The Principality of the Brothers Grimm revisited

The other day, I wrote about the rather mysterious and enchanting places which are Britain’s temperate rainforests. I’m not sure if France’s Labyrinthe Verte also qualifies, but it’s a very promising candidate. Here’s a post I wrote some eleven years ago, after we’d walked there.

THE PRINCIPALITY OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM: AND STONE SOUP

Sunday. We went to Nébias in the Aude. Just outside the village, you’ll find the Labyrinthe Verte, a natural maze, with winding pathways through a forest, where rocks and plants have created a bewildering array of natural passageways which are both beautiful and fun to explore. These paths are cut deep through limestone, often at shoulder height.  Somehow, we’d never visited.  But today, thanks to the Rando del’Aubo, our walking group, we did.

It’s been a lovely bright spring day today, but the forested labyrinth is never really sunny.  Trees, their trunks and branches bearded with feathery fronds of moss and lichen, crowd the limestone crags and fissured passageways.  Deprived of light and space, they assume crippled and fanciful shapes, or else aim straight for the sun, their thin trunks competing with each other for a place to establish their roots.  It’s not eerie however.  On this warm March day, we wouldn’t have been surprised to meet an ethereal band of fairies whirling through the dampened glades: on a bad night in November, perhaps a gnarled and wicked hag from the tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Every time of year has its own magic apparently.  On the coldest days of winter, the mosses and lichens are white and crisp with frost, making the forest fit for a Snow Queen.

At lunch time, since we were in France and eating’s important, the darkened passages unexpectedly cleared.  Suddenly, beneath blue skies and bright sunshine there was a fissured limestone pavement, providing surfaces and seating for our lunchtime picnic.  Which Malcolm had somehow left behind.  The members of the group magicked their very own version of Stone Soup for him. Do you know this tale?

Once upon a time, there was great famine throughout the land. Villagers squirrelled away any tiny amounts of food that they had. One day, a soldier came by, asking for a place to sleep for the night, and perhaps a meal. The villagers explained there was no food. ‘That’s alright, I have plenty. I have a magic stone that cooks delicious soup for me every night’. And he hauled a great cauldron from his pack, set a fire, filled his pot with water, and reverently placed a stone – also in his pack – into the water. Eventually the water simmered. The soldier tasted it. ‘Delicious!’ he pronounced. ‘Now, if anyone happened to have a carrot to add, it would be even better’. A woman in the crowd hurried home and found – two. The soldier declared the soup even tastier, but if anyone had some cabbage…? Then …. an onion? …some celery? … potato? The butcher found some scraps of pork and everything went into the pot. Before long, the soup was delicious indeed, and everyone filled their bellies. But the soldier wouldn’t sell his stone: no, not for any money.

On this occasion, within half a minute Malcolm had more food then the rest of the group put together. A mustardy ham baguette, some home cured sausage, a chunk of bread, a chocolate pudding, and apple…. The power of working together!

The afternoon was different.  Walking away from the enchanting and enchanted labyrinth, we came to more open country, where we passed first farmland, then the edges of forest with tracks showing where wild boar and deer had recently passed.  Finally, we climbed, and had views across to the mountains and the walks we’ve enjoyed there on other Sunday rambles, finishing up listening to the lively splashing of a waterfall.

7th March 2011

The featured image is from the archive of La Dépêche du Midi, our local paper when we lived in France.

The panto is over. Long live Cinderella.

Before Christmas, I promised you an alternative version of Cinderella, prompted by a session we’d had in my writing group.

Well, dear reader, I wrote it. And no, I’m not going to share it, because what I found out was that I have no talent for, nor interest in writing fiction. What I produced was workmanlike and …. dull. Which is a shame, as I enjoy reading fiction, every day of my life.

But you did ask, so I’ll share a synopsis with you.

Grizelda and Gertrude lived with their mother in straitened circumstances since their father, a knight, had been killed in the Holy Land during the Crusades. From necessity, and from a belief, uncommon at the time that all are created equal, these God-fearing girls and their mother worked alongside the only remaining servant in running the household. Nevertheless, their mother eventually remarried. Her new husband was a widowed nobleman with an amiable if empty-headed 14-year-old daughter, Cinderella, over-indulged by a friend of the girl’s dead mother and whom she called her ‘Fairy Godmother’.

The two older girls tried to include Cinderella in their simple hard-working way of life, but she resented their efforts, regarding them as dull and boring.

One day, an invitation came from the King to all noble families. He was holding a summer ball to celebrate his son Prince Charming’s 21st birthday, in his summer palace outside the nearby town of Fantasienstadt. Grizelda and Gertrude didn’t want to go at all. Cinderella did, but as she had only just turned 15, her father stood firm and forbade it however much she and her godmother pleaded, raged and stormed.

At the ball, the two sisters, big-boned and gauche, found few dance partners. They looked on as a bewitchingly beautiful young woman arrived and straightaway attracted the eye of Prince Charming. She looked not unlike Cinderella. All evening she and the prince danced, until suddenly, just before midnight, she ran away, screaming in panic. She didn’t even stop to pick up the delicate sparkly shoe she lost in her hurry to escape.

The next day, a royal footman came to the door, bearing this same shoe. He needed to find its owner. Cinderella astonished everyone by claiming it was hers, and proved it by running to fetch its partner. She was swept off to the palace by the footman, and the rest is history.

Ann Anderson (1874 – 1952). Cinderella escapes from the ball in a great hurry.

Later, Cinderella explained that her godmother had borrowed all the finery, together with a splendid carriage, so that she could get to the ball. But she had to be home for midnight, when it was to be returned.

And Grizelda and Gertrude? Just one ball had been enough to convince them that the trappings of a noble life were not for them. They both entered a convent, where they lived in devotion and service for the rest of their lives.

A night at the panto? I think not….

I’ve never told you about my Tuesday mornings, have I?  Every other Tuesday, I’m in Ripon with Sheila and her Creative Writing Group.  We have such fun.  Today, for instance, having looked at how many genres of writing there are (dystopian novels, anybody? Memoirs? Epic verse?) we each wrote three sentences – just three – introducing the story of Cinderella.  And then we did it again.  And again.

I can’t take you to the panto (I wouldn’t anyway.  Not a fan).  But I can offer you my three versions of Cinderella, which neither Perrault nor the Brothers Grimm would recognise.  Take your pick.

Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World, Christmas 2007: Benjamin D Esham.

If you visit the town of Fantasienburg, be sure to visit the new museum dedicated to Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters.  These two widely misunderstood figures from German mediaeval history have recently been reappraised.  Evidence uncovered in previously unpublished documents found at the University of Würzfurt reveals a surprising story……..

or……

The court of the House of Grimm announced yesterday the death of King Charming at the age of 96.  He died peacefully in his sleep.  His reign was characterised by a rejection of the flamboyance shown by his father, in favour of the simple values espoused by his consort, Queen Cinderella……

Arthur Rackham’s 1919 illustration to CS Evan’s edition of ‘Cinderella’.

or ….

She seemed a slatternly young woman.  Her hair was greasy, her clothes stained and worn, and her hands, with chipped dirty nails, were covered in calluses.  The equerry regarded her with disdain and disapproval ….. 

A fairly wholesome Cinderella, dating from 1865.

I might take one of these stories forward over Christmas.  Which one?