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the Bronze Egg, An Original Fairy Tale, Part II

The youngest brother wept over the body of his father, and then he covered the old man’s face and went to find the priest. The Priest came and the neighbours came. And they grieved for the old man, for he was a good-hearted and generous man, and all loved him.
When the old man was buried in the churchyard and the neighbours all gone home, the youngest brother sat by the fire, thinking of his father and feeling the silence of the great house all around. The silence got him thinking of his brothers, and that got him thinking of his father’s final words about the inheritance for his three sons. Curious to know about his brothers as much as about his own inheritance, the youngest brother took a lantern and climbed the stairs to the east-wing of the house.
He came to the first room and found an empty chest. He came to the second room and found there an empty chest. He came to the third room, and there he found a third chest.
Stepping curiously up to it, he lifted the lid. Inside, lying at the bottom was what looked like an egg. He took it carefully up in his hand, and it shone dully in the light from his lantern. It weighed heavy in his palm, and he carried it downstairs to his seat by the fire. Sitting in the light of the fire and looking at it curiously, he could see that it was a bronze egg.
“Why would my father leave me such a gift?” he wondered out loud. But he didn’t care, and he wrapped the egg lovingly in a cloth and stowed it into a pocket near his heart.
The next day, he set out to find his brothers. He walked and walked until he came to a river. On the edge of the river stood a little man—a dwarf, dressed in sack-cloth and peering at the youngest brother with beady eyes.
“You come seeking your brothers,” said the dwarf.
“Yes,” said the youngest brother. “And how did you know?”
The dwarf ignored the question. “If you give me the thing that lies closest to your heart, I will tell you where to find one of your brothers.”
The youngest had to think about it for a moment. The thing closest to his heart was the bronze egg given him by his father. He didn’t want to give up the egg, but he thought his father would want him to find his brothers. He drew the egg from his pocket and wordlessly handed it to the dwarf.
“Look in the river,” said the little man. “You will find both your brother and his inheritance.”
The youngest brother didn’t understand, but he stepped down to the bank of the river and began wading into the water. At a deeper point in the river, he found his brother held down by three great heavy sacks. The youngest brother dragged the body out of the river along with the sacks. He hailed a boy driving a donkey cart and took his brother home, making sure to give the boy a gold coin he took from one of the sacks.
The youngest son called the priest, but this time no one came to mourn with the youngest brother. He sat on by the fire until he fell asleep.
He had a dream as he slept, and he dreamed of his father. “You have done well, my son,” said his father. “You have brought back your brother, but now you must seek my eldest son. Bring him home to lie next to his brother.”
When the youngest son woke, he found his hand clutching the bronze egg. It was the strangest thing. But the youngest did not question his dream. He found his coat and he ventured into the night that was now lightening toward dawn.
The youngest brother had no idea where to look, but he followed the road until he came to a fork, where stood an old woman as though she waited for him.
“You seek your elder brother,” she said, in a voice that creaked like an old gate.
“Yes,” said the youngest brother. “He disappeared from our father’s deathbed two nights ago.”
“I can tell you what befell your brother, but you must give me that which lies nearest to your heart.”
The youngest brother thought at once of the bronze egg, and this time he did not hesitate. He took the egg from his breast pocket, and he handed it to the old woman, this time thinking for certain he would never see it again.
The old woman pocketed the egg at once. “If you follow this road into the forest, you will find both him and his inheritance. But you must be brave, for your brother has been murdered by a band of robbers. It is they who have his inheritance.” And with that, the old woman was gone.
“Robbers,” said the youngest brother to himself. “How am I to get back my father’s treasure from robbers?”
But he took a deep breath, and he followed the road until he came to a place overshadowed by trees. He left the road and walked into the forest.
It wasn’t long before he came upon a broken-down shack amongst the trees. The youngest stepped up to the door that hung crookedly, and he peered inside. There were the robbers, all asleep with their heads on their arms. And the youngest brother could see the empty cups and flagons scattered over the table.
They must have been celebrating their good fortune, thought the youngest brother. And he stepped quickly inside and found three great sacks that he knew must be his father’s treasure. He took up the sacks, and left as quietly as he had come.
As he drew close to the road, he found his brothers body. And then his heart sank, for his father had wanted him to return with his brother’s body.
He was about to abandoned the sacks when he heard the crunch and roll of wheels on the road. He peered out from the trees to see a man driving a cart with a high-stepping horse out in front. He begged the man to help him with his brother’s body.
The man, who was a merchant, had heard about bandits in that part of the forest, but he could see by the youngest brother’s face that he was an honest lad. He helped the youngest brother with the body of his brother. They tossed the sacks into the back, and then they drove back to town.
Once the merchant knew who the youngest brother was, he became much friendlier. “I knew your father, lad,” he said. “And I was sad to hear of his passing, and I will do all I can to help you in his memory.”
The youngest brother thanked the merchant, and when they came back to the front doors of his father’s house, the youngest brother handed the merchant a diamond from one of the sacks.
The merchant’s eyes widened. “You are as generous as your father,” he cried. “Bless you, young master.”
And after that it seemed the youngest brother was indeed blessed, although he didn’t feel it for some time to come. That afternoon, he buried the third family member in three days. The priest came once again, but no one else. And that evening, once again, the youngest brother found himself sitting and nodding by the fire.
He dreamed again that night, and his father came to him, smiling, and saying, “You are indeed my son. I give you my blessing, and I would only ask that you remain as selfless and generous in spirit as you have shown yourself these past days.” And then the dream faded, and the youngest slept deeply.
After that, the youngest brother set his mind to helping those in need. He learned to run his father’s farm and his father’s business so well that he was never short of gold.
He became as famous for his good deeds as his father. And when he fell in love with a pretty girl from the village, there was a wedding at the old house, and it was once again filled with laughter and merriment. And in the years to come, the youngest brother, who was now an important merchant farmer of the countryside, had sons and daughters of his own. And he loved them all, and the old house echoed with their talk and laughter.
And sometimes, during the long nights of winter, his children would climb over him as he and his pretty wife sat by the fire. They would beg him to tell them tales, to tell them about things past and things present, but their favourite of all was the story of the bronze egg.

