This is another entry in my fairy tale series. Each entry attempts to analyze one archetypal element of myths legends and fairy tales in a short introductory essay followed by an original fairy tale utilizing some of the elements that have just been discussed. This time we’re going to look at what happens when you leave the road!
The Road and the Journey
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit
While at first glance, a road seems to merely provide a method of traveling between two locations. But the roads found in myths legends and fairy tales serve a far deeper purpose. They are often the backbone of the narrative with every point along their path full of potential for adventure. Whether a man made highway, a swiftly flowing river or a rarely trodden animal path, many archetypical stories depend on roads to guide their heroes on their journey.
The road could be known to all and often traveled, or a path only the chosen few are able to take. In Tolkien’s middle earth, this distinction can be seen by comparing the often used east road that guides adventurers through the wilderness to “the straight way” that only the elves can take as they journey beyond the world to the mythical Valinor.
Roads are useful to provide narrative focus. Without a road to guide our hero on their way, they are doomed to wander for years like Odysseus as he searched for the way to return home. Adventure will come to the traveler be it Highwaymen, natural obstacles, or merely reaching their destination and the conclusion to their story.
This is not to say all our heroes must stay on the road either. Often, great riches (and greater danger) await those who leave their path. In The Hobbit, the times Bilbo and his companions leave their trail expose them to the most dire threats of their journey, be it troll, goblin or spider. And yet in the familiar tale of the Bremen Town Musicians, the choice to leave the road to Bremen leads the animals to find comfort and happiness, an outcome that most assuredly would not have awaited them had they reached the end of their intended journey.
At the end of a journey, a road also provides a way back, this time with new insight (assuming they have received their figurative “elixir” upon the completion of their journey). Encounters that once filled our hero with fright can now be easily overcome by following the same road. Its trials conquered, its guardians defeated, the road is now merely a way home.
The Poppet and the Pauper
Once, long ago, there was a little girl who lived with her parents at the rim of a great valley. It was a prosperous land, with many terraced farms upon its slopes, and a bustling town at its center. The child was small for her size, and everyone she knew called her Poppet. “You are but a Poppet!” they would say as they laughingly tussled her hair.
For long hours during the lazy days of summer she would sit upon the mound of straw in front of the haywain and wish she too could have some business in the thriving valley. But each day, her father would head out to work the fields while her mother would tend to the animals leaving poor Poppet alone to stare wistfully about the valley which had no room for “but a Poppet.”
Thus it was until one bright summer morning, which had seemed to yawn its way into the sky as any other, turned out to hold much more in store for little Poppet than she could have guessed.
“Poppet!” called her mother, “come here at once.”
Expecting the usual kiss goodbye before she would be left to herself for the day, Poppet raised her head and made her way to the barn with a weary “coming mother.”
“Ah there you are! I must help your father gather the hay before these rains come in. But these eggs will go bad if they are not taken to town today. You know the way Poppet, I am afraid I will have to have you take them to town for me.”
Poppet drew in a quick breath. All those days of waiting at home, and now she had a real job to do! “Of course mother, at once!” exclaimed the excited little Poppet.
“Yes, yes, just follow the road and don’t dally! Goody Cora mustn’t be kept waiting. And careful lest the eggs break! And again, don’t leave the road; the woods are no place for a little Poppet!” called her mother as she walked off towards the hay fields.
Poppet was not about to disappoint her mother, and she set to carefully packing the eggs into her basket. Soon she was merrily heading down the road, as she attempted to refrain from skipping for fear of jostling the eggs.
The morning calm was broken just ahead by a rough voice shouting curses. Rounding the corner, Poppet came across old tanner Jarek trying to get his fur laden mule to move. Jarek lived just down the road from Poppet, and the only thing known to be more stubborn than Jarek was his mule Hildy. With an oath Jarek gave another push at Hildy’s back end, but to no avail.
“Hi there Jarek!” exclaimed Poppet, “Do you need some help?”
Stopping to mop his brow, Jarek eyed Poppet askance. “Some help? This is no time for games and silliness little Poppet, I just want to get old Hildy home and unload these skins
“But I could…”
“But nothing, you run along little girl, this is serious work”, and with that Jarek once again set to futily trying to move Hildy.
Poppet’s spirits were dampened for a moment, but soon she was once again merrily heading on her way. “I won’t be ‘but a little Poppet’ to them anymore if I start taking the eggs to town each day” she thought, and that cheered her spirits immensely.
Again, the chirping of the birds was broken, this time by the sound of steel on steel. Combined with the acrid odor in the air, Poppet knew that Thorm’s smithy was just ahead.
“Ho there Poppet, how goes it?” shouted Thorm.
“Just taking my mother’s eggs to market” said Poppet as she proudly presented the egg basket for inspection. “Need any help with your blacksmithing?”
Thorm’s leathery face twisted into a jolly smile “Har, Poppet, you are too young to be doing this kind of work, leave it to us grown ups.” Glancing at her eggs he added “How about yourself little Poppet, do you need some help getting those to town?”
Raising her freckled nose in the air, she headed back down the road with a “no thank you, I can do it myself!”
As Thorms laughter faded and the clanging resumed, the morning did not seem as bright for little Poppet.
Poppet’s spirits soon returned though the sky had turned cloudy. The threat of rain did not bother Poppet though; indeed she was looking forward to the prospect of a good frolic in a midsummer’s shower.
As she passed through a thick grove of sugar maples, Poppet spied Goody Rose working with her bore at the trunks of the trees. The sugary sap was already flowing into assorted buckets around the grove.
“Hello little Poppet” called Goody Rose, “are you looking forward to my special maple small-cakes this year?”
The mention of maple small-cakes perked Poppet right up. “I sure am! Do you need some help with that bore?”
“Oh no, you are much too small to help with a thing like this little Poppet! Why you are knee high to me when I started!”
Downcast, Poppet turned back to the road. “Perhaps Goody was right” she thought, “maybe I am just a little Poppet.”
“You come see me for some maple small-cakes you hear?” called Goody Rose after the departing Poppet.
By now thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. But Poppet paid it little heed. “Everyone is so caught up in their business that there is no place for me!” she thought.
Thunder rolled across the forest once more, but this time it seemed to the dejected Poppet that it came from the forest itself! Stopping to listen she heard it again. This thunder was definitely just up ahead in the trees. Unable to contain her curiosity, Poppet left the familiar road and headed right into the thick of the wood, searching for the source of the rumbling. Fear did not hold her back, for Poppet was young and the world held no dangers for one of her tender age.
Before she had walked a hundred paces she came upon a great oak. Sitting beneath it was the skinniest and most wretched person she had ever seen. The rumbling seemed to be coming straight from him!
“Oh dear! What IS that noise sir?” said the astonished Poppet.
“Tis me stomach me lady. I hain’t had a bit to eat for one hundred years!”
Poppet remembered the last time her parents had worked the harvest until well past supper time and her meal had been late. She couldn’t imagine having to feel like that for one hundred years!
“Oh my! Have you no money to buy a crust of bread sir?”
“Fraid not me lady, I was born a Pauper and have always been one.”
“Well sir, these eggs are for Goody Cora in the village, but it seems that you need them more than she! Please, take them!” said Poppet as she thrust her basket towards the old man. Poppet knew that this may mean the end of her trips to town for her mother, but her kind heart would not let another person suffer unduly.
“Tha whole basket to meself!” cackled the old man with glee. “This tis a kindness that I had thought not to see. Hold up me lady, mayhaps I could find something to repay ye with.” Poppet held up her hands in refusal, she was merely glad to see the old man so happy. But he insisted and eventually procured a bundled package for little Poppet from his sack. “May they serve ye well me lady, ye deserve them!” And with that he wandered into the trees with the basket of eggs.
Transfixed, Poppet stared after him for a long while until she realized that the clouds had disappeared and the sun was shining upon her face. “What a strange old man she thought” as she opened the ornately wrapped package he had given her. Waiting within was the prettiest pair of shoes she had ever seen. Poppet could not imagine she would ever see a pair of shoes as lovely, not even the pair Lady Galana wore to the midsummer festival the previous year in town!
