The Golden Bird is a Grimms story about golden things. Golden birds, golden horses, golden princesses(not really) and an idiot, who is not golden. Well, he’s not really an idiot, but I would say that he’s a little slow. Let’s say this is a story about golden things and a man who just isn’t the brightest crayon in the box.
Once upon a time there was a king who had a pleasure garden behind his house. No, this does not mean a garden where he had orgies. A pleasure garden was simply a garden you had in your yard that didn’t really grow food, but was nice to walk through. In that garden was an apple tree. The apples were counted every evening.
One day, the tree had less apples on it than the day before, by one to be exact. The king had his oldest son sit up in the night to determine what had taken the apple. The eldest son stayed up until midnight, then he fell asleep. The next night he had his middle son keep watch. The middle son also fell asleep at midnight. The king didn’t want his youngest son to try because he just wasn’t the brightest light bulb. The youngest begged his father, and pestered him, until the king finally agreed to let the youngest sit watch.
The youngest put himself beneath the apple tree, but did not fall asleep. He stayed up past midnight. When midnight came around a beautiful golden bird came and plucked an apple from the tree. The youngest son shot an arrow at the bird. He did not hit the bird, but the arrow happened to go through one of the bird’s feathers. The youngest son showed this to the king. Someone told the kind these feathers would be worth more than anything else, so the king was determined to get more than one feather.
The oldest son set off in search of the golden bird. He met a fox on the road which he aimed to shoot, but the fox could talk! The fox pretty much says that if the man would not shoot him he would give him advice. The fox tells the oldest son he would soon come to a village with two inns. He should not go in the inn lit brightly and making merry. He should go to the other. The oldest son thought this was stupid advice and tried to shoot the fox anyway, but the fox got away. The oldest came to the village and decided to go into the more happening inn. He forgot his quest for many months.
The second son set off after the oldest did not come home for many months. He met the fox who offered the same advice, but he too, thought the advice was stupid and tried to shoot the fox. He came to the village with the two inns, but decided to go into the more party-ful inn and also forgot his quest.
The youngest son wanted to go in search of the golden bird, but his father, again, thought he wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but finally relented. The youngest encountered the fox, but did not try to shoot him. He actually told the fox that he meant him no harm. The fox was obviously pleased with this. He told the youngest about the village and even offered to give him a ride to the village. He told him to hop up on his back behind his tail. The fox ran fast and they were soon at the village. The youngest went into the shabby inn and spent an uneventful night.
The next morning he went outside and the fox was waiting. The fox had further instructions. He told the youngest to go straight on. He would come to a castle. There would be a whole regiment of soldiers sleeping. He says not to worry about those guys because they’re not going to wake up. Just walk right through the middle of them. Then go into the castle. Go through every room. In the last chamber would be found the golden bird. It will be in a shabby cage, but there will also be a golden cage in the room. Do not put the bird in the golden cage.
The youngest follows these directions to the letter until he gets to the golden bird. He thinks it is a shame to keep the golden bird in the shabby cage, so he puts it in the golden cage. Almost immediately, the bird begins to make a racket and the soldiers woke up and came running.
The king of the castle decided the youngest could live as long as he journeyed forth to find the golden horse. The youngest agreed, but was sad because he didn’t know where the golden horse was. The fox was waiting. The fox rebukes the youngest for not listening to him. He agrees to help him still though.
He says, go straight on and there would be a castle. The horse is in the stable. The grooms will be asleep in front of the stable. It will be possible to lead the golden horse out quietly. Beware…do not put the nice saddle of gold on the horse. Leave the shabby saddle on the horse.
The youngest obeys the fox to the letter until he gets to the horse. He thinks it would be a shame to put a shabby old saddle on the magnificent animal and saddles him up with the golden saddle instead. The horse began to neigh loudly, the grooms woke up and put the youngest in prison. The king of this castle agrees not to kill him if he will bring back the beautiful princess from the golden castle.
He sets out again on his journey and the fox is waiting for him. The fox says, “I ought only to leave you to your ill-luck, but I pity you and I will help you once more out of your trouble.” Translation=you’re an idiot and I would feel bad if I didn’t continue to help you out.
The fox says to stay straight on the road. He will come to the golden castle. It will be night and the princess will go to the bath house to bathe. When she goes inside, run up to her and give her a kiss and she will follow. The youngest will then be able to take the princess away, but he must be careful not to let the princess say goodbye to her family before they go.
