Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Tale of the Fisherman and His Wife

I remember reading a story in a fairy tale book many times when I was young. For some reason the story fascinated me; it was 'The Tale of the Fisherman and His Wife' from the Brothers Grimm. I have thought about this story sometimes while I have been studying Roman Catholicism and wondered if it was written as a morality tale against the striving for earthly and spiritual power that characterized many of the Roman Catholic popes of the middle ages and onward. I found a web page that retells the story with some interesting commentary on the meaning of it.
Here is the story as excerpted from the webpage. Please click on the link to read the whole page and find out the possible meaning of the twist at the end of the tale.


The Fisherman and His Wife
By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there were a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a filthy shack near the sea. Every day the fisherman went out fishing, and he fished, and he fished. Once he was sitting there fishing and looking into the clear water, and he sat, and he sat. Then his hook went to the bottom, deep down, and when he pulled it out, he had caught a large flounder.

Then the flounder said to him, "Listen, fisherman, I beg you to let me live.

I am not an ordinary flounder, but an enchanted prince. How will it help you to kill me? I would not taste good to you. Put me back into the water, and let me swim."

So he put it back into the clear water, and the flounder disappeared. Then the fisherman got up and went home to his wife in the filthy shack.

"Husband," said the woman, "didn't you catch anything today?"

"I caught a flounder," said the fisherman, "But he told me that he was an enchanted prince, so I let him swim away."

"Didn't you ask for anything first?" said his wife.

"No," said the fisherman. "What should I have asked for?"

"Oh," said the woman. "It is terrible living in this shack. You should have asked for a little cottage. Go back and tell him that we want a little cottage."

The fisherman tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "Go back and tell the flounder that we want a cottage."

So the fisherman went back to the sea. When he arrived it was no longer clear, but yellow and green. He stood there and said:

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

The flounder swam up and said, "What does she want then?"
"She wants a cottage," said the fisherman.

"Go home," said the flounder. "She already has it."

The man went home, and his wife was standing in the door of a cottage. "You have a cottage. Be happy now, wife," he said.

"We shall see," the wife replied.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, "Listen, husband. This cottage is too small. Go back to the flounder and tell him to give us a stone palace."

The fisherman tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "Go back and tell the flounder that we want a stone palace."

The fisherman's heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. Yet he went back to the sea. When he arrived the water was purple and dark blue and gray and dense, and no longer green and yellow. He stood there and said:

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

"What does she want then?" said the flounder.

"She wants a stone palace," said the fisherman.

"Go home. She already has it," said the flounder.
The man went home, and his wife was standing in the door of a stone palace. "You have a stone palace. Be happy now, wife," he said.

"We shall see," the wife replied.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, "Listen, husband. This palace is not enough. Go back to the flounder and tell him that I want to be king."

The fisherman tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "Go back and tell the flounder to make me king."

The fisherman's heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. Yet he went back to the sea. When he arrived it was dark gray, and the water heaved up from below and had a foul smell. He stood there and said:

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

"What does she want then?" said the flounder.

"She wants to be king," said the fisherman.

"Go home. She already is," said the flounder.

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the palace had become much larger, and his wife was indeed the king. "You are king. Be happy now, wife," he said.

"We shall see," the wife replied.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, "Listen, husband. Being king is not enough. Go back to the flounder and tell him that I want to be Emperor."

The fisherman tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "I am king and you are only my husband. Go back and tell the flounder to make me Emperor."

The fisherman's heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. Yet he went back to the sea. When he arrived water was all black and dense and boiling up from within. A strong wind blew over him that curdled the water. He stood there and said:

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

"What does she want then?" said the flounder

"She wants to be Emperor," said the fisherman.

"Go home. She already is," said the flounder.

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the palace was even larger and more ornate and his wife was indeed Emperor. "You are Emperor. Be happy now, wife," he said.

"We shall see," the wife replied.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, "Listen, husband. Being Emperor is not enough. Go back to the flounder and tell him that I want to be Pope."

The fisherman tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "I am Emperor and you are only my husband. Go back and tell the flounder to make me Pope."

The fisherman's heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. Yet he went back to the sea. When he arrived the wind was blowing over the land, and clouds flew by as the darkness of evening fell. Leaves blew from the trees, and the water roared and boiled as it crashed onto the shore. There was a little blue in the middle of the sky, but on all sides it had turned red, as in a terrible lightning storm. Full of despair he stood there and said.

