“A merchant had done good business at the fair; he had sold his wares, and lined his money-bags with gold and silver.”
This fairy tale isn’t about those wares, it’s about the merchant’s horse, ignorant decisions, and foolishness.
Oh, and an oxymoron.
After leaving the fair on his horse, the merchant stops to rest at a nearby town. A stable boy alerts him that his horse’s hind foot has a nail in it, but the merchant is “in a hurry” and will not wait for it to be removed. So he rides on.
Another stop brings another alert from a stable boy; this time the entire shoe from the horse’s hind foot is gone. But no, the merchant is still in a hurry and exclaims that “‘the horse can very well hold out for the couple of miles which remain. I am in haste.”
You can probably see where this is going. “But before long the horse began to limp.” The horse then starts stumbling, then it falls and breaks its leg. The merchant leaves the horse, takes his belongings, and walks home, arriving much later than he wanted to. Comically, the merchant blames the “‘unlucky nail'” for ‘”this disaster.'”
This fairy tale is like some of the others, in the methodical progression of the story, and the character who is completely blind to their faulty missteps. It is also unlike the fairy tales so far in this anthology, in that it ends in a suggestive oxymoron: “Make haste slowly.” If you weren’t already thinking it, you are now convinced that if the merchant had waited for the nail to be taken out at that first town, the ensuing problems would not have occurred at all and he would have made it home much earlier than he did.
Adding those three words to the end of this tale intrigues me. It’s a common “rule” in writing to “show, not tell,” and the Grimm brothers utilized this method effectively, but still felt it necessary to tell. But rather than launch into a mini lecture about the lesson, they chose the oxymoron, which maintains the lighthearted, whimsical tone of the fairy tale, while still informing the reader. Ah, the genius of literary devices.
- Tom Thumb