Sunday, June 24

Grimmoire 54: The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn

Sadly, not another story of inanimate objects, but another one of those where the brothers set out to seek their fortune and the one who settles for less ends up with more.

The first brother finds a mountain of gold, hacks out as much as he can carry, then heads home to buy his happiness. The second brother finds a mountain of silver and does the same. Surely the third brother is going to find a mountain of diamonds, or platinum, or perhaps an ATM that spews money endlessly.

Better: He finds an enchanted tablecloth which, upon request, lays itself out with an endless buffet. You just have to love the logic of the Grimmwald. Hungry people couldn't give a fig about silver or gold because they were too busy dreaming of all the food they didn't have. With all your food taken care of, who could want anything more?

So the man takes his little tablecloth and he comes upon a man who, if I understand this correctly, spends his days making charcoal briquettes. Those don't just grow on trees, you mean people have to specialize in charcoal? Anyway, the coal burner is bummed because he spends all his days in the forest and has nothing but potatoes to eat. Ah! The man pulls out his tablecloth and sets down a feast for both of them. Impressed the coal burner offers a trade -- he has a knapsack that, when tapped, produces a small battalion of foot soldiers who will do your bidding. A trade is made and--

What? Why would you trade a magic tablecloth for an enchanted knapsack? Well, because the coal burner was too stupid to realize that he had the better deal. Once out of sight the man taps the knapsack and, sure enough, there's a battalion of soldiers. "Go back and get my tablecloth," he orders them and -- a ha! -- now he has both.

A little further into the Grimmwald and here we have another charcoalian character. Again he feeds the man and again there is an offer to trade, this time for a hat. This hat, though, can produce a dozen cannons that can demolish anything. Naturally the trade is made, and again he sends the foot soldiers back to reclaim the tablecloth. A tablecloth, a knapsack and a hat... what else can be found in these woods? Let's see!

Day three and, yes, there's another man in the forest burning trees into coal. I guess coal burners in olden days were as plentiful as lawyers today. Anyway this one is starved and in exchange for the tablecloth he trades a horn, a horn that must once have been owned by Joshua because the minute it's blown the fortification walls come crumbling down, a second blast reduces a town to rubble. You probably guessed that after he left with the horn he sent back the infantry to reclaim the tablecloth.

Returning home to join his brothers he looked like a vagabond, and they ridiculed him for his possessions. Enraged, he tapped his knapsack again and again until he had one hundred and fifty troops which he used to whip his brothers with hazel switches ruthlessly.

The king catches wind of this and sends reinforcements but the haughty third brother won't be shut down until the king relents and gives his daughter in marriage. No match against infinite troops and cannons the king gives in. But his daughter isn't too pleased and is determined to locate the source of her new husband's power. Eventually he confesses the knapsack as the source of his power and, in one swift embrace, she lifts it off and absconds with it.

Not so fast! When she taps the knapsack and attempts to have the foot soldiers seize and arrest her husband he turns his hat a few times and produces cannons that begin to demolish everything in sight. Beat, she begs for mercy and worms her way back into his good graces. After a time she manages to steal his hat and has him thrown into the street, feeling she has gotten the upper hand at last. But he still has his horn and, blowing furiously, demolishes the castle, the village and for good measure makes sure the kind and his daughter are crushed beneath the rubble.

"After that nobody dared to oppose him, and he made himself king of the entire country."

Which, when you think about it, is really just another way of explaining the development of atomic weaponry and the Cold War in the 20th century.

So what would the take-away on this story be to younger readers? That absolute power corrupts absolutely? That clever beats gold and silver? Don't make fun of your siblings or they may come back at you with an army of switches?

I like to go back to the one thing that made this all possible -- hunger -- which really gets at the source of the problem. I had a history teacher explain that the one thing that keeps people from revolting against their governments was control over food. As long as there are breadlines and people are still being fed, if nominally, then they won't rise up. The minute the food stops, all bets are off. And when you think about it, in America as long as people can get their 99 cent menu items at McDonalds and Taco Bell they aren't going to think there's anything wrong with the country. On the average, we can be earning 40% less than our parents generation while CEO's and businesses continue to rake in 700% in profits over the previous year (as the oil companies recently posted) and all that matters is whether or not a town has the right to ban trans fats from restaurants.

It's all about that tablecloth, and it doesn't even merit a mention in the title.
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