"Prudent Fritz" A Short Story by Joe Blevins

By Joe Blevins

Author's Note: When brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm traveled throughout Germany collecting oral-history folktales during the early 1800s, they actually did their job too well and accumulated many more stories than they could possibly hope to publish. The following is one of the tales the Grimms left on the "cutting room floor," so to speak. This story has been traced to the small German village of Kudgel, which the brothers Grimm visited in 1812. Recently discovered among Wilhelm's private papers in a folder marked "Unpromising Miscellanea," it is published here for the first time.

There once lived a humble woodcutter and his enormous wife in a small cottage in the forest. Their lives were empty and desolate, for they had no children to call their own. As a youth, the near-sighted woodsman had mistaken a witch's leg for an elm and had used it for kindling. Enraged, the witch put a curse upon the woodsman, telling him he would never father a child by natural means and would have "plenty of problems" if he tried to adopt. The woodsman tried to reason with the witch, even offering to pay half the cost of a replacement leg, but the witch would not listen.

And so, all these years later, the witch's curse still held, and the woodsman and his wife were without children. Each night, the wife would kneel at the foot of the bed and pray aloud.

"Oh! How wonderful it would be to have a child! It would give me something to occupy my waking hours until television is invented!"

She would go on for hours each night until the husband, exasperated, would explain to his wife that he had to get up early the next morning and chop wood. Eventually, he took to sleeping in the root cellar.

The lives of the woodsman and his wife continued in this manner for many years, during which even couples counseling was powerless to help them. Then one day, while the woodcutter was out drinking, a magical pixie with twinkling blue eyes and golden hair appeared at the front door of the couple's cottage, begging entrance.

"Why should I let you in, you strange little man?" asked the wife.

"Because I can give you the child you have longed for all these years," the pixie replied.

This was all the wife needed to hear. She allowed the pixie to come into her home and after seven, maybe eight minutes, he had seeded the wife with child.

After it was over, the wife rolled over to the pixie and said, "That was wonderful. But is this going to be one of those deals when you come back years later and take the child unless I can guess your name in three tries or something?"

"Not me," said the pixie. "You must have me confused with my cousin, Rumpelstiltskin. You won't have to worry about me coming back for the br... er, child. Oh, gosh, look at the time. Is it that late already? I've gotta be somewhere at 3:00. Seriously, it's been great. I'll call you maybe sometime."

And with that, the strange little man jumped out the window and ran away, never to be seen again. But nine months later, the woodsman and his wife were finally blessed with a child -- a boy who was everything any parent could ever ask for: cheerful, obedient, and handsome.

"Such a cheerful, obedient, and handsome child," the woodsman commented, "but where did he ever get these twinkling blue eyes and golden hair? Certainly not from my side of the family."

The wife merely cleared her throat and changed the subject whenever her husband brought up this topic. They named the child Fritz, and he brought untold joy and wonder into their previously drab lives. When he wasn't eagerly doing his chores around the house, he would skip merrily through the forest and sing sweetly to the birds and flowers. Continually healthy and robust, Fritz only required an occasional bowl of thin porridge for sustenance. Never in their lives had the woodcutter or his wife known such unalloyed bliss.

When Fritz was five, they sold him into slavery.

"There's only so much unalloyed bliss a fellow can take," said the woodcutter. "Besides, all that porridge we fed him wasn't free, you know. It's time to get some return on this investment."

So his parents arranged for Fritz to work in the Gummi mines, where he would labor sweatily under the brutal supervision of the Gummimeister for many years.

When his apprenticeship finally came to an end, Fritz -- still cheerful and robust despite many years of cruel, back-breaking labor -- cautiously and respectfully approached the Gummimeister.

"Herr Gummimeister," said Fritz, "it has been many years since I have seen my mother and father. I would like ever so much to visit them and see if they have, you know, died or anything."

"I suppose," replied the Gummimeister, "that you would like your 17 years of back pay as well."

"If it isn't too much trouble, sir," replied Fritz.

"Very well. I suppose you have earned some compensation for your efforts here. Would you like your compensation in the form of a small, easily-portable bank note or a huge, unwieldy gold nugget?"

Fritz thought about this for a moment and chose the gold nugget, which turned out to be the size of a full-grown dachshund. Fritz carefully wrapped the nugget in cheesecloth, stowed it safely in his velveteen trousers, and set off for home.

As Fritz was trudging along through ankle-deep filth, there came into view a dapper gentleman wearing the finest of clothes and riding a white horse.

"Oh!" cried Fritz aloud. "How gay he looks! Surely, there can be no one more gay than he in all the land! How perfectly splendid it must be to ride across the countryside with a huge, powerful animal like that between one's legs. Truly, this is the gayest scene I have ever witnessed."

Not being deaf, the gentleman heard Fritz and called out to him.

"How now, pedestrian? Do you comment upon my gaiety?"

"I could not but help myself, sir. "Many a mile I have trudged, and it is ever so difficult to continue with this lump in my trousers."

"We shall make an exchange, then," said the horseman. "I'll trade you my steed for what you've got in those trousers."

"Bless you, kind sir," said Fritz, "but I warn you, you will find it large and unwieldy."

"Pish posh," replied the horseman. "If I can handle a beast like this, I can certainly handle whatever you've got."

Having said this, the horseman dismounted masterfully from his steed and took the golden nugget from Fritz.

"I earned this after 17 torturous years of toil and sweat," Fritz told the horseman.

"You don't say," replied the horseman. "I shall have to have it appraised, of course, before we can make this deal. You wait here, and I'll ride into town with it. I've got this friend in the nugget-appraising business. Gary."

"Okay," said Fritz as he watched the horseman gallop away on the steed with the golden nugget.

Many hours passed. The hours became days, then weeks, months, and years. The horseman did not return. Fritz figured that some dreadful fate must have befallen him. Still, our prudent Fritz did not become discouraged. He fashioned a small but agreeable little cottage from offal and the bones of dead animals, and there he did dwell quite comfortably for the rest of his days. Of course, there was that one dreadful winter when he had to eat his own leg to survive, but other than that it was smooth sailing.

Sometimes, though, Fritz found himself wishing he'd traded the gold nugget for a prostitute.



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Did the Grimm brothers exercise good judgment in tossing this one in the discard bin? I'm not so sure as it contains many important lessons for children of every social strata. Lessons like:

-Don't trust a gay horseman.
-Never chop wood without your glasses.
-Golden nuggets belong to the damned.

Great story. The Gummi mines and the Gummimeister had me laughing out loud.

I'm not sure if this will help anyone, but for the proper perspective on "Prudent Fritz," I'd really recommend reading -- or skimming through -- a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Besides the famous stories people remember ("Rapunzel," "Tom Thumb"), there are lots of weird, obscure ones like "Clever Grethel" and "Prudent Hans." Many of these seem designed to frighten children into behaving, and in translating "Prudent Fritz" I was trying to preserve the odd, stilted tone of the tales I was familiar with. Disfigurement, child abandonment, and utter stupidity are the hallmarks of many Grimm tales, and so it is with "Prudent Fritz." And I meant "gay" as in "happy" or "cheerful." Sorry if anyone got the wrong impression.

Huzzah! The inimitable Joe Blevins returns to bless us with his effervescent wit! It's great to have you back in the fold, good sir!

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Blevins published on October 15, 2006 5:40 PM.

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