Bluebeard

 

  • This is my second effort to retell the famous fairy tale of Blue Beard, and I think I’ve hit the right note. I was always dissatisfied with my first effort. The impetus to try again was my continuing effort to edit the Daydreams & Distractions—this retelling belonging to the third book in the series. Consider this the first draft of a second effort and be sure let me know what you think. I’ve included an updated annotation at the story’s end.

There once lived a little girl with her mother and two older brothers.

One evening the girl’s mother read to her a story called Bluebeard. “He is a dark man,’ she read, ‘who is an adeptus mechanicus said to be a gypsy, heathen, magician and madman. He possesses a key to the one door a young woman must never open and that is never rightfully hers.”

And then her mother told the girl that someday Bluebeard would surely visit and give her the key to the forbidden room. “It were better you threw the key into the river,” her mother sternly, “but if you don’t, then it were better you tie the key around your neck and threw yourself into the river.”

The girl promised to be good.

But some years later, when the girl was as tall as she was going to get, she took the book from the topmost shelf of her mother’s room. Her mother and brothers were away. She went to a little closet under the stairs. When she opened the door to the closet, she was startled to step into soirée of masks and costumes. She forgot anything but the pleasures of music, dance and feasting. She might have spent a minutes or a few nights in merry-making. She wondered the mysterious, tall, Bluebeard who was always nearby, could be so terrible?

When it was time to leave, Bluebeard kissed her hand and hoped she would return.

When she stepped out of the stairway closet, barely a moment had passed. She hurriedly returned the book to her mother’s shelf. That night, after she had cooked for her mother and two brothers, her mother eyed her going to and fro suspiciously.

“What did you do today?” asked her mother.

“I changed the sheets, put up my brothers’ laundry, and tended to your garden as you instructed.”

“And that is all?”

“That is all,” answered the girl.

But the very next day that her mother and brothers were away, the girl returned to her mother’s room. She reached for the fairy tale book and the instant she touched it, she was in Bluebeard’s castle.

“Do you know what that is?” asked Bluebeard.

She stood on tip-toe in Bluebeard’s castle. Instead of the book she touched a beautiful wood and brass device with many lenses and mirrors. She glanced at Bluebeard. “What does it do?”

“It is an instrument by which one navigates the world.”

And then, never failing to answer any question she asked, she explored telescopes, mysterious books, paintings, sculptures, musical instruments and innumerable, ingenious inventions of wood and and metal—all invented by Bluebeard. But when she was ready to go to the next room she once more stood in her mother’s room.

Hardly a moment had passed. She hurried out of her mother’s room and that evening her mother, ever more suspicious, asked again: “What did you do today?”

“I changed the sheets, put up my brothers’ laundry, and tended to your garden as you instructed.”

“And that is all?”

“That is all,” answered the girl.

But the following week, at the same time and in the same manner, she returned to Bluebeard’s castle. She asked Bluebeard the meaning of the strange inventions scattered through the castle. In his strangely expressionless way e told her about the sun, planets, stars and the great emptiness of space. The girl listened with rapt attention and forgot nothing.

The evening the girl’s mother suspiciously asked if she hadn’t visited her room.

“I did not,” said the girl.

“But if you were,” the mother asked suspiciously, “surely there must be something of mine you would very much like to look at?”

“There is nothing,” said the girl.

By the third week she eagerly looked forward to her visits and each week she toured another room in Bluebeard’s castle. She asked Bluebeard to read from his books. She asked him to play instruments. He set a music box between them. When he opened the lid, a wooden gypsy girl rose out of the box playing a violin. She was so entranced by the sweet music and graceful mechanical motion that she hardly noticed the day passing.

“But there is one more room, in your castle” said the girl to Bluebeard. “I’m certain my mother will discover me. Please, why is it forbidden? What harm if I see what is in the last room?”

Bluebeard’s expression remained cold and unchanged. He reached under his quilted black robe and produced an ornate wooden box. “Take this box. In the box is the key to the forbidden room. But if your mother and brothers discover you have unlocked the door to this room, then it were best you tied the key round your neck and threw yourself in the river.”

That evening the girl’s mother deviously announced that she had lost her dearest golden ear ring. At once the girl blurted that she had seen the ear ring and that it lay next to the book of fairy tales she kept in her bedroom. But just as soon as she had spoken she covered her mouth.

“And how would know?” asked the girl’s mother.

“Oh mother,” she answered, “my chores being done, I dusted your room.”

“You lie!” said the girl’s mother.

