Monday, April 2

Grimmoire 10: Riffraff

A word or two before the proceedings take place. First, while I have been keeping up with my Grimm-a-Day reading I haven't been as on top of things regarding my posts. This week I'm going to try for a little catch-up posting so it may get a little thick around mid-week.

Second, I really appreciate the shout-outs coming from other corners of the kidlit blogosphere, specifically Jules and Eisha at 7Imp, Brooke at The Brookeshelf, and Monica over at Educating Alice for their encouragement, support and generally pointing some of you this direction. Of all the things I wasn't doing to get attention, this project of mine to read all the Grimm stories seems to have hit a nerve and now I have the added impetus to not let it wane.

Now, how about a little "Riffraff."

This tale could easily be titled "Ruffians" or "Rogues" or "Scoundrels" and features Chickens in the title role. Yes, Renegade Chickens on the loose!

A mean-spirited Roster and a Hen get it in their heads to go up the hill and eat all the ripe nuts before Squirrel can hide them away for winter. Yes, instead of stealing them they just eat them all. And because of that they're too bloated to move.

Rooster's brilliant idea is to use the nutshells to build a carriage. When Hen realizes she's supposed to pull it she refuses. When Duck comes along and realizes the Chickens have eaten all the nuts (wait, weren't those Squirrel's nuts? Is Duck as bad as the Chickens, only slower?) he's furious. Rooster insists Duck pull him and his Hen, engaging him in a cockfight (which he naturally wins) to determine who's pulling whom.

With Duck hitched to the nutshell carriage the crew pick up a Needle and a Pin alongside the road who have had too much to drink.

A Needle and Pin. Drunk. This is another of those fine instances where the Grimm tales feature inanimate objects that just make my head spin sometimes, especially when they're hitching a ride roadside from a Duck pulling a pair of Chickens in a carriage made of nutshell. They say reality is stranger than fiction, but you can't say that around the Brothers Grimm.

It's getting late. The party of five decides to stop at an inn. The Chickens sweet talk the Innkeeper into letting them all stay the night with the promise of handing over a Duck egg and a Chicken egg in the morning. Ah, so nice to be able to trade off potential offspring in exchange for a night at the inn. But if that isn't a shock, in the morning the Chickens wake up before everyone else and eat the eggs themselves and ditch the shells in the fire! Then they take the still-passed-out Needle and place it in the innkeeper's towel, place the Pin in the seat of the Innkeeper's chair, and ditch without paying.

These Chickens is Bad to the Bone.

Duck wakes up, realizes he's been ditched, and before he can get hit with the bill hightails it for the river and floats home on his own.

The Innkeeper wakes up and washes his face and... you cringe at the horror before it happens as he reaches for his towel. His face gouged, his inn empty, he goes for the comfort of his pipe but as he reaches for an ember to light his pipe... the eggshells explode into his face! It's all too much, he needs a seat but... yup, right on the Pin.

The. End.

That's right. The Chickens get away and the Innkeeper is left with the lesson not to trust talking cannibalistic animals. Who knows what becomes of the Needle and Pin. I think this is the first instance in the Grimm tales (though I doubt it will be the last) where it seems like it's building up to a moral lesson and it doesn't. The Innkeeper does nothing wrong -- unless you count the trusting of farm animals wrong -- and is punished for his efforts.

It's gems like this that make me wonder about how these stories were told, and when, and to whom and how they played with an audience. Was this something a bunch of guys came up with at the inn one soggy night to kill the time and it became sort of the village joke story that everyone told and had a good laugh at? Was there some sun-baked farmer who, after 18 hours of back-breaking labor, hunkered down along side the bed of his scruffy young children and, by the light of a candle making him look like the Crypt Keeper, did he hiss out this bedtime tale to wig out his children?

And what happened to those kids when they grew up?
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