|From California Fairy Tales|
Once upon a time, "there was a man whose wife and died, and a woman whose husband had died; and the man had a daughter, and the woman also had a daughter." The children played together, and one day, the mother who had lost her husband said to her daughter's playmate, "LIsten, tell your father I want to marry him. Then you shall wash yourself in milk every morning and drink wine, while my daughter will wash herself in water and drink water." So the girl asked her father to marry her friend's mother, and the man said to himself, "What shall I do? Marriage is both joy and torture." He decided that to solve the dilemma, he would let his boot do it. Taking one boot off, he gave it to his daughter and said, "Take this boot, it's got a hole in the sole. Carry it up to the loft, hang it on a big nail and pour water into it." If the water ran out, he would stay a single man; if it stayed in, he would marry. So the girl did this and the water stayed in, and the man agreed to marry the mother of his daughter's playmate. "On the day after the wedding, when the two girls got up, the man's daughter had milk to wash herself and wine to drink, while the woman's daughter had water to wash herself and water to drink. On the second morning, both girls had water to wash themselves and water to drink. On the third morning, the man's daughter had water to wash herself and water to drink, while the woman's daughter had milk to wash herself, and wine to drink. And that's the way it remained." As time went by, the stepmother came to hate her stepdaughter more and more. She schemed to get rid of her,and, one day when it was winter, and bitterly cold, she "made a dress out of paper and called her stepdaughter to her." She told her to take off her woolen dress and put on the one of paper, and go into the forest, and fill a basket with strawberries. The girl protested saying that "The wind will blow right through this dress, and the thorns will tear it off my body." But her stepmother insisted that she had a taste for strawberries, and threatened to beat the girl if she did not go. So the girl put on the paper dress,and took the basket, and went into the woods. When she had walked a long way she saw "nothing but snow as far as the eye could see, not even a blade of grass." But finally, she reached a small cottage,where she could see "three little gnomes looking out the window.She wished them good day and knocked politely at their door." They let her in, and watched as she warmed herself by the fire. When she drew out her meager provisions, they asked her to share. She said, "Gladly." And gave them half of her bread. After they had eaten, they asked her what she meant by wearing a paper dress in the snow, and she told them of the errand she was on for her stepmother. Then they said, "Sweep the snow away from the back door." and gave her a broom. The girl obeyed and was delighted to find "lots of ripe, dark red strawberries shooting out of the ground.' She quickly filled her basket. Meanwhile, back in the cottage, the gnomes were deciding on gifts for the nice girl in the paper dress. The first said, "She shall become more and more beautiful each day that passes." The second declared, "Each time she utters a word, gold pieces shall fall out of her mouth." And the third announced, "A king shall come, and take her for his wife." When the girl came back inside, "she thanked the little men by shaking hands with each of them, and ran home to her stepmother, bringing her what she had demanded." When the woman questioned her as to why it had taken so long, the girl told her about the gnomes in their cottage. At each word, she dropped a gold piece. Now her stepsister said, "Just look at how arrogant she is! The way she throws money around." And then the sister said that she would go to the forest to get gifts as well. Her mother gave her "bread and butter and cake" to eat along the way, and a fur coat to wrap herself in. The girl set out boldly, and when she saw the cottage, she walked right in. With nary a word to the three little gnomes she drew out her cake and bread, and ate every crumb without offering them so much as a morsel. When they gave her a broom and asked her to sweep the snow from the back door she said, "Do your own sweeping. I'm not you maid!" So the first gnome said to his brothers, "What shall we give her for being so naughty and having such a wicked and greedy heart that makes her so stingy?" So one of his brothers replied, "She shall grow uglier with each day that passes." The next brother said," Each time she utters a word, a toad shall spring out of her mouth." And the eldest said, "She shall die a miserable death." When this girl reached home and her mother saw the effects of her horrible gifts, she grew more determined to rid herself of the other girl. So "she took a kettle put it on the fire and boiled some yarn in it. When the yarn was boiled, she hung it on the poor maiden's shoulders , gave her an ax, and ordered her to go to the frozen river, where she was to chop a hole and rinse the yarn." The poor girl obeyed, for what else could she do? When she got to the river, a king saw her chopping ice while draped in the heavy wool. Seeing her beauty, he asked her,"Would you like to ride with me to my castle?' and she answered, "Oh yes, with all my heart." She was grateful to get far away from her stepmother. The king, having fallen in love with the girl draped in wool, asked her to marry him. The wedding was celebrated with feasting and dancing, and a year later, the young queen gave birth to a son. But the stepmother heard this news, and came to the castle with her own child, feigning love for the queen. When they were admitted to the queen's chamber, "the evil woman seized the queen by her head and the daughter grabbed her by the feet. They lifted her from the bed and threw her right out the window into the river flowing by the castle." Quick as a wink, the ugly daughter jumped into bed and began to nurse the babe. When the king came in and saw how ugly his wife looked, the mother in law said that it was just a fever. And when the false queen spoke to the king, she spewed toads instead of gold. Alarmed, the king demanded to know the reason. Again, the stepmother said that it was an effect of the fever, so the king departed. Later that night, one of the kitchen' boys observed a duck swimming by in the drain. It said, "King, my king, what are you doing? Are you awake, or might you be sleeping?' When the boy did not answer, the duck said,'And are all my guests now sound asleep?' Then the kitchen boy answered, 'Yes, indeed, you can't hear a peep!' Then she asked again, 'How about that baby of mine?' He replied, 'Oh, helps asleep and doing just fine." That's when the duck transformed into the ghost of the queen, who went upstairs "nursed the baby, plumped up his little bed, covered him, and returned to the drain where she turned into a duck." For three nights in a row this happened. On the third night, the duck said to the boy, "Go and tell the king to take the sword and and swing it three times over my head on the threshold." So the boy gave this message to the king and when the king had done this, the ghost became the queen again, alive and well. He treated her gently, and kept her and the baby closely guarded until Sunday, when the child was to be baptized. That's when he sent for the false queen and her mother and asked them,"What does a person deserve who drags someone out of bed and throws them into the river?" And the stepmother said, "The scoundrel deserves nothing more than to be put into a barrel studded with nails on the inside. And then he should be rolled down the hill into the water." "You have pronounced your own sentence, ' said the king. And such a barrel was brought, and the two evil ones put inside and the lid nailed on and the barrel shove down the hill to the sea. But the King and the Queen and their child lived happily ever after. From The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. p. 45
Notes: This is another one of those fairy tales with all the classic elements: a queen transformed into a duck, the impossible task, here it is filling a basket with strawberries during a freezing European winter. This task is the very same demanded by the stepmother in the Czekoslovakian tale, "The Twelve Months." In that story, the girl meets 12 old men, who are the months. The 3 male gnomes serve the same role as that of Baba Yaga when she is benovolent, or the 3 water spirits who show up so much in Cinderella stories.
Montessori Connection: Cultural Geography/Northern Europe/Gnomes
1. Read this story, and watch for the gnomes.
2. Using a map of Europe, locate Germany, the country where this story was collected.
3. Now locate Czekoslovakia, which is now 2 countries, The Czek Republic and the Slovak Republic.
4. Learn more about gnomes in European culture. Over the Hills and Far Away: Stories of Dwarfs, Fairies, Gnomes and Elves from Around Europe or Gyo Fujikawa's Come Follow Me to the Secret World of Elves and Fairies and Gnomes and Trolls or D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls (New York Review Children's Collection)
5. Learn more about mythical "little people" in other cultures:Elves, Fairies & Gnomes