Monday, March 21, 2005

Toads and Diamonds, by Charles Perrault

I've not shared this story with an audience because I haven't yet found a personal spin on the way I want to tell it. The Brothers Grimm version,"Mother Holle" is more vivid, and perhaps I could combine the two versions somehow.

I always thought of the kind daughter and the mean daughter as being aspects of the same person, that is, myself. The Dire Straits song, "The Bug," reminds me of the story you're about to read:

"Sometimes you're the windshield,
sometimes you're the bug.
Sometimes it all comes together, baby,
sometimes you're just a fool in love."

No kidding!

The story....

There was once upon a time a widow who had two daughters. The older looked so much like her mother and acted so much like her that whoever looked upon the daughter saw the mother. They were both so disagreeable and so proud that they were very hard to live with.

The younger was sweet and courteous. As people naturally love their own likeness, this mother spoiled her older daughter and at the same time was very mean to the younger daughter--she made her eat in the kitchen and work continually.

Among other things, this poor child was forced twice a day to bring home water in a pitcher from a well about a mile and a half from where the family lived. One day, as the younger daughter was at this fountain, there came to her a poor woman, who begged of her to let her drink.

"Oh! yes, with all my heart, ma'am," said kind girl; and rinsing immediately the pitcher, she took up some water from the clearest place of the fountain, and gave it to the old woman, holding up the pitcher all the while to make it easier for the woman to drink.

The old woman, having had her fill of water, said to her:
"You are so very kind, my dear that I want to give you a gift." For this was a fairy, who was dressed like a poor country woman, to see how far the kindess and good manners of this courteous girl would go.

"I will give you for a gift," continued the Fairy, "that, every time you speak, there shall come out of your mouth either a flower or a jewel."

When the kind girl came home her mother scolded her for staying so long at the fountain.

"I beg your pardon, mamma, for being so late," said the poor girl.

And in speaking these words there came out of her mouth two roses, two pearls, and two diamonds.

"What is it I see there?" said the mother, quite astonished. "I think I see pearls and diamonds come out of the girl's mouth! How does this happen, child?"

This was the first time she had ever called her child.

The poor creature told her honestly what had happened, and while speaking, dropping many diamonds out of her mouth.

"In good faith," cried the mother, "I must send your sister. Come here, my dearest; look what comes out of your sister's mouth when she speaks. Wouldn't you be glad, my dear, to have the same gift given to you? You don't have to do anything but go and draw water out of the fountain, and when a certain poor woman asks you to let her drink, to give it to her very kindly."

"It would be a very fine sight indeed," said this ill-mannered girl, "to see me go draw water."

"You shall go, you cantankerous girl!" said the mother; "and this minute."

So away the mean girl went, but complained the whole way there, taking with her the best silver tankard in the house.

She was no sooner at the fountain than she saw coming out of the wood a lady most beautifully dressed, who came up to the girl, and asked to drink. This was, you must know, the very fairy who appeared to the younger sister, but was now dressed and acted like a princess, to see how far this girl's rudeness would go.

"Am I here," said the proud, haughty girl, "to serve you with water? I suppose you think that I brought this silver tankard purely to serve you? However, you may drink out of it, if you want."

"You don't have many manners, do you," answered the Fairy, without getting upset. "Well, then, since you have so little breeding, and are so rude, I give you for a gift that at every word you speak there will come out of your mouth a snake or a toad."

So as soon as her mother saw her older daughter coming she cried out:
"Well, daughter?"

"Well, mother?" answered the rude girl, spitting out of her mouth two vipers and two toads.

"Oh! mercy," cried the mother; "what is this I see? Oh! it is that wretch her sister who has made this happen; but she shall pay for it." Immediately she ran to beat her. The poor child fled away from her mother, and went to hide herself in the forest, not far from the house.

The King's son, returning from a hunting trip, met the kind girl and asked her what she was doing there alone and why she was crying.

"Alas! sir, my mamma has turned me out of doors."

The King's son, who saw five or six pearls and as many diamonds come out of her mouth, asked her to tell him how that happened. She told him the whole story; and so, seeing how loving and kind she was, the King's son fell in love with her, and, took her to the palace of his father the King, and there married her.

As for the sister, she was so mean that even her own mother turned her out; and the miserable girl, having wandered about a good while without finding anybody to take her in, went deep into the woods and was never heard from again.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a quote that my mother tells me often...This is actually a lesson of life passed down from her mother, my grandmother, a woman who died when my mother was only 14. We never got to meet but I summon her image up whenever I think of this:

If you have nothing nice to say, then you needn't say anything at all.

Sometimes it's hard in this culture (every culture!) to learn to keep your mouth shut. Perhaps, ironically, the storyteller is best able to do this.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

It does seem as if we go one way (too much talk) or another (not enough), doesn't it? My interpretation of the maxim your mother quotes is that if you have nothing constructive to say, don't say anything at all. There are times when we do need to say things that aren't pleasant, but when is there ever a need for cruelty?

Thanks for responding to this post. It is wonderful to have feedback.

galetea said...

I remember hearing this story as a child and being equally horrified at having either jewels or frogs coming out of someone's mouth! I always thought I wouldn't fancy a diamond that someone had yaked up.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

What if someone washed the diamond off?! I imagined that the diamond wasn't "yacked up" a la a Ron Weasley spell gone wrong, but something that appeared on the lips. I would hope, at any rate... There is a nice version by Charlotte S. Huck in which both the blessing and the curse last "as long as there is a need for it." Here is the link:

galetea said...

No, no, it sounds cool to me now, but it kinda weirded my little kid brain out a bit. :)