Ahh, October is upon us again, and you know what that means! That’s right, Halloween! As I’ve said before, Halloween is basically a holiday revolving around stories, particularly creepy ones. For good or for ill, I’m a sucker for a good scary story, but invariably I’ll be up late thinking I see shadows or hearing ghosts making weird noises…which just end up being an overactive imagination and an old apartment building.
But you know where some of the weirdest, goriest stories come from?
Seriously! If you read the original versions of some of your favorite tales you’d be surprised what has been conveniently removed over the years to be more child-friendly. Like Cinderella’s stepsisters cutting off toes and heels fit into the glass slipper, or the wolf actually eating Red Riding Hood and Grandmother, or the Little Mermaid’s new legs giving her excruciating pain every time she took a step until she turned into sea foam and DIED.
But those are more commonly known. There are OTHER Grimm fairy tales out there, oh yes, and they never got the publicity. And that’s because they are weird, twisted little stories with creep factors and gore that would make great bizarre art house movies.
But don’t take my word for it. I found a CMU site with a bunch of Grimm fairy tales listed, and when I looked a few of them over, they inspired me to do this little Halloween blog series. All the stories I’m reviewing come from this site. (They suggest a better version of these stories have been posted elsewhere, but it’s a dead link.) Feel free to peruse yourself, but beware the lack of punctuation and other grammatical things.
In the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing a few of these stories I found to be particularly weird, gory or odd. Hope you enjoy, and if nothing else, bask in the bizarreness of the stuff our ancestors passed off as normal entertainment.
THE HARE’S BRIDE
[Original source] – I’ve added punctuation and fixed formatting here.
So, as all good fairy tales go, there is a cottage with a woman and her daughter with a garden full of cabbages. Except there is a hare that is always coming and eating the cabbages. So the mother tells her daughter to go get rid of the hare. So she does, and this happens:
“Sh-sh, hare, you will be eating all our cabbages.”
Says the hare, “Come, maiden, and seat yourself on my little hare’s tail, and come with me into my little hare’s hut.”
The girl will not do it.
Oookay…I mean, fairy tales are full of talking animals, so I guess that isn’t too weird, but I don’t get the “sit on my little hare’s tail” part. Unless the hare was gigantic this doesn’t make much sense. Larger than a rabbit, yes, but she would still squish it. There has to be some interesting folklore about hares’ tails, but I couldn’t dig anything up, except that a “hare’s tail” is a kind of plant. Anyway, the whole thing about his tail being a viable form of transport for this young woman, that’s already odd. Either way, I think she was wise to refuse him. In the middle ages, rabbits were seen as witch familiars, and were often considered to signify disastrous events.
Demon rabbit on a cathedral with a stomach face…charming.
This exchange repeats two more times; the hare eats the cabbage, the mother tells the daughter to get rid of the hare, the girl tells the hare to scoot, he offers her a ride on his tale to his hut, and she refuses.
Except the third time…
Says the little hare, “Come, maiden, seat yourself on my little hare’s tail, and come with me into my little hare’s hut.”
The girl seats herself on the little hare’s tail, and then the hare takes her far away to his little hut…
Well, she sure showed him! I love how there’s NO explanation of why she changed her mind. Three times the charm, I guess, and besides, really old tellings of fairy tales (and folk songs) RARELY go into detail about why people change their minds about things. In folklore hares can be tricky, striking deals and trying to cheat tortoises (and failing miserably)…but maybe it was just his charm.
“You like candy? I’ve got some nice candy on my tail over here…”
“…the hare takes her far away to his little hut, and says, “Now cook green cabbage and millet-seed, and I will invite the wedding-guests.”
WHOA! Whoa there, slow down, little man. I know hares represent madness and lust in a lot of mythology, but dude…seriously? He didn’t even tell her why he wanted her to come with him until she was already there! Unless, saying “sit on my tail” is something like Ruth telling Boaz, “Spread your robe over your handmaid,” basically a proposal in Ruth 3:9. I know I’m stretching it, but the “sit on my tale” thing is still confusing me. And he has her do all the cooking for her own wedding feast too? Really…
Then all the wedding-guests assembled. Who were the wedding-guests? That I can tell you as another told it to me. They were all hares, and the crow was there as parson to marry the bride and bridegroom, and the fox as clerk, and the altar was under the rainbow.
I love the way this is worded. It reminds me of the conversational nature of old school storytellers.
I wonder about the crow parson. Looking up their mythology, in the British Isles, crows signified death and a connection to the underworld, which alone garnered them respect, but they were also seen as wise and clever and the real animal is very intelligent. The fox clerk is probably clever and tricksy, though likely not evil. Interestingly, hares, crows and foxes were all considered to be witch familiars, so this girl is in deep!
And as for the marriage under the rainbow?
This is my only guess.
If it was the fox’s wedding, I’d be expecting it to be raining and sunny at the same time, but I digress.
The girl, however, was sad, for she was all alone.
“But, I love it here, surrounded by life-sized animals who want to marry me off to one of their kind against my will! Really!”
“The little hare comes and says, “Open the doors, open the doors, the wedding-guests are merry!” The bride says nothing, but weeps.
The little hare goes away. The little hare comes back and says, “Take off the lid, take off the lid, the wedding-guests are hungry!” The bride again says nothing, and weeps.
The little hare goes away. The little hare comes back and says, “Take off the lid, take off the lid, the wedding-guests are waiting!”
And he’s demanding and nagging. No wonder she doesn’t want to stay here. Plus, I bet she’s terrified, abducted by a hare and forced into an inter-species marriage, and she’s expected to do all the work. But she has a plan…
Then the bride says nothing, and the hare goes away, but she dresses a straw-doll in her clothes, and gives her a spoon to stir with, and sets her by the pan with the millet-seed, and goes back to her mother.
OMG WOMEN’S LIB EPIC ESCAPE WIN OMG. Seriously, where did that doll come from? It just says she dressed it in her clothes, no mention it being there at all before. I love fairy tales as much as the next girl obsessed with the middle ages, but I’m so glad the storytelling device of Chekov’s Gun (something planted in the story beforehand to appear later) is pretty much required for writers nowadays at the risk of SHAME. Well, I’m glad the hare had one of these just lying around. Or else this girl had enough time to find the hay and make this doll without him discovering her. And she must be a professional hay doll maker, cuz it’s gotta be life-sized and detailed and strong enough to hold a wooden spoon.
The little hare comes once more and says, “Take off the lid, take off the lid!” And gets up, and strikes the doll on the head so that her cap falls off.
ABUSE! Wow, she shouldn’t have run away, she didn’t know what she was missing!
Then the little hare sees that it is not his bride, and goes away and is sorrowful.
I found another version of this story (likely from a more polished translation) that says:
And the rabbit thought that he had killed his bride, and he went away and was very sad.
And that’s the end! Just a dark, abrupt, ambiguous ending without a moral. Blunt endings aren’t all that uncommon for really old tales from oral tradition, but that doesn’t make it any less abrupt. And the reader is left with a strong feeling of…
Even if this story has no moral, I think we can glean a nugget from this tale. If a talking hare invites you for a ride on his tail, don’t go with him, even if he says he has candy.
Thanks for reading, guys! New Freaky Fairy Tales next week!