Saturday, October 25, 2008

Expertise needed

Any fairy tale experts out there?

I'm back in the Northwest, amid some pretty stunning colors and a seeping chill, and I've embarked on a quest of another kind.

I'm trying to find a story from a book that I had as a child. I remember the book cover distinctly. I remember that the illustrations were not very good (or maybe it's just that they were printed in black, white, and green). And I remember that the book definitely included Rapunzel and the story of the shoemaker and the elves, as well as Puss 'n Boots.

But the story I'm looking for involves three brothers who each set out to seek their fortune. First the oldest, then the next oldest, and then the youngest. As each son leaves, his mother sends him out the door with a basket of pears.

As each son saunters down the road, he encounters an old woman who asks him if he has anything to eat. I don't remember the exact details, but the two oldest brothers do not share their basket of pears and they are never heard from again. Hmmm…

But the youngest brother stops and sits down by the side of the road and shares his pears. This is where I begin to lose details. I don't remember all the events that happen next, except that they are Good Things and there is a Happy Ending.

Even though the beginning of the story is what has stayed with me, I'd still like to find out What Happened Next. Cruising online through Grimm stories did not yield any stories with brothers and pears. I'm wondering whether the tale is from Perreault, or whether it is obscure or even whether someone in the '50s just made it up for that one book.

So I'm asking: Anyone know the title of this tale?


~ said...

I bet Jeannine would know!

Jane said...

You crack me up! I once worked in a bookstore. You're the customer I'd get almost everyday who came looking for "...a book - I don't know the title or the author but it's a kids book and the cover has drawings of people and animals on it and it's red and black and green."

During my years as a professional storyteller I researched thousands of tales. I swear I must've read the one you're asking about, but can I tell you the ending you're looking for? Maaaaybe...

Folktales have motifs, which are basically similar messages/morals provided through different characters and scenarios. There are literally hundreds of Cinderella stories from all over the world. (motif: kind girl treated badly by step family wins in the end) Your 3 brothers with pears story carries the lesson that being kind and generous will have its reward, and being selfish, of course, gets you squat.

I've read enough folktales to be able to offer these endings for you:
#1 The old woman (who likely resembles a witch of sorts), accepts the pears. After taking one bite of a pear, she is transformed into a lovely princess. She then tells the youngest brother that his display of kindness has released a spell put on her years ago. He gets to marry her and live in her castle. Being the good person he is, he asks his mother and brothers to join him.
#2 When the youngest brother offers a pear to the old woman, she transforms all the pears into gold. Since the brothers had been sent into the world by their mother to "do their best" with the family's very last possessions (the pears), this gold will keep them well for years to come. Perhaps the selfish brothers will be required to tend the now prospering pear orchard.

Joannie said...

Yeah, I'm that person who walks into the bookstore (and I even used to work in a bookstore!). Thanks for sending me to the site. I'm going to dig around on that site some more. I think a fish might be involved also.