In the Spirit of Wilhelm
This tale seems raw because it does not adhere to literary rules. The events in the story do not segue neatly, nor logically, from one to the other. Unnecessary and confusing details appear while other details go missing, creating a plotline that feels disjointed and surreal. Had Von Schönwerth’s informant been relating a dream, I would not be surprised.
Perhaps our view of this tale as “raw” comes from our expectations. There are familiar literary forms we want all stories to follow. At the very least, we want the storyline to make sense. That doesn’t seem too much to ask, but is it a requirement for nonliterary tellers and listeners? Might they be as comfortable with “dream logic,” having dreamt, but never having read a book?
Be that as it may, we literates do have our requirements. Wilhelm agrees with me. He is here in my study as I take my first stabs at making sense of “The Turnip Princess.”
Taking my pen in hand, I suggest, “Once upon a time …?” Wilhelm, pacing back and forth in front of the bay window, makes a noncommittal gesture.
“Once there was a prince,” I propose. Wilhelm raises his forefinger in the air approvingly.
“Right then,” I say. “The prince is lost, but why? The story gives no reason. Is he out hunting and became separated from his party?” Wilhelm looks thoughtfully out the bay window. I continue. “Is he on some sort of quest… Ahh, I’ve got it!”
Wilhelm looks at me quizzically, as I continue triumphantly. “At the end of the story it seems that the bear has changed, unaccountably, into the prince’s father. Why not have the prince on a quest to find his father, who has disappeared many years ago. That lends the story a traditional circular structure. The prince starts out to find his father—the king—and in the end not only finds his father but his bride as well through his persistence.” Wilhelm silently applauds.
“Good then. When he wakes up in the cave there is a witch, a bear, and a dog, but the dog has no role in the story.” Wilhelm draws his finger across his neck.
“Right,” I say. “We kill the dog. The reader will never know.” By Wilhelm, I think to myself, This is beginning to shape up!