Let’s Talk Fairy tales 2: Grace and Derek

Hello, all! Last time I talked about fairy tales, Trump hadn’t yet started to run for president. Can you even imagine a time before our newsreels were dominated by his horrid ginger hair-tuft? Me neither.

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Our fairy tale today is called Grace and Derek and unless you have The Golden Book of Fairy tales, you probably never heard of it. It is another story by Madame d’Aulnoy who also wrote Green Snake, which I blogged about last time. Ready for some very dubious morality lessons?

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Grace is just your ordinary old princess. She spends her days living it up with her wise tutors and eating lollypops and jam for lunch. 17th century dental hygiene being what it was, I’m sure her mouthful of rotten teeth are only a slight detraction from her regal beauty.

Her name was Grace, and it suited her. She was beautiful, gentle, modest, and intelligent.

I find it funny that princesses in fairy tales are described as universally beautiful because it was not often the truth. If anything, European royalty was so inbred at that time that a beautiful princess was a notable achievement. And beauty hardly mattered, as they were married off purely for dynastic reasons.

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Anyways…

The only blight to Grace’s charmed existence is the Duchess of Grudge, equally as aptly named as Grace. That’s the thing about French people. If you’re ugly, they’ll never let you forget it. Grudge hates Grace  (because of her beauty, natch), so she leaves court. She forgot one of the most important rules of court diplomacy.

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Unfortunately, the law of fairy tale unhappiness must apply, and just as The Duchess of Grudge leaves, the good queen falls ill and dies. After mourning her for a year (and staying inside all this time I guess), the king decides to take some fresh air and goes hunting.

In the heat of the day, he came to a mansion. He stopped there to rest. It was the home of the Duchess of Grudge. She came to meet the king, saying that the cellars were by far the coolest part of the house. They went down to a high cellar, where two hundred wine casks lined the walls.

This may seem like the most elaborate serial killer murder in history, but it is actually…flirting? The king asks for some wine, but when Grudge unstoppers the casks, all that comes out is bunches of moolah.

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“How odd,” simpered Grudge. She pulled out the stopper of the next cask. Down came a stream of more and larger gold pieces. “How very odd, “Grudge grinned. “Well, Your Majesty, it seems like there’s no wine here. The casks are full of this trash, instead,” said the sly Duchess of Grudge.

I love how Madame d’Aulnoy specifies that the Duchess of Grudge is sly, because to me this seems like the most ass-backward seduction I’ve ever seen. I’d like to know if she always keeps her wine casks stocked with gems, or if she had a bunch of servants refill them for the king. I’m sure they stifled many questions.

But the king turns out to be the biggest fool since Donald Trump’s campaign manager and he agrees to marry Grudge in exchange for her wine casks full of gems. Doesn’t he have enough money already? He’s the goddamn king? In addition to this hellish marriage proposal, the king agrees to sign over his daughter to Grudge.

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Real life representation

This king joins the Godawful Father Club along with such notable members as the dads of Cinderella, Belle, and Donkey Skin (another fairy tale I’ll cover later). Grace is understandably upset when King Dad returns with his new wife, Grudge. I don’t know what’s more horrifying: the fact that her dad married her enemy, the fact that her dad married her enemy over a few barrels of gold, or the fact that her dad sold her freedom to her enemy. They all seem like life-altering revelations to me.

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But she has grace under pressure (see what I did there?!) and decides to “show the duchess a brave face and her kindest manners.” Looks like she’s going to kill her with kindness. The description of the two women getting dressed knocks me out every time. While Grace dresses in a “delicate green gown”, Grudge too “dresses with care.”

She wore one high shoe, so as to seem less lopsided. She dyed her hair black, and painted her face white. She squeezed into a padded dress that was supposed to make her look less lumpy. To attract attention, she sent word to the king that she wanted to be brought to his palace on the finest horse in the kingdom.

I know that Grudge is Grace’s enemy, but I can’t help feeling sorry for her. No wonder she has to lure in stupid kings with barrels of gold. She’s lumpy! Fairy tales like to use beauty as a measure of goodness, but that doesn’t leave much room for subtlety.

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Grudge, is that you?

Grace goes walking in the woods, where she meets the biggest Nice Guy of all time, Derek. He’s handsome (of course, no ugly people are nice!) and left her a beautiful horse to ride when she sees the king. He then tells Grace that he was born with magical powers and has been following her, unseen ever since. That’s a long-ass time! Grace, being the demure maiden she is, doesn’t ask him important questions like “how do you know who I am?” or “why are you following me?” or “have you been inside my house, you creep?” Instead, she’s glad that she has a friend against Grudge, which I mean, I guess is a rational response…

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And thus begins the original story of the Friendzone. Can you guess which side Derek is on? He leads Grace’s beautiful horse to where they are supposed to meet the King and Grudge. Because there is no middle ground in fairy tales (how dare you suggest such a thing?!) Grace’s horse is so beautiful that the horse chosen for Grudge, supposedly the king’s finest horse, looks like a nag. Grudge is offended and demands that Grace trade horses with her, which Grace graciously does (her name does seem apt, now that I think about it), but Derek’s fairy magic horse isn’t having none of that so he bucks Grudge off and runs away. Thanks a lot, Derek.

