Recently, I told a story. Not a remarkable event in and of itself, given that I'd told it before, but the venue was special, and so was the event. I had the privilege of co-hosting massmouth's very first Adult Folk Tale Slam, with massmouth co-founder and doyenne of Storytelling Norah Dooley, at the magically delicious Puppet Showplace Theater, in Brookline Village.
There are so many reasons to love PST, the Boston area's premiere spot to check out the latest in the art of puppetry. Part of my personal feeling derives from the spellbound enjoyment I experienced there as a wee tot, on the rare occasions when my parents brought me in to town for a show. Utter joy, to see some of my favorite stories enacted before my eyes on a small stage, by beautiful little creatures, operated as if by magic, by clever characters in black gloves. Years later, I had the distinct pleasure of bringing my own child to a show, and reliving that enchanting experience.
Adult Folk Tale Slam was "Grimm & Twisted," in homage to the bicentennial of the publication of the Grimm brothers' famous collection of Folk Tales. (If you're interested in massmouth's Adult Folk Tale Slams, you can click here for more information.) The story I told is an Irish variant of a Grimm tale, known in their collection as "The Three Spinners."
I like this story, in part, because it is about fiber arts, and I'm an avid knitter. It starts with a young woman who hates to spin, and won't take part in any of the work around her home. She's a daydreamer, and if she had known how to read, she would most likely have been an unrepentant bookworm, like myself. In short order, the heroine of the story finds herself in a large room filled with flax that needs spinning. This is about where you'd expect someone like Rumpelstiltskin to show up, and make her an offer she can't refuse, if you know what I mean, but instead a cheerful and peculiarly deformed small woman - of obvious fairy extraction - appears, and does the spinning for her, in exchange for nothing more than an invitation to the heroine's wedding feast, which is anticipated with confidence.
This being a fairytale, of course there are a total of three visitations made by three mysteriously misshapen fairy females; the twist at the end comes when our heroine actually fulfills her obligation to her three helpers, against all expectation. This rather shocked me when I first read this tale, since throughout the story, the young woman is portrayed rather unsympathetically; I confess that my expectations of her moral and intellectual fiber were pretty low. It really took me by surprise when she actually follows through on her promises and allows these three strange looking creatures to attend her wedding feast.
Other than being pretty, the heroine has no noticeable appeal - no interesting character traits or talents - apart from a marked propensity to indulge in histrionics when things don't go her way. You can't help but wonder, why do those three little ladies take such pains to help her out? This question remains unanswered for the bulk of the story, but the threesome come through for the unnamed heroine, with the result that the prince of Ireland marries a seemingly worthless bride - or so she is in the eyes of his mother, who is a noted spinner and craftswoman. When her rescuers do show up to her wedding feast, they pose as her aunts, and sit in places of honor at the high table with the bridal party. As a result of their acceptance to this company, they take it upon themselves to cleverly bestow yet another extraordinary gift upon their purported niece, perhaps the most precious of all, at least to her. (Read the story here to find out!)
My interpretation is, that the bride will win her mother-in-law over in the end, not because she is talented or diligent, but because she is well-endowed with powerful and magical family members (even if they are not related by blood). Even more, our heroine reveals herself as a person who keeps her promises, and who honors the people who help her achieve her heart's desire. Perhaps her innately honorable nature is what attracted her "aunts" in the first place?
An unusual moral for an unusual story, for it is not hard work and perseverance that wins the day here, as so often in Grimm tales. Instead, loyalty and gratitude are rewarded and celebrated. Sometimes it pays to be well-connected!