Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Fingerling

One can't help but be reminded of the Indo-European creation and deity myths when reading the Russian version of "Tom Thumb." Most Indo-Europeans have a tale in which a castrated monsters blood turns into nymphs, or the maggots which grow from a giant turn into elves. We often forget when romanticizing fairies that they often come from very unromantic places. In the case of this story the little fairy like boy comes from the decapitated finger of an old woman. He shares all the traits of many fairies, having no real childhood he matures instantly and is cunning from the beginning. He is tiny, can talk to animals and is a clear trickster figure. He's barely a few hours old when he helps his "Father" swindle a Gentlemen out of a thousand rubles. The next morning he tricks a wolf into carrying him home, then gets his father to kill the wolf.
Yet the boy is clearly not lazy, laziness would be evil, cleverness isn't. Cleverness when it helps one's family even at the determent of others is one of the highest morality in Russian Fairy Tales.
In other Russian folktales another family fairy, the Domovoi is known to help with choirs and protect the family from harm. He is called grandfather and given a place of honor in the household. Yet at the same time the neighbors of a family fear the domovoi for the domovoi steals from them and will attack their household fairy.

* * * * *

The old man lived with an old woman. Once when the old woman was chopping cabbage she accidently chopped of her finger. So she wrapped it in a cloth and put it on a bench.
Suddenly she heard someone on the bench crying. So she looked over at the rag and saw that her finger had turned into a little boy.
“Who are you?” the frightened old woman gave a surprised gasp.
“I’m your son, the born from your finger,” the boy told her.
Because he was so tiny that he was barley visible when someone stood over him he was called fingerling boy. He grew smarter and smarter as he matured quickly but he didn’t grow any taller.
“Where is my father?” the boy asked.
“He’s out in the fields,” the old woman asked.
“I’ll go and help him,” the boy said.
“Go my child.”
So the boy went out into the field until he found his father.
“Hello, sir,” the boy greeted his father.
The old man looked around but because the Fingerling was so tiny he couldn’t see him anywhere.
“How strange,” the old man declared. “I can hear a voice but I don’t see anybody around. Who’s talking to me?”
“I’m your son,” the Fingerling answered. “Sit down and  rest for a little while, sir.”
Delighted the old man sat down to eat his supper, while the boy got on the horse and whispered in the horse’s ear to get it to plow the fields. As he was plowing the fields the horse and the Fingerling went past a man who looked at them astonished.
“That horse is plowing the fields by himself!” the man said with surprise. “I’ve never seen a horse plow the fields by himself, “ the man said to the old man.
“Are you blind?” the old man chuckled. “My son is on the horses head.”
“Amazing, will you sell him to me?” the man asked.
“No.” the old man refused. “He is a good child, and my wife and I are old so he’ll be our only joy.”
“Go ahead and sell me father,” Fingerling told his father. “You could get a thousand rubles.”
“Why so expensive?” the man asked with surprise.
“Well you see yourself that the boy is small but daring, swift on his feet and very capable,” the old man explained.
So the gentleman paid the thousand rubles, put the boy in his pocket and went home.
The boy however didn’t stay in the mans pocket, he instead gnawed a hole in it and ran away from the Gentleman. He then walked and walked. When night came he hid under a blade of grass beside the road and fell asleep.
As he slept a hungry wolf came a long and swallowed him which caused the boy to wake up inside the wolves belly. The wolf was still hungry and so he continued on until he saw a herd of sheep. The wolf began to creep up on the sheep so the little boy cried out.
“Shepherd, shepherd, wake up, the wolf is trying to steal your sheep”
Hearing the boys cry the shepherd woke up, grabbed his club and with the help of his dogs attacked the wolf nearly killing it. The wolf barley managed to crawl away, complaining of his hunger.
“Take me home to my father and mother,” the Fingerling told him.
With nothing else to do the wolf ran to the village and jumped straight into the old man and womans hut. The Fingerling boy then jumped out of the wolves belly.
“Beat the wolf,” he cried
The old man seized a fire poker and beat the wolf. They then skinned it and had a thousand rubles, a wolf pelt and their son back.