Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
I might blame this posting on Madame D’Aulnoy (1650-1705).
After all, she wrote “Le Nain Jaune” (“The Yellow Dwarf”) and included it in her 1697/8 collection, Les Contes des Fees, (Stories of the Fairies—from which our expression “fairy tales” appears to come—oh, and Fees, although it looks like English“fees”, is actually French “FAY”).
Of course, I’m to blame, too, as I’ve launched into this long-term project of reading all twelve of Andrew Lang’s fairy books in more-or-less chronological order.
(I say more or less because I had already read the Red Fairy Book for an earlier posting—and I’ll be writing about it again soon.)
Madame D’Aulnoy appeared through the translation of the aforementioned “The Yellow Dwarf” in Lang’s first volume, The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
(Here’s a copy for you: https://archive.org/details/bluefairybook00langiala )
This was a fairy tale I wasn’t familiar with, but seemed at first like something which I’d read before: princess raised to be spoiled by over-doting mother rejects all suitors. Then, however, it involved an unusual turn. That mother, attempting to consult a fairy in an effort to un-spoil the princess, falls into the hands of a loathsome dwarf,
and, in turn, so does her daughter, the mother, to save her own life, promising her daughter to the dwarf, and the daughter, in turn, swearing that she’ll marry the dwarf. In the midst of all of this is the dwarf’s powerful friend, the Fairy of the Desert.
(These two illustrations are from Walter Crane’s (1845-1915) The Yellow Dwarf , 1875, which you can have your own copy of here: https://ia801205.us.archive.org/5/items/yellowdwarf00Cran/yellowdwarf00Cran.pdf )
A king (the King of the Gold Mines) is involved, who attempts to rescue the princess, and here there is an even darker turn: he doesn’t. Instead, there’s this:
“ ‘ Now,’ said the Dwarf, ‘ I am master of my rival’s fate, but I
will give him his life and permission to depart unharmed if you,
Princess, will consent to marry me.’
‘ Let me die a thousand times rather,’ cried the unhappy
‘ Alas !
‘ cried the Princess, ‘ must you die ? Could anything be
more terrible ‘?
‘ That you should marry that little wretch would be far more
terrible,’ answered the King.
‘ At least,’ continued she, ‘ let us die together.’
‘ Let rne have the satisfaction of dying for you, my Princess,’
‘ Oh, no, no!’ she cried, turning to the Dwarf; ‘rather than
that I will do as you wish.’
‘ Cruel Princess !
‘ said the King, ‘ would you make my life
horrible to me by marrying another before my eyes ? ‘
‘ Not so,’ replied the Yellow Dwarf; ‘ you are a rival of whom I
am too much afraid : you shall not see our marriage.’ So saying,
in spite of Bellissima’s tears and cries, he stabbed the King to the
heart with the diamond sword.
The poor Princess, seeing her lover lying dead at her feet, could
no longer live without him ; she sank down by him and died of a
broken heart.” (“The Yellow Dwarf” from The Blue Fairy Book, 49)
In Crane’s version, this has been changed to a happy ending (although the princess has her original D’Aulnoy name, “Toute-Belle”, literally “Completely Beautiful”, returned to her):
“The Princess uttered a loud shriek, which luckily caused
the King to turn suddenly round, just in time to snatch up the sword.
With one blow he slew the wicked Dwarf, and then conducted the
Princess to the sea-shore, where the friendly Syren was waiting to convey them to the Queen. On their arrival at the palace, the wedding took place, and Toutebelle, cured of her vanity, lived happily
with the King of the Gold Mines.” (Crane, The Yellow Dwarf, 6)
(If you’d like to see the original French—although in an edition from 1878, which also includes the stories of Perrault and others—see https://ia600901.us.archive.org/32/items/bnf-bpt6k65671811/bnf-bpt6k65671811.pdf pages 277-296 )
I can see why Crane changed the story—the evil Dwarf won? Even though I’ve long been aware of the darkness possible in older collections like the original Kinder- und Haus-Maerchen (“Children’s and Domestic Wonder Tales”) of the Grimm brothers (Jacob 1785-1863, Wilhelm 1786-1859),
(first edition, 1812, but ballooning in size in subsequent editions)
it was still disturbing.
