The tale of Great Claus and Little Claus is quite mild, as fucked-up fairy tales go, but still memorable and highly enjoyable. I’m currently reading through the ultimate and phenomenal Hans Christian Anderson collection (note: not actual book title), and it’s definitely my favourite so far. Are you sitting comfortably?
Once upon a time there lived two men in a village; both were named Claus. According to the ancient school-yard prophecy we are all aware of, when two have the same name they can either become best friends or mortal enemies. Let’s see how the two Claus’s got on, shall we?
In order to differentiate between the two men named Claus, the townsfolk called the Claus who owned four horses Great Claus. The clearly inferior Claus had but a single horse so everyone just affectionately called him Little Claus, and congratulated themselves over Little Claus’s budding inferiority complex.
Now Great Claus and Little Claus had an amicable deal going on:
“Through the whole week, Little Claus was obliged to plough for Great Claus, and lend him his one horse; and once a week, on a Sunday, Great Claus lent him all his four horses. Then how Little Claus would smack his whip over all five horses, they were as good as his own on that one day. The sun shone brightly, and the church bells were ringing merrily as the people passed by, dressed in their best clothes, with their prayer-books under their arms. They were going to hear the clergyman preach. They looked at Little Claus ploughing with his five horses, and he was so proud that he smacked his whip, and said, “Gee-up, my five horses.””
Sounds like he’s a happy lad, Little Claus. Though he’s clearly getting a bit of a raw deal, he’s making the most of it, and finding a bit of happiness in his day. Good old Little Claus. We like Little Claus. Let’s see what happens when someone fucks with Little Claus.
It turns out, Great Claus (hereafter, I have just decided, known as GC) didn’t like Little Claus (LC) acting as if all the horses were his on a Sunday. If the passers-by took LC seriously, GC could be demoted to a lesser Claus. But LC wasn’t having any of that; he had five horses on a Sunday, and it was his one chance to feel like a bigger Claus. So he continued to pretend to call the horses his own, if only to feel a little better about himself.
So GC, royally fucked off now, killed LC’s one and only horse.
LC, making the best of a bad situation, decided to flay his horse and sell the skin at the market. But in order to get to the market he had to pass through a dark wood and, as always in fairy tales, he got a bit lost and scared. But finally he came across a farmhouse where he hoped he could rest for the night. Unfortunately the farmer’s wife was having none of it, as her hubby wouldn’t allow her to let strangers in the house. So stubborn old LC decides to make a bed on the roof farmhouse’s adjacent shed. Because someone may not let you in their house, but their shed roof is obviously fair game. From the roof, LC could see into the house where the farmer’s wife was conducting an illicit affair. Okay, not exactly, she had the church sexton round for dinner while her husband was out, but the subtext here is obvious.
LC could see all the food laid out for the sexton, the wine, the pungent fish (behave), all spread out on the table (seriously, behave). He was starving, but had no time to figure out a plan to nick some food because at that moment the farmer returned home for the evening.
Now the farmer was, according to Hans Christian Anderson, a very good man but he simply could not endure the sight of a sexton. Just couldn’t hack it. One sight of one would send him into a frenzy. Probably a murderous one at that. No one knew why the farmer did suffer such an extreme prejudice (I expect the cause was: plot), but nonetheless they could not deny it was a totally legit thing. So, the sexton naturally only visited his friend the farmer’s wife when she was alone in the house. But upon hearing the return of the hubby, wifey got scared and hid the sexton in the cupboard because this is where clichés come from. Wifey then hid the wine and shoved the food in the oven so husband wouldn’t see anything.
Before entering his abode, the farmer spotted LC on the roof and invited him into the house, because anyone hiding on your roof is clearly not a burglar or anything. Wifey served them both up a bit of porridge, but LC wasn’t having any of that. He wanted all the decent shit that wifey hid in the oven. Not wanting to out the wife, he thought of a ruse. He still had his bag of horse skin that was lying under the table. He kicked it a little so it squeaked, prompting the farmer to ask what he had in his sack.
“Oh, it is a conjuror,” said Little Claus; “and he says we need not eat porridge, for he has conjured the oven full of roast meat, fish, and pie.”
