When we grow up into adulthood, some fairy tales seem odder than they did when we heard them as children. Children are marvelous when it comes to hearing fantastic or impossible things. However, sometimes impossible things are based on incidents that were indeed amazing. We can look at these cases and try and imagine what really happened. "The Water-Nix" contains situations that do not seem possible, but only in the modern day. First, let me spoil the story for you so you understand.
A brother and sister are out playing by a well. They both fall in and encounter a fairy creature called a water-nix. This creature is quite evil and forces the children to do hard labor for her with dull or broken implements--such as collecting water with a bucket that had a hole in it or cutting down a tree with a dull axe.
One day, the water-nix leave the children alone to go to church. The children take the opportunity to run away, but the nix figure this out and gives chase. This next part is where it gets weird. The girl tosses a brush behind her which turns into a hill with bristles on it. This gives the water-nix much trouble, but she inevitably manages crossing it. The boy then tosses a comb which transforms into a hill with 1000 x 1000 teeth that the nix will be forced to cross. With much trouble, she still manages it. Finally, the girl tosses her mirror which turns into a hill made of glass. It proves too slippery for the nix to cross.
The nix returns to her lair to get her axe and uses it to split the glass hill in two. However, by this time, the children are long gone. The water-nix is forced to return without her slaves. Thus ends the story.
There are a number of anomalies here which I need to cover. Here is a list:
1. What is a water-nix?
2. Why was the water-nix going to church?
3. How did the children come across the magical items? -or- How were they able to use them?
4. Is this story real?
Let us begin.
Question #1: What is a water-nix?
A water-nix is primarily something found in Germanic folklore. It is generally portrayed as a formless, shape-shifting creature that lives in the water. They are almost always female. The water-nix is a malicious spirit entity that tries to lure people--generally men--into the water to either drown them or make them into slaves. Depending on the region, they can also be referred to as a neck, nicor, nixie, or nokken. They are always evil and must be avoided at all costs.
Question #2: Why was the water-nix going to church?
Short answer is that I really have no idea. I was unable to uncover this information. However, I do have a good, old-fashioned guess for you. It may be a plot device used to demonstrate hypocrisy. I know of a number of people who loyally go to church despite the fact that they are terrible people everywhere else. Realistically, I am incredibly doubtful that a water-nix would ever actually go to church, what with them being somewhat busy trying to kill and enslave. Another educated guess would be that it was a placed within the story as a light joke. What do you think?
Question #3: How did the children come across the magical items? -or- How were they able to use them?
Go into your bathroom, grab your brush or comb, and toss it outside to see what happens. I bet you that 10 out of 10 times, it will just flop to the ground without incident. So what gives? There are a number of possibilities actually. One suggests that they were being helped. There very well could have been a section of this story that was unknown to the teller. A secondary fairy character could have met with these children and given them these magical objects or the ability to use them. When the children tell their story, this part was left out.
Another possibility is that the objects belonged to the water-nix herself. The children did not know they were magical and simply were tossing them at her to keep her away. The items--being that they belonged to a magical creature--responded in a magical way much to the chagrin of the water-nix. A major contributing factor to this theory is how the water-nix splits the glass hill with her own personal axe. This suggests she already had magical items in her possession.
A third possibility is that this took place in a time where magic was much more common. The children simply knew magic and were able to transform these implements in their escape. This would date the original events back by a very large degree.
Question #4: Is this story real?
There is enough information within the story so that we can believe in the possibility that it MIGHT have happened. It, at the very least, could be based on something that happened long ago. It does feel like pieces are missing though. The story seems extremely abridged. As time goes by, stories often lose a lot of detail and can become more fanciful than they really should be. So this story gets a maybe.
I really do wonder if there was a secondary fairy character that these children ran into during their imprisonment. Who was he? Why did he want to help them? Had he helped others before these children? We may never find out, but please remember that not all fairy entities are hostile. Some simply want to help out. Either way, these kids made a grand escape that is almost impossible to believe. Think about it.
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Let's look at three books and see if we can decide whether or not they qualify as a fairy tale. Here is the list:
Bambi by Felix Salten - A realistic story about animals living in the forest from their personal perception/perspective. A translation of animal nature into terms we can understand... but still with talking animals.
Watership Down by Richard Adams - An adventure/horror story about rabbits trying to move from a dangerous area to a safe haven at the top of a hill. Story is similar to Bambi with one exception. The story occasionally depicts supernatural occurrences and entities.
The Holy Bible - A book considered by Christians to be an account of things that really occurred. Nevertheless, it is filled to the brim with supernatural happenings that are almost beyond belief. The book also contains instances of talking animals as well as ethereal beings.
Let us begin.
The first thing I am going to do is give you the full definition direct from a dictionary. See below:
1. a story, usually for children, about elves, hobgoblins, dragons, fairies, or other magical creatures.
2. an incredible or misleading statement, account, or belief: His story of being a millionaire is just a fairy tale.
1. a story about fairies or other mythical or magical beings, esp one of traditional origin told to children
2. a highly improbable account
Before I continue, we need to all agree that, as of the recent century, fairy tales are for more than just children. If I need to bring up "Lord of the Rings" I will, but I don't think I will. Onward.
Now, the first definition of both variations seems to imply that the presence of some sort of magical creature must occur in the story for it to be considered a fairy tale. The American definition bothers to list out examples where the British one does not. Either way, there is not much difference between them. On definition #1, we can rule out "Bambi" as there are no magical creature in it at all. However, "Watership Down" and "The Holy Bible" appear to have more than enough to qualify.
The second definition seems more of an expressional use of the term, but let us look at it anyways. Definition #2 seems to imply that the statement made is a false one. Are fairy tales false? The American definition (#2) seems to push for a misleading account where the British definition (#2) uses the words "highly improbable" which means it still could be true. I almost feel like it is warning me against believing it. So this leaves me with the question: Does it have to be fiction in order for it to be a fairy tale? If so, then Christians would not be very comfortable calling "The Holy Bible" a fairy tale.
It seems to me that there is an overwhelming belief that if something is a fairy tale then it must be a work of fiction. But we tell stories all the time about amazing things. We have had heroes in our past that did amazing things and books were written about them. We look up to them and imagine what it would be like to be so great. What if fairies and magic were real? Would writing about them disqualify them simply on the grounds that they are fairy tales?
If "The Holy Bible" is true then it is clearly a true fairy tale. Nothing about either of the first definitions state that the story had to be a work of fiction. Therefore my own personal conclusion is that both "Watership Down" and "The Holy Bible" are both bonafide fairy tales whether or not either one of them is true or false because they meet the definition.
Now, I am going to do something a little wonky. I am also going to say that "Bambi" is a fairy tale too. I had a conversation with a few people about this recently. I had them all vote on it, and it all tallied to about 50/50. I think this happened because, despite the fact the animals are simply being translated, the fact that we see them speaking to one another seems like magic to us. They also seem more like people when we present them doing it. It is a stretch, and I am aware that many will disagree (as in my little voting session). I would, however, encourage people to not always be so "legal" when it comes to dictionary definitions.
Imagination is a funny, quirky thing. It is generally unrestrained by legalities and politics. It sort of just goes off on its own and does whatever it wants. When you read "Bambi" and hear those animals talk, you are letting go of everything real in the world and exchanging it for something impossible. And if the impossible can inspire your imagination, think about the possibilities that may come from those impossible things. Fairy tales, real or not, are powerful things in our universe. And as we read and create new ones, the true definition of a fairy tale may broaden ever so slightly in the direction of infinity. Never misjudge the power of human imagination.
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I recently finished reading "The Adventures of Pinocchio" by Carlo Collodi. I wanted to have a chat about some aspects of this book but I have to warn you that this will spoil some parts of it. That said, let's begin.
Before I had read this book, my only experience with the Pinocchio story was from the famous Disney film from 1940. I figured the book would have differences, but I never expected how different it was actual going to be. It took me some time to realize that Mister Collodi was something of a humorist. He had a silly wit that he could not help sprinkling into his story. It took me time to get used to it. Once I had, I found the book to be quite fun.
Even though there were some fanciful aspects to the movie, the book was entirely removed from reality altogether. Despite it being set in Italy, it was as if Italy was a fairyland. Animals could talk. Fairies lived among the people. There was a gorilla working as the city magistrate. None of this was considered weird by anyone. Some of these aspects were included in the film, but everything seemed a bit more grounded.
Pinocchio was alive without the need of having a fairy do it for him. In fact, all marionettes lived. Pinocchio's problem was that he was a spoiled brat of a boy even before he was carved into his puppet form. The story was intended to keep children from misbehaving. This Italian fairyland had a set of rules in it that rewarded or punished boys for their deeds.
One of the most famous punishments that befell Pinocchio was what happened when he told a lie. His nose would grow longer and longer until it was completely impossible to move around with it. Apparently Mister Collodi was obsessed with noses. I read that he talked about noses in many of his books and newspaper articles. This trope of a growing nose has been used in popular media ever since.
Remember Jiminy Cricket from the movie? Yes, there was a talking cricket in the story--a wise and ancient philosopher apparently. Pinocchio kills him early in in the story because he did not want to listen to him. The cricket appears rarely after that incident as a ghost. It was an interesting edit on behalf of Disney to keep him alive as well as making him a staple role.
The donkey transformation scene. You remember Pleasure Island from the movie, right? It was called The Land of Toys in the book. Throughout the story, Pinocchio was warned that children who do not go to school and study will grow up to become asses. This suggests that the land of play that Pinocchio ends up going to was not really enchanted. It was simply a distraction used to turn the stupid boys into donkeys to be sold into slavery. The movie suggested that there was a special magical element to Pleasure Island which caused it. I actually like both versions.
Carlo Collodi likely wanted to teach boys to be good and learn from the story, but I also suspect that he was trying to have a lot of fun when he wrote it. There were some comments he made on record that suggest this. I too am intrigued by a place on Earth that is also a fairyland. It sounds quite fun.
This fairyland is not a safe one however. A number of the characters die. Even Pinocchio comes extremely close to death many times before the story ends. After Pinocchio was turned into a donkey, someone tried to drown him so that his hide could be removed. His best friend Lamp-Wick, who also turned into a donkey, actually did die. Two robbers tried to hang Pinocchio from a tree by his neck. He was rescued shortly before he was choked out. A crazy man living in a cave actually tried to eat him.
There was also a scene where Pinocchio was forced to act as a farmer's dog. He even had to live in a doghouse and eat off the ground. Even though Pinocchio was a marionette, this was very demeaning to him. He may not have been human, but his mind was that of a regular boy. This was a traumatic thing to happen.
Despite his trials, he finally did learn his lesson and began to care about others. This earned him the right to be a real boy finally and it is assumed he remained a good person till the end of his days. But the way the book does it is a bit different than the movie. In the book, Pinocchio becomes a real boy, but the marionette remains. It ceases to move because it is missing its soul. This may suggest that the boy was real all along and was simply existing in a different state for a time until he could come of age. Either way, it is not well explained. Disney simplified it by metamorphosing the puppet into a flesh and blood boy by the fairy herself.
I really enjoyed reading Pinocchio. It is perhaps a bit much for a child. Not really too violent for them, but the reading comprehension might be a problem. It is a very wordy book and also fairly lengthy. It is really a classic that has never truly gone away. It was a pleasure to read and I entirely recommend it.
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The previous blog led to some very interesting discussion between me and my friends. This may have happened because I am currently working on a novel which features my own version of the famed Piper. I want to address some of the things mentioned in these comments and further the discussion of this fascinating fairy tale.
My friend Donald White, a brilliant writer in his own right, made the following comment:
"This is very much a story about two wrongs not making a right. The people were indifferent to the piper, so he takes their children. No matter how wonderful the place is that he takes them, it still makes him nothing more than a kidnapper."
Donald's statement is not wrong. From his personal human perspective, he cast judgement on the piper out-rightly without a second thought. Most people on planet earth would do the same. I am sure the people of Hamelin did likewise because they saw that the Piper had committed a more egregious crime then the one they had inflicted upon him. (A mass kidnapping in comparison to a breach of verbal contract. No contest. The kidnapping of children is worse.) By the laws of this world, Donald was correct in his opinion.
However, there is a chance that the Pied Piper was not human at all. He could be a demon or some sort of human hybrid. If this is true, that human morality, laws, and everything he consider normal do not apply to his way of thinking. He very well could have been doing something just and believe in it as greatly as we believe in our own ways. What he is doing may still be adverse to our society and may even require us to intervene; however, that does not exactly put the Piper in the wrong. I will concede to Don if the Piper is indeed human.
