Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Magical Items to Survive Grimm Brothers’ Fairyland (Type 2)

The Grimm Brothers’ Fairyland is full of weird and wonderful things that can catch anyone out. Here's one type of magical item you may want to keep in your fairy tale travel bag: Fairy Therapies!

Nothing’s impossible in Fairyland, so there’s a remedy for everything. There are even remedies that let you put heads back onto bodies; the most powerful can bring the dead back to life.

Fairy Healer Therapies

These can heal any cut, scrape or gash in seconds. The characters in ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’ and ‘The Three Army Surgeons’ didn’t keep the Healer Therapies all to themselves; after all, it’s easy to pass yourself off as a miracle doctor with a Healer Therapy at hand.

Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’ sees a student outsmart a bloodthirsty genie and get a Genie’s Handkerchief as a reward. One end of the Handkerchief could turn metal into silver, whilst rubbing the other end over a wound could heal the injury. Blog reader Julia Mavroidi offered this fascinating insight into Mercurius and his Genie Handkerchief:

“The Genie's Handkerchief is probably meant to be mercury (note that the Genie's name is "Mercurius", which in the Middle Ages was used both as medicine (Ik: Bad Idea) and believed to be a vital ingredient when turning non-valuable elements to gold.”

With the Genie’s Handkerchief, the student became the most stupendous doctor in the world, but he had the good business sense to complete his medical degree first. That’s more than I can say for the travelling freakshow in Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Three Army Surgeons’…

The “surgeons” (as they liked to call themselves) travelled far and wide to find as many people as possible they could show off to. If anyone asked, they’d say they were furthering their education. To prove their worth, they’d hack off their own body parts and stick them back the very next morning (surely there were more effective publicity stunts that didn’t involve amputation, dissection or eye gouging?). But the men didn’t have magical healing powers – they had a bottle of Mystery Salve, which can heal any wound in an instant.

Nobody knows how Mystery Salve came to be, but in the mountainous regions of Fairyland, there exists a Mountain Root that can heal all kinds of ailments and injuries. The faithful animals in Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Two Brothers’ managed to find the Root to fix their master’s decapitated head back onto his body. Treatment is instant and simple – just put the Root into the ill person’s mouth.

Fairy Revival Therapies

This rare type of Therapy comes in two forms: Snake Leaves and the Water of Life. With them, it’s possible to cure fatal diseases and raise the dead.

A youth in Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Three Snake Leaves’ discovered the mysterious Snake Leaves when he was buried alive in a tomb with his dead wife (more on that creepy predicament another time). As he waited for his own death, he saw a snake slither towards his wife. To protect the lifeless body, the youth sliced the snake up with his sword.

When a second snake saw what had happened, it rebuilt the first snake and placed a Leaf over each cut. The Leaves magically fused the severed pieces together, bringing the first snake back to life. Both snakes retreated and left behind the miraculous Snake Leaves, which the youth placed on his wife’s eyes and mouth to breathe life back into her. This form of Fairy Revival Therapy seems to have grave side effects, however. The wife lived, but no longer loved.

The Water of Life features in Brothers Grimm fairy tales ‘The Water of Life’, ‘The King of the Golden Mountain’ and ‘The Prince Who Feared Nothing’.

In ‘The Water of Life’, three princes set out to cure their dying father. They vowed to bring back the Water of Life, which an old wise man said was the only thing that can save the king. Unlike his brothers, the youngest prince was courteous to the magic dwarf who approached him, so the dwarf told him exactly where to find the Water and how to retrieve it.

This form of Revival Therapy can be found flowing from a fountain inside an enchanted castle. To get to the courtyard where the fountain sits, one needs bread and a Sorcerer’s Skeleton Key. The prince was given these magical items by the magic dwarf, who instructed him to tap the castle’s entrance gate three times with the Sorcerer’s Skeleton Key. Once inside, the prince must tame the guarding lions with bread (let’s just assume it’s magic bread), before venturing deeper into the castle for the Water of Life. If he succeeded in finding the Water and left before midnight, he could escape entrapment inside the enchanted castle.

‘The King of the Golden Mountain’ begins with a bankrupt merchant and a magic dwarf. In exchange for the first thing that brushes past the merchant’s leg when he returned home, the dwarf would make the merchant wealthy again. As what normally happens, “the first thing” turned out to be the merchant’s little son. A big argument broke out over the terms of the contract, so they did what they could do: put the twelve year old boy in a small boat and send him down river rapids to live or die.

The boy’s troubles weren’t over when he managed to reach land – he met a snake princess who appointed him, without question, as the saviour she’d been waiting for. To break the spell she was under, the boy would have to endure beatings, stabbings and decapitation without squealing like a pansy. That last part was important; if one human sound came out of his mouth, the princess wouldn’t be able to/want to treat him with the Water of Life. Can the Water of Life heal mental damage, too?

The prince in ‘The Prince Who Feared Nothing’ was more fortunate, because he at least had greater control over his own destiny. He was challenged by a giant to pick an apple from the Tree of Life; when he succeeded, a Ring of Strength closed around his wrist as proof. When the giant presented the apple to the maiden he wanted to marry, however, the maiden refused his hand, because he didn’t possess a Ring of Strength.

The giant poked out the prince’s eyes in his fight for the Ring. Fortunately, the prince’s life was saved by the lion he befriended at the Tree of Life. The lion guided the prince to a stream and used the pure Water to wash his master’s face. In no time at all, the prince’s eyes had healed. Similar healing miracles can be seen in Brothers Grimm fairy tales ‘The Two Travellers’ (eyes healed by morning dew) and ‘Rapunzel’ (eyes healed by a lover’s tears).

When the prince continued his travels, he discovered an enchanted castle with a cursed princess at its gate. To break the spell, the prince had to stay in the castle vestibule for three nights and endure terrible torture. Not only was he not allowed to squeal like a pansy, but his heart couldn’t show the slightest shade of fear. At the close of each night, the princess would heal his injuries with the Water of Life. Unlike the grim ending for the lad in ‘The King of the Golden Mountain’, the suffering that the brave prince endured turned out to be worthwhile and he got his happily ever after.

Fairy Therapies are rare gifts and it would be a sin to waste them, but there is one more type of magical item that holds even greater power…


  1. The army surgeonss aren't real surgeons, nor do they claim to be in the German version. An army surgeon (Or "Feldscher" in German) is a member of the army who cares for the wounded (which back in the days all too often meant amputation) and has undergone a medical training, but has not actually studied medicine

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Julia.

      I like considering historical context when looking at fairy tales, but particularly enjoy re-interpreting them from a modern point of view (I'm hoping a light-hearted approach will encourage young people to learn more about traditional folktales and go on to discover interesting facts like those you've written).

      Seeing ‘The Three Army Surgeons’ characters as Fairyland inhabitants, I think their actions are funny and bizarre. No matter their medical background, it doesn't change the fact that they're using the Mystery Salve to pass themselves off as miracle healers. Instead of using it to heal actual sick people, they're wasting it on damage they did to themselves just so they could prove a point! It made me smile thinking about, so I wanted to share a funny point of view.