They picked up Grudge, more squashed than ever. Shoeless and hatless, she was carried to the castle and put to bed. “It’s Grace’s fault,” she shrieked at the doctors. “She did it, to make a fool of me. She knew I’d want to ride that fancy animal. She wanted it to run away with me. She wanted me to be killed. If the king won’t agree with me, I’ll leave him at once.”

A sensible king would realize that Grudge is extremely insecure (she’s lumpy!) and taking out her issues on Grace. A sensible king would try to mediate, or at least protect his daughter from this dangerously insecure woman. Alas, this story does not contain such a king.

The king wanted peace at any price…He had a flattering portrait made of [Grudge]. Then he arranged a tournament. His six best knights would fight all corners to contend that Grudge was the fairest lady alive.

So instead of having a discussion with his wife, or laying boundaries, or moving his daughter to another castle, he arranged an entire tournament?! How much did he have to pay these knights to fight in the name of Grudge’s beauty? And worse, instead of lessening the problem, all he’s doing is inflating it. He must know that Grudge is no scrub. She’s not fooled by a portrait. If anything, she’ll become even more jealous because she knows that it’s a lie.

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Hundreds of knights enter the tournament to dispute Grudge’s beauty (I’m sure that really helped boost her self-esteem), but they’re all defeated by the king’s knights. An anonymous knight enters carrying a portrait inside a diamond box. He says that Grudge is the ugliest woman alive and that the girl inside his box is the world’s greatest beauty. I wonder who could be in that box? Hint, hint, it’s Grace. Derek  The anonymous knight beats all of the king’s knights and consoles them by showing them Grace’s pictures. They’re all like “well, she’s hawt, so I guess it’s okay that we lost to a magical teenage boy.” But Derek, well-intentioned as he may be, screws things up again.

Late that night, Grudge’s soldiers took Grace deep into a forest full of wild beasts. They left her there, alone and helpless. Grace went stumbling through the dark. She fell, sobbing, and cried, “Derek, where are you? Have you, too, forgotten me?”

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Nice Guy Derek appears from the darkness and takes Grace to a beautiful castle. He tells her that he loves her and that his mothers and sisters love her too. How is that possible, you may ask, seeing as they have never met her? Fairy stalking, duh!

The queen and her daughters welcomed Grace lovingly. They showed her a room with rock crystal walls. grace stared, amazed, for the walls were engraved with her own life story, and even showed her entrance into the palace. “I want to remember everything abut you, forever,” explained Derek. Grace did not know what to answer.

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Run away! Run away, Grace!

I’d like to know how they engraved her entrance to the palace in time. Did they know she was going to come years ago and include it in the design? Or did they just add that as a finishing touch with their fairy magic? Oh, and another question: why the hell are they stalking her?! But it gets creepier. The next morning, Derek’s sisters give her gifts of clothing and jewelry, all ” in her size and exactly to her taste.” This is beyond stalker. This a guy who has been watching Grace so closely throughout her lifetime that he knows her clothing size, her shoe size, and even what dresses she likes to wear! And he thinks that’s flattering!!!!

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Gracious Grace can’t think of any response except to thank Derek for his generosity. Derek begs Grace to marry him and live at the fairy castle forever, so that he can smother her with unwanted affection treat her how she deserves. Grace refuses, but not for her own sake. She has a duty to her father, who might think her dead. He let you be literally thrown to the wolves, Grace! He doesn’t care about you. Back at home, Grace talks with her father about how Grudge tried to murder her.

The king was dismayed by Grudge’s cruelty. If he had been a strong, wise man, he’d have put Grudge in her place. But he was under his new wife’s thumb…instead of scolding Grudge, he chatted with them both and ordered a fine supper.

And the Best Dad Award goes to this guy! Nothing says “sorry that your step-mother tried to murder you” like a fine supper. I like how Madame d’Aulnoy has to emphasize the fact that the king is neither a strong or wise man, as if we didn’t get that from the fact that he married a woman for her barrels of gold. As can be expected, things turn worse for Grace. Grudge throws her in a prison and hires her evil fairy friend to dream up impossible tasks for Grace.

On one hand I’m thinking, maybe Grace should’ve stayed with Stalker Derek. But on the other hand I’m thinking, I named him Stalker Derek for a reason, so really there’s no good alternative to Grace’s predicament. It’s either be humiliated and abused by this psycho woman, or be coddled to death by a insidiously kind playboy fairy.

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The fairy gave Grudge a wad of thread so fine that it broke if you looked at it hard enough. Grudge took it to her prisoner. “Here’s a job for you,” she said. “Untangle this thread and wind it up properly, before dark. If you break it, even once, you’ll be sorry.” Grace tried to untangle the thread, but it broke into knots of fluff. She put it down and sighed. “Let Grudge kill me, then. Derek, if you can’t help me now, at least come to say good-by, forever.”

