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.