This week’s story, taken from Dean & Son Ltd.’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales, introduces us to the sort of fairy who gets left off of invite lists. She is very old, lives in a castle in the middle of a wood, and spends her days exploring the countryside in the shapes of an owl or a cat. So far, so excellent! This is what I want my retirement to look like! The fairy also has an extreme approach to property boundaries, which is less admirable. Any man who comes within a hundred paces of her castle is frozen to the spot until she chooses to set him free. Any girl who comes within the same distance is transformed into a bird and caged inside the castle with all the other unfortunates who have offended the fairy’s sense of personal space. By the time this story starts, she has seven hundred of them.
This is the sort of thing that gets attention. A young couple by the names of Jorinda and Jorindel are fully aware that the Grouchy Old Lady of the Year lives in those woods, but they’re young and in love and there aren’t all that many places for them to be alone, and besides which, it’s only dangerous if you get close to the castle, right? So one beautiful evening they go for a walk together in the fairy’s wood. Unfortunately, they walk so far that by sunset they are in an unfamiliar part of the wood and don’t know which path to take to go home. Through the trees, Jorindel glimpses stone walls. At the same time, Jorinda suddenly stops singing. When he turns around, he realises she has been transformed into a nightingale.
A fiery-eyed owl swoops suddenly upon them and transforms into an angry old woman. It is the fairy, comes to deal with the intruders. Jorindel is frozen, unable to intervene as she seizes the nightingale girl and goes away to cage her. When she returns to release Jorindel, he falls to his knees, begging for clemency, but the fairy has no patience for that kind of thing and sends him on his way.
He can’t face the thought of going home without his fiancee, so he takes himself off to a different village and makes a living minding sheep. Often he returns to the castle, going as close as he dares, but can think of no way to get inside. Then one night, he dreams of finding a purple flower that will grant him safe passage into the castle and break all enchantments, restoring Jorinda to her true shape.
It is, of course, only a dream – but it’s the most hope he’s had since the girl he loved was changed into a bird by an angry fairy, so ‘impossible’ isn’t a word he’s allowing into his vocabulary at this point. He looks everywhere for the flower and on the ninth day of searching, he finds it. Armed with its magic, he returns to the castle and this time keeps walking until he’s certainly within a hundred paces, but he can still move. He touches the door with the flower and it flies open. His ears are immediately filled with birdsong; following that sound, he comes to a chamber filled with cages, where the fairy sits listening to her prisoners sing.
It’s her turn to be on the receiving end of magical boundary enforcement – she can’t come within two feet of that flower. What she does instead is seize Jorinda’s cage and attempt an escape. Jorindel, however, is faster. He springs at the cage and touches the nightingale with the flower, restoring Jorinda to her proper shape. She hugs him delightedly and they go around the room turning the birds back into humans, before at last going home to tell their remarkable story. As for what happens to the fairy, who knows? I’d still be watching out for owls in that part of the country.
There are some villains that I can boo and hiss with enthusiasm, and some who aren’t official villains that I hate anyway (King Thrushbeard, I am looking at you!) but there are others I know I should disapprove of and just can’t. The old fairy is very mean, undoubtedly – and yet the question has to be asked, if everyone knows that she turns intruders into statues or birds, why go near her in the first place? That’s private property, people! So while I am tremendously glad all those poor caged girls were finally set free…I’m glad the fairy is free too.