‘The Singing, Ringing Tree’, a modern rendering of a Grimm’s fairy tale, caught my eye because its 1970’s TV series was described as..
” the scariest kid’s TV show ever.” Mark Pickavance.
Paul Whitehouse allegedly wet his pants, though, to be fair, he was only five at the time.
In this scariest of stories the hero is a heroine who saves the day by means that are worthy of our attention. The scary story has much to say about how scary situations are redeemed.
It all begins with a naive Prince calling upon his Kingly neighbor to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Princess treats him rudely and throws his gifts on the floor, saying that she will only consider him if he finds the fabled Singing, Ringing Tree, whose whereabouts have long been forgotten.
The Prince goes off, crestfallen, searching here and there. Eventually he gets to the very furthest reaches of the kingdom where he finds a stone bridge to a secret land guarded by an evil Dwarf who captures him. The Prince explains himself and the Dwarf perks up. He has just such a Tree and will give it to the Prince provided that it sing and ring as proof of the Princess’ love by sundown or be made his slave.
the puffed up Prince replies unwisely, ‘or may I be turned into a Bear…’ which was a rather stupid thing to say to a wizardly Dwarf whose best thing is a magical challenge….
because of course the Princess just dismisses him, despite turning up with the Tree and patiently explaining that all she needs to do is love him for said Tree to ring and sing…
The Prince returns to the Dwarf and is turned into a Bear, a spell that can only be broken by the singing of the Tree which is discovered on the stone bridge by the king, sent out like a lickspittle by his tempestuous daughter who has changed her mind and wants it after all.
So, our heroine is not very nice to begin with and why should she be? Her father is weak yet still treats her like chattel and the stupid Prince thinks he can buy her like a cheap whore. And where is her Mother? Maybe the ugly side of the Princess is what you get when the Queen is squeezed out of the story.
The loss of the Mother/Queen in Western culture has given rise to inestimable grief in our time, long forgotten like the traumas of infancy. It spills from the couches of psychotherapists, from guilty lips’ confessional whispers. It slides from the slumped shoulders of the masses, crumples us before the blinking, blinkering screen. The longing then embeds itself in stuff, wants ruts and gathers clutter, mourning that is more a vague feeling of devaluation or of somehow being unwanted.
The Mother/Queen is archetypal permission to be what you are without which stony eyed disapproval for daring to follow one’s own destiny can cut deeper than death itself because it is aliveness itself that is under attack.
‘We will do anything to make sure life is secure, even if it is static, rotten and dead.’ M. Woodman.
To change this means to become conscious of the fear of being fully alive that precipitated it. Rather than face the lonely truth you suppress yourself, kill off imagination and stub toes where redemption may be found.
‘If we can’t relate to metaphors, we are denied access to the archetypal world whereupon it comes into our lives by warped and toxic routes.’ ibid
Buried grief appears outside us, banished from persons to stuff, as though the myriad things were like the weaving threads of a comfort blanket, magically fending off loss for as long as we surround ourselves with and add to it. The radiant must-haves and bucket lists serve a purpose beyond mere diversion or amusement. They make us feel whole again. We can connect with what we’ve given away of our Deep selves momentarily, which is why people will work themselves into an early grave to lie in the sun five days a year and slit one anothers’ throats for a pimped ride that still takes the same time to get to there.
The king returns to his castle having promised the Bear that he can have the first thing he sees when he gets home in exchange for the Tree. Of course it is the Princess, though she doesn’t care and goes off to plant the tree in the fountain at the center of the garden, ousting the poor goldfish whose home it was, demanding the tree sing but…
Bear arrives to claim his prize, taking on the king’s entire guard, abducting the Princess and making good an almost magical escape.
When they arrive back in the Dwarf’s secret kingdom the Princess demands her feather bed, her golden cup and silver plate. But they are all left behind; treasures rudely supplanted by mere berries to eat, lousy spring water to drink and horrible soft moss to sleep on.
because what you see is what you get ..
‘your focus determines your reality.’..Qui Gon Jinn
She then demands Bear give her his secret of making animals like him. He says that the problem is she appears arrogant, heartless and obstinate to them. She sarcastically wishes to appear as others see her but doesn’t realize the evil Dwarf is listening in..
and makes it so.
The now ugly and disheveled Princess flies into a rage but there’s no denying her reflection in a clear pool. She realizes that she can only gain the love of creatures by loving them in the first place. Bear has already learned this by his earlier failed efforts to compel the Princess’s affections. She and Bear have something in common. They begin to co-operate and build a shelter together, much to the Dwarf’s annoyance.
Sad at her lack of love the Princess wanders off to find them something to eat. She finds a dove with a broken wing and tends it, tearing a bandage from her dress. She helps free a giant fish that the dwarf has frozen in ice and a deer caught in a snow drift.