That evening the girl was beaten by her brothers until she wept and begged forgiveness. She was thrown into her room and the door locked. Her mother announced that she would have only water and no food; and that if she ever sought out Bluebeard again she dare not describe what her brothers would do to her.

The girl promised to faithfully follow her instructions; but no sooner had the voice of her mother subsided than she crawled to bed and drew the covers over herself. She slid the Bluebeard’s box out from under her pillow. The box had a lid and drawer. Since there was no latch by which to open the drawer, she turned another latch and opened the lid of the box. Her heart nearly leapt for fright when the little box began to play. An exquisitely carved couple circled each other. One of the little figures was dressed like Bluebeard in a quilted black robe and the other figure was dressed like herself—in a simple blouse and dress—but seemingly so much more beautiful and delicate.

A captivating music played as the two figures circled each other and then, after circling three times, Bluebeard’s mechanical arm, connected by a silver thread, lifted one of the girl’s wooden legs until it was upright up like a ballerina’s. The girl’s eyes grew wide and she abruptly covered her mouth with her hand. A little cut, like her own, was carved between her legs and there between her thighs was a blue beard just like Bluebeard’s! As her leg was lifted, a tiny wooden prick clicked upright between Bluebeard’s robe. Then, just as the music played a last note, Bluebeard’s hips, as if a little spring had snapped, pierced the center of the tiny girl with the sudden crack of wood against wood. The girl cried out as though she herself had been pierced. Her nipples were stiff with fright and she lowered her hand to the juncture of her tightly closed thighs.

But the drawer beneath the dancers had also sprung open.

There was the key. The girl blushed again. The key was in the shape of a man’s erection. Though it was carved in ivory, the detail was so lifelike she was both afraid to touch and also compelled to touch. The crown was shiny, smooth and broad. The thick stem was veined and the base split into heavy balls.

Her desire to touch the strange carving overcame her.

And the moment she touched she was transported to Bluebeard’s castle. Bluebeard lay at her feet—a motionless contraption wood and metal. She fell beside him and shook his shoulders. “Prithee!” she cried “Bluebeard! Awake! My mother and brothers mean to murder me!”

But Bluebeard didn’t rouse.

“Bluebeard!” she cried. “Prithee, wake!”

And then she shook him with such force that his black robe fell open and she saw what she must do. She took the carved phallus and pressed it in place and turned it like a winding key until and clicked in place. Of a sudden, Bluebeard eyes flew open and he inhaled deeply. The wood and metal of his construction turned to flesh and the ivory phallus in her hand became warm and living.

She gasped and let go. She scrambled and to her feet.

Bluebeard, as if by an invisible spring, was lifted ot his feet. He clapped his large hands and the room, like a mechanical contraption, wheezed to life. Wooden musicians, like great puppets, began to play the same music as the music box had played.

Bluebeard bowed and all the pain of her brothers’ beatings fell away.

She took Buebeard’s hand and they began to dance. Little by little they circled the room as the violinist bowed, the organ grinder ground, and the tambourine chimed. At each turn of the dance the girl cried out. She saw girls hanging in the room—but they weren’t really corpses—but puppets like the musicians. Their necks were broken. They hair hung over their faces. Their ankles hung lifelessly under motionless dresses. The music began its last refrain and Bluebeard stopped. She inhaled sharply when he lifted her leg like a ballerina’s, exposing her. She hid her eyes in his shoulder and her breathing turned to little cries when, like a thick wedge, his phallus pressed at the splitting of her thighs.

The music stopped and her cry was filled by the depth of him. Bluebeard’s first thrust was followed by another until at last, firmly held and firmly clinging to him, she cried out and bitt his robe as she pulsed on the pulsing inside her.

The vision melted into thin air.

She was on her knees. She breathlessly withdrew the ivory phallus and saw that it was stained by her own blood. She wiped it two or three times but could do nothing to remove the blood. She washed it in the water left by her mother but the stain remained. She scoured the blood with ashes and, in spite of all, the blood remained. She hid with it under the covers and meant to put it back in the box but at that instant the covers were flung off.

Her mother and brothers stood over her.

“How came this blood?” her mother asked.

“I am sure I do not know,” replied the poor girl, white as the sheets and as bloodied.

“You do not know?” said her mother ferociously. “Did I not forbid you visit Bluebeard? Have I not been kind to you? Did I not adopt you though your complexion is as dark as your hair is blue? Did I not give to you the keys to my closets containing beautiful dresses and gowns. Was ever the door locked wherein you enjoyed my dyes and perfumes? Did I not trust you with the keys to my strongbox of gems and jewels?”

The girl scrambled to the floor and begged her mother’s pardon.

