There is a clever shepherd’s daughter whose father comes across a beautiful golden mortar, and decides to take it to the king as a token of loyalty.
His daughter warns him that the king will certainly ask for the pestle too, but the shepherd does not heed her warning and goes to the king, who threatens him with his life if the pestle is not brought.
The shepherd comments that his clever daughter warned him that this would happen, and the king, intrigued, poses a riddle of contradictory conditions under which he will marry the clever lass.
She determines a way to satisfy all of the self-contradicting conditions, and so they marry, but the king insists on a condition of their matrimony: she must never give advice again. If she does, the wedding will be nullified.
Eventually she does, however, help a farmer (by supplying him with a reducio ad absurdum argument), giving him a technique for arguing his case before the king.
The king, unconvincied that these clever words are the farmer’s own, hounds the man till he admits to having received advice from the queen. So, the king prepares to end their marriage, but first throws a lavish banquet.
The king tells his wife that, as a token of affection, she may take with her what she likes most from their castle.
At the feast, the queen sedates the king by slipping opium into his drink, takes him to a carriage, and goes with him in tow back to her father the shepherd’s cottage.
The king, awaking, asks where he is, and the clever lass responds that she took what she liked best from the castle.
The king takes her back, and they live “happily ever after,” etc.
For these reading notes, I’ve chosen to focus on the story “Kojata.”
There is a king who goes riding in his kingdom and eventually stops for water, trying to drink from a well in the woods.
A strange crab-like creature grasped the king’s beard from the bottom of the well and refuses to let him go until he promises to give up “the thing he had at home unknown to himself.”
The king, thinking he knows everything at home, agrees, and is struck with grief when he realizes that this commits his unborn son.
His son is born and grows up and the king despairs, but the young prince tries to comfort him, saying he will fend for himself.
The young prince goes out to the wood and meets a girl of his age who reveals that she is the youngest daughter of the sorcerer who originally accosted the king.
She warns him that her father will force the young prince to complete three terrible challenges through which she will covertly assist him: first, he must identify her among twelve identical copies; second, to build a palace of gold and silver.
The third task the young woman cannot help with, and so she recommends that they flee together.
She uses her magic to allow them to escape, and they run through the forest and barely avoid the sorcerer, eventually returning to the king’s residence, where they marry and live happily ever after, etc.
For this week’s second set of reading notes, I’m focusing on the Yeoman’s tale about the “Priest who learned to be a philosopher.”
A goodly priest makes a small loan to a man in need, who, out of gratitude, decides to show the priest his “philosophy” — the alchemy of turning base metals to silver.
In secret they begin to work, the philosopher allowing the priest to complete the steps under his direction; as the priest began to set the coals over the crucible, the devious philosopher took from his robes a specially prepared coal that contained some silver shavings.
The philosopher then tells the priest that he is doing quite well, but that the coals are set slightly wrong. Noting that the priest is sweating profusely, he also offers the priest a rag with which to wipe his face. When the priests eyes were covered by the rag as he used it to wipe his brow, the philosopher placed the special coal deep within the pile right over the crucible.
They then drank and were merry as the coals burned, depositing the silver shavings in the crucible.
Eventually the ruse is completed and, by trick and covert deception, the priest finds himself with a “transmuted” silver piece and swears to learn the craft from the philosopher.
They go through the process again, this time the philosopher fooling the priest by stirring the coals with a sick that had silver shavings hidden in wax on its tip, so that the wax would melt and deposit the silver in the crucible.
They go together to a goldsmith to verify that the plates (which the philosopher had really taken from within his robes) are true silver, and indeed, the goldsmith says, they are.
The priest, overjoyed, asks what he can possibly pay to gain the recipe for the process. The deceitful philosopher, after creating a false sense of scarcity, settles on the “low” price of 40 pounds, which the priest quickly pays for fear of loosing the opportunity.
The philosopher leaves town, and when the poor priest next tries the recipe, it fails.
For these reading notes, I’ve chosen to focus on the Friar’s Tale, “The Story of the Summoner.”
A summoner (a legal official with the duty of bringing people to court, often known for corruption and extortion) meets with a young bailiff on the road.
They converse and are friendly, and eventually the summoner asks how it is that the bailiff makes money from his profession. The bailiff answers that he takes everything he can from every man he meets, and the summoner, emboldened by this statement, agrees that he does the same. They swear an oath to go into this together.
Finally, the summoner asks the young yeoman what his name is, and the yeoman responds that he is a devil. The summoner decides that he is bound by his word, even if the fiend be “Satan himself.”
They go to harass an old woman, who the summoner falsely summons. He offers to her that, for a “modest” fee of 12 pence, he will appear in her stead, as she is too sick to move or appear before the court. When she responds that she has no such money in the world, he says instead he will take her new pan for the debt.
The woman curses him, wishing that the fiend (Devil) take the summoner, the pan, and all, and the Devil, who indeed is right there, obliges, taking the corrupt summoner and the pan to hell.
For this set of reading notes, I chose to focus on the story of “King O’Toole and his Goose.”
The story is told with an actual character as a narrator, which is a stylistic trick I like a lot, have used before, and will use again.
There is a good-hearted king by the name of O’Toole, who was a real sportsman.
