listen, he’s rewarded with a gold chain. When he goes back in he tells his wife and daughter about it. The daughter is excited and heads off out herself, well she gets a lovely pair of red shoes (can you see where this going?). She heads back inside and tells her parents all about it. The evil stepmother isn’t feeling too happy today and feels a sense of impending doom (just so happens she’s spot on with that) but she thinks maybe she’ll feel better if she goes out and listens to the bird (boy was she wrong). As soon as she steps out the door the bird drops that massive mill stone on her and she’s not much more than a puddle on the floor. There’s some pyrotechnics and when the husband and daughter come out to investigate who should be standing there but the little boy, good as new. Then they went about their lives as though the stepmother had never existed…

I hope you can see why I wasn’t too convinced by their similarity to Hansel & Gretel. It seems more like Snow White than anything else we have looked at so far. Just the stepmother is a bit more successful at killing her unwanted stepchild. It seems like we are re-learning that stepmothers are evil, fathers are wet blankets who marry the wrong women and sisters are kind of useful but also help get you into trouble in the first place. Huh, maybe it is like Hansel and Gretel after all… We’ve also got that apple for symbolism, literally every time there’s an apple in a story (especially fairy/folk tales) it is supposed to be a “gentle” reminder of how wicked Eve was for eating that apple… and that all women are prone to sin (not men though…). In a way you also get to see a theme from Hansel and Gretel about children growing up, becoming independent and providing for their family. That little boy (in the form of a bird) went out, collected some nice things for his father and sister and he broke free of his “mother”.

Next up is a story penned by a chap called Joseph Jacobs, I think in 1890 (not too old then). It’s called The Rose Tree and it goes like this…

There once was a man who had two children, a girl by his first wife and a boy by his second (why are there never stepfathers? I mean statistically speaking women live longer than men so why are there so many remarried men?). The girl was beautiful, skin white as milk, lips like cherries and golden silky hair that hung to the ground (ooh a bit of Snow White and Rapunzel this time). Her brother and father loved her dearly but unsurprisingly the stepmother hated her. One day the stepmother sends her to go and buy some candles. On the way back she has to get over a stile (pretty standard fare in the English countryside) and to do this she puts the candles down and clambers over. Only trouble is a dog runs up, grabs the candles and dashes off. So she heads back to the shop, buys some more candles and does the same damn thing again. Dog runs up, grabs the candles and dashes off. Naturally she repeats the whole thing for a third time… Dog runs up, grabs the candles and dashes off (what is the dog doing with these candles?) and the girl has to go home in tears because she spent all the money and has no candles to show for it. The evil stepmother pretends not to mind and offers to comb the girl’s hair for her (oh dear, we already learned in Disney just got Grimm that mothers and combs are a bad combination). But this one may surprise you, instead of finding some way to turn a comb into a weapon she just chops her head off with an axe… The wicked stepmother served up the girl’s heart and liver in a stew for dinner but the husband didn’t like it much, thought it had an odd taste and the brother refused to eat any. Instead he heads on out to bury his sister under a rose tree (there is no mention of the brother knowing anything about his sisters brutal murder so I get a bit lost here). One day the rose blooms and out pops a pretty bird. The bird does the same thing as in The Juniper Tree, sings it’s heart out in exchange for a pair of shoes, a gold watch and chain, and a millstone  (again I have no idea how the bird flies while carrying a mill stone). Shoes for brother, watch and chain for father. And yep, you guessed it mill stone for the stepmother, another wicked stepmother gets flattened.

It’s pretty much the same story but this time we get to see a girl take the role of protagonist. There’s definitely something to be said for the equality in how the girl from this story and the boy in the last go about their plan. It’s an identical plan, identical set of actions and an identical outcome for the stepmother. But this time there’s no resurrection… the girl doesn’t get to re-emerge alive and well (it makes more sense but it does seem kind of unfair). There’s also no apple this time so we lose that symbolism, which I suppose is nice (not every wicked action should be blamed on Eve really) but once again it’s a wicked stepmother, the father is a wet blanket again and the sibling plays a pivotal role in the story.

But if you thought those women were bad just wait until you hear all about Pippety Pew’s own mother. This one is, I’m guessing, a pretty old Scottish folk tale because I’ve got no author. It’s much shorter than the others too but relies a lot on a little song that I can’t be bothered to keep repeating.

There’s a man who works in the fields, he has two kids (a boy and a girl) and a wife. While he’s out working one day his wife is cooking up a hare that he had caught. While she’s cooking it she keeps on tasting it to “check the seasoning”, that was until she had eaten it all… To get around this problem she calls her son in to have his hair combed (again with the combs). She killed him, lobbed him in the cooking pot and served him up for dinner. She didn’t do a very good job of disguising the meat though because the dad does seem somewhat suspicious of the hand and foot in his dinner (the absence of his son has gotta help with that riddle). But the father eats up anyway and the daughter collects up the bones to bury them. A dove flaps out soon enough and heads off to sing in exchange for clothes, silver and a mill stone (I guess this was the only heavy thing people could think of). The clothes go to his sister, the silver to his father and once again the millstone to mummy dearest. Then the dove flew off leaving the father and daughter live happy and die happy. (I’m hoping not… together… but there is a lot of Oedipus and Electra complex theory in children’s lit)

Wow these fairy/folk tale mothers are brutal. That’s what I’ve learned. In Red Riding Hood the mother was just irresponsible. In Snow White it was always the step mother. But in Hansel and Gretel and Pippety Pew  it’s their actual mother that tries or is successful at killing them… Parenting has changed a lot since then and not just in stories. I’m not exaggerating when I say that mother’s were not always so maternal, instances of child mortality were so high women would have a lot of children and not get all that attached to them. It’s tough to consider because nowadays maternal love is kind of a big deal. It’s my mother’s birthday this month… I should do something to say thanks for not killing me…

Maybe this story is one of the best examples of how these weren’t really intended for children to begin with, and maybe that’s why we aren’t all that familiar with it. It seems like the moral of the story is not to kill your step/children, in which case it’s intended for women and not children. We have had a lot of lady villains in these tales so next up I’m going to look at Blue Beard. Yeah I hadn’t heard of it either and sadly it’s not about pirates. But it’ll be a change of pace for us with regard to female villainy.

I hope your enjoying these romps through fairy land with me. I already linked in Snow White and Hansel & Gretel so if you missed it here’s Red is better than White.

S. Hansen


One thought on “Wicked Motherly Love…

  1. Pingback: Choosing A Spouse 101 – 25,000 Light-years

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