“No, stupid girl; your brothers shall see to this very minute!”

“Alas!” said the poor trembling girl, “give me, as least, a little time to say my prayers.

“We know well enough what you are,” said the first of the two brothers. he threw the girl to her knees. “Your begging will avail you nothing.” The other lifted his great blade and when it struck her neck it fell with the sound of a giant book closing.

The girl leapt backward into Bluebeard’s arms.

Startled by his presence, she nonetheless clung to his arms. She stared at the fairy tale book at her feet. And after the fright had abated she made to kneel and open the book. Bluebeard gently stopped her. “In that book,” he said, “your story is ended.” He turned the girl and took from his robe the first device she had seen in Bluebeard’s castle. “It is called an astrolabe.”

She hesitantly accepted the beautiful lensed and mirrored instrument.

And at the moment of touching it they stood on Bluebeard’s castle in an seaway of stars and a single beautiful light that lit the world without dimming a star. “Wither shall be go?” asked Bluebeard. “The Heavens are yours to navigate.”

The original story is horrific and some scholars dispute whether it should even be called a fairy tale. Bluebeard may be the very first fictionalized account of a real serial killer. However, centuries of retelling have added archetypal layers of sexual and religious overtones that may have nothing to do with any original events. Some of the most persuasive interpretations suggest that the wife’s visit to Bluebeard’s forbidden room became, after many retellings, a veiled reference to infidelity. In other words, Bluebeard is testing his presumably still virginal wife. He pretends to leave her alone at his estate and encourages her to host her friends and entertain them. Presumably, her friends will include young men. An annotated version of the fairy tale notes that “the key is also a phallic symbol which is often emphasized in illustrations as overly sized. The wife is flirting with sexual knowledge and perhaps promiscuity by accepting the key from her husband…” The key, in this sense, is tempting her with sexual infidelity. According to this interpretation, the meaning of the blood on the key is sexually symbolic:

“Bettelheim believes that the stained key confirms the wife’s sexual infidelity since it is an ancient motif for a terrible sin, usually murder, but of which sexual defloration is another possible meaning. The key represents the male sexual organ which will be stained with blood when the hymen is broken. The blood is permanent since defloration is an irreversible event (Bettelheim 1975). Beyond Bettelheim, the key has undoubtedly become stained from the sin of the wife however extreme a sin it might appear to the reader.”

The crucial moment in the original story is easy to doubly read. With a trembling hand, she put the key into the lock, and the door opened immediately. Readers might ask themselves, what was the key and, in truth, what opened immediately?

In this interpretation, Bluebeard is unable to forgive his repentant wife. So, though the initial sin is the wife’s, the greater sin becomes the husband’s for not forgiving her. In the end, it is he, not her, who is punished (though too late for the other wives). In this, my second attempt to retell the story, I wanted to suggest an erotic interpretation that is possibly more current and resonant—sexual awakening and the honor killing of a young woman because of it. Not only is the key a phallic symbol, but the blue beard is equally a symbol of a woman’s physical maturity; and so my retelling changes Bluebeard’s role from that of a villain to an expression of the young woman’s own sexual awakening. The warning against Bluebeard is therefore a warning against a young woman’s own burgeoning sexuality. The killer is not Bluebeard, but the young woman’s own family.

Latest Comments

  1. stephaniesubmits says:

    “The Heavens are yours to navigate.” Just gorgeous. Your twist on this twisted faux fairytale is so many things at once: Frightening, erotic, tender, sorrowful. I love it. And, there’s an element of whimsy in your story – something the original lacks (In my opinion.)

  2. joebondibeach says:

    Will—Very elegant, a reserved tone exactly suited to a fairy tale, and the proper air of menace and curiosity and enticement. I stumbled a little over the box with the figurines. She’d opened it and watched the dance, but then “the box had also sprung open.” [Again?] Maybe I missed something.

    Are you an Angela Carter fan? Her stuff is scary.

    Thanks for sharing this version. I liked it.

    ~ JBB

    • willcrimson says:

      Good observation, Joe. I’ll clear that up. What I was visualizing, but failed to describe, was a box that opened to the dancers first, then that too popped up like another lid. Thanks for responding.

      To me, the soul of Bluebeard is in everyone, and especially (in my own story) in the family members who should protect the girl. Bluebeard was just a puppet the mother used to control her; but the true Bluebeard, the girl’s sexual awakening, was death but also life and creative.

    • willcrimson says:

      Okay, fixed that. The box has a lid which she opens first, and drawer the springs open beneath it. ~Will

Share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s