Bluebeard | Fitcher's Bird (A German Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

THERE was once a wizard who used to take the form of a poor man, and went to houses and begged, and caught pretty girls. No one knew whither he carried them, for they were never seen more. One day he appeared before the door of a man who had three pretty daughters; he looked like a poor weak beggar, and carried a basket on his back, as if he meant to collect charitable gifts in it. He begged for a little food, and when the eldest daughter came out and was just reaching him a piece of bread, he did but touch her, and she was forced to jump into his basket. Thereupon he hurried away with long strides, and carried her away into a dark forest to his house, which stood in the midst of it. Everything in the house was magnificent; he gave her whatsoever she could possibly desire, and said, "My darling, thou wilt certainly be happy with me, for thou hast everything thy heart can wish for." This lasted a few days, and then he said, "I must journey forth, and leave thee alone for a short time; there are the keys of the house; thou mayst go everywhere and look at everything except into one room, which this little key here opens, and there I forbid thee to go on pain of death." He likewise gave her an egg and said, "Preserve the egg carefully for me, and carry it continually about with thee, for a great misfortune would arise from the loss of it."

She took the keys and the egg, and promised to obey him in everything. When he was gone, she went all round the house from the bottom to the top, and examined everything. The rooms shone with silver and gold, and she thought she had never seen such great splendour. At length she came to the forbidden door; she wished to pass it by, but curiosity let her have no rest. She examined the key, it looked just like any other; she put it in the keyhole and turned it a little, and the door sprang open. But what did she see when she went in? A great bloody basin stood in the middle of the room, and therein lay human beings, dead and hewn to pieces, and hard by was a block of wood, and a gleaming axe lay upon it. She was so terribly alarmed that the egg which she held in her hand fell into the basin. She got it out and washed the blood off, but in vain, it appeared again in a moment. She washed and scrubbed, but she could not get it out.

It was not long before the man came back from his journey, and the first things which he asked for were the key and the egg. She gave them to him, but she trembled as she did so, and he saw at once by the red spots that she had been in the bloody chamber. "Since thou hast gone into the room against my will," said he, "thou shalt go back into it against thine own. Thy life is ended." He threw her down, dragged her thither by her hair, cut her head off on the block, and hewed her in pieces so that her blood ran on the ground. Then he threw her into the basin with the rest.

"Now I will fetch myself the second," said the wizard, and again he went to the house in the shape of a poor man, and begged. Then the second daughter brought him a piece of bread; he caught her like the first, by simply touching her, and carried her away. She did not fare better than her sister. She allowed herself to be led away by her curiosity, opened the door of the bloody chamber, looked in, and had to atone for it with her life on the wizard's return. Then he went and brought the third sister, but she was clever and crafty. When he had given her the keys and the egg, and had left her, she first put the egg away with great care, and then she examined the house, and at last went into the forbidden room. Alas, what did she behold! Both her sisters lay there in the basin, cruelly murdered, and cut in pieces. But she began to gather their limbs together and put them in order, head, body, arms and legs. And when nothing further was wanting the limbs began to move and unite themselves together, and both the maidens opened their eyes and were once more alive. Then they rejoiced and kissed and caressed each other.

On his arrival, the man at once demanded the keys and the egg, and as he could perceive no trace of any blood on it, he said, "Thou hast stood the test, thou shalt be my bride." He now had no longer any power over her, and was forced to do whatsoever she desired. "Oh, very well," said she, "thou shalt first take a basketful of gold to my father and mother, and carry it thyself on thy back; in the meantime I will prepare for the wedding." Then she ran to her sisters, whom she had hidden in a little chamber, and said, "The moment has come when I can save you. The wretch shall himself carry you home again, but as soon as you are at home send help to me." She put both of them in a basket and covered them quite over with gold, so that nothing of them was to be seen, then she called in the wizard and said to him, "Now carry the basket away, but I shall look through my little window and watch to see if thou stoppest on the way to stand or to rest."

