When I was growing up, I learned one of my most important life lessons from a book. It was not some Holy religious scripture, or a biography passed down from generation to generation. It was a fairy tale book, namely the fairy tales from the brothers Grimm. Through stories from the brothers, I was taught the importance of maintaining an equilibrium of both curiosity and caution. One major theme prevalent in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is that of curiosity. It plays a very significant role in determining where the story will go. There are namely two different outcomes that can result from an act of curiosity. The first is that of good fortune. This could be a marriage, a rich reward, or some other form of success. The other result is that of punishment. This could be getting a limb chopped off, being banished from one’s home, or death. The importance of curiosity and how it is rewarded or punished is dependent on the importance of curiosity. Both The White Snake and Fitcher’s Bird of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales exemplify the importance of curiosity as a theme in such tales.
The White Snake details a wise king who eats a covered dish alone every night. A servant boy becomes curious and after retrieving the dish one evening, uncovers it to discover a white snake. The servant boy takes a bite then discovers the ability to talk with animals. Shortly after this, the servant is accused of stealing the Queen’s ring and is given one day to prove his innocence. After accepting his defeat, the servant boy overhears a goose complaining about a ring stuck in its throat. He has the chef cut the goose open and finds the missing ring. The King apologizes and offers the boy riches and land. presents a fairy tale in which curiosity is rewarded. After eating the Kings dish, the boy inherits extraordinary powers that lead him to wealth, good fortune, and eventually the marriage to a princess. Eating the King’s food in any other context would be considered a treasonous act, punishable by death. However, this is not the case in The Grimm’s Fairytale. After proving his innocence of stealing the ring, the King even apologized to the servant boy, then “allowed him to ask a favor, and promised him the best place in the court that he could wish for”. He suffered no consequences. Instead, he was benefited immensely by his new gift. This story shows the value of curiosity and how beneficial it can be in someone’s life.
Fitcher’s Bird opens up a new way to gaze upon the role of these. This story starts with a magical charlatan who would appear as one of the impoverished to kidnap random women to be his bride. He does this to the eldest of a group of triplets, takes her back to his den and inconceivably convinces her that she will be able to live a life of happiness and bliss if she chooses to stay with him. Days pass and the man has to leave both the house and the girl for a while and bestows the wife with keys that can open any door in the house, which was previously full of locked doors, he also burdened her with an egg which he instructed her to keep on her person at all times. He gave on final rule before he left; don’t go into one room in particular or she will face severe consequences. All is going fine until one day the girl’s curiosity gets the best of her and she enters the off limits room. In it, she finds a pit filled with blood and body parts. Unbeknownst to her, during this ordeal she drops the egg which gets blood on it. When the man returns from his journey, he notices the bloodied egg. As promised, he promptly murders her, dissects her, and adds her to the hole in the center of the room. He repeats this process with the remaining triplets creating similar results. This tale creates a theme of curiosity leading to punishment. These stories engineer the viewpoint that curiosity is an evil concept, and must be punished. In this case, curiosity is represented by the triplets who can’t help but go into the unknown room. The Brothers depict curiosity without a balance of caution, leading to disastrous consequences.
In both of these tales, curiosity is a tool used to push the story along and caution is used as a safety measure. When a character comes across something they do not know, curiosity drives their actions towards figuring out what that special something may be. It drives the servant boy in The White Snake to eat the Kings dish, and it leads the sisters in Fitcher’s Bird to explore the forbidden room. This thirst or desire for knowledge is a powerful motivational force that pushes characters to make a decision. In both of these fairy tales, the action carried out due to the character’s curiosity moves the story onward. In Fitcher’s Bird, it is an event that then leads to the central conflict: the wizard murdering his brides for entering the forbidden room. In The White Snake, it is an event that spurs a resolution and a new tale; one where after finding the Queen’s missing ring, the servant’s journey to a new city is faced with three trials to complete for the princess’s hand. The reason why there’s so much of a difference in these outcomes, is because in one story, a character throws caution to the wind and proceeds to be met with a terrible fate.
Ultimately, curiosity is an active mechanism in many fairy tales and is especially prevalent in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It serves a significant purpose of motivating the characters towards some action in quest of the unknown; therefore, moving the story along. The act of curiosity is either rewarded or punished, and that depends on if they exercised a reasonable amount of caution. In The White Snake and Fitcher’s Bird, one can see both the upsides of applying a healthy amount of curiosity to their everyday decisions, as well as the importance of applying a healthy amount of caution in those same decisions.