Flashback Fridays: Laughter is the best medicine . . .

You’re the youngest brother of three, the one who’s always been thought a little simple and therefore ill-treated by his family.  One day you finally convince your family to let you go out to cut wood and you encounter a strange little man that asks you for some food . ..

Do you remember:

Tenggren’s Golden Goose by The Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren (Simon & Schuster, c1954)

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been a sucker for fairy tales.  And not just the well-known Disny-fied ones that everyone recognizes, but the odd and obscure tales that you find in collections but less likely in picture books and never as movies.  I was digging through my old boxes of memories and found this little Golden Book amid the piles of letters, cards and artwork.  I knew it the moment I saw it.  The pictures are stuck in my mind, the words nearly memorized.  My mother read this to me likely when I was four or five years old.  I don’t know how many times, but the story of this youngest son who finds good fortune from good deeds probably helped put me on my path to a love affair with fairy tales.

Some of you may know this story.  Our youngest boy is considered simply by his family and so is not given near as much responsibility,  kindness or food as his egotistical brothers.  Despite this, young Dummling is an optimistic and gentle youth who only wants to do well.  First his eldest brother goes out to the forest to cut wood, but he runs into a strange little man begging for food.  Not knowing the rules of fairy tales as we do, he refuses to feed the man any of his fresh milk or crispy pie and shrugs him off.  But no sooner does he try to cut wood than the axe slips and he cuts his arm.  So the second brother goes out, again refuses the strange little man, and again meets with misfortune.  Dummling begs to go out and his parents finally let him try, sending only dry bread and water with him.  But when he encounters the strange little man, he happily shares his food.  As a reward the little man directs him to dig under a tree where he finds a golden goose. Dummling takes the goose off to the city to find his destiny, not realizing that any sticky fingered thief who tries to steal a golden feather will become stuck to the goose in the process.

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Hilarity ensues as more and more people are added to the chain of individuals stuck to each other and to the goose, forced to follow Dummling around.   He heads to the city where a princess lives in terrible sadness.  The king has promised half the kingdom and his daughter’s hand to anyone who can make her laugh.  I think you can guess the rest.

I re-read this to my son the other night and it was just as good as I remember–a little light on blood and violence for a Grimm’s tale, but still plenty full of just desserts for characters.  I’m not certain who translated the text for this particular version, but I remember loving hearing all the words even as a child.  I’ve always had an attraction to good vocabulary and this one manages to be direct without being too simplistic or basic in structure.

What really sells this story though, are the illustrations.  Gustaf Tenggren was a Swedish-American illustrator who might not be recognized immediately by name, but his work would be recognized with just a few hugely popular titles. The Pokey Little Puppy (1942),  The Saggy Baggy Elephant (1947), and the Tawny Scrawny Lion (1952).  Tenggren produced illustrations for 25 Golden Books over the course of his time working for them.  Some of those books, like the Golden Goose title above would list his name as part of the title as a watermark of quality.  The art is vibrant and evocative, despite being in earth tones.  You really get the feeling this is set in some Germanic countryside full of dark woods, quaint Hamlets and bustling towns.  Teggren doesn’t try for an overly ornate style, but chooses simple backgrounds and a few specific details that make his scenes come to life. (I particularly love the pigs wandering in the streets of the town).

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It’s easy to shrug off Little Golden Books as nothing special in this world of elaborate and lovingly produced picture books, but  I think it would be a mistake to do so.  the art deserves another look and the stories are some of the most well-known and well-loved of generations of kids turned to parents themselves.

Besides, as a librarian I happen to know it can be darned challenging to find some of these lesser known fairy tales transformed into illustrated versions for younger readers.  So this simple little book is something I’m going to be sharing with my kids, and hopefully my grandkids some day.

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on October 4, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love this story! It’s been incorporated into my own book, which is a mix of fairytales. I love seeing this story! Great post!

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