The Bronze Egg, An Original Fairy Tale, Part I

Once upon a time, an old man lay dying in his bed chamber. His three sons sat near. Of the three, the youngest loved his father the best, and he sat at the end of the bed while the tears rolled down his cheeks.
The two elder sons loved their father too, but they were both practical, and they recognized that their father’s time had simply come. The old man was also rich, and they both looked forward to their inheritance, the thought of the old man’s gold eating at the edges of their hearts as they sat through the long night.
The old man was weak, but finally he opened his eyes and spoke weakly to his sons. “My dear sons,” he said. “My time has indeed come. I love each of you in turn, and I have left you something to help you in your lives ahead. Remember that the gift that I leave each of you will allow you to show your love, not just for me but for one another. Use my gifts well.”
“Yes father,” cried the older brothers together. “We will.”
“But where,” said the eldest, “have you left these gifts for us father?”
“They are in the east-wing of the house,” said the old man in his weak voice. “Once I am dead, each of you can go and claim his inheritance.” And then the old man fell back on to his pillows and did not speak again, and the three sons sat on as the old man’s laboured breathing continued through the darkening night.
Strange things can enter the heart during such a vigil. And it was at the darkest hour of the night that the eldest brother slipped out of the bed-chamber and headed for the east-wing of the house. He crept along, carrying a dark-lantern in one hand. At last, he came to the first of three closed doors.
The eldest brother opened the door and peered inside. Sitting in the middle of the floor was a great chest. He hurried into the room and threw back the lid. Inside lay more gold than he had ever seen, and his heart leaped.
As quickly and quietly as he could, the eldest brother found some sacks and began filling them with gold. When the bags were full, he crept out of the house and away, not bothering to take anything with him. “For now I am richer than I ever dreamed,” thought the eldest brother. “I can buy anything I want or need.” And his heart pounding with joy and greed, he hurried away into the night.
The second brother had, of course, noticed that the eldest had slipped away. He knew very well where his brother was going. The second waited long enough to make sure the younger brother had fallen asleep, and then he too slipped out of the old man’s bed-chamber.
The night had begun to grow old as the second brother crept through the house toward the east-wing. He came to the first room and found it empty. “Hah!” thought he. “My brother has been here and taken his inheritance. I will feel less badly taking what is mine and leaving that fool of a youngest brother to find what he may.”
And with that, the second brother crept along the hall until he came to the second door. He opened the door to find a chest standing in the middle of the room. He opened the chest and found glittering stones—diamonds, rubies, and emeralds—more wealth than he had ever imagined. He too filled some sacks, and he hurried off into the night, just like his elder brother.
As the dawn was beginning to lighten the horizon, the elder brother found himself at the edge of a river. He peered into the darkness at the water. “It can’t be that deep,” he said to himself. And he began wading out into the shadowy river. It wasn’t long before he came to the middle of the flow, and he began to hurry, thinking he was almost out and safe, but he caught his foot on a stone and slipped.
The current was strong, even if the river wasn’t especially deep. The eldest brother was intent on hanging on to the sacks of gold. But they were so heavy they dragged him down. He was swept into a deeper part of the river and there he drowned, never wanting to let go of his gold.
Meanwhile, the second brother had taken a different path upon leaving the house of his father. He followed a road through the night until he came to a crossroads. The sky was streaked with dawn as he stopped to catch his breath. The sacks of jewels were heavy. As he stood wondering what way to take, robbers leaped out on every side.
“Well, what have we here?” said the chief bandit.
Full of fear the second brother tried to run with his sacks of wealth, but the robbers laughed and cut him down with swords. They laughed with delight when they opened the bags to find the diamonds and rubies and emeralds. They cast the body of the second brother into the trees, and they took up the sacks and disappeared into the forest back to their hideout.
The sun was just rising when the youngest brother woke with a start to find his brothers gone and his father lying dead in his bed.
(to be continued)

