THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE: A GRIMM'S FAIRYTALE
Volume 11 Number 4.
Over the years, starting with the Grimm Brothers in 1819, a number of versions of The Fisherman and His Wife have been published, both in collections and individual volumes. None, however, bring the tale up-to-date as does this version.
Briefly, the tale is about a most unusual fish caught by a poor fisherman. In exchange for returning the fish to the sea, the fisherman is to be granted his every wish. The wife of the fisherman takes advantage of the situation, keeping her husband busy requesting ever more riches from the magic fish. Finally, losing patience, the fish punishes the wife for her greediness by taking everything back, leaving the couple to once again live in poverty.
The author-illustrator of this modern version has breathed life into the older versions by retelling the tale with abundant humour and illustrating it with copious line drawings that serve to embellish the text.
The setting could be one of Nova Scotia's picturesque fishing harbours. The fisherman and his wife do not live in a pigsty, a chamber-pot or a vinegar bottle as in earlier versions, but in a four room house with no plumbing. The first wish of the wife is for plumbing, and who can blame her? Now, with a four-bathroom house, the wife must have servants. Next, not content with just a fisherman for a husband, she desires him to be promoted to Chief Inspector for the fisheries department. The advancement of her husband calls for putting on fancy garden parties. The trouble now arises that the seagulls are attracted to the parties, eating not only the watercress sandwiches but also the imitation cherries on Mrs. Fishwife's hat. She is furious and demands that all seagulls be eliminated. This wish is the last straw for the fish. He is frightful to behold in a double page illustration.
Unlike earlier versions where everything is taken back from the fisherman's wife, in this modern version, the wife is given one last gift. This is contentment; she is content to be the wife of a poor fisherman, living in a cottage, without plumbing, by the sea.
Some may prefer that Lunn had kept the ending to the tale as found in the older versions. In this modern retelling of the story, the poor are expected to be content with a life of unending poverty. In previous versions, it is possible to imagine that the fisherman and his wife will not remain satisfied. Having learned their lesson, they may start afresh to strive for bettering their lives, this time without greediness. After all, fairy tales are supposed to hold out hope for the disadvantaged.
Sally Davis, St. John's, ND.
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