Stories About Orphans: The Orphan’s Hand-mill

Greetings blog family! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post, the past couple weeks have been very hectic. But enough about me, let’s talk about my parents.

My parents just got back from a two week cruise around Europe. They went to Copenhagen, St. Petersberg, Estonia, and a bunch of other places. When they got back they told me they had presents for me (yay presents!), but I was not expecting what they brought home. Their presents to me were 5 different books from all over Europe all about fairy tales. They got me a complete collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales completely in Danish, a collection of Pushkin stories, a book of Estonian folktales, and then two tiny Estonian folktales. So that’s what we’re going to talk about – the small ones.

The first thing I should mention is that these Estonian folktales are not written by the same person. There are three authors and four tales. The first collection of stories I read is called Stories About Orphans, and the first tale that I read in that book is called The Orphan’s Hand-millwritten by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald.

The Orphan’s Hand-mill is a story about a girl whose parents are deceased. She gets taken in by a farmer and his wife. The wife was cruel to her, and to the other orphans they “adopted” since they only took them in for help around the fields and house. Now that’s how you raise children. Child labor – there’s nothing better.

Anyway, the young girl has no friends except for a little dog named Krants, and she spends her days grinding grains in a hand-mill to make flour. The farmer’s wife makes her grind grains all day long even when her hands start to bleed, and has learned that if she stops her chores to rest at all, the woman will attack her with a cudgel. In other words, the farmer’s wife is pretty much like a second mom to this girl — very loving and welcoming.

Well, one day she’s working at the hand-mill (starving to death because the farmer’s wife decided not to feed the orphans) when a famous sage, disguised as a beggar so no one would notice him, gave the young orphan a piece of bread from his bag, and asked the girl about her troubles. She told him about her life and the beggar said that he had a solution. He gave the girl a scarf to wear around her head when she sleeps and tells her to say “Sweet dreams, carry me to where I can find a hand-mill which grinds by itself, so that I, a feeble child, need not turn it.”

In her dreams she descends into a hell-like place, but finds the hand-mill that the beggar promised, noting only that she must not open the chest that holds the hand-mill, she must only put the grains in the top and take them out from the bottom. Easy peasy. For years she goes about her milling with no issues, and finally the farmer’s wife decides to see what’s been going on. It seems too easy for this girl to produce such great flour but feel little exhaustion. So she sends the orphan to church one morning, and goes snooping about her sleeping quarters. It’s there that the woman finds a large chest, unsure of what it is, she opens the chest and a huge burst of fire pops out of the mill, killing the farmer’s wife.

When the orphan came home, she heard of what happened to the woman, but when she went to see the chest, it had disappeared back to hellish world it came from. The orphan remained a servant there, but a few years later she was a grown woman and the farmer widower was looking for a wife. They married and retired. The end.

And here’s the point in the story that I said, “what the fuck did I just read?” First of all, that was depressing. Second, not that I’m complaining, but why did no one care that the farmer’s wife had died? They all just went about their business. Granted, she wasn’t a nice person. But you’d think that the people there would at least care about what happened, no? At the very least a part of their home is burned down from some weird thing that disappeared, and now they have extra things to do. You’d think there would be a little side note that said, “and then the orphan servants were pleased that she died, but were pissed that she died, for they had to double their chores for more than a fortnight!”

Lastly, why did the orphan marry the farmer? He obviously didn’t care that she was being beaten and starved to death by his wife for at least 10 years, and now that he’s a widower he gets to just point and choose an orphan he’d like to keep? Does that make sense to anyone? Because I’m baffled.

I will say this though: I’m actually really excited about that story. If for no other reason than apparently it’s a well known story in Estonia, and that makes me feel cultured, which I’m not any other time of the day. If I’m using a rating system to review it, though, on a scale from one to five (one being a crappy book, five being an awesome book) I’d put it at a two. It was nothing special, just weird.

So that’s the first of two Stories about Orphans – the second one we’ll be talking about is called The Keen-willed Orphan. You’ll be getting that review soon!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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