The Grasshopper and the Merchant

There once was a grasshopper who lived in the reeds of a merchant’s garden. The garden was beautiful, so beautiful in fact, that it was held in greater esteem than the emperor’s own.

The grasshopper had many friends in this garden. The butterfly and the firefly, in particular, greatly enjoyed his company. Life was pleasant and good for them, even though the merchant who owned the land was foul-tempered and unkind. The townspeople avoided the merchant, and he ignored them, seeking nothing more than silence, for music was a blight to his ears.

Every night, the grasshopper would climb upon a simple blade of grass and begin his soliloquy. Nothing brought him greater joy. But no sooner would he start his concert each night, that the merchant, in a rage, would come outside and threaten him with an old broom. Our poor grasshopper was merely a grasshopper, however, and saw no harm in his chirps. The next night he would return, and carry on as usual.

This distressed the merchant, who found the grasshopper’s chirp lowly and unbefitting. After many nights of restless sleep, the merchant decided to take action. The next morning, while the grasshopper slept, the merchant commanded his servants to cut down all of the grass upon which the grasshopper liked to perch. The firefly was so heart-broken that he had to move away.

Quieter, and sadder, became our grasshopper’s nightly songs, but even this was too much for the merchant, who then ordered his servants to pull every flower in his garden up by the root. The townspeople cried to see the godly garden maimed, and the butterfly, no longer having any nectar to drink, was forced to leave as well.

How disheartened, our grasshopper friend.

The grasshopper was clever, however, and devised a plan. He knew that the merchant was a single man, for no married man would care about the chirping of grasshoppers—he would be doing plenty of chirping on his own.

He went to the river and gathered a great many reeds, which he bundled into a fine skirt around his waist. Then, he went to the lilies by the bank and painted his face to be in the custom of human women. Peering onto the water’s surface, the grasshopper found himself rather handsome, and the fish agreed.

He crept back to the merchant’s house and hid behind a window’s reed shutter. Chirping, in the sweetest voice he could muster, the grasshopper called to the merchant inside. “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?” For you see, that is the chirp grasshoppers make.

The merchant was quite charmed, and instantly ran to the window to pull back the reed. But the grasshopper stopped him, because if the merchant were to look carefully past the window reed shutter, he would know his true identity immediately.

“Oh no! Please don’t look. Only my husband can have the privilege.”

And so the merchant stopped, and rather than be suspicious of the secretive woman, he only found himself endeared. “Pray tell, Gentle Lady, what one must do to be your husband.”

The grasshopper could hardly contain his chirp of amusement. “Plant me a pretty lawn, to match my robe, and I will wed you.” And he flourished the lush reed skirt for the merchant’s desiring eyes.

The next day, the merchant hastened to install a fine green lawn in his yard. The gardeners toiled all the day. By evening, the firefly returned, drawn by the aroma of the fresh verdant grasses. This pleased the grasshopper, but butterfly had not yet returned, and he felt he owed the merchant a little more mischief. That night, he went back to the pond, where he gathered yellow ginkgo leaves to make an even finer robe. He returned to the window once again, and hiding behind the shutter, chirped sweetly, “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?”

merchantandgrasshapperThe merchant, confused, dashed to the window once more. But he remembered the lady’s shyness, so did not attempt to pull back the shutter. “I do not understand. Do you not see the fine green lawn I have planted? Am I still not fit to be your husband?”

The grasshopper shook his pretty, painted face. The gingko dress rustled like tin bells. “Oh, this lawn is very fine, but it is not nearly right enough. For you see, my robe is yellow. You must have gotten it wrong.”

The merchant, dismayed, apologized and promised to set it right.

The very next day, he had the gardeners remove the green lawn and instead plant a wondrous variety of yellow flowers. Daffodils, rape weed, roses, and gladiolus peppered the whole of the garden. The smell was intoxicating, and butterfly, drunk before noon, thanked the grasshopper heartily. The merchant, for his part, was certain that his night caller would be most impressed.

But that night, the grasshopper arrived in red. Petals from the crimson gum trees by the pond fashioned a royal skirt and corset, and it was all the merchant could do not to throw open the shutter and steal her for his wife.

Nonetheless, the grasshopper denied him, and chirping in his most lovely voice, begged the merchant to try again.

Now this continued for many days, and the merchant’s neighbors wondered at the drastic changes in his yard. Soon, everyone came every day to see the merchant’s most wondrous lawn changing color. On the day the changes started, it was a Monday, and now, by Sunday, they had seen blue, orange, purple, and white besides.

They did not know it was the grasshopper, and the merchant, a fool in love, never suspected a thing. But high time was coming, the grasshopper knew, that the game end, for he was tired of outwitting a simpleton.

On this final evening of our story, the grasshopper returned to the pond, and begging some scales from his goldfish friends, and the lights of a dozen or so fireflies, he fashioned the most wondrous celestial robe, and painting his face finer than any other night before, he returned to the merchant’s window.
This night, the exchange between the grasshopper and the merchant was quite melancholy, and the grasshopper cautioned the merchant. “I grow tired of your teases, my lord. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, will be your last chance to prove yourself to me.”

The merchant swore to appease his night caller, near mad with desire for the woman beyond his screen. The next day, he had the gardeners lay solid gold bricks upon his lawn, and before the night fell, every single one of them had been stolen by the people who had come to see his garden.

The merchant had become too poor to have his garden weeded, and the grasshopper was free to chirp to his heart’s content.

Also, everyone in town was a little bit richer.

