Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Glass Coffin

Snow White isn't the only fairy tale character who finds herself in a glass coffin! Enjoy this little known treasure from the Grimms' collection:

"Let no one ever say that a poor tailor cannot do great things and win high honors; all that is needed is that he should go to the right smithy, and what is of most consequence, that he should have good luck." A tailor's apprentice went traveling, and during the night was lost in a forest. To protect himself from wild animals, he resolved to spend the night in a tree, but the wind was great and the tailor was not without fear.

After some hours, he noticed a light in the distance, and went towards it to find shelter and a friendly face. He found a small hut and knocked on the door. The owner of the hut told him to go away, but the tailor was persistent and the owner was not so hard hearted as he wished to appear, so he allowed the tailor to spend the night-he gave him food and a bed.

In the morning, the tailor was awoken by violent screams. Being courageous, he got up and hurried out. He found a stag and a bull engaged in struggle, shaking the ground with their trampling and their cries resounding in the air. The tailor watched as the stag bested the bull, and then caught him up in its horns and carried him swiftly through mountains and valleys, woods and meadows, and at last came to a wall of rock, where he let the tailor down. The stag pushed its horns against a door in the rock, which burst open in a shower of flames and smoke. When the smoke cleared, the tailor was alone in front of the entrance to the rock.

The tailor was uneasy, but a voice came out of the rock, saying, "Enter without fear, no evil shall befall thee." Though still hesitant, the tailor entered the door, driven by a mysterious force, and found himself in a spacious hall. The ceilings and walls had strange letters cut into them. He heard a voice telling him to step on the stone in the middle of the hall, and he obeyed. He found himself in a hall filled with glass vases that contained bluish vapor. There was a glass chest that contained a perfect and detailed miniature of a castle, surrounded by stables and barns.
On the other end of the room was another glass case, but it contained a maiden of greatest beauty, sleeping. The maiden suddenly opened her eyes and said, "My deliverance is at hand!" She instructed the tailor to push back the bolt of the coffin and free her. Once he did this, the woman told him her story.
The maiden was the daughter of a count, who lived with her brother in harmony with him and the rest of the world. One day a strange man came to their house and they showed him hospitality. In the middle of the night, the woman was awoken by the sound of strange music. She meant to call for her maid, but found she could not speak. The strange man entered the room and explained that he had summoned the music by magical arts, and intended for her to be his wife. The woman refused, and this angered the stranger. In the morning she awoke to find that the man had turned her brother into a stag. The woman tried to shoot the man, but the bullet bounced back and hit her horse.
The magician had shrunken her castle, and imprisoned her people into vapors. He promised to return everything to its original state if she would now consent to marry him, but again she refused. The magician confined her in a glass coffin and caused a deep sleep to come upon her.

But the bull that the tailor saw the stag vanquish was none other than the magician himself. Together, the tailor and the maiden placed the castle on a broad stone, where it expanded to its true size. The people were restored, including the maiden's brother, and the maiden and the tailor were married.
I feel like I say this all the time, but here is yet another excellent example: canonized fairy tales have been accused of promoting negative stereotypes of genders, such as women being praised for being mindlessly obedient, whereas men tend to be rewarded for their curiosity. And while this is true in many well-known tales-think of Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard's wife, and Psyche, as opposed to Jack the giant-killer-but there are many examples in the larger world of folklore where these stereotypes are NOT enforced.

In this tale, with its wonderful fantastic images, the male protagonist is rewarded for his obedience. Although the woman is helpless for a time in the glass coffin, I don't think she comes across as being weak at all. She has the good sense to be mistrustful of the magician, refuses him marriage twice, and even has the guts to shoot at him! All the tailor really does is open the bolt on the coffin, and it is the maiden who fills him in on the situation, and together they restore her castle. (I feel like in other versions of this story she must be a princess, why else would she have a castle and the people referred to as "her people"?)

Illustrations by HJ Ford.


  1. I am new to your blog, and I seem to love everything you post! I liked reading this story; it has a very old fairy tale feeling, yet also a modern fantasy feel :)

  2. Orazi-and I just discovered your blog, and can't wait to read more! Glad you enjoyed reading!

    1. Hello Kristin, I am interested in using this story as a resource for my literary of fairytales class. Is the author posted with information needed to cite this? Please let me know. -Kristin

    2. It's in the Children and Household Tales collection of the brothers Grimm! My copies don't include who their source was for each tale though.