THERE was once upon a time a poor miller who had a very beautiful daughter. Now it happened one day that he had an audience with the King, and in order to appear a person of some importance he told him that he had a daughter who could spin straw into gold. "Now that's a talent worth having," said the King to the miller; "so I'll put her to the test."
So the King at once sent his guards for the daughter (whose name was Penelope) and before she could ask a question or say a word, she was carried off to the castle and put into into a room full of straw. A deaf old guard, who would not listen to a word she said, gave her a spinning-wheel and spindle, saying: "The King has commanded you must set to work and spin all night till early dawn, and if by that time you haven't spun the straw into gold you shall die, and your boastful father as well." That the King departed on a journey, leaving his executioner with orders that any day the girl did not produce gold, he should chop off her head, and her father's.
So the poor miller's daughter sat down in the straw, and didn't know what in the world she was to do. She thought and thought, but could think of no way to protect herself and her papa from the King's anger. She tried spinning some straw, repeating all the magic words she had ever heard of, but nothing happened, and at last, with her hands painfully scratched from the rough straw and the spindle, she became so miserable that she began to cry.
Suddenly the door opened, and in stepped a tiny little man and said: "Good-evening, Miss Miller-maid; why are you crying so bitterly?"
"Oh!" answered the girl, "I have to spin straw into gold, and haven't a notion how it's done."
"What will you give me if I spin it for you?" asked the manikin.
"My necklace," replied the girl, "if you will show me how."
He would not show her how, but the little man took the necklace, sat himself down at the wheel, and whir, whir, whir, the wheel went round three times, and the bobbin was full. Then he put on another, and whir, whir, whir, the wheel went round three times, and the second too was full; and so it went on till the morning, when all the straw was spun away, and all the bobbins were full of gold.
As soon as the sun rose the deaf old guard came back, had the miller's daughter put into another room full of straw, much bigger than the first, and bade her, if she valued her life and her father's, spin it all into gold before the following morning.
After a while the door opened as before, and the tiny little man appeared and said: "What'll you give me if I spin the straw into gold for you?"
"The ring from my finger," answered the girl.
The manikin took the ring, and whir! round went the spinning-wheel again, and when morning broke he had spun all the straw into glittering gold.
Next day the deaf old guard had the miller's daughter brought into a yet bigger room full of straw. "Spin this as well," he said, "otherwise you die."
When Penelope was alone the little man appeared for the third time, and said: "What'll you give me if I spin the straw for you once again?"
"I've nothing more with me to give," answered the girl. "But if I get out of here, my papa and I will reward you."
"Then promise me if you become Queen, to give me your firstborn child."
"That's ridiculous!" she said, and offered him all sorts of other rewards and payments.
But the little man refused all reasonable plans. "This is my final offer," he said.
'Becoming Queen is impossible,' thought Penelope. 'I would never marry this harsh old king, no matter what!' And seeing no other way to save her life, she promised the manikin what he demanded, and he set to work once more and spun the straw into gold.
Next morning the King returned, accompanied by his son the Prince, who had been away at University for several years. Seeing the great room full of gold, the King swelled with pride and greed, and commanded Penelope: "Every day for the rest of your life you must spin this much gold, or I will chop off your head!"
"What?" cried the Prince, who had known nothing of these events. "What a cruel threat! You cannot imprison a citizen and treat her this way!" For, at University, he had learned some quite modern ideas.
"Yes, I can!" shouted the King, and he and the Prince began quarreling so loudly that after a few minutes the King fell down in a fit and died. While courtiers ran this way and that, the Prince had the girl immediately conducted to a safe and luxurious room in the castle tower, for, "Now that everyone knows you can spin gold, you might be kidnapped," he said.
"But I CAN'T spin gold!" shouted the girl, now that she had a chance to speak. "I didn't DO it. A strange little dwarf did it, and furthermore he made me promise him my firstborn child!"
"What!" cried the Prince. "That's awful!" And he set his guards to search the kingdom for the dwarf. "If he can spin gold," said the Prince, "as his penance we will make him teach us the secret."
For weeks the guards searched high and low, and Penelope and the wise men and the Prince (whose name was Edward) tried their best to imitate the dwarf's skill with the spinning wheel and the straw, to no avail; the dwarf could not be found and the straw could not be spun, but in the meantime Edward and the girl became good friends and eventually fell in love, and Edward asked her to marry him.
