Hello my Fairy Tale Friday Followers!
After a million years asleep in the land of Faerie (or you know…. on hiatus) I am finally getting round to doing Sweetheart Roland which I was supposed to do back in the summer.
I need to start this with a disclaimer that the reason why I wanted to include this fairy tale so badly is because I kind of hate it.
Yeah, sounds weird I know but when up is down and down is up* you’ve just got to go with it.
*Ok, so that apparently isn’t the case in The Real World but please still just go with it.
This is a Brother’s Grimm story which I think was written/ published in 1812. As this isn’t one of their most prolific it may not be known to many of you but still contains a lot of the elements which mark is as being ‘Grimm.’
No pun intended, these things just happen naturally.
Once upon a time (is there any other time?!) there lived a witch who had an ugly and wicked daughter who she loved and a beautiful and good stepdaughter who she didn’t. The stepdaughter had an apron which her daughter coveted and told her mother she just had to have it.
The witch decides to behead her stepdaughter while she sleeps and so tells her own daughter to make sure she lays by the wall and to ensure that her stepsister falls asleep by the foot of the bed.
Fortunately for the stepdaughter she overhears this and when her stepsister falls asleep she switches their positions. The witch brings her ax down on her own daughter, decapitating her while she slept.
The stepdaughter then flees in the night to her sweetheart Roland (boom, title drop) and tells him what happened and that they must flee.
Roland agrees but says they must take the witches wand otherwise they’d never escape her and so the stepdaughter steals the wand and leaves behind three drops of blood
In the morning, when the witch calls out for her daughter, the three drops of blood answer her and the witch discovers her daughter dead and headless. In a rage she sets after her stepdaughter and Roland using her seven league boots.
When the witch catches up with them, the stepdaughter turns Roland into a pond and her into a duck that can’t be enticed by the witches breadcrumbs. The witch leaves and Roland and the stepdaughter, back as people, travel onward’s.
The next day the witch catches up with them again and this time the stepdaughter turns Roland into a fiddler and herself into a flower. The witch asks for Roland’s permission to pluck the flower which he grants but when she tries to crawl away through the hedge, Roland begins to play the fiddle.
The magic music forces the witch to dance and Roland keeps playing until all the thorns in the hedgerow have torn the witch to death.
Now the stepdaughter and Roland see themselves as free to marry and so the stepdaughter turns herself into a stone while she waits for Roland to return from the village where he is making wedding arrangements with his father.
While Roland was back home he fell in love with another woman who made him forget all about his previous love and so he decides to marry her. Meanwhile, the heartbroken stepdaughter turns herself into a flower again in the hopes that someone will trample her to death.
Instead, a shepherd plucks her and takes her home and the stepdaughter performs all housework while he’s gone. He learns that there is an enchantment and throws a white cloth over something moving which turns the stepdaughter back into a person.
The shepherd asks to marry her but the stepdaughter says ‘no’ as she wants to remain faithful to Roland despite now knowing he’s marrying another.
At Roland’s wedding it is tradition for all the women of the village to sing and so when she does, Roland recognised and remembered his true love, left his bride and married the stepdaughter instead.
What the heck is the moral here?
Heck if I’d heckin’ know. Seriously. The only thing I can think of is if you stay devote and faithful then you will be rewarded by your true love. It’s a sucky message but I’ve got to be honest, I’ve read enough Brothers Grimm to guess that this is probably what they were going for.
I said that I hate this story and the reason why is pretty much this: The Grimm Brothers.
I’ll try and unpack that further: The Grimm Brothers have a problem with women.
Ok, I’ll try and unpack that even further in the points below.
The only named character of this story is Roland. The witches daughter doesn’t get a name, the witch doesn’t get a name despite being the antagonist, and the stepdaughter doesn’t get a name despite being the main character.
I know that the only other male character (the shepherd) doesn’t get a name but then he has a one paragraph part to play but the stepdaughter – she’s pretty much the driving force behind the action. But no, she gets to join the ranks of nameless fairy tale women.
The narrative tells us that Roland and the nameless stepdaughter are the heroes because they are described as good and beautiful and get to have their happy ever after.
The thing with stories is that the narrative and the message can sometimes be in-congruent.
If characters are assholes but the narrative clearly conveys that they are indeed, assholes and are not supposed to have audience sympathy that’s a different matter. I actually enjoy reading stories with unlikable characters and if villains are villainous then…. well…. good.
If the narrative has douche-bag characters that are held up for praise then I start to narrow my eyes wondering what the heck I’m reading. When that happens it makes me start to question what the message of the story is about and whether this is a story for me.
