unsettling wonder

Grimms’ Household Tales: A Read Through

And now for something completely different. That’s right, folks. This week, it’s a giveaway.

illus-159Clever Hans illus-159o 

ver at The Hog’s Head last week, I had the pleasure of running a competition and giveaway. We had two signed copies of Katherine Langrish’s new books, West of the Moon.  You can check out the competition for yourself, but it involved Harry Potter. And Vikings.

Well, today, I’m happy to announce that Paradoxes has generously been given another signed copy of West of the Moon to give away. So here’s how to get it to be given to you:

The whole point of the unsettling wonder series is to get people (including myself) reading fairy tales and folktales they’re not familiar with. Like them or hate them, the Grimms’ tales are a lovely cultural inheritance, and they’re worth knowing. Now, I can witter on about fairy tales all day, but today I’m going to do something better. I’m going to give you the excuse to read a fairy tale.

This weeks tale, ‘Clever Hans,’ can be read here. If you’re feeling adventurous, or want a shorter or longer version, there are ten similar tales here. Go read one or all or as many of the tales as you please. Then come back here and leave a comment on this post. It can be as simple as ‘I laughed,’ or ‘I cried,’ or it can be an elaborate deconstruction of AT1696 in relation to AT1335A. Or it can be anywhere in between. Just comment about the tale, and your name goes in the virtual hat to get a signed copy of West of the Moon. It’s nothing more complicated than that.

Now, to make things more interesting, I’d like to get a wee conversation going. So, if you come back and reply to someone else’s comment, you get two entries. (If you reply fifty times to thirty people—wonderful! But you’ll only get two entries. I’ll be in and out of the conversation myself, and Katherine Langrish may put in an appearance too, but our names won’t go into the hat.)

The contest runs from now until 18 April 2011, at 2359 GMT. So you’ve got a whole week to talk about these tales. Then I’ll plug the comment numbers into a random number generator, and let the wonders of the webmagraph choose the winner.

Read the story, have fun, and I’ll look forward to reading your entries.

Go!

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12 thoughts on “unsettling wonder

  1. That was crazy. I read Clever Hans and then several of the shorter stories. The use of repetition was like one of those super long knock-knock jokes you tell as a kid until you finally get to the punch line, and you wonder if the humor carried through or people just half laugh, relieved that it’s over.

    I wanted Han’s to “get it,” to figure out that every circumstance requires a different response, but it just got more and more ludicrous till of course, what more is Gretel to do than absolutely jet and avoid further run-ins with Hans and eyeballs.

    He bounced back and forth between his mother and Gretel like a ping-pong ball, but in that game, I don’t think anyone won. Maybe Hans because he seems to remain in some ignorant state of bliss?

  2. Oh, good–I got sick and couldn’t scrape enough brain cells together to make the last giveaway. When I got well and realized I’d missed it, I was downright disappointed.

    Tonight I’m sleepy, which makes for an interesting state of mind to read a tale like “Clever Hans.” My first thought: “That was a Grimm tale? Is this some sort of joke?” The Grimm tales have certainly never been exactly what I expected, but for some reason this sounded to me as if it were written by a cynical parodist after a couple of shots of whiskey. I actually got up and checked my copy of selected Grimm pieces, which did not contain it, though it does contain “Clever Gretel” (wherein Gretel is rather diabolically clever) and “Prudent Hans”, which I decided I was too tired to read.

    I have absolutely no idea what to make of that story. But then, as mentioned before, I’m sleepy, which means subtlety is beyond me for the moment. I probably shouldn’t be working on my novel, either.

  3. Wow, that was…..something. I’ve never heard of that story before and now am rather glad that I haven’t. It’s not something I think I’ll ever read again. Not even to try and figure out the underlying meaning.
    I’d like to say that my reading pool deepened a bit but I think that one took a few brain cells with it, in turn making the pool all the more shallow.
    In any case, I’m glad that I’ve been directed here to read some of the other short stories that are mentioned.

  4. Yes, this is definitely one of the ‘B’ team: although told aloud at the fireside with the help of a drink or two, it might be quite effective. The ironic title – I wonder if the Grimms gave it that name or if it was called that before? – sets you up to expect some neat twist for the ending. But it seems Hans can’t learn. If you take it seriously (did anyone ever?) it’s rather sad to a modern sensibility, and can’t say I like the ‘humour’, but when this was a regular one in the village repertoire I bet they all knew someone who was a bit ‘lacking’, who was tolerated and given simple jobs to do, but made fun of too.

    Unsettling is the right word, Mr Pond!

  5. Let me play devil’s advocate here, and say that I actually liked the story. Although, admittedly, reading it silently to yourself is probably the single worst way to read it. It begs to be read aloud. That’s why there’s so much repetition, of course–the storyteller invites the audience to join in the telling, telling along with him, as it were. I can certainly envision an energetic teller getting a group of children shouting and laughing ‘Good evening HANS, WHERE have you BEEN?’ ”Doesn’t matter, do better!’ and so on. It’s meant, as Katherine said, for a communal telling.