The youngest follows these directions to the letter until it’s time to take the princess away. She begs so much that he allows her to say goodbye to her parents. He is immediately thrown into prison. The king of that castle tells him he can keep his life if he can move the hill in front of the castle within eight days. He also tells him that if he succeeds, he can also have the princess for a wife.
He labors for seven days digging and moving dirt. He hasn’t really gotten anywhere close to moving the hill. The fox appears. The fox again rebukes him for not listening, but agrees to help. He tells the youngest to go to sleep and that the hill will be moved by morning. The youngest wakes up and the fox has moved the hill. The king gives the youngest his daughter to wife.
Something has to be done about the other debts owed by the youngest. The fox mentions that the golden horse belongs to the princess. The fox says to first take the maiden to the castle where the golden horse is. They will be happy to see the princess and will give him the horse as a reward. He should be sure to mount the horse right away with the princess and ride off. The horse is so fast no one will catch up.
The youngest listens this time. Now he has the princess and the golden horse. The fox meets up with him again to get the golden bird. The fox says to let the princess wait here with him. The youngest should ride into the courtyard with the golden horse. As soon as he lays hand on the cage he should gallop away on the horse and then swing back by to pick up the princess.
All goes according to plan.
The youngest is going to return home with all of his spoils, but the fox wants repaid for all the favors he has done the youth. The fox asks the young man to kill him and cut off his head. The youngest says he cannot do this. The fox says, “Ok, but let me give you some more advice. Don’t buy gallows flesh and don’t sit by a well.” The youngest thinks these are strange pieces of advice, but agrees anyway.
He rides off with the princess and the way home took him through the village where his two older brothers got stuck. It turns out they had caused a lot of trouble and were about to be hung on the gallows. The youngest does not want his two brothers to die so he offers to pay for them. A price is agreed and he rides on with his brothers. The brothers want to rest a little while by a well. The youngest agrees, but the brothers pushed him into the well and rode home with all the good things the youngest earned.
The oldest brothers ride home telling their father how they not only got the golden bird, but a golden horse and a princess. There was lots of job in the household, but the bird would not sing, the horse would not eat and all the princess did was cry.
The youngest brother was not dead. The well was dry. The fox came back again. The fox rebukes him again for not listening and pulls him up out of the well with his tale, most likely with an exasperated sigh. He tells the youngest to be careful because the brothers are not sure he is dead. They have placed their men in the forest to wait any sight of the youngest. The youngest changes clothes with a poor man in the forest and goes home as a poor man.
When the youngest, disguised as a poor man, gets to the castle the princess stops crying. The bird starts singing and the horse eats. The king wants to know why. He gathers all the people in the castle together. The princess falls on one poor man in particular. It’s the youngest son.The princess had blabbed all that had happened to the king right before this reunion, so he knew of his two sons’ evil deeds. As soon as the youngest was back in his rightful place the other two brothers were put to death.
After a long time, the youngest was walking in the woods and he met the fox. The fox tells him he has everything he could wish for, please kill him. The youngest was sad to do this, but he knows it is what the fox really wants so he does it. As soon as he killed the fox, the fox changed into a man. It turns out the fox was the brother of the princess and now he was freed from the magical charm that kept him a fox.
Golden birds, I guess those are nice. This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons. Bart helps the creator of Itchy and Scratchy get some money back from his creation. You would think he might do a sensible thing like build himself a nice sensible house and save for retirement. What does he do? He builds a house of gold. That’s not very practical. Imagine all the people who would come and chip off pieces of your house. A golden bird and a golden horse are also not very practical. Remember though, gold always has value and a golden anything is worth more than a regular anything.
This dude just doesn’t get it. Listen to the fox. Actually, part of the way through the story I started to imagine the fox as Lucius Fox from the new Batman trilogy. So just imagine all the things the fox says in the voice of Morgan Freeman. Like a twinkie, like a twinkie.
The two oldest brothers just seem willful, not stupid. The youngest one does seem like he’s a few cards short of a deck. The princess doesn’t seem any brighter either. So, it seems she has made a perfect match, pity the children they’ll have.
