Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fairy Tale of the Little Ringed Snake

(Illustration by Tomi Ungerer, Das Grosse Liederbuch)

Fairy Tale of the Little Ringed Snake, Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 105 Version I

There once lived a little child and every day its mother gave it a small bowl with milk and broken pieces of bread. The child always took the little bowl and went out into the yard, sat down and ate.

But when the child began to eat, a house snake would often creep out of a crack in the wall. It lowered its little head and lapped up the child’s milk, eating right along. The child was pleased with its companion and if it sat alone with its little bowl and the snake did not appear immediately, it cried out:

“Snake, come fast, come swift,
Come here you little thing,
Take from me these crumbs,
And lick the milk refreshing.”

The snake came slithering out and enjoyed the refreshing milk. It also showed its gratitude by bringing the child secret treasures, all manner of pretty things, sparkling stones, pearls and golden toys. But the snake only drank the milk and left the crumbs alone.

Once the child took its little spoon and rapped the snake’s little head and said “You silly thing, you must eat the crumbs too!” When the mother, who was standing in the kitchen, heard the child talking and when she saw that it was hitting a snake with its spoon, she ran out with a piece of firewood and killed the goodly animal.

From that time forward there was a change in the child. The child had grown big and strong as long as the snake had eaten beside it. But now it lost its rosy cheeks and became thin. It wasn’t long until the bird of death appeared at the child’s window one night and began to cry. And the robin gathered leaves and twigs and wove a funeral wreath and soon thereafter the child lay on the bier.

Translation Copyright


Katew said...

Good choice of story. I have never even seen a variant of this one. I wonder, is the message an early one on the easy way humans mistreat animals?
The snake is the hero here, if there is a hero.

Rapunzel said...

Thank you for your comment, I've been remiss in updating my blog, just lazy I guess.
Anyway, I think you are correct in reading the story as a cautionary tale about humans' mistreatment of animals.
Jacob Grimm suggests a meaning along the same line.
He sees the the Unke or House Snake as having a similar role as House Ghost, i.e. it is the spirit or heart of a household or family, like a Tomte.
He says in Deutsche Mythologie that these "House snakes or Unken appear to lonely children. They drink milk with them from their little bowls. They carry golden crowns, which they remove from their heads when drinking. Sometimes they forget the crown and leave it with the child. They guard children in their cradles and bring them treasures. Killing such a creature brings tremendous misfortune. Almost all of these snakes have the distinction that they drink milk and carry golden crowns, which (Grimm says) brings them closest to the idea of the benevolent, helpful house ghost." If you harm the snake, you harm the child and by extension yourself and your own family. (Very loose translation but the German is pretty dense!)
I guess I would even say the story underscores a mostly invisible inner-connectedness that we all share, or something like that!