This semester, I’m teaching a writing course called Fairytales & Other Forms. Every week, we read a fairytale in various variants, and the writers in the course are asked to write their own (new!) version.
The students are second year undergraduates, who are totally amazing. Every week they surprise and delight me with insights into the existing tales, and the freshness and originality of their writing.
Today, I’d like to share a piece of writing that Rebecca Hefron wrote during the week when we were reading Grimm’s ‘The Six Swans’, as well as other AT451 tales. I hope you enjoy it!
A long time ago, when wishing still worked, an important wren (the king of wrens, in fact) wished upon the morning star that he might finally have a daughter. Whether it was that the wishing worked, or sheer coincidence, the king had a daughter very shortly after this. He made his intention of leaving his worldly possessions (a strong nest near an insect mound) to his daughter well-known and his other children, four older male wrens, were incensed. They departed the nest. In a fit of anger, the king cursed them to lose their wings and become human.
So it came to pass that the king’s daughter, Malurid, was raised alone: an unusual circumstance for a wren. Malurid knew of her brothers and vowed to find them and bring them home once she had learned to use her wings. For this reason, she was told to never leave the nest, and certainly not to fly anywhere.
Malurid, stubborn as she was, left the nest at the earliest opportunity and tested out her wings. She flew from tree to tree, calling for them with her pleasant but complex trill. Eventually, she happened upon a cottage and, flying to the windowsill, spied four human men inside. It was her four brothers in human form. They instantly recognised her colouring as belonging to their family and realised that she must be their sister. They brought her inside and explained how remorseful they were; how they had overreacted and truly wished to be wrens again. She sang to them about how she was here to save them any way she could.
The brothers explained that the only way they could be returned to wren form was if their sister gathered enough feathers to fashion them some wings, remaining silent while she did so. This task was incredibly hard for the sister wren; everyone knows that the favourite things for wrens to do is to sing! Malurid vowed to accomplish this task as quickly as she could. And so many months passed while she silently collected feathers to fashion four pairs of wings.
Malurid was nearing the end of her task; she had only a small beak of feathers to collect to finish the last pair, when she was captured by a local birdwatcher. The birdwatcher remarked on how pretty she seemed, if only she would use her beautiful voice. He took her home and placed her in a cage to await her pleasing song. Malurid remained silent in the cage, knowing she mustn’t sing until the wings were completed.
Her brothers heard of the birdwatcher’s catch and knew it must be their sister. They hurried home to find it empty, the four pairs of wings lying on the table with the last pair almost complete. The brothers placed the wings on their back and instantly turned back into wrens, though the youngest brother had smaller wings than before. They flew to the birdwatcher’s house and in through the open window.
Malurid recognised her brothers instantly and let forth the most beautiful song in her joy. The birdwatcher, overcome by the exquisiteness of her song, let her free to join her brothers.