This is a perfect example of the Friendzone in action. Even though Derek is a Stalker with a capital S, Grace refused his help. Now she’s asking for it, using drama-queen levels of manipulation, knowing that he’ll appear to rescue her. I bet she could untangle it if she tried a little harder, but she’s so spineless that it’s impossible to put her back into the work.

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Of that terrible joke

Derek appears and untangles all of her thread with a tap of his wand. “It seems you only want me when you’re in trouble,” he says. Well, that’s true, Derek, but you only appear when she’s in trouble, so you’re both at fault here.

“Don’t be cross,” said Grace. “I’m miserable enough already.”

“Free yourself from misery, my lady,” begged Derek. “Come away and marry me. Why ever not?”

“What if you don’t truly love me?” said Grace. “We’ve only known each other a short time. Can I trust your love?”

Derek tried to hide his hurt feelings, and bowed low as he said good-by.

Finally, Grace is asking all the right questions, while also shamelessly using Derek. This story is messed up on so many levels, which is amazing because it’s supposed to contain some moral message but the only thing I’m learning is that the Friendzone IS effective!

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Derek is Wesley. It all makes sense now.

Grudge slaps Grace when she discovers that she completed the task, even though she didn’t because Derek did all the damn work with his fairy wand. The evil fairy returns with another fun task: Grace must separate a bag of feathers into categories, one for each bird. Is this an evil vendetta or an IQ test? This seems more tedious than mentally challenging. but Grace immediately gives up on the task. Grace, really showing her true colors now, whines for Derek again.

“This is hopeless,” thought Grace. “I shan’t call Derek. If he really cared, he’d be here by now.”

“I am here, my lady,” he said as he appeared. Three taps of his wand, and all the feathers were sorted in tidy piles.

“My lord, I owe you everything,” exclaimed Grace. “I’ll never forget your goodness to me.”

At this point in the story, my sympathies have switched from Grace to Derek. Derek is still a stalker, but at least he’s trying. And he’s proven his love for Grace on multiple occasions by helping her out of tough situations even when she continues to use him and treat him like trash. The funniest part is that Grace starts off each desperate call like an angsty Facebook post. If my friends reallllly cared, they’d totally be on my side, you knowwww?!!! Grace says that she’ll never forget Derek’s goodness, but you know she’s gonna forget it in about five minutes.

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Sorry Derek

Grudge slaps Grace even harder when she discovers that she finished the task. This time, the evil fairy gives Grace a challenge that she knows will be impossible: a closed box. If Grace opens it, she’ll never be able to close it again.

Ah, the dreaded box conundrum. Why is it that when characters are given a box and told not to open it, they can’t resist? Now remember, Grace is an “intelligent” princess who has been through multiple trials including being thrown into the woods. She grasps the basic mental concept of repetition, patterns, and context. So what do you think, readers? Do you think Grace will be able to resist opening the box?

 

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Grace opens the fucking box.

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Don’t even think about calling for Derek

The box is filled with little musicians and courtesans preparing a ball. Grace is enchanted until she remembers that she has to put them back in the box, but they scatter when she attempts to grab them.

“Now I’m really in trouble,” cried Grace. “I’ve done wrong, out of stupid curiosity. Whatever happens now, it will truly be my own fault. Derek, if you still care for such a silly girl, save me now.”

“Wicked as Grudge is,” Derek said,” I’m grateful to her for one thing. Her mean tricks make you call for me.”

Goddamn, Derek! You’re both the worst. This is the worst teenage love story since Romeo and Juliet. Grace returns to Grudge with the box intact, which angers her, but she has a final plan. Where has the King been all this time while his daughter was imprisoned? Probably staring at his barrels of gold.

If you thought Grace would have finally realized that she’s safer at Stalker Derek’s house than with Grudge, you haven’t been paying attention. That evening, as Grace is strolling with her maids, seemingly unaffected by her earlier imprisonment, Grudge comes. “There’s treasure under that rock,” she says. Gullible Grace believes her and looks under the rock, so they push her into a pit and bury her alive. This is the girl who was trained by wise men, remember? She was supposed to be intelligent!

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In the dark,underground, Grace had no hope. “I am buried alive,” she thought. “I will surely die. Derek, this is my punishment for not trusting your love.”

A door appeared in the side of the pit…to the crystal fairy palace. Derek, his mother, and his sisters came to meet her. “Derek,” she said shyly, “I’ve been unkind to you. Please forgive me. If you care for such a silly girl, I’ll marry you now.”

I’d like to point out that Derek read her mind and came to her, so I guess this explains how he knew her shoe size. So, the two stupid lovers get married and it’s a happily-ever-after. A terrible ending for a terrible story. I don’t quite understand what Madame d’Aulnoy was trying to say with this tale. Young love is one-sided? Bitches be tripping? If a guy takes you to his castle and it has your life story on the wall, just go for it? Or was she advising young girls to use naive young men to their advantage? Whatever the message was, it is clearly something that you should ignore.

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The one thing you can learn from this story is to be wary of people like Grace and Derek. And if you find yourself acting like either one, you’re a douche. This has been a PSA.

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