The Tinder-Box – Hans Christian Andersen

TThe Tinder-Box
by Hans Christian Andersen

(about 2900 words)

The Tinder-Box is a fairy tale, and has all the trappings of fairy-tales: a witch, a downtrodden soldier, copper, silver, gold, three guardians, and a princess trapped in a tower and a king who has seen her marriage unfavorably prophesied to–you guessed it–a common soldier.

So this soldier is returning home form the wars when he comes upon a witch who asks him to go down into a big tree. Inside, she says, he will find three doors guarded by three dogs, containing chests filled with copper, gold and silver and he can take as much as he wants but all she wants is a tinder-box. So, the soldier goes, loads up his pockets with gold but refuses to let the witch have the tinder-box until she tells him what she’s going to to with it. Being just as stubborn as the soldier, she refuses to tell him. Unfortunately for her, he has a sword and is so fresh from the wars that committing homicide in the middle of the road over the usage of a tinder-box doesn’t strike him for a moment as morally reprehensible. So, after punting the witch’s head into a ditch, he goes into town with his new wealth, spends freely and amasses a huge number of friends who all abandon him when the money runs out. Despondent, he stokes a flame on the tinder-box and POOF! the first guardian dog appears and offers him any wish that he wants. Well, of course the soldier wants more money. Soon he is rich and all his friends come back to him. He then learns about a beautiful princess trapped in a copper castle by her father who doesn’t want her to marry as the insanely specific prophecy has foretold. With one murder under his belt, the soldier thinks nothing about sending his dog to kidnap sleeping beauty (who seriously doesn’t wake up the whole time riding on the dog’s back) and kisses her before sending her back. Just add one count of sexual assault onto that tally. This continues nightly until finally the queen finds away to catch him and really, it’s no wonder that he’s sentenced to hang for all that he’s done. Fortunately he has some kid go grab him his tinder-box, and on the day of his execution calls his three dogs who proceed to straight up murder everyone: judge, jury, king and queen, everyone, until the remaining, unmauled towns people declare that the soldier shall be king and the imprisoned princess shell be his queen. The princess comes out of the tower (presumably stepping over the intestines of her still warm parents) and says she’s totally OK with this outcome. Fairy tale.

hans-christian-andersenHans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805. Though his family was lower class, his father had been told that the family had once come from high society and his father held onto this belief firmly. It seems, however, that this was untrue. Andersen was an only child and received his education at a school for impoverished children. While attending school he worked as an apprentice, before moving to Copenhagen at the age of fourteen to study to be an actor. When one of the theater hands suggested that Andersen was a poet, he switched his goals in life and began writing in earnest. The director of the Royal Danish Theater petitioned King Frederick VI to pay in part for Andersen’s grammar schooling, where he was an average student. The schools at which he studied were abusive, wouldn’t let him write, and in general made him depressed. During his writing career, he wrote many of the fairy tales that are common to most childhoods in the west, including The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Princess and the Pea. He had a personal and professional friendship which Charles Dickens, as they both wrote about the common theme of under-privileged children and poor workers of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately this friendship was taxed to the breaking point when he overstayed his welcome by five weeks at Dickens’s home, and never received another letter from the great author again. Andersen had many romantic obsessions with both men and women, but none of them were returned. He died of liver cancer on 4 August 1875.

The Glass Dog – L. Frank Baum

GThe Glass Dog
by L. Frank Baum

(about 2750 words)

In this charming fairy tale, a wizard desires a watch dog who will bark at anyone who comes close enough to disturb his work. He commissions a glassblower to make him a little pink dog which he then enchants to do the desired task. In exchange, the wizard gives him a phial containing a single drop of the most powerful medicine in the world, which can cure any illness. The glassblower happily takes this and the wizard gets his enchanted glass watchdog. Since this is a fairytale, there is a beautiful (and rich) young woman in some serious need of saving. It turns out that she is ill from something that no doctor has been able to cure. Since she’s all but in the ground, she decides to wager her life against her marriage, and offers herself as a prize to the glassblower is he can cure her with his phial of medicine. The next day the beautiful, rich girl is back on her feet and reneging on her promise to marry the poor, old man. She puts it off and puts it off and in the meantime the glass blower has thrown out all the tools of his trade and is eagerly thinking up ways to spend his new wife’s money. Eventually, the glassblower starts getting anxious and asks her about their marriage date. She responds by asking him how he happened to cure her. Well, he tells her the whole story and she insists that she needs to have her own enchanted glass dog and the glassblower had best get busy stealing the wizard’s. For some reason the old man can’t see what a colossal bitch his intended is, and does what she asks, bringing her the glass dog. When he returns to her the next day, wouldn’t you know it, but the glass dog rushes at him and barks up a storm, and she won’t do anything to call it off, saying she never wanted to marry him anyway. He’s just too ugly. Heartbroken, the glassblower goes home to hang himself. Fortunately(?) the wizard interrupts him, saying that he’s lost his glass dog. He laments that he has no money to offer as a reward, but only has a beauty powder that he can spare. Of course the man jumps on this opportunity as well, re-steals and returns the glass dog in exchange for the beauty powder and returns to marry the uppity woman. And if you think either of them is happy with the match, you haven’t been paying attention to the rest of the story.

Baum,L_FrankLyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. His early education was a bit spotty, starting with home tutors and then a stint in a military academy which he had to quit because of a heart condition. He skipped high school, and like many authors of the time, worked as a journalist, as well as exploring his love of the theater. He wrote his most famous book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 which was adapted into a Broadway musical two years later. Baum continued to write children’s stories until his death on May 6, 1919.