Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: Castle of Murder

This isn't a ghost story like the others in this series, but still spooky enough. I was already surprised to find that the Grimms had a Bluebeard story in their first edition of tales (besides Fitcher's Bride), one which I much prefer to the Perrault version anyway. In addition to their tale "Bluebeard" they have another version, "The Castle of Murder," which also was eliminated from later editions of their collection.

Other than having the more exciting title, "Castle of Murder" is more clumsily written. I'm not finding a translation of the text online (correct me if I'm wrong?). It's very similar to the classic Bluebeard plot: a daughter of a shoemaker is courted by a well-dressed nobleman and agrees to marry him (but no blue beard or strange feature to tip her off that something is wrong). As they go to his castle on their wedding night, he asks her if she's having any doubts. She claims she doesn't, although she is starting to feel uneasy.

The next day he had to go take care of some business so left her alone with all the keys-and didn't warn her against using any of them. She comes to the cellar to find an old woman scraping out intestines, and she tells the new bride that the next day, she will be scraping out her intestines. In her terror, the bride dropped her key into a basin of blood, which wouldn't come off, and therefore the master would know she had been in the forbidden cellar.

Although I like that, with the lack of a warning, the focus isn't on the bride's "transgressions" and there's really no way to blame her, it makes less sense that entering a non-forbidden cellar would lead to her death (not that serial killing is logical, but for the sake of the story, it's unsatisfying). Also, the narrator throws in the fact that her sisters had met their fate the same way, when we weren't even aware that her sisters were missing-or had married the same man!

Yet the old woman, for some reason, covers for this new bride, claiming she's already killed her, allowing the bride to escape and reveal the goings on of the Castle of Murder. Fortunately her story is believed even though she has no proof (usually in stories where she reveals her murderous husband's goings on, she has a finger or ring from another victim to back it up).

Illustrations- A. H. Watson (first two), John B. Gruelle


  1. Like Bluebeard and in fact most tales from the first edition, The Castle of Murder is written quite poorly, because the polishing by Wilhelm Grimm that tales got from the second edition on was missing. The hasty aside that by the way her sisters also died is especially noticeable. The story teller probably forgot to tell it and was only reminded when she came to the scene where that information would have been important. The key that falls into blood also seems to be forced in, since the motif remains blind. Why would the chamber be forbidden if the Robber actually never forbade it? And why should the girl's life be in danger only after dropping the key if the old woman told her that she would scraping out her intestines *before* she dropped the key? The villain also never mentions the key. Here the Bluebeard tale seems to be mixed in with another Maiden Killer tale that originally didn't have the key motif. It's odd that the Grimms, who are usally good at dividing tales into their parts, didn't pick up on it. In their annotations they simply call the tale a "kind of" Bluebeard with a different "already familiar" (from Robber Biridegroom?) ending. If they actually believed that it was based on the French Bluebeard that might have been their reason for cutting it later.

    The story teller, De Kinsksy, was a Dutch woman and the tale itself was told in Dutch and only translated to German by the Grimms (a transcription of the Dutch version is available in the Grimm's notes about the tale) which might be another reason why it was removed from the second edition. It would be nice to know if Zipes translated from the original text or the German translation. They are very similar though, so not too much should be lost either way.

    The dialogue between rider and girl, consisting of the rider's question if the girl is scared in rhyme form and the girl's assuring answer (that is actually a lie) is usually found in ghost stories about the dead bridegroom, but it occasionally pops up in Maiden Killer tales, too. I'm actually quite surprised that you brushed over what for me is the most striking feature of the story, even before the equally creepy dialogue between old woman and girl. If Zipes does literal translations of the poems, that might be the reason since they stick out less if they don't rhyme.

    The poem is (in the Dutch):

    *'t maantje schynt zo hel,*
    (The moon shines so bright)
    *myn paardtjes lope zo snel,*
    (my horses run so fast)
    *soete liefje rouwt 't w niet?*
    (sweet love, don't you regret it?)

    The German version is a literal translation, but therefore it has no consistent metre.

    This tale could have been the inspiritation for introducing an old woman in The Robber Bridegroom (in the original the girl was at the robber's house alone). Walter Scheff theorizes that Wilhelm Grimm added her as a "support" for the readers, whi seems valid enough. But I actually prefer tales in which the jheroine has to face the robbers alone.

    1. Yes- I've read several folk tales in which motifs aren't explained well that only make sense if you know other versions, or they seem to be elements of multiple tales mashed up, which is normal for storytellers, more unusual for printed books. So it is kind of cool to have the exact tale from the storyteller's mouth, although it makes me appreciate some of the editing Wilhelm did later (even if other edits are just frustrating!)

  2. There is an Irish version somewhere. I can't recall the title or where I read it, but it has the key and the blood. However, there's a very strange ending. The girl is helped to remove the blood by some animals she has befriended. The serial-killing husband returns, sees the clean key and says, "Oh, good, you obeyed me, well done." And they live happily ever after!?! Has either of you come across this?

    1. Someone has mentioned this in the comments before (maybe you?) but I've never come across the tale itself! It does seem very bizarre. But-maybe it's in the Surlalune Bluebeard series! Which I don't own (yet-but it's on my wishlist!)

    2. Haven't seen it on Surlalune, the web site, I mean. I found it in one of the books I was reading as research for my Celtic-themed novel. I just can't recall which book!

  3. "Castle of Murder" would be a great name for a band. I'm really enjoying the scary fairy tales series!

    1. Haha it would make a great band name! Glad you're enjoying it, I'm having fun too!