The male principle is the one that transforms – the beast – but the woman does all the work. so Meredith writes in her excellent post on The Summer and Winter Garden, Grimm’s Fairy Tale, a tale i didn’t like at all. My edition of the collection didn’t even have it, so i read it online, on my wee little smartphone screen. this might be the main reason i disliked the tale.
in the tale, a merchant asks his three daughters what they would like as gifts from his business trip. the eldest wants a beautiful dress, the middle daughter wants pretty shoes, and the youngest wants a rose. min mid-winter. now, is she doing this on purpose? mid-winter is not time for roses. is she setting dear old dad up? why didn’t dad say she simply has to wait, it’s not possible? the daughter has set her father an impossible task, like Cinderella forced to pick out a bowl of lentils from the ashes, or the beautiful miller’s daughter asked to spin gold from flax. while Meredith correctly points out the many problematic, deeply patriarchal elements in the story, i can’t help but see the twinkle in the daughter’s eye when she asks for something impossible.
later, after the whole kidnapping by the beast, we learn the youngest daughter, now the beast’s wife, is living in luxury: castle, musicians, enchanted garden that is half-winter, half-summer. the works. “the beast did everything to make her happy, fulfilling even her unspoken desires.” … my, my, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal. does this beast-wife simply work within her constraints, and learn to accept her fate? she grows fond of the beast.
the daughter’s intuition leads her to inquire about her father, so the beast sets up his magic mirror remote viewing contraption, whereupon we see the father dying of a broken heart. the beast, later, also dies of a broken heart. what’s with this girl, the men around her die when she is not around! she is joy, she is radiance, without which we cannot thrive. joy and radiance sometimes ask us to perform impossible tasks. but if we tend to joy and radiance, and offer it everything, we will be rewarded, we will return from the dead.
i like the detail of the pile of cabbages. Meredith writes about “the Sorites paradox – when does a grain of sand become a heap” (new to me). when does too much grief tip the scales to full-blown depression? no jewels, no rose petals, just a bunch of rotting cabbages. a mundane vision, one that perhaps the original audience of this tale would be familiar with. and the next day, would they walk into their frozen fields, and see the pile of old cabbages gone to rot, and think: maybe? just maybe, there is something hopeful buried there…
i learned why this tale wasn’t in my collection, it was replaced by #88, The Singing, Soaring Lark. now, this is a fun one… i pick this one next.