Hans my Hedgehog!
It's the perfect story for use with the Youth of the Year.
First I had to think through a few of the prickly places.
Hans is half-hedgehog, half-boy because his father made the mistake of saying “I want a kid and I don’t care if it’s a hedgehog as long as it’s mine.” (I’m not the first storyteller to notice that statements like this are downright asking for trouble.)
Hans’ mother (in the original German she is described as “erschrak” which means “troubled” and who can blame her?) gives him the name Hans-my-Hedgehog. (The woman may be troubled, but she also knows how to make a point. She’s got it set up so that every time her husband says his son’s name, he announces his own responsibility for the kid’s condition.)
Hans can’t sleep in a bed so he ends up spending eight years in a box of straw behind the stove.
(In the original, Hans’ father grows tired of him and often wishes for his death. I dial that back a bit since I tell the story during my first session with the youth and fathers can be problematical.)
Hans neither dies nor grows. He does talk his father into bringing him a set of bagpipes and having the family’s rooster shod like a horse. Once properly equipped, Hans announces he is leaving forever and, riding the rooster, drives the family’s herd of pigs into the forest.
(The original says pigs and donkeys, but I leave the donkeys out. They clutter up the story.)
There, the rooster perches on a branch above a clearing. Hans, still astride the rooster plays the bagpipes and watches the pigs increase in number.
(I found it impossible to sound like a bagpipe making music “that was very beautiful” as the original says. I settle for saying Hans was trying to learn the play the bagpipes. That way I can just make honking noises. It’s more goose than bagpipe, but this story needs all the comic relief it can get.)
The music attracts a lost king who wants help getting out of the forest. Hans demands a written promise – the king will give him the first living creature who greets him as he returns to the royal court. The king, figuring Hans cannot read, scribbles a string of nonsense and Hans leads him out of the forest.
Naturally the king is greeted by his daughter the beautiful princess. She isn’t the least bit happy to learn about Hans and the king reassures her that his promise means nothing.
Back in the forest, a second king gets lost, finds Hans, and makes the same request. Hans asks for the same written promise. This king writes the promise clearly. When he is also greeted by his beautiful daughter he has to tell her about Hans.
(In each case, the king sends a servant to talk to Hans. But, like the donkeys, the servants clutter up the story, so I leave them out too.)
This princess is all noble about agreeing to marry a half-hedgehog, half-human who is so small he can ride around on a rooster.
Back in the forest Hans and the rooster round up all the pigs. Hans sends word to his father that he is returning with pigs and his father is upset because he thought Hans had gone away and died.
(Apparently the donkeys were superfluous. They vanish from the story. Or maybe they ran away? Because of the bagpipes, perhaps?)
Hans has the pigs slaughtered so ther is meat for the whole village. He tells his father to get new shoes for the rooster and says he will not come back for as long as he lives. This makes the farmer happy.
When Hans and the rooster arrive at the first king’s castle, the guards follow the king’s orders and attempt to attack them. But the rooster flies over their heads and right into the throne room where Hans demands the king give him the princess. Fearing for his life, the king gives his daughter a carriage, servants and property before sending her off with Hans.
As soon as they are out of sight of the castle, Hans stops the carriage, strips the girl of her white dress, prickles her all over until she bleeds and tells her he doesn’t want her.
(It is already clear that this is not a story for the very young. I make an effort to assess the general maturity of the audience as I approach the fate of this princess. If it does not feel right, I don’t out and out say that he strips her, though I usually leave in the prickling part.)
Then Hans goes to the second kingdom, where the king has ordered that he be greeted with honor. When Hans arrives in the throne room, the king summons his daughter. She is not delighted, but she agrees to keep her father’s promise. She agrees to marry Hans. After the wedding, Hans tells the princess not to worry about his prickles. He asks the king to have four soldiers standing by.
(In his notes, D. L. Ashliman notes that the first edition of Grimm puts the princess in bed with Hans without any mention of a wedding.)
In the wedding chamber, Hans removes his hedgehog skin and gives it to the soldiers to burn. As the skin burns, Hans himself becomes entirely human, only burned (in Ashliman’s translation) “as black as coal, as though he had been charred.” After the king sends for doctors who provide lotions and balms Hans becomes “white and was a handsome young man.”
(THAT needed some re-working. I do say he was burned, glossy like charred wood and that he became handsome.
I also let the princess participate in healing by rubbing those lotions and potions into Hans’ skin. That way they fall in love for real.)
When Hans finally takes his new wife back to his home, his father does not, will not recognize him. So Hans and the princess return to her kingdom and, after the death of her father, rule long and well.
I see this story as a hero’s journey. I also knew it would have a lot to say the teens on their Youth of the Year Journey. I still had figure out to use the story to connect the youth with their journey.
Cute hedgehog picture by Tony Wills [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons