Fairy Tale Tuesday No.65 – The Goblins at the Bath House

This Estonian fairy tale, taken from Ruth Manning-Sanders’ A Book of Ghosts and Goblins, takes place late one night when an overworked young bath house attendant is putting away her brushes and sponges. She is about to leave when the rattle of wheels in the street outside tells her someone has arrived at the door. Running to look, she sees a magnificent golden coach drawn by four black horses fully decked out in plumes and bells. But it isn’t a lord who steps out – it’s a goblin. Actually, a crowd of goblins. They’ve decided the girl will make a nice bride for one of their lads and have rocked up to collect her for an impromptu wedding.

The girl does not intend to play any part at this wedding. She locks herself inside the bath house and, gambling for time, shouts a demand for appropriate bridal wear through the door. This plan is given unexpected support from a talking mouse, who creeps up to her ear and tells her to prolong every demand for as long as she can. If the dawn can get to her before the goblins, she’ll be saved.

Good advice is good advice, even if it does come from a resident rodent. The girl goes slowly through the most lavish outfit she can think of, and puts on every item brought to her as slowly as she possibly can. Her efforts are counteracted by one of the younger goblins, who is known by the nickname ‘Quick-as-Thought’ and unfortunately lives up to the hype. No matter what the girl asks for, he’s there and back again with wicked speed. He even gets the right sizes. He is sartorially psychic.

The girl is made of strong stuff, though. When she is fully dressed, from silver slippers to diamond headdress, and she has no choice but to leave the bath house, she looks at the plush upholstery of the carriage and turns up her nose. She never travels on goosefeather cushions! Either they scatter the inside of the carriage with hay, or she doesn’t go.

Not that this is an option, but the goblins are really trying to please her. And she has hit on an unexpectedly tricky demand, because they come from underground, where there is no hay. They are confounded. The girl sneaks a glance at the sky and sees the moon dropping low on the horizon. If she can only keep them chasing their own tails a little bit longer…

The grandmother of the goblins, however, is not a lady to give up in a hurry. She takes her eyes out of her head and tosses them high. They whirl round in mid air, searching for hay, and fall back into their sockets when a stack has been located. Quick-as-Thought is sent to retrieve it. Either this is a terribly complicated thought or hay is considerably harder to transport than clothes, because it takes him a long time to return. When he does, panting beneath his load, the other goblins start stuffing it the carriage as fast as they can.

The leader of the goblins is truly fed up with his prospective daughter-in-law by now. “Get in, you hussy!” he shouts, grabbing her by the arm. “There is yet one wisp of hay lying there,” she tells him loftily. “You must put that last wisp into the coach, or I do not enter.” When that is done, she insists that everyone else enter before her. The leader of the goblins reaches out to pull her inside, but at that moment the cockerels of the town begin to call out, heralding the dawn. As one, goblins and carriage disappear, leaving the girl – still dressed in the glory of her trousseau – alone by the bath house door.

Well, not quite alone. Her friendly bath house mouse is there too. “Well done, my lovely one, well done!” it exclaims. “Now take me up in your hand and carry me home with you, and I will find a prince to marry you.”

And she does.

Here is a thing I love about fairy tales: clever girls outsmarting creeps, possibly assisted by talking animals. Which makes this sound more like a Barbie movie than it really is. I also love how the story does not end with a wedding; instead, it ends with the girl and her mouse going home to plan out her new life. Maybe that involves marrying a prince, maybe it doesn’t. I’m pretty sure, though, it doesn’t involve goblins.

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