Jens Bjorneboe: Two Years at a Rudolf Steiner School

illuminated-letters-2 letter BThe need to inject utilitarianism into fairy tales is one of the great blocks to understanding. Folk tales exercise their reality and their relevance in a far deeper area of the soul. To look for cut-rate wisdom in them would be like looking for Bible references in Ibsen; you find them, but they are used in another meaning than what the church puts into them.

The most common interpretation is that the fairy tales show us how things go well for the good and badly for the evil. And this, of course, is a bald-faced lie. If you act the way the “lad” does in the fairy tale, then things will generally go uncommonly ill with you.

Actually the fairy tales don’t conceal this fact, either. Things always go very badly for the hero or the heroine&—up to a certain point. And it is at precisely this point that the textbook wisdom ends. For at this point occurs the miracle. Help arrives.

And this help we don’t otherwise know about.

Most people will have noticed that in the “practical” life the miracle tends to be absent. Just because we share our lunch with someone doesn’t mean we will therefore be excused from paying taxes. From a bourgeois point of view the fairy tales are just plain amoral. For help always arrives on the other side of the curtain.

This curtain is a very important thing. On this side of the curtain the following happens: The “lad” is rendered destitute, but he still has a little—a loaf of bread, three dollars, or whatever it may be. Then he goes out into the world, and there he gives away the rest of what he has. He gives it to someone who needs it even more than he does.

When the lad goes on, the road leads him into misfortune. He falls into privation. And his need sends him through the curtain. From a bourgeois standpoint he exits from the saga.

On the other side a helping hand reaches out to him, and this help comes from the person he himself had helped.

“He who dies before he dies, dies not when he dies.” These words come from the same spring as the fairy tales. And the “death” referred to here has nothing to do with ordinary physical death. This “death” is one you live with deep inside you, all your life. To find the way through your own curtain is to die this death. And this death is the one which leads to “resurrection,” to life, blessedness—and creative power.  Only through this death do you become fully human—and become yourself.

For the adult this means meeting your childhood again; life regains its greatness, its dewy earnest. In this renewed childhood is found the sole source of new power. And this new life is not achieved by a one-time effort; you must gain admission to it daily.

Of course you can think what you like about this. You can call it metaphysical nonsense and hand-me-down mythology, but unless you find a way into the childhood within yourself, you will always be barren—not least in practical life. This experience runs throughout history like an inmost red thread: from the Vedas to Plato, Aristotle, the gospels, Dante, Goethe, and Ibsen. The way to Paradise is through dying before you die. And only with the life force from this garden can you do something for others.

When children are healthy and unspoiled, they meet the fairy tales in this world quite naturally. They don’t draw “moral” conclusions, but meet them as immediate reality, because they themselves are in Paradise. “Paradise,” of course, means not that you “have it good”, but that everything around you has reality and abundance.

What a child experiences with one of the great fairy tales, an adult can no longer imagine. But by trying to understand the fairy tales he can approach the children. He can get close to them. And he can learn to tell fairy tales in such a manner, with such seriousness and such devotion that the children can enter fully into them without being disturbed by the adult’s personality.

What makes such a story hour so fateful? First and foremost: the “lad” in the fairy tale is—yourself! But not only the lad! Everything in the story is within you. Therefore it has reality.

In the story of the Companion the “lad” comes from “another land.” This is clearly stated. Then he comes to the “city” to seek the princess he has dreamed about. And in the city—in front of the church—he finds a man frozen in a block of ice. The citizens of the parish are spitting on him. In this land all roads go straight ahead. A totally barren landscape, that is. The man was frozen as a punishment because he had mixed wine and water. The parson explains to the lad that the man was justly punished, and that he cannot be put into Christian earth because that would cost money. But the lad has enough money for this. And he uses it to get the man into the earth.

Then he goes on. The Companion turns up. He helps the lad into the mountain, and procures him the sword, the cap of invisibility and the ball golden yarn. He carries him across the fjord. And now they are approaching the princess of his dreams. But this is not a very comforting world.

Around the castle the heads of former suitors stand impaled—“as thick as crows at the harvest.” And the princess herself? The troll has her under a spell; she has small black hairs all over her body, flies through the air on billygoats at night—and is the troll’s sweetheart. Three times she puts the lad to the test—and three times he fails. He would have adorned one of the palings long since, had not the Companion time after time saved him with the sword and the golden yarn. The last test is the worst: to bring the princess the head of the troll, of her sweetheart.

During a tryst inside the mountain the princess tells the troll what task she has given the boy, and the troll is a bit confused by the joke, but decides to laugh.

Still, the Companion gets the troll’s head. And the princess becomes the boy’s. She prepares to celebrate the wedding night with a well-honed kitchen knife under her pillow. But she is disarmed and the spell is beaten out of her. Then she becomes the princess the boy dreamed about—before he came to the city and the story began.

The “lad” now parts from the Companion, but bids him return in a few years to take half of what the lad has produced in the meantime. When the Companion comes back, the lad has had a son. And a promise is a promise. He raises the sword over the child, but the Companion lays his hand over the sword’s point and stops the stroke.

“Are you happy now?” he asks.

“I’ve never been so happy before,” replies the lad.

“That’s how happy I was when you broke me out of the block of ice,” says the Companion. “But now I must go, for I am a spirit, and they are ringing for me with the bells of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And here the story ends.

Everything has taken place within one and the same person. Thus: the “lad” in us seeks the “princess” in us. He meets the one who is “frozen inside” us. And he thaws him out, instead of joining in with the “parish,” the “citizens,” and the “parson” in us.

The “frozen one” helps him to the “princess” in us, but she has waited a long time for a worthy suitor, and in the meantime she has grown dissolute. She is seduced by the “troll.” The history of humanity.

The Companion, the Lad, the Princess, the troll, the sword, the ball of golden yarn?

They can all be placed in the circle of mythical archetypes—just as we know them from mythology, poetry and the Bible. All myths, legends and fables tell of the same thing: of what a human being is. And the images are taken from humanity’s common, subconscious memory. The developmental history of the whole world is present in every single human child you see before you in the classroom. Our whole past lives unawares in every look, every touch and every tear.

And in wonder the children listen to myths, fairy tales and legends—and without knowing it, it is themselves they meet. Themselves, but clearly drawn—“just as you sprang forth in the Mind of God”. So joyous, so pure, so strong—as you are only when you meet the siblings who are more than siblings and who haunt the fairy tales’ towers, halls and stairways3in the castle behind your own great, dense forest….

The wind in the evening,” one of the second graders wrote recently. First he drew a tree, then an ocean, then he let the twilight settle blue and heavy around it all. And finally he wrote straight across it: The wind in the evening.
“That’s just a little poem!” he said.

But within us there also blows a wind in the evening: in our woods, briar hedges, in the long stone staircases and halls inside us, in the tower rooms, the moats—there go Joringel and Jorinda, the Ash Lad, Cinderella, Little Freddie, Tom Thumb, and the princess who was white as snow and red as blood. As wine and water.
And they will always live there: Faithful John, the king’s son Lini, the steed Fallada, Loyal and Disloyal Ferdinand—all, all of them. And the dew from the fairytales will have the same effect on us as the dew from the leaves had on Loyal Ferdinand’s destroyed eyes: We shall regain our sight.