My friend, Chris Buffuloe, commented thusly:
"I've only heard of the story through children's cartoons, so the crippled child who did not get to go was surprising and sad. Fascinating that the Piper's motive is vengeance but he still seems to care for the innocent children, he never really gave them a choice in the matter either. Love the mysterious quality of it all, and a lesson to be learned; If a person with talents does you a great service don't turn your back on them when the bill arrives."
Chris did not know about the crippled boy who did not make it into the magical land. This may be because many adaptations of the story drop this because it seems cruel from an authorial perspective to do that to the child. It was a bit like slapping Tiny Tim in the face rather than giving him a giant turkey at the end of "A Christmas Carol." I do not have a problem with the ending change of these adaptations. Both versions work perfectly. But then Chris goes on to assume that the children, although cared for, do not get a choice. The answer seems to lie in the cripple child himself.
The only two to come away from the Pied Piper's influence was a single rat and a crippled child. In both instances, they forever go through life telling the world of the amazing music of this wonderful man, the Pied Piper. The rat tells his rodent brethren that he was so in love with the melody that he simply could not help it. And the boy goes on to explain how wonderful all those sights were within the mountain before it closed on him. He did not seem to hate the Pied Piper for it. To him, it was an unfortunate accident.
The boy's account is very sincere and does not sound like brain washing. This very well could denote that his efforts to follow the Pied Piper was his own choice rather than the hypnosis of a magical instrument. The sight he saw within the mountain furthered his conviction. He saw the Pied Piper as an actor of good in the world and dearly wished he could have hobbled faster so that he could have lived with him forever. If this is true, then Chris' assumption that the children had no choice is dispelled.
My other author friend, Shawn O'Toole, made the following comment:
"The Piper was a demon holding to the mathematical "morality" of cause and effect: "tit for tat" if you will. He initiated a cause but was not reciprocated with the appropriate effect. True to his angelic heritage he crunched the numbers for the appropriate result. His attitude towards the children was consistent with math. They were a future variable SUBTRACTED from the original equation that through [sic] things out of balance. ALSO: angels and demons alike are emotional but unabashed in acting according to those emotions. His concern for the children was that they were unrealized potential. Children are ALWAYS viewed as "potential" by angels and their offspring."
Shawn right-off claims that the Pied Piper is a demon. Demons are a lot like animals but simply more complex and intelligent. They work off of programming. Every action has a reaction depending on what is important to that particular demon. If this is true, then the Pied Pipers reaction to not being paid his dues was a righteous retaliation from his point of view. "No money? Then you don't get to keep your children."
Shawn also mentions that the demon would only see the children as unrealized potential which would fit solidly into his claim that their growth as human beings would be stunted by their parent's own personal inefficiencies. The demon would dislike wasted potential and so make sure that the children are taken out of their hands. "Mathematical morality." He crunched the numbers and made a call. And he had the power and ability to do it too.
I really appreciate all the comments I got for the previous blog. I hope you enjoyed this one as well. "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" is one of the most startling legends on planet Earth, and it deserves a hefty discussion. I am glad I could help out with it a little.
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Here is one that many of you have heard of. "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" is a story that has its origins in the Middle Ages. It is centered around a real location located in Lower Saxony, Germany. By the way, that's cool. That is REALLY cool. An actual fairy tale that has a location in a real place on the map! This is one of the reasons I love human imagination so much.
This story is one of the most dramatic and fascinating tales I have ever come across. Although there are many versions of this story, the one I purchased was by a 19th century author Robert Browning. In this story, you have a man who is particularly good with a flue, a set of pipes, or really any other small wind instrument. He finds a town called Hamelin in which is having an awful problem with rats.
Oh, and by the way: This rat problem is quite possibly the worst you can imagine. There are rats in literally everything. People cannot even take a bath without the vermin swimming around with them. They jump into their soup even as they eat. Everyone time a door is opened, the little things scurry out. It is an absolute disaster which likely spells the end of their society if it cannot be stopped somehow,
The Pied Piper (the word "pied" denoting that he comes wearing colorful clothing) steps in and claims he can literally "play" the rats away. The claim is ridiculous. No one really takes it seriously; however, the mayor is so desperate that he promises to pay the Piper a very large sum of money to do as he suggests.