While she is gone the Dwarf wrecks her home and blames it on Bear, manipulating her to go back to her father with false stories of him being on the verge of death.
When the Princess reaches the castle she realizes she’s been tricked, but more importantly out in the garden the Tree is ringing and singing at last..
the beautiful Tree!
Being willing to be depressed and anxious about the right things awakens love in her and the tree knows it
Now she has to get back to Bear whom she realizes is the Prince, but the Dwarf throws up a great barrier of thorns over which she leaps with the help of the Deer she rescued. Then he sends a flood but the Giant Fish comes to her assistance. Then he drops her in a deep ravine but the Birds, whose friend it was that had a broken wing, arrive to fly her out.
Eventually the desperate Dwarf encircles the tree in flames but the brave Princess calmly walks through them to embrace the Tree. Dwarf is no more and Bear is restored.
the Norse goddess who has quietly presided over this whole tale despite her exclusion from the guest list, making the salient point that the jewel in the lotus is Relatedness.
In the earliest shamanic Bear cults throughout all Northern cultures, in evidence as long ago as 80,000 BC., the bear is uniformly recognized as the messenger of the Gods….
‘stemming from a time when humans and bears shared the same caves.’ Iou Ghinoiu.
and so they shared identity, too. The Bear is Grandfather, the Old Man, Old Martin, my kin, included within the circle of compassion such that the conflict of hunting them created the first art forms known, ceremoniously placed skulls and bones which served as ritual requests for forgiveness, found calcified in the limestone caves of Carpathia.
Imagine setting out to kill and eat your Grandfather who also happens to be the messenger of the Gods, oh and did I mention claws? Think Sumo wrestler with steak knives. You love him and revere him and want to eat him. If he doesn’t eat you first.
When opposites like this collide something new happens. Perhaps consciousness itself is born of such conflicts.
”a new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel. ” D Sharp
The Princess is saved because she cares about the fact that she doesn’t care about anybody. She realizes that the Bear-man has good in him, that he’s as bewitched as she by the toxic legacy of the rejecting King and his shadow the evil Dwarf..
The King is weak but more dangerously he is split, between being identified with his daughter in unhealthy symbiosis, momentarily joining the quest as would a romantic suitor, whilst using her in as a bargaining chip in his promise to the Bear, acting out the loss of her in what is really nothing more than a cheap bet,
Being king is a mixed bag and not just because you have to fend off every one who is not, but because divine right is a euphemism for pact-with-the-devil…. causing you to kill what you love.
So actual enemies are the least of your worries. Identification with the gods is going to make you paranoid. You need magical protection and plenty of it. Making a deal with an enchanted Bear-man who can take out your entire guard seems.. expedient.
and easily worth a mere daughter.
In the Viking times that spawned such stories, suitably anxious kings, had as their immediate magical protectors, Bear-men, Berserkers. The word ‘berserker’, comes from the old Norse, ‘ber-sekr’ meaning ‘bear shirt’, which is a literal description of how these howling warriors would go into battle, without mail or armor. The purpose of their battle rage was to ‘hamask’ to change into the Bear itself and tear into the enemy’s ranks like beasts.
And even though they tended to cut down friend and foe alike, which might put a crimp into your victory pint, they were as honored as they were shunned, and generally had productive social roles other than being really handy in a punch up. They were boat builders and poets too.
”This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. ” D. Howard.
which makes you wonder if the las Vegas shooter wasn’t a frustrated composer, a Beethoven that hung out at the Mall instead, someone whose daimon became a demon because he had nothing to create, like the man who stubs his cigarette out on his girlfriend’s arm to give her something to remember him by.
In our story the Bear-man and the Princess build a house together. It’s the beginning of their redemption because they do so despite brutish bear behavior and the princess’ foul appearance.
The house is a symbol of ‘both-and’, rather than ‘either-or’, inner space you can stretch out in with Wild and Ugly, where meaning can be found in metaphor,
‘The essential feature of transitional phenomenon is a quality in our attitude when we observe them.’ D. Winnicott.’
which is actually a very curious thing to say.
and not just because quantum physics agrees
but because attitude is a choice to make rather than a thing to have.
which means you are free..
if you like.
The Princess’ choice to love has nothing to do with her situation. She cares for whatever crosses her path and does so without thought of return. When push then comes to shove it is precisely these relations forged with her inner world that manage to defeat the regressive forces that prefer her to be dependent on outward powers.
The evil Dwarf surrounds the Tree with flame but she walks straight through it. She has developed a new relationship with suffering and has accepted that it is part of love. She no longer shies away from it and so it cannot really hurt her.