Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 17: The White Snake

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A very long time ago a king lived, whose wisdom was renowned throughout the entire land. There was nothing he did not know and it was as if news of the most hidden things was carried to him through the air. He had a very strange habit. Every afternoon, when everything was carried away from his dinner table and no one was present, he had a trustworthy servant bring him one more bowl. But the bowl was covered and the servant himself did not know what was under the lid for the king kept it closed and would not eat from the bowl until he was completely alone. This went on for some time until one day the servant who was carrying the bowl away was gripped by a curiosity he could not resist. He took the bowl into his chamber. When he had carefully closed the door he raised the lid and looked underneath and there lay a white snake. As he gazed upon it he could not restrain his desire to taste some. He carefully cut off a piece and placed it in his mouth. It had barely touched his tongue when he heard the strange whisper of fine voices. He went toward the sound and listened. He noticed that the sound was coming from sparrows, which were talking to each other and were telling everything they had seen in field and forest. Eating the snake had given him the ability to understand the language of animals.

Now it happened that just at that time the queen had lost her most beautiful ring and the suspicion of theft fell on the trusted servant, who had access to everything. The king called him to appear before him and threatened him under harsh words that if the culprit was not found by the morning, he would be considered the guilty one and charged. It didn’t help for him to assert his innocence. He was left with no better prospects. In his trouble and fear he went down to the courtyard and considered what he could do to alleviate his troubles. The ducks sat peacefully near the pond and rested, they preened their feathers with their bills and while resting, held a confidential conversation. The servant stood still and listened. They told each other how they had all waddled out in the morning and found such good food. One said sorrowfully, “How heavy it lays in my stomach, for in my haste I swallowed a ring, which lay under the queen’s window.” The servant immediately grabbed the duck by its neck, carried it into the kitchen and ordered the cook “Kill this one, for its plump and ready.”
“Yes,” the cook replied and weighed it in his hand. “This one wasted no time in fattening itself and should have been roasted a long time ago.” He cut off its head and when it had been removed, he found the queen’s ring in the duck’s stomach. The servant could now easily prove his innocence to the king. The king, who wanted to make good the injustice done to the servant, permitted him to request a favor and promised him the best honorary position at his court.

But the servant ruled out everything the king proposed. He asked for only a horse and travel money because he wanted to see the world and wander for a while. When his request had been fulfilled, he made his way and arrived at a pond where he noticed three fish, which had become entrapped in a pipe and were gasping for water. Although it was said that fish were without speech, he could understand their laments that they should die such a pitiable death. Because he had a compassionate heart, he dismounted and set the three captives back in the water. They wriggled and splashed for joy, stretched their heads out of the water and called to him, “We shall thank you and yours, that you have saved us.” He rode on and after a while it seemed as if he heard a voice at his feet in the sand. He listened carefully and heard how the ant king cried “If only men with their clumsy animals would stop stepping on us! The stupid horse with his heavy hooves is kicking my people without any mercy!” He turned to take a side path and the ant king called to him “We will remember you and yours.” The path led to a forest and there in the woods sat a raven father and raven mother; they stood by their nest and threw out their young. “Away with you, you gallows birds,” they cried. “We can no longer feed you until you are satisfied. You are big enough and can feed yourself.” The poor birds fell to the ground and fluttered and beat their feathers and cried “We helpless children, we should feed ourselves and can’t even fly! What else can we do but die of hunger here!” The good youth dismounted, killed his horse with his sword and left it to the ravens for food. They hopped toward him, ate their fill and cried “We will remember you and yours!”

Now he had to use his own legs and when he had walked a long way he came to a large city. There was much noise and the streets were filled with people. A rider pushed his way through the throng and announced that the king’s daughter was looking for a husband, but whoever would woo her must complete a difficult task. If he could not accomplish it with success, he would lose his life. Many had already tried and wagered their lives for naught. When the youth gazed upon the king’s daughter, he was blinded by her radiant beauty. He forgot the danger and went before the king and announced himself a suitor.

No sooner said than he was taken to the sea and before his eyes a golden ring was thrown into the waves. The king ordered him to fetch the ring from the ocean floor and added, “If you return to the water’s surface without the ring, you will be sent back to the ocean’s depths where you will die in the waves.” Everyone regretted the demise of the beautiful youth and left him standing on the beach by himself. He stood and considered what to do for he saw three fish swimming and they were no others than those whose life he had saved. The middle fish held a shell in his mouth, which he placed on the shore at the feet of the youth. When the youth picked up the shell and opened it, the golden ring lay inside. Full of joy he brought it to the king and expected him to grant him the said reward. But the proud king’s daughter, when she heard that he was not of equal birth, scorned him and demanded that he should fulfill another task. She went down to the garden and spread ten sacks full of millet in the grass. “You must pick up the millet by tomorrow before the sun comes up,” she said, “and no grain may be missing.” The youth sat in the garden and thought about how he could complete the task. But he could think of nothing and sat sadly. He awaited his death at the break of dawn. When the first sun beams fell in the garden, he saw the ten sacks and all were standing full next to each other. Not a granule was missing. The ant king with his thousand upon thousand of ants had arrived at night and the grateful animals had gathered the millet with enormous diligence. The king’s daughter came down to the garden herself and with wonder gazed upon the youth and saw he had accomplished what had been set before him. But she could not overcome her proud heart and spoke “He has solved both tasks, but he shall not become my husband until he has brought be an apple from the tree of life.” The youth did not know where the tree of life stood but took up the journey. He thought he would walk as long as his legs could carry him, but he had no hope of ever finding the tree of life. When he had already walked through three kingdoms and arrived in a forest in the evening, he sat under a tree and wanted to go to sleep. Suddenly he heard a noise in the branches above and a golden apple fell into his hands. Three ravens flew down to him and sat on his knee and said “We are three young ravens, who you saved from starvation. When we grew up and heard that you were looking for the golden apple, we flew over the ocean to the end of the earth where the tree of life stands and have brought you the apple.” Full of joy the youth made his way home and brought the beautiful king’s daughter the golden apple. Now there was no excuse. They divided the apple of life and ate it together. Her heart was filled with love for him and together they lived to old age in undisturbed happiness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A friend in India writes the following about the White Snake:

So , the white snake's diet really helped the poor fellow!
This can be attributed to the fact that white snakes are rare to find. They do exist in nature, biologically speaking these white snakes actually have a mutation due to which they don't have any pigmentation and are rendered white in colour.
Th fairytales related to white snakes may be trying to correlate this phenomenon with the speciality of the white snakes.....