This month: fairy tales from ancient Egypt!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ghost in the Glass


Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 99: The Ghost in the Glass

(Also known as The Spirit in the Bottle or The Genie in the Bottle)

There once lived a poor woodcutter, who worked from morning until late at night. When he had finally saved some money, he said to his son “You are my only child. I want to use the money I have earned with the sour sweat of my brow for your education. You should learn something honest and decent so you can support me in my old age. The time will come when my limbs become stiff and I will have to sit at home and cannot work.”

The youth went to a school of high learning and studied so diligently that all his teachers praised him. There he stayed for some time. But soon he had learned his way through quite a few subjects and realized he had still not mastered everything there was to know. The little bit that his father had acquired in poverty was all spent, so he returned home. “Ach,” the father said distressed “I cannot give you any more money. In these lean times I cannot even earn my daily bread.”
“Dear father,” the son replied. Don’t worry about it. If it is God’s will, things will go well for me. I will make the best of it.”

When the father went out into the forest to earn something, his son said “I will go with you and help you.” “Yes, my son,” the father replied, “But it will be difficult for you, you are not used to hard work, you won’t be able to manage. I only have one axe and not enough money left over to buy another.” “Then go to the neighbor,” the son replied. “He will loan you his axe until I have earned enough to buy my own.”

The father borrowed an axe from his neighbor and the next morning at the break of day, they went out together into the forest. The son helped his father and was happy and joyful. When the sun stood high overhead in the sky, the father said “We shall rest now and have lunch. Afterward, we will continue.” The son took his bread in his hand and said “You rest, father. I am not tired. I will walk a bit in the forest and look for bird’s nests.” “Oh, you fool,” the father replied. “Why would you want to run around idly in the forest? Afterward you will only be tired and won’t be able to lift your arms; stay here and sit with me.”

But the son went out into the forest, ate his bread, was very happy and looked behind the green branches to see if he could find a nest. He went back and forth until finally he came to a large, dangerous oak tree, which must have been many hundreds of years old for it would have taken more than five men holding hands to circle it’s girth. He stopped and gazed at the tree thinking “Many a bird must have built its nest in such a tree.” Suddenly he thought he heard a voice. He listened and finally could hear a low, muffled sound “Let me out, let me out!” He looked around but could find nothing. Finally he thought the voice was coming from below the earth. He called out “Where are you?” The voice replied “I am stuck here under the roots of the oak tree. Let me out, let me out!”

The student began to dig below the tree and search around the tree roots until he finally found a small hollow in which there was a glass bottle. He raised it in the air and held it up against the light. There he saw a little thing, it had the shape of a frog. It jumped back and forth in the glass. “Let me out, let me out!” it cried again. The student, who didn’t think any harm could come by it, removed the cork from the bottle. Immediately a spirit emerged and began to grow. It grew so quickly that it soon became a frightful fellow, as big as half of the tree where the student stood. “Do you know what your reward shall be for letting me out?” “No,” replied the student without fear, “How should I know that?” “I will tell you,” the spirit called out, “I will have to break your neck!” “You should have told me beforehand,” the student replied. “I would have let you stay stuck where you were. My head should be able to withstand you, but more people will have to be asked.”

“More people, ha!” the spirit cried out “You shall get what you deserve!” Do you think I stayed locked in there for so long out of charity? No it was my punishment. I am the powerful Mercurius. I must break the neck of whoever releases me.” “Wait,” replied the student. “Slow down, haste makes waste! First I must know that you really were sitting in that small bottle and that you are a true spirit. If you can go inside again, then I’ll believe it. Then you can do with me what you want.” The spirit replied full of scorn “That is not much to ask and easier to do,” he said as he pulled himself together becoming as thin and small as he was in the beginning. He went through the same opening and crept through the neck of the bottle. He was barely inside when the student popped the cork back on the top and threw the bottle under the oak roots, in its prior place. The spirit had been deceived.
Now the student wanted to return to his father but the spirit called out remorsefully “Ach, let me out, let me out.”

“No,” answered the student. “I won’t do it a second time. I won’t release the thing that threatened my life once before.”
“If you release me,” the spirit cried out, “I will give you so much that you have plenty all the days of your life!” “No,”replied the student. “You are lying to fool me like the first time.”
“Don’t throw away your luck,” the spirit replied. “I won’t do anything to you, but will reward you richly.”

The student mulled it over, “I’ll take up the wager. Perhaps he will really keep his word and I don’t think he can harm me.” He removed the cork and the ghost emerged again, grew in size and ballooned up into large giant. “Now you shall reap your reward,” the ghost said and he gave the student a small cloth, like a little bandage. “When you rub a wound with the tip of this cloth, it will be healed. If, on the other hand, you touch steel or iron with the other end, it will become pure silver.”
“I’ll have to try that,” the student said. He went to a tree, cut the bark with his axe and rubbed it with the end of the bandage. Immediately the wood closed up, grew together and was healed. “I see the things your said are correct,” the student said to the spirit. “We can now part ways.” The ghost thanked him for redeeming him and the student thanked the ghost for his gift and returned to his father.

“Where have you been?” the father asked “Why did you forget your work? I told you that you would not amount to anything.
“Be of good cheer, father, I will make it up to you.”
“Yes, make it up,” the father replied angrily. “How do you suppose doing that?”
“Watch, father. I will chop down the tree, so that it crashes to the ground.” He then took the bandage, rubbed his axe with it and struck a mighty blow. But because the iron had turned to silver, the blade bent upward. “Oh father. You have given me a bad axe, it is now bent.” The father became scared and said “What have you done! Now I will have to pay for the axe and I don’t know where I shall get the money! That’s some benefit I have reaped from your labors!”
“Don’t be angry,” the son replied. “I will pay for the axe.”
“Oh you blockhead!” the father cried. “How will you pay for the axe. You have nothing but what I give you; the only thing you have in your head are student schemes! You don’t understand a thing about chopping wood.”

After a while the student spoke: “Father, I can’t work anymore. Let’s call it quits.”
“What is the matter with you,” the father replied. “Do you think I want to go home and twiddle my thumbs? I still have to work, but you can leave.”
“Father, I am in these woods for the first time. I don’t know the way back alone, please come with me.” Because his anger had subsided, the father finally was convinced and went home.
“Go and sell the ruined axe and see what you get for it. The remainder I will have to earn to pay the neighbor.”

The son took the axe and went into the city to a goldsmith. The goldsmith tested it, placed it on a scale and said “It is worth four-hundred talers but I don’t have so much cash with me.” The student spoke “Give me what you have, the rest I shall loan you.” The goldsmith gave him three-hundred talers and owed him one-hundred. The student went home and said “Father I have the money. Go and ask the neighbor how much he wants for his axe.”

“I already know the answer” the old man replied. “He wants one-taler and six groschen.”
“So give him two talers and twelve groschen”, that is twice as much and plenty. You see, I have money enough,” and he gave his father one-hundred talers and said “You shall never lack anything again and shall live your life in comfort.”

“My God,” the old man replied. “How did you acquire such riches?” The son told him everything that had happened and how he had trusted his luck to snag such riches. With the remaining money he returned to school and continued learning. But because he could heal every wound with his bandage, he became the most famous doctor in the world.

To read more fairy tales:

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