Disney Princesses—No Short Supply

Since its release in 2013, Frozen has become the new benchmark for Disney princess movies. But what happened to Tangled? The film certainly hasn’t disappeared, but Rapunzel pales somewhat compared to her princess cousins from Frozen. Next time you watch Frozen, pay attention to the coronation scene: you can see a brief cameo by Rapunzel and Flynn Rider.
Tangled, unlike Frozen, attempts to adapt a fairy tale into film. I’ve heard repeatedly that Frozen is based on Hans Andersen’s “The Snow queen,” which is a stretch. It may have been the inspiration for the film, but Frozen bears little or no resemblance to Andersen’s dark, strange, and stylized story of Gerda and Kai. Tangled may not accurately represent the Grimms’ “Rapunzel,” but since when did Disney ever attempt accuracy? The film contemporizes the fairy tale in its language and relationships, and Mandy Moore gives a convincing performance as a conflicted princess. Disney often kills off parents early, but the parent-child relationship is one that informs most of its films—this one being no exception. The controlling, passive-aggressive Mother Gothel is unlike any villain Disney has ever given us, and she’s repellant in a way that many villains can’t manage. She’s psychologically realistic in her concern for Rapunzel, right up until she turns. Less the evil witch than Snow White’s stepmother, and less the parental caricature than King Triton, Mother Gothel strikes an interesting balance between villain and caregiver. She’s no doubt a more frightening villain for parents watching than she is for kids.
I recently watched Tangled with my youngest daughter. Even though both of my kids are in their twenties, they often prefer watching Disney movies with their dad rather than something adult. It’s still better than teenage hood. The list of films I was allowed to watch during my daughter’s teenage years was strictly controlled, and it was always better if I knocked when approaching the TV-room door. I’m not complaining. We all love Disney movies, and we watch them again and again. This time, it was tangled.
I was happy to watch the film again, even if just to get Frozen out of my head. Flynn Rider is a bit of an ass, and the details get convoluted—the hair, the flower, the floating lights unnecessarily complicate the story. But I was impressed all over again with Mandy Moore. She’s no cookie-cutter Disney princess. For years, by which I mean before the Internet (was there really such a time?), I was convinced that Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine were played by the same actress. That’s what I mean by a cookie-cutter princess. Disney princesses aren’t just types; they’re personalities. Mandy Moore is not such a personality—thank god. She brought life to a type that hasn’t seen much innovation since Jodi Benson’s performance as Ariel in 1989.
Apart from interesting characters, Tangled is a conventional film—prince (in this case rogue) and princess meet, they variously rescue one another, and then they marry. Tangled’s Rapunzel is certainly more active than her fairy tale counterpart: she, at least, gets herself out of the bloody tower. And remember, she doesn’t need help to escape; she needs a guide to the floating lights. She doesn’t have twins, as does the Rapunzel in the fairy tale, but that seems a forgivable omission. Try explaining why Rapunzel has twins in the wilderness the next time you read the story to a child. Hopefully, you won’t have to.
Aside from its conventionality, Disney’s Tangled will hold up for a long time yet to come. It’s unlikely the corporation will top Frozen for a while, so forget about Anna and Elsa, and go back to some of your older favourites. I always offer a comparison between a fairy tale and its Disney adaptation as an essay topic for my children’s literature students. Tangled has been a popular choice since its release in 2010—with good reason. It’s a good film.

“11 Awful Truths behind Disney Movies that will make your Inner Child Scream” – Really?

