Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 24: Frau Holle

Remnants of an ancient oven in the woods in Switzerland

A widow had two daughters. One was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. But the woman preferred the ugly and lazy one, because she was her rightful daughter. The other girl had to do all the work and be the Cinderella of the household. Every day the poor girl went out to the big road and sat beside a fountain. She had to spin until the blood flowed from her fingers. One day the spindle became so covered with blood, the girl wanted to reach down into the fountain and wash it away. But the spindle slipped out of her hand and fell deep down into the pit of the well. The girl cried and ran to her stepmother and told her about her misfortune. 

Her stepmother scolded her so forcefully and was so pitiless that she said “You dropped the spindle, now you must fetch it.” The girl went back to the fountain and didn’t know what to do. In her terror she jumped into the fountain to retrieve the spindle. She lost consciousness and when she awoke and came to, she found herself in a beautiful meadow where the sun shone and many thousands of flowers bloomed. She got up and walked away and soon found herself in front of an oven. 

The oven was full of bread and the bread called out “Take me out, take me out. Otherwise I shall burn. I have been baked through for some time already!” The girl approached, took out the bread board, and removed all the loaves, one after another. 

Then she went her way and came to a tree. It hung full of apples. It called out “Oh shake me, shake me! We apples are all ripe!” The girl shook the tree so that the apples fell down as if it were raining. She shook until none were left hanging in the branches. And when she had gathered them all into a pile, she went her way. 

Finally she arrived at a house from which an old woman poked her head. But because the hag had such large teeth, the girl became frightened and wanted to run away. But the old woman called after her “Why are you frightened, dear child? Stay with me. If you do all the work properly in my house, things will go well for you. You must only make sure you make my bed well and carefully shake out my feather comforter so that the feathers fly. Then it will snow in all the world. I am Mistress Holle.”

Because the old woman spoke so reassuringly, the girl took heart and consented and entered into her service. She took care of everything to the old woman’s satisfaction and shook out the featherbed forcefully so that the feathers flew round like snow flakes. The girl had a good life with the woman. There was never an angry word and every day good victuals with boiled and roasted meats were served.

Now the girl had spent some time with Frau Holle. She became sad and in the beginning, did not know what was wrong. But in the end she knew that she was homesick. Even though she was a thousand times better off than at home, she had a longing for that place. Finally she said to the old woman “I am miserable and want to go home. Even if things are really better down here for me, I can’t stay any longer. I must go back up to my own people.”

Frau Holle replied “It pleases me that you want to return home. And because you have served me so well, I will bring you back up myself.” She took the girl by the hand and led her to a large portal. As the gate was opened and the girl stood underneath, a mighty shower of gold fell down and stuck to the child so that she was covered. “Because you were so diligent and hard-working, this is your reward,” Frau Holle said and she also returned the spindle, which had fallen into the fountain. The gate was closed and the girl found herself back up in the world, not far from her mother’s house. And when she arrived in the yard, the rooster sat on the fountain and cried

Our golden maid is back”

The girl went inside to her mother and because she was covered in gold, she was well-received by both mother and sister.

The girl told them everything she had experienced. When the mother heard about the enormous riches she had gained, she wanted the ugly and lazy daughter to have the same fortune. The lazy girl now had to sit by the fountain and spin. And so that her spindle would become covered with blood, she stabbed her finger by thrusting her hand into a rose hedge. Then she threw the spindle into the fountain and jumped after it. 

Like the other daughter, she arrived at the beautiful meadow and walked on the same path. When she came to the oven, the bread cried out “Pull me out, pull me out, otherwise I shall burn, I am already baked through!” The lazy girl replied “I don’t want to get dirty,” and ran off. She arrived at the apple tree, which called out “Oh, shake me, shake me. We apples are all ripe.” But she replied “That’s a fine request! One of you could fall on my head!” and she continued on. 

When she arrived at Frau Holle’s house, she was not frightened because she had already heard of her big teeth. She immediately entered into her service. The first day, she worked diligently, was busy and followed Frau Holle whenever she told her something. She remembered the rich reward of gold that the old woman would give her. But on the second day, she already began to get lazy. On the third day, even more so, and she did not even want to get out of bed. She refused to make Frau Holle’s bed, as was proper, and did not shake the feathers until they flew. 

Frau Holle soon became tired of this behavior and terminated her service. The lazy one was quite satisfied and now thought the gold rain would come as reward. Frau Holle led her out to the same portal, but when she stood underneath, instead of gold, a giant pot full of pitch poured out over her. “This is the reward for your service,” Frau Holle said and closed the door. The girl returned home, but now was covered with black pitch. The rooster on the fountain crowed out:

Our dirty maid is back.”

The pitch stuck fast to the maid and as long as she lived, it never wore off.

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