Today’s tale is The Story of The Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was (from Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales – The Brothers Grimm). [Yes, I skipped Our Lady’s Child. It was too religious for me – though I agree with part of the moral: be honest].
My summary of today’s tale:
A father had two sons. The elder son was clever and learned well, but the younger son was stupid and could not learn nor understand. So all tasks fell on the elder son, so did them well except when asked to fetch things at night, as he was afraid and would exclaim “It makes me shudder!” The younger son could not understand this “shuddering” business.
One day, the father tells his younger son that it is time to try to make his way in the world, and the youth replies that he is very willing to learn, but would most like to learn how to shudder.
When the sexton (graveyard keeper) comes for a visit, he agrees to take the youth on, and train him up a bit, figuring that the boy will learn to shudder soon enough. The boy is sent up into the tower to ring the church bell at midnight, and the sexton pretends to be a ghost. The youth is not at all afraid, and gets angry that the “ghost” is not replying, so throws him down the stairs. The poor sexton ends up with a broken leg.
Ashamed of his bad behaviour, his father gives the boy some money and tells him to make his own way in the world. The youth sets off, repeating constantly to himself “If only I could shudder!”
On the way, he is approached by a man and makes a deal. The youth is told to spend a night below a hangman’s tree, where seven men are strung, and if he learns to shudder he will give the man his money. The youth settles down for the night, building a fire as it was cold and windy. The wind knocks the hanged men about in their tree, and the youth (who is not so smart) thinks that these men will be cold. So he gets them down and puts them near the fire, only to have the rags of what is left of their clothing catch on fire. So he gets angry and strings them back up again. In the morning, the man comes, expecting that the youth will have learned to shudder. No dice.
The youth goes on his way, and meets a wagon driver, who gives him a ride. They end up at an inn, and the innkeeper tells them of a haunted castle near by. The King has promised that anyone who can last three nights in this haunted castle can have his (incidentally quite beautiful) daughter as a wife. All who have attempted to stay in the castle thus far have not come out again.
So, the youth goes to the King and asks to spend the night in the castle, if only to learn to shudder. He asks for and is granted a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting board with the knife. With these things, he goes to the castle to spend his first night.
Around midnight, as he is sitting by the fire, two great big black cats come out of the shadows, complaining of cold. The youth invites them to warm themselves. Once warm, the cats invite him to a game of cards. The youth asks to see their paws first, and upon seeing their large claws he seizes them and fastens them to the cutting board, to cut their nails. Unfortunately for the cats, he changes his mind about the cards, kills them, and throws them into the pond. A swarm of cats and dogs pours forth, and scatters his fire, and eventually the youth gets mad again and kills a bunch (and the others run away). He gets tired and goes to bed, only to have a dream about the bed moving rapidly about. He wakes up, throws off the blankets, and lays to sleep by the fire. In the morning, the King is astonished to find the youth alive and well. The youth laments again that he has not yet learnt to shudder.
The second night, around midnight, a clatter comes, and half a man falls down the chimney, and then another half. The youth builds up the fire a bit more, so that the halves might be more comfortable. a bunch more men fall down, and then some legs and skulls and the lot of them decide to play bowling. The youth joins them, after turning the skulls round on his lathe so they will roll better. He plays, and loses some of his money in betting, but has a good time all round. Everything vanishes when the clock strikes, and the youth sleeps the rest of the night with no incident. Again, the King is astonished, and the youth laments that he is not yet able to shudder.
On the third night, six men bring by a coffin and the youth decides to try to warm up the body inside – his dead cousin. Eventually he warms up the man, who tries to strangle him, but the youth overpowers him and puts him back in the coffin which is collected by the six men and taken away. The youth is quite depressed that he still has not learned to shudder. An old man with a long white beard enters, and proclaims that the boy shall learn to shudder, because he is going to die. The youth declares that he should have a say in his own death, and that he is just as strong as the old man and probably stronger anyway. So the old man takes him down through dark passages, until they reach the smith’s forge. With one blow, the old man strikes an anvil into the ground. The youth thinks he can do better, and splits an anvil with an axe. The old man, who had been leaning close to look, has his beard caught by the anvil, and the youth starts to beat the old man with an iron bar. The old man groans and tells the youth to stop and he will give him great riches. The youth stops and the old man leads him to three chests filled with gold. The old man tells the youth that one chest is for the poor, one for the King, and one to keep for himself. The clock strikes, and the spirit disappears.
The youth finds his way back to his room, has a good sleep by the fire, and still has not learned to shudder.
The King is much pleased, as the youth has broken the enchantment on the haunted castle. The youth gets to marry the Princess, and all seems well. The youth, now the young king, is happy but always wishes that he could shudder.
His wife, annoyed by this constant obsession with shuddering, gets mad, and one night with the help of her maid, goes to the stream and fills a big bucket. While the king is sleeping, the queen takes off his clothes and dumps the whole bucket of cold water and little fish all over him. The king wakes up, asking “What makes me shudder so?” and then – “I know that it is to shudder!!”
This is kind of a silly story – I would gather that the youth’s trials would be terrifying to the original audience of the Brother’s Grimm, and it does seem kind of creepy. That said, the youth seems like a kind of violent and yes, stupid guy.
I do like it that it’s the girl who gets him to shudder in the end. Ha!