From childhood, I had lived with all of those Disney versions, after all, where wicked witches and their ilk were suitably punished
and heroine and prince rode happily off.
This ideal was crystallized for me in a lament from one of my favorite musicals, Once Upon a Mattress (1959).
This is based (somewhat loosely) upon Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805-1875)
“Prinsessen paa Aerten” (“The Princess Upon the Pea”) from his 1835 collection Eventyr, fortalte for Born (“Fairy Tales Told for Children”).
(a slightly later printing)
In this retelling, Princess Winnifred the Woebegone
has come to the castle of King Sextimus and Queen Aggravain in search of a prince, but, worried that things don’t seem to be going as she hoped, she sings this (after finishing reading aloud a fairy tale in which the usual happens):
“They all live happily, happily, happily ever after.
The couple is happily leaving the chapel eternally tied.
As the curtain descends, there is nothing but loving and laughter.
When the fairy tale ends the heroine’s always a bride.
Ella, the girl of the cinders did the wash and the walls and the winders.
But she landed a prince who was brawny and blue-eyed and blond.
Still, I honestly doubt that she could ever have done it
without that crazy lady with the wand.
Cinderella had outside help!
I have no one but me? Fairy godmother, godmother, godmother!
Where can you be? I haven’t got a fairy godmother.
I haven’t got a godmother. I have a mother?
a plain, ordinary woman!
Snow white was so pretty they tell us
that the queen was insulted and jealous
when the mirror declared that snow white was the fairest of all.
She was dumped on the border but was saved by some men who adored ‘er;
Oh, I grant you, they were small.
But there were seven of them!
Practically a regiment!
I’m alone in the night.
By myself, not a dwarf, not an elf, not a goblin in sight!
That girl had seven determined little men working day and night just for her!
Oh sure! The queen gave her a poisoned apple.
Even so she lived happily, happily, happily every after!
A magical kiss counteracted the apple eventually?
Though I know I’m not clever I’ll do what they tell me I hafta!
I want some happily ever after to happen to me!
Winnifred maid of the mire, has one simple human desire
Oh, I ask for no more than two shoes on the floor next to mine.
Oh? Someone to fly and to float with
to swim in the marsh and the moat with as for this one?
Well, he’d be fine.
But now it’s all up to me?
And I’m burning to bring it about.
If I don’t I’ll be stuck with goodbye and good luck and get out!
But I don’t wanna get out! I wanna get in!
I want to get into some happily, happily ever after.
I want to walk happily out of the chapel eternally tied.
For I know that I’ll never live happily ever after ’til after I’m a bride!
And then I’ll be happily happy,
Yes, Happily happy!
And thoroughly satisfied!
(Here’s the original Winnifred, Carol Burnett, singing a slightly different version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7q_wgLa2AQ
Trained by Disney, as well as by all of the Bowdlerized fairy tales read to me before I could read them for myself, could an ending like that of “The Yellow Dwarf” ever be as satisfying for me as being married would be for Princess Winnifred?
This brings me back to remembering finishing The Lord of the Rings for the first time.
If you’re a Tolkien reader—and I imagine that most, if not all of those who regularly visit this blog are—perhaps this was your experience, as well. Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit, is able to return home, continue to have adventures (stuff for fan fiction here), but to lead a comfortable domestic life for many years.
(an illustration by Alan Lee)
Frodo, however, comes home and never settles, is ill and haunted, and finally, joining elves and Gandalf to sail west from the Grey Havens,
says, in reply to Sam’s:
“ ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’
‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)
And so I was as shocked as Sam. As he says to Frodo, to leave so soon “after all you have done”, which includes everything from narrowly escaping a Nazgul in Book One to nearly being consumed by Mt Doom in Book Six, was, well, disturbing, like the death of the King of the Gold Mines at the hands of the Yellow Dwarf.