The wizard raised the basket on his back and went away with it, but it weighed him down so heavily that the perspiration streamed from his face. Then he sat down and wanted to rest awhile, but immediately one of the girls in the basket cried, "I am looking through my little window, and I see that thou art resting. Wilt thou go on at once?" He thought it was his bride who was calling that to him; and got up on his legs again. Once more he was going to sit down, but instantly she cried, "I am looking through my little window, and I see that thou art resting. Wilt thou go on directly?" And whenever he stood still, she cried this, and then he was forced to go onwards, until at last, groaning and out of breath, he took the basket with the gold and the two maidens into their parents' house. At home, however, the bride prepared the marriage-feast, and sent invitations to the friends of the wizard. Then she took a skull with grinning teeth, put some ornaments on it and a wreath of flowers, carried it upstairs to the garret-window, and let it look out from thence. When all was ready, she got into a barrel of honey, and then cut the feather-bed open and rolled herself in it, until she looked like a wondrous bird, and no one could recognize her. Then she went out of the house, and on her way she met some of the wedding-guests, who asked,

"O, Fitcher's bird, how com'st thou here?"
"I come from Fitcher's house quite near."
"And what may the young bride be doing?"
"From cellar to garret she's swept all clean,
And now from the window she's peeping, I ween."

At last she met the bridegroom, who was coming slowly back. He, like the others, asked,

"O, Fitcher's bird, how com'st thou here?"
"I come from Fitcher's house quite near."
"And what may the young bride be doing?
"From cellar to garret she's swept all clean,
And now from the window she's peeping, I ween."

The bridegroom looked up, saw the decked-out skull, thought it was his bride, and nodded to her, greeting her kindly. But when he and his guests had all gone into the house, the brothers and kinsmen of the bride, who had been sent to rescue her, arrived. They locked all the doors of the house, that no one might escape, set fire to it, and the wizard and all his crew had to burn.

Grimms' Notes

From two stories current in Hesse. A third from Hanover varies. A poor wood-cutter who has three daughters goes to his work in the forest, and orders the eldest to bring him his dinner, and in order that she may find the way he will (as in the story of The Robber BridegroomNo. 40, which is as a whole allied) strew it with peas. Three dwarfs however live in the forest, and they hear what the man says to his child, and pick up the peas and strew them on the path which leads to their cave. And now at dinner-time, the girl goes to the forest, finds the path and falls among the dwarfs. She has to be their servant, but in other respects fares well. She is permitted to go into every apartment in the cave but one. And now the story agrees with ours, and the two other sisters are also lured out. When the dwarfs are forced to carry these latter home again in the basket, and she is alone, she plunges into the blood and then into the feathers, and sets a bundle of straw dressed in her clothes by the hearth. As she leaves the cave some foxes meet her who ask, "Dressed-out bird, from whence comest thou?" "From the dwarfs' cave where they are making ready for a wedding." Thereupon the foxes go thither. Some bears meet her who put the same question, and at length the dwarfs also meet her on their way home, and do not recognize her. She gives them all the same answer. When the dwarfs enter their cave and find the straw figure, they become aware of how they have been deceived, and run after the girl; but they are not able to overtake her before she reaches her father's house. She slips in safely, but the door cuts off her heel. In Pröhle's Märchen für die Jungen, No. 7, the story is called Fledervogel (Flitter-bird). A very similar Finnish story from Karalän is quoted by Schiefer [1], p. 609, from Erik Rudbek's Collection (2. 187).

The Icelandic Fitgfuglar, Schwimmvogel (swimming-bird), which looked as white as a swan, will help to explain Fitcher's Vogel. The wizard himself having to carry the girl home, reminds us of Rosmer in the Altdänische Lieder (see p. 201 and the following), who also without being aware of it, carries away on his back the first bride he had stolen. The indelible blood appears likewise in a story in the Gesta Romanorum. Four drops of the blood of her innocent child whom she has murdered, fall on a mother's hand, and she cannot remove them, and has always to wear a glove. The fact of a dressed-up doll having to represent the bride is also related in the story of The Hare's bride (No. 66), and shows its relationship. Disguising the girl as a bird seems to have some connection with the ancient custom of persons changing themselves into animals. A passage from Becherer's Thuringian Chronicle, pp. 307, 308, where it is related of the soldiers of the Emperor Adolf of Nassau that "they found an aged woman whom they stripped naked, smeared with tar, rolled in a feather-bed which they had cut open, and then tied her to a rope and led her round the camp and else where as a bear or strange wild-beast, and then carried her away by night and restored her to her original condition," seems to find an appropriate place here. In Madrid, in the year 1824, a woman who had permitted herself to speak in disrespectful terms of the King, was smeared with oil over her whole body, and covered with all kinds of feathers.

