Just back from a week in Gran Canaria. Terrific. Never been before. Hired a car. Mega-scary road from La Aldea to Agaete. Lots of twisty corners and places where all I could see to the left was sky. I am not exaggerating, It’s as well that I didn’t know when I set off what I know now. I never used to suffer from what people call vertigo when I was younger, but something happened in early middle age.
I took the trusty Kindle with me. I was looking through Aesop and Grimm and Andersen for some stories for school Assemblies, and came across The Water of Life (Grimm). It might or might not be suitable for Assembly (stories tend to need shortening) but, ye Gods, it’s spot on for life in general and parochial life in particular. It quite bowled me over. It begins thus.Once upon a time in a land far away there reigned a king who had three sons. The king fell ill. His sons were grieved at their father’s sickness; and as they were walking in the palace garden, an old man met them and asked them of their woes. The princes told their tale. ‘His Majesty must drink of the ‘Water of Life’ said the man. ‘Were he to have but a sip of it he would be well again. But it is hard and dangerous work to collect it.’ The eldest son thought to himself ‘If I bring my father this water, he will make me sole heir to his kingdom.’ He went to the sick king and begged that he might go in search of the Water of Life. ‘No,’ said the King. ‘My life is not worth the great danger of the journey.’ But the prince persisted and eventually the King let him go. After a time the prince came to a deep valley, overhung with rocks and woods; and looking around, he saw an ugly dwarf who said, ’Prince, whither so fast?’ ’What is that to thee, thou ugly dandyprat?’ said the prince haughtily, and rode on. The dwarf did not take kindly to the prince’s behaviour, and laid a spell upon him. As he rode on, the mountain pass became narrower and narrower until at last the prince could go no further, and neither was there room for him to turn his horse and return whence he came. So there he remained on his high horse, unable to go forward, unable to turn back, and unable to dismount. He remained spellbound. Thus it is with proud and silly people who think themselves above everyone else, and will neither seek nor take advice.
The rest of the story—you can guess I expect—the second son sets out on the quest when his elder brother fails to return. The same happens to him. Then the youngest son, the simpleton, sets off. When he encounters the dwarf, he tells him of his quest and the reason for it, and seeks the dwarf’s advice. He listens, thanks the dwarf and goes on his way. He finds the Water of Life, and on his way home asks that his brothers be freed—which freedom is granted. His brothers repay this generosity by stealing the Water, taking it to the King and claiming the credit. But the dwarf works his magic so that in time the two elder brothers are found out and forced to flee into exile, leaving the youngest prince to rule prudently with all his power.
You may know the story. You may have pondered its wisdom and its Scriptural resonances (and Indiana Jones resonances). I come across this story fresh. It’s on my precious list, along with The Snow Queen (‘melt this heart of ice’), and the Venite (‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’).