Sunday, March 18

Grimmoire 6: Faithful Johannes

Another faithful servant, this time at the forefront of the story.

Johannes is the king's manservant. He promises on the king's deathbed to take care of the king's son as if he were his own, making him swear never to show him the painting behind the door at the end of the hall. The painting is of a princess so beautiful that upon seeing it the prince will pass out and then regain consciousness with the single obsession that he must possess this beauty in the flesh.

Naturally, Johannes promises, the prince insists on seeing the picture, he faints, and sets out on a mission to make the girl in the painting his prize possession.

These tales always seem to be leaning toward a horror movie set up (Don't look behind the door!) but they have their little Gothic twists, don't they? Sorry to interrupt further here in the summary, but I was sure that the reason the king both had the portrait and forbid his son from seeing it was because it was probably his sister. That's what too much Greek mythology will do to you. A little Bettelheim will do the same thing.

So they sail half way around the world to kidnap the princess, but once she realizes that it's a young king that's spirited her away she's totally amenable to the undertaking. Meanwhile, Faithful Johannes overhears the conversation of three ravens -- understanding the language of the animals shows up a lot in these stories -- and realizes that thrice upon his return there will be obstacles that would turn the young king to stone (literally) if something did not stand in his stead and defeat those obstacles. Yes, that's right, Johannes takes it upon himself to save the king but is bound to silence for he will be cursed with being turned to stone if he explains himself.

Once, twice, three times Johannes behaves unusually and saves the king's life without his knowledge but it's too much to take, the king has decided to have Johannes put to death for his bizarre behavior. Since he's on his way out Johannes' final request is that he be allowed to explain himself, whereby he instantly turns into a statue that the king has placed in his bedroom.

Just what you want looking over you in bed, you faithful friend-turned-to-stone because you were not as faithful to him as he was to you.

The king laments, if only there was a way to reverse the curse. Johannes-the-statue replies that if he were to slaughter his twin sons and smear their blood on Johannes' granite exterior he will be brought back to life. Without hesitation the king removes the head of his boys and revives Johannes who, in turn, puts the boys heads back on and makes them as good as new, a reward for his master's faithfulness.

The queen returns and the king hides Johannes and his boys in the closet. He asks his queen if she would sacrifice her children to return their friend, and when she says she would, the king joyfully shows her that he's already done it. And they lived happily ever after.

So what is it with these faithless servants? What is gained from telling these tales to villages full of children? Is this the groundwork necessary for pushing kids off into indentured servitude? Now, son, just remember, if you're going to be the king's manservant you might have to risk being turned into a statue now and then to prove you valor and worth. I can understand the notion of promoting selflessness out of love, but for a king and not someone a little closer to home?

Could you imagine if we still lived in an oral storytelling culture, and we told tales in this country of Faithful Nolan, the President's Secret Service Agent, who had to take a cream pie in the face thrown by a radical agitprop group, and risked his life because he was put into severe anaphylactic shock owing to a crust made with products that had been produced on machines that also processed tree nuts?

That's sort of what this story was like for me.

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