|A castle, painted by Jacob Grimm, age 10.|
Once upon a time, in Sweden, there lived a queen. She had a stepdaughter and a daughter of her own. She treated the stepdaughter cruelly. One Sunday, before taking her own child to church, she dumped a bushel of peas on the floor and ordered poor Cinder-Girl to gather them all up before her return. Leaving her a “morsel of black bread and a little milk in a cat’s saucer” the stepmother and daughter jeer at Cinder-Girl, threatening her with a beating if she had not gathered the peas. Left alone, the child sits down to cry. That’s when she hears a sound. A “little white ermine “ comes near her, drawn by her tears. Cinder-Girl gives her milk to the animal with silky-soft fur, and tells it of her troubles. Now the ermine blows onto the scattered peas, and they “fly back into the measure.” Thanking the animal profusely, Cinder-Girl follows the ermine deep into the forest. Here it shows her an enormous oak tree, “where she gets dresses, a palfrey, and little pages, and goes to church.” Everyone is amazed at the beauty of this mysterious princess and her retinue of pages, but no one recognizes her. After the church service, Cinder-Girl runs back to the oak tree and changes clothes, then quickly hurries home. For three Sundays this is repeated. The third time that Cinder-Girl returns from church, the little white ermine is waiting for her with a special request. It begs her to “stab a knife into its heart, in return for its services to her.” With much reluctance, the girl complies. Stabbing the ermine in its chest causes, “three drops of blood to fall, from which springs a comely prince, who instantly vanishes.“
Notes: This Swedish Cinderella is titled, Läse-och Läro-bok för Ungdom, and identified as being collected in Stockholm, 1830. Cox, (1892/2010) p. 402. It is the first time we have encountered a stepmother who is a queen, and the first appearance of an ermine as helper animal. It ends surprisingly: Cinder-Girl does the good deed of releasing the prince from his animal state, but is not herself rewarded.
Montessori Connection 6-12: Mammals of Europe/ Mustelidae/Stoats and Weasels
1. The Little Oxford Dictionary defines the ermine as, " a stoat, especially in its white winter fur. "
2. It is related to the weasel.
3. Learn about stoats:The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats: Ecology, Behavior, and Management
4. Learn how stoats (ermines) are turned into coats: Animal Rights: What Everyone Needs to Know;