    The humour is not refined, I grant that, but it seems aware of its absurdity. ‘Put it on my head. Kicked me in the face.’ Contrast this with the Scottish tale, ‘Jock and His Mother’, where Jock can’t pick up the horse and just leaves it by the roadside. Also, the Scottish tale ends with Jock inadvertently killing a priest and drowning to death. It lacks the grotesquery of Hans’s ending, but is, if you’ll pardon a pun, grimmer.

    I suspect stories of this type emerged as a way to teach children, and the community as a whole, the patterns and rules of social interaction. As in: This is What You Must Never Do. It’s meant to be discomforting. By having the bad example of Hans, or Jock, or whoever, the hearers are able to realize the importance of making sure their own conduct is correct. In ‘Clever Hans’ and ‘Jock and His Mother,’ the societal pattern is courtship rituals and an approach sexuality; by incorrectly courting Gretel, who’s clearly inviting his advances, Hans destroys his livelihood and economic future in the village, by dismembering the young livestock. Other stories of this tale type involve reactions to births, weddings, business transactions, funerals; they metonymy for civilizing structures as a whole.

    Then, I suppose, as the oral tradition faded–remember the Grimms were trying to preserve dying stories–the tales would be told primarily for the black humor.

  6. Pingback: this is not an anti-post « The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond

  7. It does set you up for a twist, Katherine, and gives you one, too–just not a very pleasant one. I’d say the story was downright funny in places–the blunt “Put it on my head. Kicked me in the face” makes for a great slapstick image–but of course the ending is just appalling.

    It makes sense that it would work as a communal telling, Mr. Pond, that it almost begs for it. Going back to Molly’s comment, it does sort of have the feel of a wild knock-knock joke. “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “BANANA Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “BANANA Knock knock.” (Repeat ad nauseam.) “Who’s there?” “Orange… you glad I didn’t say banana?” It looks stupid on paper, but every kid laughs their head off the first ten times they hear it.

    I can see kids laughing at this, right up to the point where Nurse takes another swig from the bottle of rum and talks about the eyeballs. But then, not every society was raised from the cradle with extreme sensitization to compassion and stories of pain. Maybe the kids would have kept on laughing. Hey, I’m a postmodern American, and I laughed at that scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights where Robin says “Lend me your ears” and all the men take off theirs and throw them at him.

  8. You’re right Mr Pond, I never thought of this being read aloud but that does work much better. It could be much more tolerable that way.
    Jenna, I loved the scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights that you’re referring to! I laughed so hard at that. Very good!
    I guess what I found not so funny in the Grimm tale is the dismembering and grotesque things he did to all the animals, me being an animal lover. I know it’s just a story but still it disheartens me to read such things.
    I really cried when I read about Hedwig’s death in HP7. I know I’m probably a bit rediculous but I just can’t help it. 🙂

  9. I really love the general ignorance of Hans in this piece Mr Pond, but more importantly i love how he reacts to his mothers advise. Hans seems to assume in the tale that similar problems can be solved using any solution to the problem. That might have been poorly worded, so an example in the tale would be his mothers advise on how to bring a calf home and his using of that same advise on the bacon.

    Even though these two situations were similar (the problem was to bring the object in question back to him home) ultimately they need two very different solutions. Hans seems incapable of understanding this. So in my view this tale teaches us about our need to adapt to certian situations, for if we are incapable of do this, we can become in a way, like Hans, constantly trying to use inappropiate solutions to situations that do not call for them

  10. The strength of the “Lazy Jack” variant is that the storyteller has clearly considered the comic potential of the recurring setup– What’s the silliest possible thing Jack could put on his head? How about… cheese! Of course, he had to steal the ending from another story to give it a happy resolution, which seems a bit like a cop-out since it was never mentioned before.

    The Grimm’s ending, though it’s grotesque, suits the story better: Hans (denouement) finally realizes that he has to adapt his actions to fit the situation, but (twist!) he still shows that he’s incapable of interpreting directions other than hyper-literally. Compare Amelia Bedelia, who is certainly something of the classic Simpleton.

  11. This announcement is brought to you by The Random Number Generator:

    And the winner is– Molly! Email me with your address and I’ll send you your signed copy of West of the Moon.

    Thanks so much to all of you who took part, I really enjoyed the conversation. If you’re still keen to read WotM, which I thoroughly recommend, it’s a great read, you can buy it here. (NB: The volumes are also available individually as the Troll Trilogy, and from a cursory glance the individual volumes seem easier to find in the States.)

    I’m pleased with how the giveaway went, so I may be running more of these from time to time. Stay tuned.

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