6. Conclusion: Some Popular Tales Explained

This brings us towards the end--that is, to show how some of our own familiar stories connect themselves with the old Aryan myths, and also to show something of what they mean. There are four stories which we know best--Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Killer, and Jack and the Bean Stalk--and the last two of these belong especially to English fairy lore.

Now about the story of Cinderella. We saw something of her in the first chapter: How she is Ushas, the Dawn Maiden of the Aryans, and the Aurora of the Greeks; and how the Prince is the Sun, ever seeking to make the Dawn his bride, and how the envious stepmother and sisters are the Clouds and the Night, which strive to keep the Dawn and the Sun apart. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, as we call her, or Little Red Cap, as she is called in the German tales, also comes from the same source, and refers to the Sun and the Night. You all know the story so well that I need not repeat it: how Little Red Riding Hood goes with nice cakes and a pat of butter to her poor old grandmother; how she meets on the way with a wolf, and gets into talk with him, and tells him where she is going; how the wolf runs off to the cottage to get there first, and eats up the poor grandmother, and puts on her clothes, and lies down in her bed; how Little Red Riding hood, knowing nothing of what the wicked wolf has done, comes to the cottage, and gets ready to go to bed to her grandmother, and how the story goes on in this way:--

"Grandmother," (says Little Red Riding Hood), "what great arms you have got!"

"That is to hug you the better, my dear."

"Grandmother, what, great ears you have got!"

That is to hear you the better, my dear."

"Grandmother, what great eyes you have got!"

"That is to see you the better, my dear."

"Grandmother, what a great mouth you have got!"

"That is to eat you up!" cried the wicked wolf; and then he leaped out of bed, and fell upon poor Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her up in a moment.

This is the English version of the story, and here it stops; but in the German story there is another ending to it. After the wolf has eaten up Little Red Riding Hood he lies down in bed again, and begins to snore very loudly. A huntsman, who is going by, thinks it is the old grandmother snoring, and he says, "How loudly the old woman snores; I must see if she wants anything." So he stepped into the cottage, and when he came to the bed he found the wolf lying in it. "What! do I find you here, you old sinner?" cried the huntsman; and then, taking aim with his gun, he shot the wolf quite dead.

Now this ending helps us to see the full meaning of the story. One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales. Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf--which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night--is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again. Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life. Thus, you see, how closely the most ancient myth is preserved in the nursery tale, and how full of beautiful and hopeful meaning this is when we come to understand it. The same idea is repeated in another story, that of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood," where the Maiden is the Morning Dawn, and the young Prince, who awakens her with a kiss, is the Sun which comes to release her from the long sleep of wintry night. The germ of the story of "Jack and the Bean Stalk" is to be found in old Hindu tales, in which the beans are used as the symbols of abundance, or as meaning the moon, and in which the white cow is the clay and the black cow is the night. There is also a Russian story in which a bean falls upon the ground and grows up to the sky, and an old man, meaning the sun, climbs up by it to heaven, and sees everything. This comes very near the story of Jack, who sells his cow for a handful of beans, and his mother scatters them in the garden, and throws her apron over her head and weeps, thus figuring the Night and the Rain; and, shielded by the night and watered by the rain, the bean grows up to the sky, and Jack climbs to the Ogre's land, and carries off the bags of gold, and the wonderful hen that lays a golden egg every day, and the golden harp that plays tunes by itself. It is also possible that the bean-stalk which grows from earth to heaven is a remembrance, brought by the Norsemen, of the great tree, Ygdrassil, which, in the Norse mythology, has its roots in hell and its top in heaven; and the evil Demons dwell in the roots, and the earth is placed in the middle, and the Gods live in the branches. And there is another explanation given, namely, that "the Ogre in the land above the skies, who was once the All-father, possessed three treasures: a harp which played of itself enchanting music, bags of gold and diamonds, and a hen which daily laid a golden egg. The harp is the wind, the bags are the clouds dropping the sparkling rain, and the golden egg laid every day by the red hen is the dawn-produced sun."[10] Thus, in the story of "Jack and the Bean Stalk" we find repeated the same idea which appears in Northern and Eastern fairy tales, and in Greek legends; and so we are carried back to the ancient Hindu traditions, and to the myths of Nature-worship amongst the old Aryan race.

