A fairy-tale recommendation

Forty-five years ago, I took a course in college on children’s literature. One of the books we studied was a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. And in it was a story called “The Salad.” Over the years, I have learned it is also known by the names “The Magic Heart” (Nippon Studios made this into an episode of their animated Grimm’s Fairy Tales Classics), “The Cabbages,” and, especially, “The Donkey Cabbages.” I have seen the story several times since, especially in complete collections of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

It is one of the lesser-known Grimm stories. It is a little lengthy, and starts in way that gives you no idea where it’s going. At the beginning, it’s about a young huntsman, traveller, what-have-you, and starts with the motif of the main character gaining a magic object (in this, a bird’s heart or an orb) that, after being swallowed, gives the possessor a gold coin under his pillow every morning when he wakes up, and a magic cloak that can take the wearer anywhere he wishes.

I won’t go through the entire story. One of the better versions on the Intertnet is here: https://www.mythpodcast.com/sources/donkey-cabbages-brothers-grimm/ Suffice it to say The object is stolen by an old witch with the help of the beautiful young girl (in some versions, her daughter) working for her. The traveler is then sent away to a mountaintop.

But then, the traveler finds a garden full of cabbages, some green, some white. He discovers that eating the green cabbages will turn him into a donkey (or an ass — have fun explaining that one to your kids), while eating the white ones will change him back. He takes several of the cabbages with him and finds his way back to the witch and the maiden, where he uses the cabbages to get revenge.

My guess is that this is not a better known Grimm’s tale because there is some animal cruelty endured by the women when they are in donkey form.

Still, it was interesting to see a tale where both genders are transformed. The anime version of this story does a nice, if slow, transformation of the women to donkeys and back.

I was at a comic-book show years ago where Zenoscope, the publishers of the Grimms Fairy Tales comic book had a booth. I told them of the cabbage story, and the first thing out of their mouths was “Is it dark?” (It wasn’t long afterward that I stopped reading Grimms Fairy Tales. Dark gets boring quickly.) So much for the story being better known.

I also know of a similar tale from India. In this one, a peasant finds a pool of clear water which turns a bather into a monkey, and a pool of dirty water which changes the bather back into a human. He sneaks a jug of the clear water into a princess’ bath, then later shows up with the dirty water to change her back into a human — and, as a reward, he is given her hand in marriage. (No, I don’t think Aladdin‘s Abu ever used the waters on Jasmine.)

Anyway, for transformation fans, “Donkey Cabbages” is one of the best fairy tales out there. And I would love to see some writer bring the cabbages into modern times.

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