Friday, July 27, 2012

Week 1: Grimm Story Retold - The Robber Bridegroom

As I mentioned in a previous post, writing essays is not my favorite thing to do... but I love to make up stories. In the classes I teach, the students write their own versions of traditional myths and legends and I enjoy their stories so much (here are some past projects). For this class, I am going to make my own stories (provided I can find the time!), just as my students do - and I have given myself 1000 words as a maximum limit, the same as the limit for the stories in my own classes. For Grimm, I knew I wanted to do my own version of The Robber Bridegroom (here are my thoughts on that story), telling something about the backstory of that mysterious old woman. Who is she exactly? I think my answer to that question does not contradict what the Brothers Grimm tell us in their story... but it may also come as a surprise! Here is my story:

The woman had waited a very long time, not sure if the day would ever come… but it had. She heard the bird croaking its useless warning - "Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride" - and when she climbed up the cellar stairs and saw the visitor in the doorway, illuminated by the light of the setting sun, she knew: it was her own daughter, now fully grown. The robber had taunted her for years with this threat: "If you don't serve me well, wench, I will go have my way with your daughter. She must be getting all grown up by now," he would say. The woman had been a servant - no, a slave - to this band of robbers ever since that day, long ago, when they had abducted her from the cow pasture. She had told her husband to watch the baby when she went to fetch the cow home, and that was the last time she had seen them. The years had passed, and the chief of the robbers had never ceased making threats about her daughter - and oh, how many times had she regretted ever having let the truth slip from her lips, that fatal mistake she had made when they dragged her away and she had begged the robbers to let her go home to her husband and her poor little girl.

But now, she saw that little girl, all grown up, standing on the threshold. So many thoughts and feelings welled up inside her, but she kept calm and betrayed no emotion on her face. Most of all, she fought down the panic and despair at her own bad luck: if it were morning or even afternoon, they could have made their escape, but it was sundown, and the robbers would already be on their way home, carrying their latest victim with them along the path of ashes, the only safe way to reach the house through the darkness of the woods. Yes, it was too late to just make a break for it. They would have to wait until the robbers were asleep before running away, and there was not even enough time to tell this poor girl what was happening. "Listen to me, girl," she said urgently. "This is a den of robbers. You thought you would find your husband here, but you will find only your death unless you do exactly as I tell you. When the robbers finally go to sleep tonight, you and I will run away together but now you must hide behind this cask" - she was already rushing the girl down the stairs to the cellar - "and not make a sound no matter what you see, no matter what you hear. Do you understand? Not a sound."

And just as she uttered these last words, the robbers came bursting through the door, laughing and shouting, as they made their way down into the cellar for their grisly night's work. The less said about that, the better. They had brought home another girl, she was a red-head this time the woman noticed, but it was better not to notice. They killed the poor girl and cut her up and then started making a fuss about where her ring finger had gone. The woman was sure one of the robbers had pocketed the ring finger and the ring upon it; no matter, the main thing was just to get them to leave off arguing and sit down to supper. Finally she got them to come to the table and eat… and before she poured the wine, she put a sleeping draught into it, making sure the murderers would sleep even more deeply than usual.

She then rushed to the cask and found her daughter curled up there, shivering with fear and horror. She patted the girl gently on the shoulder but dared not make any sound, and pulled her along up the stairs and out of the house. As they stood there in the moonlight, the woman saw an amazing sight: the path was illuminated by a gentle green glow, something the woman had never seen before. The girl gasped and smiled a tiny smile. "It's the peas and lentils," she said. "I scattered them as I came here and look, they have sprouted! It's beautiful, isn't it?" As the girl turned to look the woman in the face, she saw that the woman was crying. Being a tender-hearted girl, she tried to embrace the woman and comfort her, but the woman pushed her away and said, "No time for that now, no time. We must run for our lives!"

And so they ran and ran along the path through the woods that glowed in the moonlight. The woman thought with every step: what would she say? what would she do? Was this a dream? Had it all been a dream? Was this really her daughter here beside her? "Morning will tell," she thought to herself. "I will see what the morning brings."

And so, just at dawn, they reached the mill stream and the woman saw the familiar house. She fell to her knees, exhausted and weeping. The girl was concerned, and bent down … and at last the woman embraced her and sobbed, "My daughter, my daughter." And the miller came running out from the house, worried sick about where his daughter had been all night - and there she was, his daughter… and his wife. They wept, they laughed, and wept again. And when they could weep and laugh no more, they went into the house and recounted all that had happened. Then, to the horror and surprise of her mother and father, the girl reached into her pocked and pulled out the finger of the dead girl, with the golden ring upon it. "Don't worry, my dear mother and father. We will destroy this robber, we will destroy him forever."

To find out how that happened, you will need to read the old story for yourself.

Image source: Dark woods by Mathias Erhart at Flickr.


  1. Loved this one, Laura! You've added an element of tragedy that was sorely missing from the original story.

    1. Thank you! I am glad you liked it! For me, this is an intensely emotional story in ANY version (and there are versions of it from all over the world)... but this one where the old woman is the bride's helper is the one I like best and when I was playing around with ideas, making her the bride's mother was something I could not resist. I was really happy with how it turned out. :-)

  2. Oh yes, I love this! I think this is what makes Grimm's tales so awesome - we can add or subtract easily in order to relate to it more.

    P.S: you should read "Room" by Emma Donoghue

  3. Ooooh, another book recommendation - great! I have not heard of that one. Just in this first week I have gotten at least a half-dozen really good book recommendations - thank you!!!

    And yes, story retelling is what I do in the classes I teach... partly for selfish reasons: I love reading variations on familiar stories, since the students always surprise me with things I never thought of before. :-)

  4. Ohh, eerie! It's such an atmospheric story, isn't it. It makes me think of Blair Witch. No-one does dark woods like the Grimms. I love their Hansel and Grethel for that, too.

    And do read Room -- it's got a fascinating voice, very skilfully used.

  5. Thanks, Clare - and yes, I've got Room on my list now. It's so good to get book recommendations from actual people! :-)

  6. I,m a fellow student in your Fantasy class and not a fan of Grimm, but I enjoyed reading your story and how you teach. As a member of a wonderful Toastmasters group, I've taken on the Storyteller's Manual which required a folk tale. I ended up creating something new based on the Pipe-Smokin Mama and the Witch (you can google "I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe" at to find discussions of folk tales and games).



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