Our story visibly contains the saga of Bluebeard. We have indeed heard this in German, and have given it in the first edition, No. 62, but as it only differs from Perrault's La barbe bleue, by one or two omissions, and by one peculiar circumstance, and as the French story may have been known at the place where we heard the story, we have, in our uncertainty, not included it again. Sister Anne is wanting, and the part which varies contains this feature that the distressed girl lays the bloody key in hay, and it is a genuine popular belief that hay draws blood out. The story in Meier, No. 38, seems also to be derived from the French. The saga is likewise evidently to be traced in a beautiful popular ballad, Ulrich and Annchen(Wunderhorn, 1. 274). See Herder's Volkslieder, 1. 79, and Gräter's Idunna, 1812, where however the blue beard is not named. Bluebeard is also the popular name of a man whose beard grows strongly, as in Hamburg (Schütze, Holst. Idiot. 1. 112); and here in Cassel, a deformed, hall-mad apprentice lad is for the same cause tolerably well known by the name. There is also (like the Norse Blâtand, Blacktooth) a Blackbeard, refer able in the first instance to some illness, such as leprosy which can only be cured by bathing in the blood of innocent maidens, hence the inconceivable horror. See Der arme Heinrich, p. 173.

We add also a Dutch story from oral tradition which belongs to this place. A shoemaker had three daughters. Once on a time when he had gone out, a great lord came in a splendid carriage, and took one of the girls away with him, who never returned. Then he took away the second in exactly the same way, and lastly the third, who likewise went with him, believing she was about to make her fortune. On the way, when night fell, he asked her,

"The moon shines so bright,
My horses run so light,
Sweet love dost thou repent?"

("'t maantje schynt zo hel,
myn paardtjes lope zo snel,
soete liefje, rouwt 't w niet?") [2]

"No," she answered, "why should I repent? I am always safe when with you;" nevertheless she was secretly alarmed. They came into a great forest, and she asked if they would soon reach the end of their journey. "Yes," he replied, "Dost thou see that light in the distance, there stands my castle." Then they arrived there and everything was most beautiful. Next day he said to her, "I must go away, but I will only be absent two days; here are the keys of the entire castle, and thou mayst see of what kind of treasures thou art the mistress." When he had set out on his journey, she went through the whole house and found everything so beautiful that she was perfectly satisfied. At length she came to a cellar wherein sat an old woman scraping intestines. "Well, little mother, what may you be doing?" said the girl. "I am scraping intestines, my child; to-morrow, I will scrape yours for you." Thereupon the girl was so terrified that she let the key which she was holding in her hand fall into a basin full of blood, which it was not easy to wash off again. "Now," said the old woman, "Your death is certain, because my lord will see by that key that you have been in this chamber, into which no one is permitted to enter except himself and me." Then the old woman perceived that at this very moment a cart of hay was going to be driven away from the castle, and said, "If thou would'st save thy life, hide thyself in the hay, and then thou wilt be driven away with it." This she did, and got safely out. When the lord came home however, he asked for the girl. "O," said the old woman, "I had no more work, and as it had to be done to morrow anyhow, I killed her at once; here is a lock of her hair and her heart, and there too is some blood which is still warm; the dogs have eaten all the rest of her, but I am still cleaning her intestines." So he was satisfied, and believed that the girl was dead. She had, however, arrived at a castle to whose owner the cart of hay had been sold. She sprang out, and told the lord of the castle all that had happened. He asked her to stay there, and after some time gave a feast to the noblemen of the neighbourhood, and the lord of the murder-castle was invited too. The girl was forced to seat herself at table, but her face and dress were so changed that she was not recognizable. When they were all sitting together every one was to tell a story, and when it was the maiden's turn, she related her own. During this the lord of the murder-castle became so very uneasy that he wished to force his way out, but the lord of the castle had him seized and bound. Then he was executed, his murder-castle was pulled down, and the maiden received his treasures. She married 'the son of the lord of the castle where she had taken refuge, and lived to an old age. In Swedish, compare a popular ballad in Geyer and Afzelius (3. 94.) In Asbjörnsen (p. 237) there is a Norwegian tale. In The Thousand and One Nights, in the Story of the third Kalender (Night 66), the prohibition against entering a certain room in a palace likewise appears, and disregard of it is punished.

1: Qu. Schiefner?

2: This recalls the well-known song of the dead rider, which in the Norwegian popular rhyme runs, "maanen skine, dömand grine, värte du ikke räd (Idunna, 1812, p. 60). Compare Altdeutsche Blätter, i. 194.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales.Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884.

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