This fox must have been really strong. We do know that the fox was really a man who was enchanted, but foxes are not that big. Foxes are like the size of a medium-sized dog, maybe like a beagle. Foxes are not big animals, but yet this fox carries a fully grown man on his back. Well, I assume the youngest son was fully grown. It’s always a possibility that he was a primordial dwarf and very small, but the story doesn’t mention anything about that, so I am going to assume this is a full-grown man we are talking about. A fox cannot carry a full-grown man on his back, behind its tail for that matter. What kind of a magical genie fox is this?
This story has a couple of great themes. The first theme is that sometimes you need to follow instructions without variance. The second theme is that it’s not always the better looking item that will do the job.
Let’s talk about instructions. Those of you women who are reading this might have husbands. Those husbands might not follow directions. How many times have you said to your husband, “Do A, then do B, and then do C,” and you don’t go any further than that because you know they won’t remember it. Surely, you think my husband can do A, B, and C. I was very specific about this. A,B, and C that’s all it is.
So what happens? A is usually on fire. B hasn’t had its diaper changed in five hours. C is running around in the yard naked or some such similar thing. In your woman’s mind, the instructions were simple, and quite frankly, I don’t know how they got lost in translation. Trust me, I would explain it to you if I could. I don’t understand man-brain and how instructions become befuddled.
You know that if your husband has followed instructions, things would be ok. The dinner would be ready. Nothing would be on fire. All the diapers would be changed. Things would be ok, but because those instructions were not followed you ended up in a bind.
This kind of thing can happen to women as well, but not nearly as often as it happens to men. Yes, there are times when we women do not follow instructions and we end up somewhere we should not be or in a place in our lives we never thought we would go. Those are the time in which we say to ourselves, “I should have listened to my mother,” strangely, I don’t recall a single instance in my life where I’ve said that to myself. Maybe I’m abnormal or maybe it’s my mom who is abnormal, I don’t know.
At the time, in which we are not following instructions, we think we’re skipping steps because we have a better alternative. We know a way to get things done faster. We think we know better. Often, the person giving instructions generally knows more about the task at hand than you do. That isn’t always the case. We do know people who give advice based on groundless information. They exist and sometimes they might actually have a morsel of information to offer, but generally, their advice doesn’t count for much because they do not have the experience to back it up. Generally, though, we can count on instructions, unless they’ve been translated from Chinese, then we’re just lost.
The idea is, the people who wrote the instructions or gave you the instructions, know more about the task at hand than you do. You’re generally not going to improve the process by creating short cuts and varying steps.
This fox is very patient. I would have given up on the youngest long before this fox did. I would have been like, “Screw it! This guy is an idiot and I’m staying a fox forever! I better go and find myself a fox girlfriend.”
Then we have the idea that the shabby-looking item will do just as well as the nice-looking item. Look here, I’ve written about this before, we’re fascinated by “shiny.” Ooohhh, it’s shiny, I have to have it! Shiny! Shiny! Shiny! Shiny! SHINY!!!!
We tend to automatically think that because something is shiny, newer, more beautiful, or possessing a new car scent that it’s somehow better than the same items which do not possess any of those attributes. Are we right in that assumption? Is Lady Gaga better than Madonna? You know they’re exactly the same thing just in different generations. Lady Gaga certainly is shinier, sometimes literally, but is she better because she is shinier than Madonna? If those two get into a fight, I’m betting on Madonna.
In reality, your car still works if it looks like crap. Your wife is still awesome even though she isn’t that pretty little young thing at the office. Your house is still worthwhile even though it’s not brand-spanking new.
The young man in this tale gets tempted by the shiny. He sure does learn his lesson doesn’t he? He gets arrested and sentenced to death three different times. That has to be some sort of record. He was just going around ticking everybody off, all because A) he didn’t follow instructions properly and B) he got distracted by shiny. Ooohh it’s pretty, let’s touch it! No, don’t touch the fire; I don’t care if you do think it’s pretty.
Shiny is not always better. All that glitters is not gold. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Got it?! Comprende?
I still think this guy is an idiot, but I do like some of the lessons he learns. He does learn that it is better to follow instructions properly. He learns that shiny isn’t always awesome. I do think it’s kind of sad that his two brothers had to be put to death. It reminds me of Edward, George, and Richard of the house of York. They all freaking died, even if they were kind of jerks, that’s still sad.