"But what about my firstborn child?" she said. "What if the dwarf shows up?"
"Then," Edward said as he had before, "we will imprison that wicked dwarf till he tells us how to spin gold, then perhaps -- pardon him for making such a ridiculous demand."
And so they were married and lived together in happiness, setting the kingdom to rights as its new King and Queen. When a year had passed a beautiful son was born to them, and so great was their joy that they almost forgot about the dwarf. But all of a sudden one day the little man appeared by magic in the Queen's private chamber and said: "Now give me what you promised."
Clutching her baby and sidling toward the bell-pull to summon the guards, Penelope said: "I will pay you double the value of all the gold you spun. If you will teach us how to spin gold, or even silver or copper, we will reward you even more greatly"
But the manikin said: "No, a living creature is dearer to me than all the treasures in the world."
"Then find some poor orphan baby who needs a home!" Penelope grasped the bell-pull and rang for the guards, but in so doing she momentarily loosened her grip on the baby. Quick as a wink, the dwarf cast a magic spell and the baby vanished!
The guards and the Prince burst into the room and surrounded the dwarf, but it was too late. The baby was nowhere to be found, and all their threats and entreaties could not move the dwarf to restore him. "The baby is mine by contract," the dwarf said coldly. "What you promised, you must perform."
"You maniac!" shouted Edward threateningly. "A baby cannot be contracted for!"
Penelope, thinking fast, spoke more gently, to humour the crazy dwarf. "Let us have a trial at law," she said, "and all abide by the result."
"Very well," said the dwarf. "I just want my rights, that's all. But the judge must be someone old enough to know Ye Olde Objective Moral Law."
So, summoning a wise old scholar to be judge, they went to the judicial chambers and the dwarf presented his case: "I did honest work; I kept my part of the bargain; now she must keep her promise."
The judge peered over his spectacles at the Queen. "Did you make this promise? Why?"
"Otherwise my head would be cut off, and my father's."
The judge said: "That is a promise made under duress, therefore not binding. It is very near to extortion. A person in trouble, especially a young woman, should be treated with kindness, not exploited."
"I object," said the dwarf. "Any woman who would make such a wicked bargain, is obviously an unfit mother."
The judge said: "Whose idea was this wicked bargain?"
"His," said the Queen. "He insisted."
The judge said: "That is entrapment."
"I object," said the dwarf. "My mission from Wizard Schrodinger is to pre-emptively identify possible unfit mothers. And furthermore, whatever I may be guilty of, her promise is a promise." And he refused to restore the baby.
"Objection overruled," said the judge. "And furthermore, a promise cannot be enforced if it is a promise to do a crime. And to abandon a baby to a person as cruel as you, would be a crime."
"The contract says nothing about cruelty of the purchaser or welfare of the merchandise," the dwarf said. "But just to show that I am not a hard-hearted person," he said to the Queen, "I will give you a chance. I'll give you three days to guess my name, and if you find it out in that time I will return your child. Each day I will appear here to hear your guesses." And with that, the dwarf himself vanished!
The Queen pondered the whole night over all the names she had ever heard, and sent a messenger to scour the land, and to pick up far and near any names he could come across. When the little man appeared on the following day she began with Kasper, Melchior, Belshazzar, and all the other names she knew, in a string, but at each one the manikin called out: "That's not my name."
The next day she sent to inquire the names of all the people in the neighborhood, and had a long list of the most uncommon and extraordinary for the little man when he made his appearance. "Is your name, perhaps, Sheepshanks Cruickshanks, Spindleshanks, Rosenstein or Gilderstern, Curley, Mo, or Larry?"
But he always replied: "That's not my name."
On the third day the messenger returned and announced: "I have not been able to find any new names, but as I came upon a high hill round the corner of the wood, where the foxes and hares bid each other good-night, I saw a little house, and in front of the house burned a fire, and round the fire sprang the most grotesque little man, hopping on one leg and crying:
"To-morrow I brew, to-day I bake,
And then the child away I'll take;
For little deems my royal dame
That Rumpelstiltzkin is my name!"
You can imagine the Queen's delight at hearing the name! Shortly afterward the little man appeared and asked: "Now, my lady Queen, what's my name?"
While the guards were quietly surrounding him in case he tried violence or another spell, she asked first: "Is your name Conrad?"
