Tuesday, April 10

Grimmoire 19: The Fisherman and His Wife

Another classic tale, another Grimm story first introduced to me via the magic of the "Fractured Fairy Tales" feature on the Rocky and Bullwinkle program.

I'm sure the memory I have of it being three wishes instead of the six demands the wife makes comes from that cartoon's warped telescoping of the story, but the odd little message at the end of the Grimm version gives pause.

To recap: Fisherman finds an enchanted flounder who once was a prince in the sea. Or was he a talking flounder who was once an enchanted prince? Either way, he's a flounder, a prince, he talks, and he's enchanted. Makes me wonder about his backstory, but maybe we'll get to that tale in time. Fisherman sets the flounder free then tells his wife who upbraids him for not knowing the rules of Fairytale Land and insists he go back and demand his reward. Oh, and in case we weren't clued in that she married a dullard, wifey tells him what to ask for: a better cottage to live in. He does, and he does, returns home to find the wish granted, but it's not enough. Now she wants a castle so the fisherman returns and makes another request on behalf of his wife, and then another. After the castle she wants to be king (Not queen? Hmmm.), and after she's queen she wants to be emperor (really?) and then she wants to be pope (Pope Joan, perhaps?) finally to be like a god.

Like a god. Not god, but an incredible simulation.

This is not insignificant, because what the flounder says in the end is Go back home. She's sitting in your hovel again. For a woman who wasn't satisfied with fine homes and refined titles she got a little lesson in happiness; she and her fisherman husband aren't punished though they may believe they have been. The flounder has shown them the way of the Buddha, to live simply and humbly and not want beyond their needs. That the story is about a fisherman carries its own religious symbology and that he asks for nothing himself underscores that because the wife demanded the granting of wishes that she was in need of the lesson, which the wise, enchanted prince of a flounder was more than willing to provide.

I must confess, one of the things that comes to mind with this story is the Hope-Crosby vehicle The Road to Utopia. There's a scene where the boys are ice fishing and Bing keeps pulling out fish after fish while Bob gets nothing. After Bing leaves Bob looks down and there's a fish looking up out of the hole. Fish: Hey, where'd your buddy go? Bob: Oh, he just took off with Dorothy. Fish: Well, tell him number sixteen was here. Bob double-takes. The fish slips away. I love just love talking animals, they always seem to be smarter than humans, even when they seem to be throwing their own lives away in the process. At least in this Grimm tale the fish stays a fish and lives.
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