Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Hare and the Hedgehog

Walter Heubach (1865-1923) (via Wikimedia Commons)

When I had started going to school my uncle Pu used to read this tale to us, and I'm afraid that what particularly compelled me was "Halt das Maul, Weib," which is part of a tirade which strikes the adult eye and ear as misogynistic but seemed a lovely and reasonably wieldy insult to me back then. The following is my translation. Outside of the tale I've only ever seen hedgehogs referred to as "Igel" in German, so for an informal and singular effect I've rendered "Swinegel" as "hedgepig," borrowing from
Macbeth, though presumably Shakespeare's hedgepig is literally a different beast. As for the tale itself, it is brimful of class resentment, and not quite as hoity toity in its language as other Grimm fairy tales though the dialect is highly intelligible to the High German speaker, and I'm afraid that, being a snob like the hare, it strikes me as a little vulgar.

As always, the accuracy of the translation is rather a matter of fortuity than of certainty.


THIS tale must be told with a lying tongue, boys, but true it is after all, because my grandfather, from who I have it and who told it to me with great contentment, was wont to say thereby, "True must it be, my son, or else you could not tell it."

The story, however, took place like this:

IT was a Sunday morning in autumn, exactly as the buckwheat was in flower; the sun was brightly risen up in the sky, the morning wind went warm over the stubble, the larks sang in the air, the bees hummed in the buckwheat, and the villagers went to church in their Sunday state. Everything was merry and the Hedgepig too.

But the Hedgepig stood in front of his door, had his arms folded, looked out into the morning breeze and rumbled a little song to himself, as well and as badly as a hedgepig is wont to sing on the dear Sunday morning. While he was half-singing to himself, he remembered all of a sudden that he might as well, as long as his wife is washing and dressing the children, walk into the fields a little and look after the state of his turnips. (Steckrüben.) The turnips were next to his house, and he would always eat them with his family, so he considered them as his property.

Said and done.

THE Hedgepig closed the house door behind him and struck out on the path to the field. He was not far from his house at all yet and just wanted to go round the sloe bush, which lies there in front of the field, to the turnip plot, when he ran into the Hare, who was abroad on like business, namely to inspect his cabbages. As the Hedgepig came face to face with the Hare, he bade him a friendly good morning. The Hare, who was in his way a genteel man and horribly arrogant, did not however return the greeting of the Hedgepig, but said to the Hedgepig — whereby he assumed a forcibly sneering mien —, "How is it that you are running around in the fields so early in the morning?"

"I am out for a walk," said the Hedgepig.

"Out for a walk?" asked the Hare and laughed. "It appears to me that you might as well employ your legs for better things!"

This reply irritated the Hedgepig unbelievably, for he could bear everything, but he would not stomach any attack on his legs, precisely because they were bent by nature.

"You imagine," the Hedgepig now said to the Hare, "that you may accomplish more with your legs?"

"I think so, indeed," said the Hare.

"That demands a trial," the Hedgepig stated. "I bet that if we were to run a race, I would overtake you."

"That is laughable, you with your bent legs," said the Hare, "but by all means let it be so, if you have such an enormous desire. What is the bet?"

"A golden Taler and a bottle of brandy," said the Hedgepig.

"I accept," the Hare spake, "shake, and then it can begin at once."

"Nay, not such a hurry," declared the Hedgepig, "I am still quite sober. First I will go home and breakfast a little. In half an hour I will be back here on the spot."


WITH that the Hedgepig left, since the Hare was satisfied with that. Along the way the Hedgepig thought to himself, the Hare is counting on his long legs, but I'll get him still. He may be a genteel man, but he is a stupid chap all the same, and after all he shall pay. When the Hedgepig arrived at home, he said to his wife, "Wife, dress quickly; you must go out into the field with me."

"What is the matter?" said his wife.

"I have made a bet with the Hare for a golden Taler and a bottle of brandy; I want to run a race against him and you shall be there."

"Good God, husband," the wife of the Hedgepig began to shout, "are you witless; have you entirely lost your mind? How can you want to run a race against the Hare?"

"Shut your gob, wife," said the Hedgepig, "that is my affair. Don't worry yourself about a man's business. Go, dress yourself and then come along." What should the wife of the Hedgepig do? She had to follow, whether she wished it or not.

AS they were underway together, the Hedgepig said to his wife, "Now mark my words. See there, on the long field, that is where we want to have our race. The Hare will run in one furrow and I in the other, and we will begin to run from the top. Now you have to do nothing more than stand down here in the furrow, and when the Hare arrives at the other side, you call to him, 'I'm all here.'"

Forthwith they had reached the fieldacre, the Hedgepig pointed his wife to her position and then went up the acre. When he arrived at the top, the Hare was already there.

"Can it start?" said the Hare.

"Yes, indeed," said the Hedgepig, "Off we go!"

AND at that each one went to stand in his furrow. The Hare counted, "one, two, three," and off he went like a tempest down the field. The Hedgepig however ran about three steps, then he ducked into the furrow and stayed peacefully sitting. As the Hare then arrived in full swing down at the fieldacre, the wife of the Hedgepig shouted to him, "I'm all here!" The Hare started and wondered not a little; he thought nothing else than that it was the Hedgepig himself who was shouting the words to him, since as is well known the wife of the Hedgepig looks just like her husband.

The Hare however declared, "Something is awry." He called, "Let's run again. Back we go!" And off he went like a tempest again, so that his ears flew at his head. The wife of the Hedgepig however remained quietly in her position. As the Hare came up at the top, the Hedgepig shouted to him, "I'm all here!" The Hare, however, beside himself with anger, cried, "Let's run again. Back we go!"

"Don't matter to me," answered the Hedgepig, "as often as you like as far as I'm concerned." And so the Hare ran seventy-three more times, and the Hedgepig always bore up with him. Each time when the Hare arrived at the bottom or the top, the Hedgepig or his wife said, "I'm all here."

YET the seventy-fourth time the Hare no longer came to the end. In the middle of the fieldacre he fell to the earth and stayed there. The Hedgepig, on the other hand, took his successfully won Taler and his flask of brandy, called his wife out of the furrow, and both went happily home together, and if they have not died yet they are still alive.


SO it came to be that on the Buxtehude Heath the Hedgepig won his race against the Hare, and since that time no Hare has ever taken the notion to race a Buxtehude Hedgepig.


THE moral of this story is, firstly, that no one (no matter how genteel he may consider himself) should come upon the idea to ridicule an ordinary man, if even a Hedgepig. And, secondly, that it is best that when one marries, one takes a wife who looks just like one's self. So someone who is a Hedgepig must take pains that his wife is also a Hedgepig, and so on.

Original text from Grimms Märchen, Stuttgart: Thienemann 1989

No comments: