19 April 2010

The Grimmest Fiddler

The tale below, retold and shortened, is a German fairy tale that was recorded by the brothers Grimm in the collection for young readers (1812).
There was once a high spirited servant attending to the estate of a rich and unfair man. The first year of his position, the servant was not paid at all in wages. When the second year passed, he was again left with nothing. And at the end of the third year, he asked to be rewarded for his efforts.
The rich man readily paid the servant, a penny for each year. And the servant, who knew but little about money, was happy and went, a free man - a carefree man - on his way.
And along the way he came across an elderly gnome and in feeling sorry for him he gave him all his pennies. The gnome, who was a magical creature (even if one in need of three pennies), rewarded such kindness by way of granting the man three wishes; one for each penny.
The man's first wish was for a bird gun that would never miss. Then he wished for a fiddle that would make everyone dance. Finally, he wished that he could always ask a favour of anyone, and noone would be able to refuse him.
In high spirits, the man went on. The next creature he came accross was not a gnome, but a Jew.
This Jew had stopped to listen to a song of a bird. "What a divine creature," the Jew cried out. "That little bird has such an awfully loud voice! If only it belonged to me! If someone could just catch it for me!"
"If that's all you want," snorted the servant. "I'll bring that bird down in no time."
And so he did, just like that. For his first wish was granted.
"You dirty dog," the man then swore at the Jew, "go get that bird for yourself now."
"If you drop the "dirty"," replied the Jew, "then the dog will go fetch it. You did hit the bird and I'll go retrieve it."
As the Jew went into the brambles, on all fours, the servant took the fiddle and played a tune. The Jew had to dance amidst the brambles. The brambles almost scratched the Jew's coat off his body, and he begged the fiddler to be released.
But the man continued fiddling, until the Jew gave him a sack of money.
From a safe distance, the Jew called the man names and then fled to report the robbery to a local judge. It was not before long that the fiddler was found and brought before the court.
The man pleaded innocent and denied all charges. The Jew, he claimed, gave him money out of free will, so that the man would stop playing the fiddle.
"No Jew would do that," the judge said.
And so the man was sentenced and he was to be hanged. It was then that the servant asked the judge to grant him a favour: to be allowed to play his fiddle one last time.
The Jew pleaded with the judge to refuse this wish. To no avail, as the man's third wish had also been granted. And within moments, the fiddle took over and everyone was dancing. The Jew danced, and the judge danced, and the spectators danced, and the dogs, too. It was not until the judge offered to spare his life, that the man ceased playing.
"You scoundrel!" the servant then swore at the Jew. "Now just admit where you got that money or I'll get my fiddle out and start playing again."
"I stole it! I stole it!" cried the Jew. "And you earned it honestly!"
And so the Jew was sentenced to be hanged, and hanged.
This fairy tale is titled The Jew in the Brambles. In order to keep authenticity of the story intact, all dialogues are transcripted verbatim from the original tale as published in The Annotated Brothers Grimm, by Maria Tatar (2004). For the rest, the story is retold and shortened by gem. The full text can also be found here.
The above featured photograph, Grandfather and Granddaughter, was taken a century later in Warsaw (1938). Photographer: Roman Vishniac.

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