A Grimm Project

242 fairy tales, 242 writing prompts.

Month: June, 2014

Thoughts on “Cinderella”

I’ve said it before: it’s so hard to write a freewrite inspired by the most well-known tales. There’s so much already in people’s minds when they think of these stories, and you worry that you won’t tap into something that feels right without it already having been done. Well, we’ve reached the juggernaut — Cinderella.

What’s tempting is to expound on all the things that people “forget” about the Grimms’ version of the tale, thanks to more popular retellings and films. For example, the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit into the shoe, that’s one that folks like to point out a lot. Or the fact that it’s the ghost of Cinderella’s mother, housed in a hazel tree, who is responsible for her attending the ball in finery, and not a fairy godmother. Any of these things that were left out of more salient versions of the tale would clearly be good places to begin a freewrite — a paragraph from the point of view of the dead mother, for instance, or the stepsister as she foolishly (though somewhat bravely) chops off her big toe.

That’s not even to mention all that remains essential in every version, which is evocative enough: the suffering child in an abusive home, the pair of sisters so warped by their mother’s obsessions that they are as cruel and vain as she is. The prince, and why exactly it is that he can’t forget the one woman at the ball who was afraid to tell him her name. There’s so much, see? And though it might seem, from the way some people describe their weddings or their travels through life, that what makes “Cinderella” such an enduring and relatable tale is the romance, or even the rags to riches narrative, I suspect — I hope, anyway — that it’s something else. I like to think that for all the “Cinderella” weddings out there, what keeps people coming back to this story is actually how much of a portrait of suffering and perseverance it is. The lesson is not about finding true love, but about being able to see wonder in a twig, a mouse, or your own self, and allowing that wonder to carry you to a safer place.

For more thoughts on Cinderella, visit my other blog, Something to Read for the Train.

Read the full tale as translated by D. L. Ashliman, available at Pitt.edu, and read my writing response here.

cinderella vintageprintabledotcom

A Milestone

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We’ve reached the second page of the table of contents. Up next: Cinderella!

020. The Brave Little Tailor

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

We sisters met at nightfall, something our husbands had ever been too thick, or too puffed up with bravado, to consider. We giants’ wives do not enjoy showing off our bulk. And so it was in shadows that we whispered — what are we to do about the tailor?

I’ll rip his head off his lanky neck with my own hands, said Hattie. I don’t care if anyone else comes with me.

Hush now, counseled Bertha. He killed seven men with one blow, and our husbands with less than the same.

My husband cowers in his cave since the tailor’s visit, said Elspeth. He’s never been in such a fright.  And not a word of vengeance for his friends! The children shouldn’t see him like this, reduced to a whimpering babe. I wish I didn’t have to.

Bertha’s right, whispered Minnie. He’s too much for any one of us. But all the more reason we should unite.

Yes, it’s up to all of us now, we all agreed. If any one of us were to claim that we were unafraid, it would have been a falsehood. The tailor, it seemed, was in possession of a fearsomeness that mere strength, size, and blood lust could not contend with. He had clearly outwitted our men, and wit is the most fearsome weapon.

But here’s what most forget, about a giant’s wife: she is clever. A giant’s wife is the one who soothes her violent husband while an Englishman hides in the pantry baskets. She is enormous, with brains proportionate to her size, unlike her mate. And the tailor, god willing, had already played his tricks.

We changed into our husbands’ leathers and breastplates and, for good measure, nabbed their clubs and spears as well. All the doing would need, though, once the man was caught, was but a one of our heavy fists. It was the catching — yes, that was where Death waited for us, ready to take his chance should we be led astray by one of the tailor’s ploys. But we knew where the man slumbered. We were ready.

Cate Fricke
June 2014

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 

Thoughts on “The Brave Little Tailor”

In her introduction to this tale in The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar makes a distinction between traditional trickster figures (Anansi, Coyote, etc.) and what makes a trickster in Grimm. Tricksters from Asian and Greek traditions (as well as African and Native American, I’d add), Tatar says, are “master[s] of craft and deception” and have “fleet-footed energy and transformative vitality.” German tricksters, such as the brave little tailor of this tale, are not so quick-witted, fleet, or transcendent: they’re fools.

In the Grimms’ tales, the more naive and simple the hero, the more he will undoubtedly gain by the story’s end. We’ve seen this before in “A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” in which the boy’s dim-wittedness means that he literally does not know how to be afraid. In “The Brave Little Tailor,” the tailor is so vain that when he kills seven flies with one swipe of fabric, he sets out to show the world his prowess. In both instances, the hero’s bravado makes them immune to fear or cowardice, and they end up besting far more terrifying foes than a gang of flies.

So what can we make of this irony? Is this an innately German trait, to value naivety, or are these tales simply meant to make the reader laugh? If that’s the case, then the joke’s on us, for the tailor ends up a king, and we simply move on to the next story.

Read the full tale as translated by D. L. Ashliman, available at Pitt.edu, and stay tuned for my writing response, to be posted soon!

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Illustration by Arthur Rackham