And would you believe it! The Pied Piper does it! He strikes up a tune and hypnotizes the rats to skip away out of the town. In the Browning version, he sends them all out into a river--the Weser River to be precise--to be drowned. Only one rat seems to have the will to break his hypnosis at the last moment, and he escapes with his life as well as a very fanciful story of what it as like to be hypnotized by such a beautiful melody.
The town is ecstatic that their rat problem is finally gone. They hold a celebration and everything. However, when the Pied Piper comes to be paid his dues, they mock him. After all, all he did was play music. It seems to them that he should have worked harder for the payment promised. In most versions, the Piper either gets paid nothing or something small like only one coin.
The Pied Piper becomes vengeful against the people of Hamelin for not keeping their promise. He sees them as vile and deceitful people. His perspective is that the poor, innocent children living there should not grow up and be the same as those who are raising them. And so, he plays a new tune that draws every single child out of Hamelin. The Piper takes them to a mountain that opens up into a wonderful world filled with toys and candy. All of the children disappear into this place except for one crippled boy who could not make it in time. Similar to the one rat who lived, this boy too came back with wonderful stories of the music and what he saw within the mountain before it closed. And so the story ends.
"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" is a story that directly attacks the indifference of society. This man--however magical--comes with a skill and uses it to help others. They mock him despite being saved by him, and do not give him what he was promised... and honestly what he deserved. If this story is based on a real event--and I think that it is--I suspect that this person may not have been entirely human... if at all.
The Pied Piper has the personality of a sociopath. He made his decision to steal away the children without a second thought. He did not brood on it for any time at all. His vengeful nature seems very cruel. However, he acts in the best interest of the children. I want to say he is either an angel or a demon, but I cannot decide which. And there is a big reason why. The crippled boy.
It has always seemed to me that the crippled boy who was not allowed to enter remained so that he could tell Hamelin of what truly happened to the other children. But he was forsaken himself. Another possibility is that the Piper was simply not aware of him, but that is a little hard to believe. The man was obviously a magical adept. He never comes across as a man who could make such a mistake. Still, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.
"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" will go down in history as one of the most dramatic narratives about indifferent and cruel societies. Its controversy remains to this day. Many can still not accept what the Piper did with those children as a good thing. Perhaps, it was not good. You can decide for yourself.
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I ran into this one quite often. Three sons of a poor man are sent out to accomplish a great act. This often had to do with appeasing a princess in some way so that they could be married and naturally inherit the kingdom. The task they are given is often a puzzle, riddle, and sometimes even a quest of some sort. The personality of the three brothers, where they sometimes vary, are usually pretty similar between each story.
Son number one has a tendency to be brash. In the puzzle, he will be proven too stupid for it. For a riddle, he will often simply guess without giving it much thought. On a quest, he will take actions that harm innocents or use poor judgement that may cost him his life.
The second son is lazier than the first. In a puzzle, he will spend too much time on it and ultimately give up. He may out rightly get the riddle wrong or pass at the attempt. On a quest, he shall prove the coward. In short, he was not a boy made for greatness.
The emphasis of the story always falls on the third and final son. Son number three is often considered the least likely choice even by his own father. Often, he is called stupid and told that he should not even bother. Nevertheless, he tries. This boy is the meek and thoughtful one. He is curious by nature, and although he may be stupid, he sees the world in his own way. Somehow, that gives him an advantage. In a puzzle, he will cheat in a way that is seen as acceptable by his judges. In a riddle, he will either answer correctly or give a better answer than was expected. On a quest, he shall be more clever than bold.
Needless to say, this boy is a long shot, but he is always the one who wins the contest. This fairy tale trope is positively ancient and even has a counterpart in the Bible. What is it about the small and meek that seem destined to inherit the treasures of the Earth? We always assume that people of great power and influence are the ones who come out on top, but our legends seem to point in another direction.
We don't really live in a world where son number three has inherited the Earth. And what do we get for it? It seems rather corrupt, doesn't it? It seems to me that brash, selfish, and lazy does not do this world any good at all. Why not give kind and meek a whirl? See what happens. After all, our legends and fairy tales seem to think that it's a better idea.
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