It is the same with the story of "Jack the Giant Killer," which also has its connection with the legends of various countries and all ages, and has also its inner meaning, drawn from the beliefs and traditions of the ancient past. There is no need to tell you the adventures of Jack the Giant Killer; how he kills the Cornish giant Cormoran by tumbling him into a pit and striking him on the head with a pick-axe; how he strangles Giant Blunderbore and his friend by throwing ropes over their heads and drawing the nooses fast until they are choked; how he cheats the Welsh giant by putting a block of wood into his own bed for the giant to hammer at and by slipping the hasty-pudding into a leathern bag, and then ripping it up, to induce the giant to do the same with his own stomach, which he does, and so kills himself; or how he frightens the giant with three heads, and so gets the coat of darkness, the cap of knowledge, the shoes of swiftness, and the sword of sharpness, and uses these to escape from other and more terrible masters, and to kill them; and gets the duke's daughter for his wife, and lives honoured and happy ever after.

Now Jack the Giant Killer is really one of the very oldest and most widely-known characters in Wonderland. He is the hero who, in all countries and ages, fights with monsters and overcomes them; like Indra, the ancient Hindu sun-god, whose thunderbolts slew the demons of drought in the far East; or Perseus, who, in Greek story, delivers the maiden from the sea-monster; or Odysseus, who tricks the giant Polyphemus, and causes him to throw himself into the sea; or Thor, whose hammer beats down the frost-giants of the North. The gifts bestowed upon Jack are found in Tartar stories, in Hindu tales, in German legends, and in the fables of Scandinavia. The cloak is the cloud cloak of Alberich, king of the old Teutonic dwarfs, the cap is found in many tales of Fairyland, the shoes are like the sandals of Hermes, the sword is like Arthur's Excalibur, or like the sword forged for Sigurd, or that which was made by the horse-smith, Velent, the original of Wayland Smith, of old English legends. This sword was so sharp, that when Velent smote his adversary it seemed only as if cold water had glided down him. "Shake thyself," said Velent; and he shook himself, and fell dead in two halves. The trick which Jack played upon the Welsh giant is related in the legend of the god Thor and the giant Skrimner. The giant laid himself down to sleep under an oak, and Thor struck him with his mighty hammer. "Hath a leaf fallen upon me from the tree?" said the giant. Thor struck him again on the forehead. "What is the matter," said Skrimner, "hath an acorn fallen upon my head?" A third time Thor struck his tremendous blow. Skrimner rubbed his cheek and said, "Methinks some moss has fallen upon my face." The giant had done what Jack did: he put a great rock upon the place where Thor supposed him to be sleeping, and the rock received all the blows. The whole story probably means no more than this: Jack the Giant Killer is the Wind and the Light which disperses the mists and overthrows the cloud giants; and popular fancy, ages ago, dressed him out as a person combating real giants of flesh and blood, just as in all ages and all countries the forces of nature have taken personal shape, and have given us these tales of miraculous gifts, of great deeds done, and of monsters destroyed by men with the courage and the strength of heroes.

Now our task is done. We have seen that the Fairy Stories came from Asia, where they were made, ages and ages ago, by a people who spread themselves over our Western world, and formed the nations which dwell in it, and brought their myths and legends with them; and we have seen, too, how the ancient meanings are still to be found in the tales that are put now into children's books, and are told by nurses at the fireside. And we have seen something of the lessons they teach us, and which are taught by all the famous tales of Wonderland; lessons of kindness to the feeble and the old, and to birds, and beasts, and all dumb creatures; lessons of courtesy, courage, and truth-speaking; and above all, the first and noblest lesson believed in by those who were the founders of our race, that God is very near to us, and is about us always; and that now, as in all times, He helps and comforts those who live good and honest lives, and do whatever duty lies clear before them. (End)

[10] Baring-Gould, Myths of the Middle Ages.