"Is your name Harry?"
"Is your name perhaps, Rumpelstiltzkin?"
"Some demon has told you that! some demon has told you that!" screamed the little man. "But I am a dwarf of my word! My promise WAS a promise! I promised and I will perform!" And he spoke a spell backwards and the baby reappeared in the Queen's arms, crying and needing its diaper changed, but otherwise none the worse for wear.
The Queen embraced the baby and the King embraced the Queen and the guards cheered and the court all wept for joy, forgetting the dwarf.
In his rage the dwarf drove his right foot so far into the stone floor that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.
Copyright 2007 by Rosemary Lake. All rights reserved.
Was Fernando Pessoa a troll?
(Portugal, 1888 - 1935)
It is sometimes said that the four greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa. The statement is possible since Pessoa, whose name means `person' in Portuguese, had three alter egos who wrote in styles completely different from his own. In fact Pessoa wrote under dozens of names, but Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos were their creator claimed full-fledged individuals who wrote things that he himself would never or could never write. He dubbed them `heteronyms' rather than pseudonyms, since they were not false names but "other names", belonging to distinct literary personalities. Not only were their styles different; they thought differently, they had different religious and political views, different aesthetic sensibilities, different social temperaments. And each produced a large body of poetry. Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis also signed dozens of pages of prose.
One evening an elder Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life.
He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.
One is Evil. It represents fear, anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego, and unfaithfulness.
The other is Good. It stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, forgiveness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faithfulness.
This same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too."
They thought about it for a minute then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
I knew a different version of this story where it was the wife who asked for a sausage. Anyway, the moral is the same, "Be careful what you wish for... you just may get it!"
Once upon a time, and be sure 'twas a long time ago, there lived a poor woodman in a great forest, and every day of his life he went out to fell timber. So one day he started out, and the goodwife filled his wallet and slung his bottle on his back, that he might have meat and drink in the forest. He had marked out a huge old oak, which, thought he, would furnish many and many a good plank. And when he was come to it, he took his ax in his hand and swung it round his head as though he were minded to fell the tree at one stroke. But he hadn't given one blow, when what should he hear but the pitifullest entreating, and there stood before him a fairy who prayed and beseeched him to spare the tree. He was dazed, as you may fancy, with wonderment and affright, and he couldn't open his mouth to utter a word. But he found his tongue at last, and, "Well," said he, "I'll e'en do as thou wishest."
"You've done better for yourself than you know," answered the fairy, "and to show I'm not ungrateful, I'll grant you your next three wishes, be they what they may." And therewith the fairy was no more to be seen, and the woodman slung his wallet over his shoulder and his bottle at his side, and off he started home.
But the way was long, and the poor man was regularly dazed with the wonderful thing that had befallen him, and when he got home there was nothing in his noddle but the wish to sit down and rest. Maybe, too, 'twas a trick of the fairy's. Who can tell? Anyhow, down he sat by the blazing fire, and as he sat he waxed hungry, though it was a long way off suppertime yet.
"Hasn't thou naught for supper, dame?" said he to his wife.
"Nay, not for a couple of hours yet," said she.
"Ah!" groaned the woodman, "I wish I'd a good link of black pudding here before me."
No sooner had he said the word, when clatter, clatter, rustle, rustle, what should come down the chimney but a link of the finest black pudding the heart of man could wish for.
If the woodman stared, the goodwife stared three times as much. "What's all this?" says she.
Then all the morning's work came back to the woodman, and he told his tale right out, from beginning to end, and as he told it the goodwife glowered and glowered, and when he had made an end of it she burst out, "Thou bee'st but a fool, Jan, thou bee'st but a fool; and I wish the pudding were at thy nose, I do indeed."
And before you could say "Jack Robinson," there the goodman sat, and his nose was the longer for a noble link of black pudding.
He gave a pull, but it stuck, and she gave a pull, but it stuck, and they both pulled till they had nigh pulled the nose off, but it stuck and stuck.
"What's to be done now?" said he.
"'Tisn't so very unsightly," said she, looking hard at him.
Then the woodman saw that if he wished, he must need wish in a hurry; and wish he did, that the black pudding might come off his nose. Well! there it lay in a dish on the table, and if the goodman and goodwife didn't ride in a golden coach, or dress in silk and satin, why, they had at least as fine a black pudding for their supper as the heart of man could desire.