Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Tailor In Heaven: A Lesser Known Grimm's Tale

One fine day it happened that the good Lord decided to go for a walk in the heavenly garden. He took all the apostles and saints with him, and nobody was left in heaven except Saint Peter. The Lord ordered him not to let a soul enter during his absence. So Saint Peter stood at the gate and kept watch. Soon someone knocked, and Saint Peter asked who was there and what he wanted.
"I'm a poor honest tailor," a slick voice answered, "and I'd like to come in."
"Sure, you're honest!" said Saint Peter. "About as honest as a thief on the gallows. Your light fingers have stolen many pieces of cloth from people, and I'm certainly not going to let you enter heaven. The Lord has forbidden me to let anyone enter while he's out."
"Have mercy," the tailor cried out. "They were just scraps of cloth that fell from the table by themselves. They weren't stolen, and they're not even worth talking about. Look, I'm limping. I've got blisters all over my feet from walking here, and I can't possibly turn back. Let me in, and I'll do all the dirty work. I'll carry the babies, wash their diapers, clean the benches they play on, and mend their tattered clothes."
Saint Peter let himself be moved by pity and opened heaven's gate just wide enough for the lame tailor to slip his lean body through. He was ordered to sit down in a corner behind the door and to keep absolutely still so the Lord would not notice him upon his return and get angry. The tailor obeyed, but once when Saint Peter stepped out the door, the tailor got up, full of curiosity, and explored all the nooks and crannies of heaven, inspecting everything he saw.
Finally, he came to a place where there were many beautiful and exquisite chairs, and in the middle was an armchair made of solid gold and studded with glistening jewels. It was much taller than the other chairs, and a golden footstool stood in front of it. This was the Lord's armchair, and he sat in it when he was at home. It was from this seat that he could see everything that happened on earth. The tailor stood still and looked at the armchair for a good long time, for it appealed to him more than anything else he had seen. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him, and he climbed up and sat down on the chair. Then he could see everything that was happening on earth, and he noticed an ugly woman washing some clothes at a brook. When she secretly put two veils aside, the tailor became so furious at the sight that he grabbed the golden footstool and hurled it down from heaven at the old thief on earth. Upon realizing that he could not retrieve the footstool, the tailor slipped quietly out of the armchair, took his place behind the door again, and pretended he had not been stirring up trouble.
When the Lord and Master returned with his heavenly retinue, he did not notice the tailor behind the door. But when he sat down in his armchair, he did indeed remark that his footstool was missing. He asked Saint Peter what had happened to it, but Saint Peter did not know. Then the Lord asked him whether he had let anyone in.
"I don't know of anyone who's been here," Saint Peter replied, "except a lame tailor who's still sitting behind the door."
Then the Lord had the tailor appear before him and asked him whether he had taken his footstool and what he had done with it.
"Oh, Lord," the tailor answered joyfully. "I threw it in anger at an old woman on earth because she was stealing two veils while washing clothes."
"How ridiculous you are!" exclaimed the Lord. "If I were to judge as you do, what do you think would have happened to you by now? I would no longer have any chairs, benches, armchairs, or even fire tongs, because I'd have thrown them all at sinners. It's clear that you can't stay here any longer. I want you to leave through heaven's gate. Then you may go wherever you will. Nobody shall dole out punishment but me, the Lord your God."
Saint Peter had to lead the tailor through heaven's gate, and since the tailor's shoes were torn and his feet were covered with blisters, the tailor took a stick in his hand for a cane and walked to Waitawhile, where the good soldiers sit and make merry.
--from The Complete Fairy Tales of The Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes.
1. The tailor is accused of stealing cloth; in folklore many trades have their traditional manners of thieving: thus millers give back short weight for what they grind, cooks keep the best food for themselves, and butlers the best wine.
2. The Lord's armchair: in Norse mythology the Seat of Odin has similar properties. When the wrong person (Frey) sits in it, what he sees sets off a chain of events that leads to great misfortune for the gods.
3. Waitawhile: also called (in another translation) the Waitabit Inn. A conventional place to leave rascally protagonists in congenial surroundings; if not happily ever after, at least in jovial circumstances.
4. The woodcut illustration is by Albrecht Durer of the Ancient of Days seated among the seven candlesticks of the churches, being adored by St. John.


john said...

It seems the Lord was pretty easy on the old sinner. Waitawhile sounds kind of fun. I wonder if the stool whacked the washerwoman, and who the lucky person who found the footstool was!

Anonymous said...

Well, He is the nice one.