König Drosselbart: Performed in clay, feathers, and other strange materials


This past weekend I went to the Seattle International Children's Festival to attended a performance of König Drosselbart in German. I was not familiar with the story beforehand, but that's okay. It just makes for a better surprise.

The interpretation was very creative. The narrators embodied the characters in the story at times; other times characters were represented by props manufactured on the spot from clay, decorated with feathers and twigs. (With one exception: The princess was represented by a well-known doll.)

The most amusing parts were when both techniques were used simultaneously: For example, at one point in the story, the princess was being particularly difficult. One narrator said "She sat down" as he placed the doll representing the princess on the table in a sitting position. The other narrator (embodying the pouty princess) placed the doll flat on her back just to be contrary.

The first narrator corrected himself. "The princess lay down."

The other narrator made the doll sit up again.

"Sat down."

On her back.

"Lay down."

Sitting up.

"Did some exercise."

If you know your Aarne-Thompson classification of fairy tales, the story of König Drosselbart is story type number 900. If you go to a folklore convention, you can just say "Number 900!" and people will say, "Ah, that's a good one" or "Yeah, I'm not a big fan of that."

Or they may just look at you in disgust and say, "You told that story so badly."

It's all in the delivery.

Comments (4)
  1. I haven’t heard the "numbered joke ‘joke’" told in that context before, but as a folklore fan who knows the numbering system I have to say "Yes, that’s funny." :)

  2. Peter says:

    According to that site, story types 900-909 are "The Obstinate Wife Learns To Obey" and categorised under "Realistic Tales".

    Obstinate wives (or any other kind for that matter) learning to obey don’t sound very realistic to me :-)

  3. noone in particular says:

    I grew up with Brothers Grimm’s fairy-tales from earliest childhood, and my kids do so, too. They are simply german folk-lore.

    But "König Drosselbart: Performed in clay, feathers, and other strange materials" – that sounds like awfully high culture :-)

    I imagine the fun-factor being quite low, but enough stuff for prolonged discussions with plenty of absinthe…

  4. Propp says:

    The Aarne-Thompson classification of fairy tales is a huge useless mess. Propp had killed it with his Morphology over fifty years ago, it’s just that the bult of Western linguistics had failed to notice it for some inscrutable reason. Perhaps the linguists are willfully ignoring any structural or historical approach to the matter?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propp has the complete list of 31 structural elements that exhaust the available fairy tale plots. There are also certain patterns of them meshed together, sadly not mentioned in the article.

    Still, even so it should be pretty evident how it compares to the AT which classifies irrelevant details into hundreds of irrelevant pigeonholes.

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