Let me summarize in another way:-
- Horrible character does something horrible + narration presents this as Not Good + you hate this character = clear cut villain
- Horrible character does something horrible + narration presents this as Not Good + you can’t help but like this charismatic sonnava = possible complex and compelling villain or you just can’t help but really like those types of characters even though you know they aren’t necessarily good
- Horrible character does something horrible + narration presents this as Good + you like the character/ agree with the message = you are the writer are aligned I guess, with your morals or interests or whatever
- Horrible character does something horrible + narration presents this as Good + you don’t like the character/ don’t agree with the message = you and the writer aren’t aligned
Me and the Brothers Grimm are most definitely not aligned here.
For me, the stepdaughter and Roland fall into the last point. They are both horrible characters who do horrible things (I’ll expand in the two points below) but they are portrayed as the heroes who we should be rooting for.
You know what? I get that the witch is not a good person because she is very happy to chop off her stepdaughter’s head and her daughter is happy to go along with it.
But you also know what? Instead of fleeing the house which is apparent that she could have done, the stepdaughter swaps her sleeping position with her stepsister (clearly a heavy sleeper BTW) knowing full well what would happen.
Also, those drops of blood? They weren’t on the wand and the stepdaughter didn’t pick up the ax, oh no. They were on the severed head of her stepsister that she carried with her.
For the love of…. why?! Who does that? Sure honey, let me just get my things together. I need to pack my wand, some food, a spare change of knickers and the severed bloody head of my enemy.
But nope, she’s good and beautiful.
Don’t even get me started on Roland.
Too late. Imma start on Roland.
Sure, he has a point that if they flee with the witches wand then they’ll be able to escape her but I’d like to note that he doesn’t offer to go back into the house where his girlfriend has just escaped a violent end.
He is also the cause of the witch being torn to shreds. Again, she is not a nice person but Roland seems to be quite as bloodthirsty here, actively giving her permission to pick the flower and then when she goes to leave he’s all about busting that magic death music wide open.
Roland also falls in love with another woman pretty easily. The text refers to him as being ‘snared’ but whether this was through magical means or because Roly fancied himself as a bit of a player, I don’t know.
The Grimms are usually pretty overt at calling out witches and just generally hating on women so I’m going to say that this young woman was not in fact, a witch, but was a young woman who fell in love with a douche-bag and the Grimms are giving Roly a free pass.
I imagine it went something like this:-
“I’m now banging this hot chick who hasn’t turned herself into a stone and who has never had creepy, murderous relatives.
Oh my God, darling, love of my life, I thought you were a stone but here you are in front of me with a magic wand that can turn people into anything and I remember those days when you were more than happy to carry around your stepsisters head.
I completely forgot you because of…. reasons. And now I remember you because of… reasons.”
The shepherd seems like he may be the only decent character in this tale, Roland’s new bride too if we assume she’s just an ordinary woman who has just been abandoned at the alter.
Mind you, they both had a lucky escape really.
Why does the stepdaughter turn herself into stone? Where does the wand go? I assume she still has it. I can’t express how mad I am that she is a conniving and resourceful person (I don’t mind this) who then wants to be trampled to death because her lover left her.
Then, when given the opportunity to move on, she decides to stay faithful to someone who no longer wants her?!
No father in this tale huh? Go figure.
I’m guessing that apron must have been something pretty special for the witches daughter to want it and for the witch to commit murder over it. To be fair though I’m pretty sure the witch was looking for an excuse to get some murdering done because she hates her stepdaughter that much.
Yeah, this story pretty much reinforces the Grimm’s hatred of stepmothers. Who hurt you guys? Who hurt you?
This just goes to show that truly everyone is the hero of their story.
You know what I found? Do you? Do you?!
I honestly thought I’d be saying to you, “Sweet FA” but no, I found the holy grail of all retelling’s.
It’s called Sweetheart Thorin on Archive of Our Own and is a 2015 fan-fiction retelling of Sweetheard Roland with the pairing of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield.
No, I haven’t read it. No, I’m not going to. I’m just way too scared.
The only thing that I can think of would be to have this tale told with the Rashomon Effect where we (or the audience substitute within the narrative) are told the tale from different perspectives; the stepdaughters, Roland’s, the shepherds and the three drops of blood that remain.
There’s enough unreliability and contradictory narrators here to make that work.
February’s Fairy Tale Friday should hopefully be The Pied Piper.
I have March’s one also in mind but if there’s anything you would like me to do please let me know!