his tale is like unto this tale, but with Death standing in for the devil.
I don’t have much to say about it, really, except that it’s charming, strange, spooky, and beautiful. There’s a particular haunting weirdness in the tableau of the desperate father running down the road to find a godfather for his thirteenth child. And meeting (as it were by chance) God, the devil, and Death.
(Although I can’t every really read about anthropomorphised accounts of Death without thinking of Discworld. And that makes me wonder how much Death in this particular tale may or may not have inspired Terry Pratchett’s rendition. There are certain similarities.*)
This tale is, like any tale, many things. But one thing it is in particular—and this warrants a longer discussion which I hope to write later—is a depiction, or representation, or revelation (call it what you will) of how we approach death. The Beatific vision is misunderstood, the diabolic vision is eschewed, but Death is welcome despite its peril.
Harry Potter readers may recognize aspects of ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ in this tale, and they’d be right to do so. But the interaction with Death is more ambiguous, Death’s motives more unclear, in the folktale than in Rowling’s literary retelling. Even the Grimm’s tried to make the edges less stark and more literary.
Because we don’t know how to face Death, God, or the Devil—not really. And that’s partly why we tell folktales—to make comprehensible those things that are incomprehensible, to give a face and a voice to the monsters in the dark. That, in its way, is the moral of the story.
As to what the story is—well that’s another question entirely.
*There, see the trouble this causes? Here’s another nice mess I’ve gotten me into.