“11 Awful Truths behind Disney Movies that will make your Inner Child Scream” recently appeared on Bustle, a lifestyle and Entertainment website. What are these truths? Perhaps not so awful, after all.
It’s a popular thing to rag on Disney, one of the handful of corporate giants, such as Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Monsanto’s, that influences our lives on a daily basis. I have no problem with corporate bashing. But remember to take care where you point the finger
Let’s look more carefully at a couple of these apparently hair-raising truths behind Disney movies to see if they warrant packing your inner child off to bed. If you want, have a look for yourself first.

The Little Mermaid. “In the original story, the Little Mermaid doesn’t get the guy in the end, and she kills herself. So. There’s that.”

          This doesn’t strike me as such an ‘awful truth.’  It’s always good to know from where Disney gets its material. And if anything, it might be more shocking to read Andersen’s original story after watching the Disney film.
The Jungle Book. “The Disney version is incredibly racist, and in the original, the animals kill everyone.”
          That someone finds Disney racist is hardly surprising. The corporation’s use of racial stereotypes is often appalling, but hardly shocking. And again, pointing out what happens in Kipling is a comment on Kipling, not Disney.
Sleeping Beauty. “You have to be awake to give consent, for your information.”
          A fair point. However, and also to be fair, Disney is attempting to represent the folktale. Reading either the film or the folktale in terms of date-rape does both something of a disservice. Kissing sleeping and apparently dead princesses is an issue for folktale princes, it’s true, but it’s more a folktale issue than one for Disney.
And one of my favourites.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “When you really break this one down, Quasi Modo is a guy who is needlessly ostracized for having a physical deformity who’s enslaved by a religious guy who feels conflicted by his rape fantasies about a stripper. You’re welcome.”
          I don’t disagree, and I might say something similar to my children’s literature students. But such a point comes from critical watching, and again, seems hardly appalling. Admittedly, though, this film stayed on the Disney PG list for my own kids.
I love Disney films—not all of them, but most of the animated classics (as the corporation calls them). The corporation itself is a different matter. I still watch these films with my grown-up daughters. And yes, Disney films do some pretty weird things. Having said that, it’s possible to note the weirdness while enjoying the films at the same time. My point is that the Bustle article exaggerates these ‘awful truths.’ They are hardly awful, and they never sent my inner child running anywhere.
Enjoy the films. Watch them for what they do, and talk about why they fail. If you don’t like Disney, then you have the option to not bother. But if you return to these films as an adult, then all you need do is watch them as an adult. Talk about them, think about them, and don’t be afraid to address them as critically as anything else. But if you watch these films to recapture something of your lost or abandoned childhood, then you might be disappointed.

