Friday, November 22, 2013

Magic and Transformation

by Jean Roberta

When I was a child, I was given matching hard-cover illustrated volumes of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales and the stories of Hans Christian Anderson. I noticed that many of the traditional German fairy tales collected by the Grimms were indeed grim, featuring gruesome punishments for wrong-doing and even for naivete. Even still, they were more exciting than the sanitized Disney cartoon versions.

The stories of Hans Christian Anderson were more like Danish shortbread for Christmas: sweet rather than bloody. When I read "The Little Match-Girl" aloud to my two younger sisters, they both burst into tears.

The plots of fairy tales appeared in my dreams, even when I morphed into an adult. While pregnant with my first (only) child, I dreamed repeatedly of Rumplestiltskin, that little man with a strange name (like the family name I inherited) who could enable a maiden to spin straw into gold. Turning a fertilized egg into an actual baby with a golden-brown complexion seemed at least as magical as the magic trick int he story. I couldn't help wondering if the price for making a baby would be higher than I wanted to pay.

I always found the story of Rumpelstiltskin mysterious, as though something had been left out. What was the funny little man's interest in the peasant girl who was commanded to spin straw into gold? Why on earth would he demand her first-born child as payment?

All this was in my mind years ago, when a fairy-tale contest was announced on the Storytime list of the Erotic Readers & Writers Association. I wrote a suggestive (not sexually explicit) story named "Name-Finding," loosely based on the story of Rumpelstiltskin. It is about finding an identity, among other things.

This story rarely fits a call-for-submissions, so it is currently not available in any published form. It starts like this:

Welcome to my fireside, my dears. You might recognize the old story I am about to tell, though every storyteller tells it differently. It’s not a pleasant tale, but that is probably because it has come down to us from a dark time, much like our own. A whiff of brimstone was in this tale before I got to it, so please don’t blame the teller.
Once upon a time, an ambitious young man left the cottage where he lived with his parents and his fifteen brothers and sisters, and set forth to seek his fortune. The first person he met along the road was a priest. “My son,” said this holy man, “serving God is the greatest joy that man might know. Come with me and shun the temptations of this world.”
But the young man answered, “It is not for me, Father,” and continued on his way.
The next person that the young man met was a weaver and tailor who could make fine cloth and sturdy garments. “You seem lost, my son,” said the weaver in a kindly tone. “The only security a man might know,” he philosophized, “comes from the skill of his hands. Come with me and I will teach you to clothe the world. Learn well, and you will never lack bread.”
But the young man answered, “It is not for me, sir,” and parted from him at the next turning.
The third person that the young man met was a fine lady riding a fine horse. “Will you serve me, young man?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes. “My husband is very old and very rich. He will pay you well if you are strong and able.”
“Gladly, my lady,” answered the young man. At once she dismounted and led the young man into a secret opening in the woods that she knew of so that he could mount and show her his riding skills. She was well pleased, and said that he would be her personal servant. She did not ask his name, but named him Ready.
Ready served the lady for a year and a day as he cherished his ambition: he planned to become her next lord and true owner of all the old lord’s demesne. Soon after Ready became head cook in the lady’s household, her husband fell from his chair at dinner, gasping and moaning. The lady had never seen him so lively, but alas, the lord died within the hour.
Seeing Opportunity at hand, Ready grasped it firmly along with one of the lady’s ivory mounds as she knelt by her husband’s body, pulling her bodice even lower than it was designed to be worn. “Marry me, ‘Titia,” he declared. “Now you will be truly mine.”
“Unhand me, low-born stud,” she responded. “Since you no longer know your place, you must leave this house at once. My fertile hills and shady valleys are not for the likes of you to command.”
So Ready departed in despair, still wearing the lady’s livery. Even his name was not his own, and so he set forth again to find his fortune one way or another.

I will post the rest in my blog on LiveJournal ( so you can find out what happens next.


  1. 'fertile hills and shady valleys'… Great line, Jean. Was Titia the first Dominatrix? And is her name pronounced Tit' ee a, or is it Tee' sha'?

    1. I was thinking "Tit-ee-a." Thanks for commenting, Daddy X. The plot thickens further after Ready finds another name and occupation, marries and fathers a daughter who is just as ambitious as her father.

  2. Fascinating snippet, Jean! I'll have to go read the rest.

    You're right about Rumplestiltskin. I wonder if this tale actually is a cross-over from a very different culture. I find Asian, African and Meso-American myths and legends do not have the same logic as ours. They leave many motivations unexplained.


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