I was reading my new book of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (Canterbury Classics), which is awesome by the way, when I stumbled upon this one that tickled me. It is number 8 in their collection and is titled ‘The Wonderful Musician’. After re-reading it several times and pushing ideas around in my brain, I decided to analyse it on a personal level and see what I could get out of it. If you agree or disagree – it would be great to hear from you and please feel free to post in the comment section.
“...I will obey you as a scholar obeys his master...”
...it stank of alchemy or ceremonial/ritual(ness) and conjured for me (nice pun) the idea of our musician being a magician. Whatever the truth is, that is what I took and it helps with the rest of my interpretation!
As the story goes on, we meet Mr Wolf, Mr Fox and Mr Hare and no this is not some sort of line up for blind-date but is in fact our three animals that come creeping in for some 1:1 music tuition. Each time the musician makes it clear to us, the reader, that he is not interested in these as a companion. They plead for him to teach them and each time he leads them somewhere to trap them, then returns to his spot to play again. Now before we go any further, I think it is important to look at the personalities of these creatures, as assumed in most folklore tales.
The wolf, commonly in other Grimm stories, Aesop’s tales and lots of other western stories, is seen as an evil persona. The fox is often associated with trickery and the hare, can be either a trickster, bat-crap crazy or extremely arrogant. None of these characteristics would make for good companionship. Even more so, they would not make great students, especially in the magical sense, for who knows how they would use such a skill.
Now eventually the three animals break free from their traps and gather together to form ‘the league of vengeance’; a charity organisation bent on the musician’s absolute destruction. On their way towards him, they learn that he has summoned forth another being, this time a woodcutter. The woodcutter is not like them and instead is just captivated by the music, enjoying it. As soon as the beasts gather round to go ‘west-side story’ on the musician, the woodcutter intervenes, standing in the way and protecting him.
Now if we were to take the woodcutter as a symbol from folklore, we might confuse ourselves a bit. Often woodcutters are not the Monty Python singing version nor the typical inserted patriarchal figure wanting to be needed in Little Red Riding Hood – they are in fact quite often unreliable figures. For me this doesn’t work in this role, I think it is more that the woodcutter plays a provider role (more on this in a bit). So, the woodcutter saves the musician and the animals abandon their revenge plans to instead flee and live to see another day.
Breaking this down, I can’t help but imagine that our musician (or magician) wants someone to appreciate his skill not to learn it. If he did teach it, it wouldn’t be to unsavoury characters. He seems to want an audience to hear him, admire him, not use him for their own gains and this is where I can’t help but bring it back to the Brothers Grimm. The Brother’s were pro-German Nation. They wanted a united Germany and a liberal one at that. Did this tale appeal to them when they collected it? I can’t help but think it did. We have our musician, someone who has a great knowledge, looking for the right audience, but all he gets are bad characters. I see the animals as aristocracy or oppressive types who would seek to corrupt an idea for their own means. The woodcutter is his intended audience and companion, a worker, a person, ‘the people’ who do not seek to corrupt the idea but listen to it and defend it. Perhaps this is just me fantasising some sort of Marxist element to the Grimm’s tale, but either way, you cannot deny this interpretation highlights some interesting elements.
Agree or no?