Reading the Grimms
The Three Languages
oday is different. For one thing, it’s the last day of the West of the Moon giveaway, and I’ve changed the rules ever-so-slightly. Here’s how:
If it’s still Monday 18 April where you are, you can comment either on this post or on the link above, and you’re in. If you comment on the link above, you’re in automatically. If you comment on this post, leave a number between 6 and 47 at the end of the post, so I know you want to be entered in the giveaway. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow sometime, on the comment thread at the link above.
Today is also, to move from the absurd to the sublime, caught up in Sacred Time. I’d be remiss not to you Chag Sameach Pesach, or Blessed Eastertide, or both. So I do.
And today is sort of an experiment. Although I don’t have any books to give away (yet), I really enjoyed the conversation on “Clever Hans” last week (again, see the link above), when I just threw the story at you and let you talk about it. So let me try that again. This week’s story is called ‘The Three Languages.’ You can read it here.
If you want something a little more standard, there are a few feeder questions and haphazard observations below the jump, which you can read or not, as you desire.
‘The Three Languages’ is a story I’d never read before. And the first time through, it struck me as a story that didn’t quite work. I liked the beginning, as the father sends the foolish youth off to three different sensei, growing increasingly frustrated as he learns no trade but only how to communicate with Nature. I liked the middle—I mean, a terribly enchanted tower full of wild dogs that howl horribly all night and demand a man to eat every month or so? What’s not to like?
The ending surprised me. It seemed silly. I mean—the Pope? The simpleton who can speak to birds becomes the Pope?
Then I made myself reconsider. Is it any less silly than being made king? Well, no, not really. Kings are just more common in fairy tales than popes. The Grimms further confounded me by commenting in their pedantic way how this tale coincided with folklore traditions surrounding at least two popes, and reminding me that popes are depicted iconographically with a dove on their shoulder.
This didn’t make the piece any easier—in fact, in some ways it makes it more complex. Less literary, perhaps, and more folkloric. Fairy tales never really cease to confound us, and it’s the out-of-the-way tales, the ones that haven’t been Disneyfied and Bowdlerised, that often surprise us most.
So, what do you think? Did the pope at the end bother you? Did something else, or nothing else, about the tale bother you?
Would it be a subtle form of Bowdlerization to retell this tale and leave the pope out of it? Or would it just be needed improvement?
Is there are serious message here? About nature? About parenting? About religion? About education? About any of the above, or something else?
Have you read this story or a story like it before? (Please tell the ‘story like it’ if you have.)
What questions do you have for the tale?