Red Riding Hood, Again Revisited

Red stepped briskly along the path. It was early, and she thought she could get to Granny’s by late morning. Granny hadn’t been feeling so well this past week, and Red was bringing her a few things to lift her spirits.
The forest was deep and dark, but Red knew she would be fine as long as she stuck to the path. That was the first rule of travelling through the forest—stick to the path. The second rule was not talking to strangers, especially large, hairy strangers who pretended to be kind and helpful. But in case she did meet such a stranger, Red had just what she needed in the pocket of her cloak.
Red came to a giant oak in the path. It was a tricky spot because she couldn’t see ahead or behind as she came around the tree. The path went down into a little dell, and came up and around the far side of the oak.
Red reached inside her cloak and pulled out her phone. If she was going to have company, then she would have it here. Sure enough, Red saw a tall, slouching figure come onto the path just ahead.
Red stepped quickly back behind the giant oak. She thumbed her phone.
“Hello, Red,” came Granny’s voice. “Are you on your way?”
“Yes,” said Red in a half whisper. “But I have company on the path.”
“You know what to do, dear,” said Granny. “I’ll see you soon, and we can have tea.”
Red repocketed her phone, and once again stepped out onto the path. Reaching again under her cloak, she took the can of bear-spray in hand. This stranger was about to get a surprise.
Looking wide-eyed and innocent, Red walked along the path towards the wolf that waited. He tried to smile ingratiatingly. Red almost felt sorry for the big brute.
“Good morning, little girl,” said the wolf. “And where are you off to this fine morning?” He was working his jaws hard to hide his slavering chops.
“Good morning,” said Red. “I’m just off to visit my Granny.” And with that, she pulled the bear-spray from beneath her cloak and let him have it full in the face.
Well, that wolf howled and yowled, and stumbled back off the path. Red repocketed her spray and carried on, and for a long time she heard the wolf yammering and crashing through the forest.
That’s the end of that, thought Red, smugly. But little girls are not as wise as old grannies in the ways of Wiley wolves.
The wolf found a pool in the forest and ducked his head repeatedly until the sting lessened in his eyes and nose. “The little wretch,” he said to himself, grimly. “I’ll have that little brat—and her granny as well.” And with that the wolf loped through the forest in search of Granny’s house.
By that time, Red had reached Granny’s, and she was busily unpacking her basket and telling Granny all about her adventure in the forest. But Granny was less impressed than Red expected. Remember that grannies are wiser in the ways of wolves and other unpleasantness in the forest than little girls.
Granny patted Red’s cheek. “Very good, dear,” she said. “But we have more to do.”
Granny had Red help her with a large cauldron that they maneuvered onto the fire. They filled it with water and stoked the fire. Soon the water in the cauldron was roiling and boiling, and Granny’s face took on an expectant expression. They didn’t have to wait long.
A knock came at the door. Red looked with alarm at her Granny, but the old woman simply sat on by the fire.
“Oh please, old granny,” said a plaintive voice from outside the door. “Open up and let in a poor, starving stranger.”
Granny rolled her eyes. “Always the same trick,” she muttered.
The wolf, for it was indeed the wolf outside the door, stared in disgust at the little house. He knew the old lady was too cunning to just open the door. He thought of huffing and puffing, but that one didn’t always work. Eyeing a tree beside the house, he thought of a better plan. He scrambled up the tree, and with a swing and a grunt, he stood next to the chimney.
He didn’t like the look of the smoke coming from the chimney, but he was bent on revenge and a meal, so in headfirst he went.
Red was still standing watching Granny by the fire. She heard the wolf on the roof, and feeling suddenly afraid, she heard him scrambling down the chimney.
Now, if you know anything about chimneys, you will know they are full of smoke and soot. That gave Granny her edge. When the wolf popped his head out of the chimney, he shook his head and gave a terrific sneeze. Quick as a flash, Granny reached out and gave his ears a terrific tug. The wolf fell straight into the pot of roiling, boiling water. And that was the end of him.
When the local woodsman, swinging his great, sharp axe came striding through the forest, he knocked at Granny’s door. There he found Granny and Little Red having tea and cake at the table. He was a little disappointed not to have a shot at the wolf, but he was very glad to join them for tea.

Red Riding Hood Revisited

He preferred the dream. In the dream, he could run, he could play, and he could watch the fall of water through the canyon and smell the scent of growing things as he joyously pelted through the forest with the others. But when the dream ended, he would get pulled once again into the story, and there his choices would cease. He would be compelled once again to play out the story to its end. And the end was always the same—the screaming, the taste of blood, the running, and finally being hunted down by the man with the axe. And the man always killed him—every time, the same ending to the same story.
He never minded the end. Meeting the man with the axe meant that once again he would dream. He would again run with the others through the forest; he would feel the joy in his heart that came with the forest smells and the silence beneath the trees. And he would be free from the terrible appetite that drove him whenever the story took him.
He never remembered dreaming while he was part of the story, but he always remembered the story while he dreamed. Many others lived this dream with him, old men and old women, handsome young men—barely more than boys—who strode through the trees looking wonderingly at everything about them. There were maidens, too. Young girls with serene expressions, untroubled by desire, who occasionally stopped to look at him and smile. Not often, but sometimes he would trot up to one of these maidens, and they would exchange a silent greeting. The maid would scratch behind his ears, and he would close his eyes in rapture. But he often felt an uneasiness at such times, remembering the story and what it did to him. And not just him, but all of the others who dreamed the same dream.
And it never lasted. The dream always came to an end, and in exactly the same way. He would feel the pull of the story. It caught him like a trap, like a fist around his heart—clenching and constricting.
He would feel himself being pulled out of the dream to emerge in another forest. But he was no longer himself. He had forgotten the dream, and his mind had shifted into something more savage, more primitive and cunning, filling him with the desire for the blood of young girls.
In the story, he was no longer four-footed. There was usually just enough of himself left upon entering the story to register his two-footedness. But then he simply stood tall, quivering with the hunger that burned him through and through. He stepped from the trees onto a path, just as a young girl came around a bend beneath the shadow of a giant oak.
She was young, barely more than a child, and still carrying baby fat in her face and belly. Her blonde hair was braided tightly over each shoulder, and the red cloak she wore was ill-fitting. A basket looped one arm, and her blue eyes were wide and curious as she walked along.
The blood-lust filled him, causing his mouth to run with saliva. Dissembling carefully—dropping his head and slouching his shoulders—he stepped forward to greet the little girl, to pretend concern for her well-being, and hungering all over again for her sweet, young flesh, to once again follow the story to its unwavering conclusion.