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

"What does she want then?" said the flounder.

"She wants to be Pope," said the fisherman.

"Go home. She already is," said the flounder.

Then the fisherman went home, and when he arrived there, he found a large church surrounded by palaces. He forced his way through the crowd. Inside everything was illuminated with thousands and thousands of lights, and his wife was clothed in pure gold and sitting on a high throne. She was wearing three large golden crowns. She was surrounded with church-like splendor, and at her sides there were two banks of candles. The largest was as thick and as tall as the largest tower, down to the smallest kitchen candle. And all the emperors and kings were kneeling before her kissing her slipper. "You are Pope. Be happy now, wife," he said.

"We shall see," the wife replied.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, "Listen, husband. Being Pope is not enough. Go back to the flounder and tell him that I want to be like God.

The fisherman shook with fear and he tried to talk her out of it, but the wife insisted, "I am Pope and you are only my husband. Go back and tell the flounder to make me like God."

The fisherman's heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. Yet he went back to the sea. Such a storm was raging that he could hardly stand on his feet. Houses and trees were blowing over. The mountains were shaking, and boulders were rolling from the cliffs into the sea. The sky was as black as pitch. There was thunder and lightning. In the sea there were great black waves as high as church towers and mountains, all capped with crowns of white foam. He stood there and said:

"Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!

Flounder, flounder, in the sea!

Ilsobell, my willful wife,

Does not want my way of life."

"What does she want then?" said the flounder.

"She wants to be like God," said the fisherman.

"Go home. She is sitting in her filthy shack again."

And they are still there even today.



Here is the link to Part Two: http://pilgrimsdaughter.blogspot.com/2009/10/tale-of-fishermans-wife-part-two.htmlbbbb

12 comments:

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Hi Jennie,

I love parables. Maybe we can decipher this one. :-)

Peace.

Jennie said...

Hi Hillary,
What's your interpretation?

Jennie said...

By the way, I am planning a 'part two' in which I elaborate on this some more.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Hi Jennie,

Interesting stuff! Sorry I did not get the chance to 'interpret' before your next post. I was hoping to have some fun with this. Sigh...

Jennie said...

Hillary,
I'm sorry; I would be very interested to know your thoughts and interpretations on this, too. I'm sure you have more to add to it that I didn't see.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Hi Jennie,

Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I was on vacation, and was trying to keep up with my blogging while on vacation. Now I am back home and can resume normal schedule (although that might change soon again!).

Yes, I love this story. So many lessons in it. The first thing that jumped out at me is the concept of greed. You know right now we are going through an economic crisis right now in this country, which is caused from greed. You know, in the story, the fisherman's wife was never satisfied with anything she had. She always wanted and craved for more. Finally she asked for something she could never have or ever be, and therefore lost everything, and landed back right where she started. How many people today, because of greed, had accumulated massive amounts of material possessions during the 'boon' times, only to lose it all during the recession, because they coveted something which they were not supposed to have.

Just my little observation about this parable. I am sure it can also be applied in other ways as well.

Peace.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

BTW, a parable is just a story used to teach a moral lesson. It has nothing to do with scripture. Jesus used them frequently to teach moral lessons, and so did storytellers of the past. Parables are found in all cultures.

Peace.

Jennie said...

Hillary,
yes, insatiable greed is certainly the main sin being spotlighted here. Lust for power often goes hand in hand with it. Did you read the commentary on the link that talked about his interpretation of the ending of the tale? I really liked that part and hadn't thought of it that way before.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Yes. I see the commentator linking this story to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in a 'filthy shack' - a stable.

I think the 'filthy shack' could also be the world, which has been defiled by sin. Jesus was born into our filthy shack - the world, so that He could save us from the defilements of this world, which is sin. If this woman, Ilsobell, wants to be God, then she must be willing to live in a filthy shack.

Peace.

Daughter of Wisdom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennie said...

Hillary,
I think the 'filthy shack' could also be the world, which has been defiled by sin. Jesus was born into our filthy shack - the world, so that He could save us from the defilements of this world, which is sin. If this woman, Ilsobell, wants to be God, then she must be willing to live in a filthy shack.
Yes, that seems to be what the commentator was saying. The fisherman in the tale says "Ilsobell my willful wife does not want my way of life." This shows that the 'wife' didn't want to share the way of life of her husband just as the 'church' or its members, including its leaders, many times don't want to live Christ's way of life, which is to give up our own lives for Him and His gospel.