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“I’ve got to learn about the shivers, and this seems like such a sure thing.”
“Do you not want the treasure?”
“Treasure? What would I do with treasure?”
– Our protagonist’s reasons for seeking danger
I usually begin these reviews with a brief discussion of each fairy tale’s origin and history. This time, however, let’s talk a bit about a certain folkloric archetype: The Fool.
When I first started writing these reviews, I considered combining this episode with a later one, The Princess Who Never Laughed, because both have fools at the heart of their story. A fool’s true purpose is to provide more than just comic relief. They are uninhibited by social conventions and often maintain a childlike innocence towards the world. Through their ridiculous words and actions – or the appearance of such – they reveal truths that the characters and audience might not have discovered otherwise.
The most notable example is in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear’s Fool is the only one allowed to openly criticize him without repercussion thanks to phrasing his jibes to sound like harmless jokes. Perhaps if the mad monarch listened to him, his story wouldn’t have ended so tragically. Likewise, Lady Olivia’s fool Feste in the play Twelfth Night is quick to snap her out of her melancholy by pointing out the folly of grieving her late brother: “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.” (Act One, Scene Five)
In other cases, the Fool demonstrates how selflessness and kindness will always outweigh strength and wit, like in the Russian folktale The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. The story even contains the line “God loves a fool, and will turn things to their advantage in the end.” Though denigrated by his own family for his perceived simple-mindedness, this Fool is a caring soul to everyone he meets, and hits the karmic jackpot as a result: a cabal of super-powered friends, the hand of a princess, the adulation of his fellow countrymen, and of course, the only airborne schooner known to man.
The Fool archetype has gone even beyond the written word. In the tarot Major Arcana, The Fool is the first numbered card in the pack. He’s often depicted as a cheerful youth, sometimes accompanied by a dog, making his way down a sunny path without really looking where he’s going. Should The Fool wander into your tarot reading, it signifies the start of an exciting new journey in your future…or, perhaps, a fool’s errand.
This all ties into today’s episode and the story it entails. It’s another tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm. Though there were a few variants beforehand, this iteration was directly influenced by an Arthurian story of Sir Lancelot spending a night in a haunted castle. Alternate titles in various fairy tale collections replace the word “Boy” with “Youth” or “Fool”; no matter the difference in sobriquet, it’s the same main character with the same foolish attributes. In keeping with both themes, this fool teaches us that some common fears might not be as terrible as they seem, and other things that are actually worth fearing may never have crossed our minds before…Continue reading