unsettling wonder

Grimms’ Household Tales: A Read-Through


The Tailor in Heaven


nyone wishing to write a theology of fairy tales would be remiss not to take this tale into account. This seems to be a saint’s tale that became a fairy tale, but who knows, really? What we do have is a remarkable example of comic theology. Which we probably need a bit more of. The more I think about this story, I think, the more I’m starting to like it.

The story starts like this:

One very fine day, it came to pass that the good God wished to enjoy himself in the heavenly garden, and took all the apostles and saints with him, so that no one stayed in heaven but Saint Peter. The Lord had commanded him to let no one in during his absence, so Peter stood by the door and kept watch. Before long some one knocked.

God’s stepped out of heaven for a bit. What could possibly go wrong?

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unsettling wonder

Household Tales: A Grimm Read-Through




sense of dissatisfaction went with reading this tale. It wasn’t uninteresting. And it was about as troubling as good fairy tale should be. I felt like I’d seen a bad portrait of a good friend—oh, yes, that’s Caleb, all right. But he—well—it’s just—naw, it’s fine. (Exit awkwardly.)

The tale begins—as so many of the Grimms’ tales do begin—with the hardships and harshness of peasant life. A wood-cutter and his wife have a little girl, and no way to feed her. As the wood-cutter is cutting wood, the Blessed Virgin appears to him. She offers to take the little girl to heaven, ‘and be her mother, and care for her.’ The wood-cutter brings Virgin Mary his child, and she takes the little girl to heaven.  There, says the teller of tales, the little girl ‘fared well, ate sugar-cakes, and drank sweet milk, and her clothes were of
gold, and the little angels played with her.’

I like the gesture of this storybook Mary. Her offer to be the child’s mother in same way she was the mother of Christ is touching. It recalls Stanley Hauerwas’s discussion of Mary in Cross Shattered Christ (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), that Christ’s command to the church was ‘Son, behold your mother.’

But suggestion that Mary will be the child’s mother in heaven—ahm, isn’t heaven where you go when you die? It seems that, for some unfathomable reason, this storybook Mary makes a modest proposal that the little girl die young. A proposal to which the father quickly agrees.

Where’s the little girl’s real mother in all this? For that matter, what happens to the father? They are fairy tale parents of the most unsatisfactory kind—they appear just long enough to give a nod-wink-wink explanation for where the protagonist must have come from, wave good-bye or worse, and that’s it. No concern for their immortal souls, they just walked out of the book.

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and if, then

a phantasmagoria’s revenge

Mayhem as Ritual



Smash with me then, if you will,

these chariot wheels

for the making of walnuts.

We’ll see if there’s meat in them.

If not,

what good are they?


Watch me.

I can convolute the sunlight into

little beaten rays of gleam

to cut down a forest that you

didn’t even know existed.


So leveled and so wheeled,

I will gallop, I and you,

across the emptiness together empty

in a freedom mostly bound.



for that little glimmer,


of a firefly I never could quite catch.


That one gleam makes a laugh

of all the rest.

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and if, then

a phantasmagoria’s revenge


‘To invent fables about a world “other” than this one has no meaning at all, unless an instinct of slander, detraction, and suspicion against life has gained the upper hand in us: in that case, we avenge ourselves against life with a phantasmagoria of “another”, a “better” life.

–Friedrich Nietzsche, “Reason in Philosophy”

The Courage of Words


I see.

I speak.


“And your point is?”


To stay silent—no.

I do not think that I

could stand the pain.

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and if, then

a phantasmagoria’s revenge

The Caprice of Art



fairy_fellerI am I.

But you are I.

Am I you? And you I?

Everywhere unending I myself am myself and I

and I and I and I

go on, starting at myself in confusion,


Everywhere I turn,

I turn.


Until, with desperate hands,

I claw my image on my image while a thousand images

scratch the glass of a thousand more

and an infinite I loses me

in a simple, eternal maze

as I scrabbles I scrabbles I scrabbles I

myself on myself on myself on the mirrors,

in my blood.


That, at least, I know for mine.

But where is me?

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