Clapping her hands joyfully, Poppet slipped the shoes onto her little feet. As they slid on a strange thing seemed to happen. It was as if each tree in the forest bent to shade her way, and every bird sang a song just for her. Poppet had never felt so special! Breaking into a full skip she headed back to her parent’s house, mindless of the lost eggs.
She soon came upon the grove of Maples with their sap buckets. Remembering her earlier slight, Poppet prepared to skip past, but was stopped as a red faced and out of breath Goody Rose jumped from the trees.
“Poppet, Poppet! Hold up a second! I don’t know what happened but suddenly all those branches just started growing! They grew out so thick that I couldn’t even get close to the trunk! I was so frightened I dropped my bore! I must get it back, twas my only one!”
Poppet shrugged her shoulders and patted Goody Rose on the hand. “They don’t seem like they are so thick that a little Poppet like me couldn’t get to them!” With that, Poppet plunged into the tangled branches, reappearing moments later with Goody Rose’s bore and not a scratch on her. “There ya go Goody! Make sure you let me know if ya need any more help!” Skipping along the trail, Poppet left the astonished Goody Rose staring at the twisted branches of the maple trees.
After some time Poppet came to Thorm’s smithy. Thorm was gone, there was no clanging and the fire seemed to have gone out. Coming closer to investigate, Poppet found him hiding behind a barrel with a shovel full of coal. “POPPET! Stay back!” he whispered. “The furnace is TALKING!”
“Well what does it say?” replied cheerful little poppet.
“What does it say?? Well it told me to lay off the coal for a bit so it could get a rest!” cried the exasperated blacksmith.
“That’s right I did” rumbled the furnace suddenly. “All I do around here is keep the fire going! That’s no fun for me! At the very least I want a good joke! Or I’m not opening up for another mouthful of coal!” With that the furnace lapsed into the closest thing to a pout that Poppet had ever seen on a furnace.
“See, See??? Did you hear it too!?” shouted Thorm. “I’m going out of my head!”
“Of course I heard it, don’t you know any good jokes Thorm?”
“Jokes? Those are for kids, of course I don’t know any!”
So Poppet stepped forward and cleared her throat. “Hullo there mister Furnace, I have a joke for you!”
Coming to life the Furnace turned to Poppet, “Oh so? Well let’s hear it.”
“What beast is it that has her tail between her eyes?”
Thinking, the furnace replied, “well there is no beast such as that!”
“You forgot a cat when he cleans his bottom!” cried Poppet triumphantly.
The furnace thought for a bit and then burst into laughter, “Truly that be one beast that does!” he replied through guffaws.
Looking at Thorm, Poppet said, “happy to be a help to ya Thorm, but you better throw that coal in while his mouth is open!” With that Poppet skipped back onto the trail leaving the dumbfounded blacksmith staring at his laughing furnace.
Nearing her home, Poppet at last spied Jarek the Tanner once again. Hildy was still refusing to budge, but now she was telling Jarek why. In English!
Jarek could only stammer “but… I…. how…” while his mule babbled on and on.
“I always have to run these furs up and down the valley. Do you ever think about what I want to do? We never get to do ANYTHING I want to do! Why can’t you carry them sometimes? Honestly Jarek…” and on the mule went.
Seeing Poppet, the flustered Jarek said “Poppet! What is going on here??? Can you hear him too?”
“Sure I hear him” replied little Poppet, “can’t you see that he just wants to have some fun? You are always too serious about all this!” Turning to the mule, Poppet said “Come on Hildy, I’ll race ya to Jarek’s! You too Jarek, last one there is a pickled herring!” With that, Poppet and the mule broke into a run for Jarek’s house, leaving the poor tanner staring after them in amazement.
After playing a rousing game of circle the briar with Hildy, Poppet returned home with her new shoes. She thought back on her strange wonderful day and then looked down at her new shoes. Remembering the pauper who had given them to her she hoped that the eggs had eased his hunger and that he was as happy as she was at that moment.
Poppet’s mother seemed not to notice the missing eggs, and only commented on the beauty of Poppet’s new shoes. And while strange events continued to crop up in the surrounding lands, little Poppet was always there just when she was needed. Such was life for Poppet, a happy joyful time for ever after.