I suppose that part of that disquiet comes from the fact that, at the conclusion of The Return of the King, there is no human—or dwarf—to remove Frodo with a stab as happened to the King of the Gold Mines.
He was once stabbed, by a Nazgul, on Weathertop, of course.
(An interesting image, suggesting not only hobbit versus human scale, but also perhaps the larger-than-life feel confronting such a figure must have had for Frodo.)
And this stabbing, although saved from its consequences by Elrond, does seem to have had some later effect upon Frodo:
“One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange. He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.
‘What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?’ said Sam.
‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’
But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day. It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth. Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.”
And yet Frodo did get up and was “quite himself the next day”.
Could it be that, in a sense, Frodo is the last victim of the Ring? After all,
“On the thirteenth of that month [in 1420] Farmer Cotton found Frodo lying on his bed; he was clutching a white gem that hung on a chain about his neck and he seemed half in a dream.
‘It is gone for ever,’ he said, ‘and now all is dark and empty.’ “
When Frodo tries to explain to Sam about sacrifice for others, however, I just didn’t find that especially convincing. Elrond had healed Frodo and the Ring was an ancient evil and its disposal was the salvation of all of Middle-earth from the potential tyranny of Sauron. Frodo had certainly felt the terrible effect of it, to the point where he refused to destroy it, requiring the mad and vengeful Gollum to bring about its end,
but he had survived, even if maimed in a echo of what Isildur had done to Sauron many centuries before. And he had come home, just as Bilbo had, many years before, although to the mischievous destruction of the Shire brought about by Saruman,
which must have been even more traumatic than Bilbo finding himself declared legally dead and his house and possessions being auctioned off, but the Shire was being healed, much of it thanks to the work of Sam, much changed from the timid assistant gardener of only a year or two before.
My initial reaction to the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, although revived for a recent moment by a sinister Yellow Dwarf, was some time ago: just today I reread “The Grey Havens” once more: am I still uneasy?
Since that first reading, much more information has come to us about the author, and here I’m thinking especially of John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War.
After that war, the UK was seemingly filled with monuments commemorating the dead
himself had lost two of his three dearest school friends,
Gilson and Smith, in the fighting. Gilson was killed on the first day of the vast and terrible Battle of the Somme, 1 July, 1916, a battle in which JRRT’s unit was also involved. Smith died from a wound in early December, 1916, and, since my original reading of The Lord of the Rings, I’ve come to wonder whether, when Tolkien had Frodo say
“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”
it was his way of trying to explain his own understanding of what had happened to those friends and maybe why. “Survivor’s guilt” is a common term these days, and, though I’ve seen no evidence in what we have in the way of Tolkien autobiographical material so far, I also wonder whether he bore his own scars from the War and, although a devout Christian, part of him hoped, with the fatally-wounded Frodo, to experience
“…a sweet fragrance on the air and…the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that…the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
If that were so, I could live with Frodo’s end, even if the Yellow Dwarf has still spoiled the ending for Toute-Belle and the King.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.
Be aware that all dwarves are not like Gimli,
And know that, as always, there’s
Here’s a LINK to the second edition of J.R. Planche’s version of Mme D’Aulnoy’s fairy tales (1856): https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Fairy_Tales_by_the_Countess_d%27Aulnoy This includes not only those stories in Les Contes des Fees, but also those from her second collection, Contes Nouveaux ou Les Fees a la Mode (“New Fairy Tales or The Fairies in Fashion”) of 1698. Planche himself is worth knowing more about. To get a start, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Planch%C3%A9
If you’re not familiar with that adjective “Bowdlerized”, it refers to Dr Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who, with his sisters, produced in 1807 (with several subsequent editions) The Family Shakspeare [sic].
This removed or changed anything which they thought might offend female and child readers (basically, for them, both in the same category), so that the works might be read aloud at family gatherings. From this initial work, the term came to mean any tampering with or censoring of a text.