Now I wonder if I didn’t dream it. This image of a red rose and a white spider curled inside the petals.
Was it a part of this story? Or, does it belong in one of the other books I’ve been reading this week?
Even though I’ve reread “Jorinda and Jorindel” twice, I haven’t rediscovered the rose. If I did dream it, I shan’t tell Irmgard’s father and mother about it.
They don’t want to hear about someone else’s dream. And that’s understandable (it’s unusual for someone else’s dream to hold any meaning for another).
It’s also possible that this entire story turns on their refusal, on their unwillingness to step off the beaten path, even though readers don’t learn of it until the end of the story.
It’s possible that Irmgard’s story is a response to their fixed view of the world. That “Jorinda and Jorindel” is Irmgard’s insistence that nobody can silence the imagination.
Does she wake on this summer morning, caught in the half-truths of childhood? Has she allowed the quotidian detail of who braids her hair and the best swimming hole to mix with the memory of unripe blackberries and polluted waterways and fairy tales read to her by her caregivers? Or does she deliberately mislead readers, draw them into risky territory?
“Naturally no child should go near a strange forest. There are chances of getting lost. There is the witch who changes children into birds.”
In the Grimms’ fairy tale, titled “Jorinda and Joringel” in my childhood copy, there is a witch who changes children into birds, and a boy whose magic rose allows him to break the spell of the witch to reunite him with a girl who has been transformed and caged.
In Mavis Gallant’s story, Mrs. Partridge and the other adults are preoccupied with their own entertainment, but all of them have their own ideas about the best companion for young Irmgard. (And what an evocative name is Mrs. Bloodworth!)
But there are no tidy parallels. Instead, there are echoes of familiar tales. An orphan and a boat, all-night dancing and a straw-stuffed pillow, a poisonous plant and a looking-glass, satin shoes and shed tears. And the overt references of forests and transformations. Of destiny and dreams.
In the fairy tale, the boy’s rose acts as a defense; those who are prevented by magic from uniting are reunited thanks to the power of the rose. In Mavis Gallant’s story, the younger and poor boy who plays with Irmgard at the lake house every summer, does not know the names of flowers and sees blue and green as the same colour, whereas the older and privileged boy who has shown up this summer, has confidence and knowledge which impress Irmgard so much that she forgets her young playmate and confuses him with a paintbox.
At the heart of these stories rests the question of what we dismiss and what we embrace. Sometimes we reside in cages of our own making and sometimes we trust in a rose. Sometimes there is a spider.