The Gist: A servant eats a piece of the King’s white snake and is suddenly able to understand what animals are saying. He helps out some fish, an ant colony, and three baby ravens, and in return they help him win the love of a princess.
I’m going to let you read whatever sexual connotations you want out of the servant eating the King’s snake, and instead talk about the servant. This story reminds me of a male version of “Cinderella,” where the hero is given a task that nature helps him/her complete. I like the servant in this story. Even though he disobeys the King’s orders and looks in the serving dish, for the most part he has a good heart. When he sees animals in trouble, he helps them asking for nothing in return. This story teaches that good deeds are rewarded.
Something that I found amusing with this story though was the part where he finds the baby ravens starving: he kills his horse to feed them. I can only imagine what his horse was saying at the time (some choice words, I’m sure), and yet the servant has no trouble harming one animal to save others. The end justifies the means?
One detail I really liked about this story was the ending. We have all heard the cliché “and they lived happily ever after,” but this story ends with “In time they reached a ripe old age in peace and happiness” (64). An interesting twist on the age-old adage, yet one I approve of. A good long life of peace and happiness sounds pretty good to me. I wonder if his ability stayed with him ‘til the end of his days…
If you could understand animals, would you want to? Which animal in particular? Share your answers in comments. I know, I’ve often wondered what my cat is thinking.
- The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 3rd Edition translated by Jack Zipes (Bantam, 2003)