Sunday, April 15

Grimmoire 28: The Singing Bone

Beware! Wild boar!

Yes, there's a wild boar menacing the people of the kingdom and whomever can catch or kill the dang thing will win the king's daughter for marriage.

The king's daughter, that would make her a princess, right? So in all these stories where you either have a princess in need of rescuing, or a princess as a prize, the notion that there is no greater hope for a girl than to be a princess must be fairly depressing for those girls in their little cottages hearing these stories. But to have no choice, to be married off to the first person that can kill a menacing boar, that must really chap their hides a bit. While I'm off on this tangent may I say that I think I'd like to see one of these stories where the prize of a princess is offered and a noblewoman goes off hunting and comes back to claim her reward. There had to be plucky lesbians in those days who wouldn't have minded a princess all their own. Let's have that story for once and lets see what sort of questions come up when we tell our little girls that version.

Meanwhile, back in the Grimmoire, a pair of brothers born to a poor man have taken it upon themselves to capture this deadly boar. The older brother is called cunning and claims to be doing it for pride. The younger brother is an innocent, off to kill the boar out of the goodness of his heart. Hmm, which brother seems most likely to win the girl in a Grimm story? All that's really up in the air is exactly how it's going to happen.

Like this: the younger brother befriends a dwarf in the forest who gives him a spear owing to the goodness of the boy's heart. The younger brother kills the boar and is on his way to claim his reward when he runs into his brother carousing in a bar. After hearing of his brother's accomplishment, and just to prove how cunning he is, he convinces to help his younger brother back to the castle. Yeah, help him by knocking him dead from behind, dumping him over the side of a bridge where and burying him in a shallow grave. Now that's what I call cunning!

Older brother returns with the boar, gets the girl, and when asked about the whereabouts of his brother says "I guess the boar got him before I got the boar." The end.

No, wait! Many years pass and one day while a shepherd is driving his flock across the bridge he sees a bit of bone. His first thought is "My, that would make a good mouthpiece for my horn!" and so he takes the bone and carved it into a mouthpiece. His first attempt to blow some joyful noise breathes life into the bone, which recounts the tale of his horrible brother's deed. Startled by a magic horn, the shepherd takes it to the king, where it puts on a command performance. The king has the ground under the bridge dug up, finds the bones, and confronts his win-at-all-costs so-called-cunning son-in-law who does not deny what he did. The king has the older brother sewn into a sack and drowned while the bones of the younger brother are interned in the churchyard. The princess has no husband, the poor man lost two sons, the boar was killed, the only person who came out on top was the king. Oh, and that shepherd, who gave up tending his flock and now has his own touring show where he and the bone horn pack them in five nights a week with a matinee on Saturday.

(Okay, I made up that last part).

As a cautionary tale, this one almost goes the distance for me. I think the king should have been filled with some sort of remorse over marrying his daughter off to a killer, or at least had something more than a boar be the public nuisance. I guess from the old mythology dragons were downgraded to boars, but that aspect of the story is just a device to get into the brothers and the idea that justice prevails. It would obviously be a while before DNA testing would replace singing bones but the idea is the same, that somewhere along the way a bad deed reveals itself no matter how carefully tended the crime. The idea was (and is, I thought) to present deterrents to those who think themselves so smart they think they can get away with murder.

I'd still like to see at least one story where the princess has to marry a girl.


Monica Edinger said...

"The king has the older brother sewn into a sack and drowned...." These grim punishments (the one that I remember most vividly is The Goose Girl's stepmother) make me wonder. I mean, they weren't doing this sort of thing in the time of the Grimm Bros, now where they? So this all harkens back to hundreds of years earlier, I'd guess. I suppose Jack Zipes or someone has probably looked into this.

Monica Edinger said...

Well, not Grimm and not a girl, but there is King and King by Linda De Haan.