Eventually, though, the king grew old and could no longer sport, and so was very bored. To entertain himself, he got a goose to swim around his lake and engage in physical activity where he could not. But eventually even the goose grew old and feeble, leaving both king and goose in a morose state.
One day, a young man comes to the king; the king introduces himself but the man says he already knows who the king is.
The young man promises that he can bring the king’s beloved goose back to health and youth if the king promises him every acre of land the goose flies over.
The king accepts this bargain, the deed is done, and King O’Toole keeps up his end of the bargain.
Seeing that the King has done right, the young man reveals himself as Saint Kavin, the “greatest of all the saints” (it seems humility was not the virtue that got him sainted in the first place…)
For these reading notes, I chose to focus on the story of “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree,” which we recognize as a version of the story of Snow White.
Silver-Tree is a queen, and Gold-Tree is her daughter. One day they go to the woods and come across a glade with a small pond in which a trout lives.
Silver-Tree asks the trout who the most beautiful queen in the world is, and the trout answers that is not her but her daughter Gold-Tree.
Silver-Tree, furious, resolves to kill Gold-Tree and eat her heart and liver (which is so deeply alarming at so many levels). But it happens that Gold-Tree leaves at this time to be married to a foreign prince, and so the king brings his wife instead the heart and liver of a deer.
Eventually, Silver-Tree returns to the trouts pond, but finds its answer unchanged. So, she resolves to travel to Gold-Tree’s new castle and try to kill her.
Gold-Tree is weary of her mother, sure of her intentions, but makes the mistake of offering it hand to kiss, into which Silver-Tree plunges a poisoned needle.
The prince is struck with grief, but eventually remarries. He does discover, though, that Gold-Tree’s body has been preserved, and so keeps her in a locked room. Some long time later, his new wife comes across Gold-Tree, removes the poison needle from her finger, and so awakens her from her comatose state.
Silver-Tree, returning again to the trout, is once again confronted with the fact that Gold-Tree still lives and is still the most beautiful queen. So, Silver-Tree travels once again to see her daughter, and upon arriving, offers her a poisoned drink.
The prince’s other wife, knowing of Silver-Tree’s murderous intentions, tells her that it is the local custom that she must first drink of what she offers. The other wife forces Silver-Tree to drink some of the poison, she dies, and the remaining characters (supposedly) live on with no concern for this history of traumatic attempted murders.
This story tells of how the Cactus Flower, which has orange, red, and yellow parts — some of the many colors of the rainbow — came to have these.
The cactus flowers, which were once white, were wont to turn themselves towards the sky and look at the rainbow when it graced it.
The rainbow would always touch the ground in two places, but was afraid of the cactus’ thorns and never touched its flowers, despite their ardent wishes.
At one time, there was a great rainstorm, and as the rainbow came down it was so waterlogged that it was unable to control its descent.
So, the rainbow came into contact with the cactus flowers, which grasped at its colorful threads and tried to hold them captive.
The rainbow fled, trying to escape, and indeed the blue, violet, and indigo strands it could clear, but the red, yellow, and orange could not escape before the flowers grasped and tore off some part of them.
And so, as a result, the Cactus Flower has the three colors from the rainbow, and still looks ever more to the heavens in pursuit of the others.
A young couple who are deeply in love have a child, but the wife grows ill soon after. Her sickness is prolonged, cannot be cured, and eventually she dies, leaving her husband bereft.
Eventually, the husband can take his grief no longer, and, leaving their child in the care of his mother, goes off into the world to find his dead wife and bring her back.
He eventually comes to the lodge of an old woman who tells him that, beyond the next hill, there lives another woman who can give him the power he needs to journey to the camp of the ghosts, which lies further still in that direction.
The second old woman promises her aid, places her powers in service of the young man’s quest, and instructs him: he must not open his eyes when he reaches the camp of the ghosts.
When he arrives, the ghosts of the young man’s relatives are gathered to a feast in his honor, and, taking pity on him, the chief of the ghosts offers a deal: he will stay in the camp for four nights, and at the end of that period he will be sent home with his wife.
When the time comes, he leaves, and is told that he must keep his eyes closed for the first four days of the journey, at the end of which his wife will turn back from ghost to person, and he may then look.
His father also warns him that he must build a sweat-house before reentering the camp of the living to remove the aura of the ghosts from himself.
His dead father also warns him never to raise a hand against his wife, or she will return immediately to the camp of ghosts.
They do as instructed, and successfully regain the land of the living.
But later, the man moves to threaten his wife, and she disappears, never to be seen again.
At the beginning of time, there are many men but only one woman who lives in the south.
Eventually, the men grow lonely, and one of particular initiative goes on a long journey to the south, eventually finding the one woman and marrying her.
The son of the chief of the men (the mechanics of such a relationship in a world without women are not explained) is furious that this other man would have a wife before him, and goes down to fight him.
They argue over the one woman and the chief’s son grasps the woman by the shoulders and tries to drag her away, but her husband grasps her legs.
As they grapple and pull her to-and-fro, they eventually pull her apart at the middle, spiting the first woman into two.
This, the story says, explains why the women in the south are good dancers — made from the lower half — and those in the north are clever with their hands — made from the upper half.