The farmer was thrilled, and he opened the oven to find all manner of wonderful things. Nom nom nom. LC, onto a good thing here, kicked the sack of skin yet again, then telling the farmer that the conjuror in the sack had conjured them up some wine.
So wifey was obliged to bring out her hidden wine and let the farmer get quite drunk on it, at which point he decided it would be a great idea to ask the conjuror to summon the Devil himself.
Conveniently, this allowed LC to say, “yes, my conjuror slave in my sack under the table can conjure anything. He will in fact conjure up the dark one for you, but he’ll look oddly like a sexton and he’ll be in that cupboard over there, but just go with it.”
And lo and behold, when the farmer went to open the cupboard, there was a sexton inside. Utterly convinced now, the farmer decided to buy the conjuror from LC in exchange for a bushel of gold, one night’s lodging and, of course, the cupboard containing the sexton/Devil himself. Not sure which was the lesser evil in the farmer’s mind, but either way, he couldn’t have it in his house.
So after a night’s rest, LC trotted off home with his sexton-filled cupboard and bushel of gold. He stopped across a bridge and realized he could make even more money by being a dick. He said loudly,
“Now what shall I do with this stupid chest; it is as heavy as if it were full of stones: I shall be tired if I roll it any farther, so I may as well throw it in the river; if it swims after me to my house, well and good, and if not, it will not much matter.”
The sexton screamed to be let out but LC, pretending to still believe the sexton was in fact the Devil, cried out in alarm and began pushing the cupboard over the bridge to drown the sexton in the river below. Then the sexton brought up the subject of payment and LC changed his mind. He let the sexton go in return for another bushel of cash. We don’t like Little Claus anymore.
Next on LC’s agenda was to fuck with GC. He achieved this by returning home and promptly sending a village boy to go to GC’s house and borrow a goddamn bushel measure. There really isn’t any finer way to bait someone, I’ll give LC credit for that.
So GC was obviously intrigued; I killed the bastard’s horse, he thought, where the hell did he get so much money from? So much money that he has to borrow my bushel measure? LC told him he sold his horse’s skin for a shit-ton of cash. And naturally GC then went and killed his four horses, flayed ’em, and attempted to sell the skins for a bushel of gold each. The villagers naturally thought he was taking the piss, that GC took them for fools! They couldn’t have that! So they beat the shit out of him and ran him out of town.
It began to dawn on GC that LC may have been messing with him.
As is convenient to the plot, LC’s grandmother decided to pass away at this juncture. LC decided to lay the old woman’s corpse in his own bed to see if she could be brought back to life. I’m not fucking joking here’s the quote:
“he was very sorry, and took the dead woman and laid her in his warm bed to see if he could bring her to life again.“
So, in order to give this experiment enough time to work, the competent scientist should allow a good eight hours or so to see if the corpse can actually be resurrected. Right? Right? And that’s what LC decided to do, he sat in his chair and waited. And while he was waiting, GC broke into LC’s house. GC crept up the stairs into LC’s dark bedroom. GC could only see a shape in LC’s bed which, given all available evidence, was likely to be LC himself. GC wasted no time assessing the matter; he struck LC’s dead grandmother on the head with a hatchet.
LC kind of could not believe his luck. For one thing, he could have died right then and there. For another, it was a good thing granny was already dead. Well not a good thing per se, but let’s not digress. And for another matter, LC knew he could make another bushel of gold out of this whole debacle.
LC dressed his dead grandmother to the nines and chucked her in the back of a carriage. Well he didn’t chuck her, he presented her nicely. He took the carriage out and stopped at an inn, asking the landlord to take his granny a class of mead.
“Here is a glass of mead from your grandson,” said the landlord. The dead woman did not answer a word, but sat quite still. “Do you not hear?” cried the landlord as loud as he could; “here is a glass of mead from your grandson.”
Again and again he bawled it out, but as she did not stir he flew into a passion, and threw the glass of mead in her face; it struck her on the nose, and she fell backwards out of the cart, for she was only seated there, not tied in.
“Hallo!” cried Little Claus, rushing out of the door, and seizing hold of the landlord by the throat; “you have killed my grandmother; see, here is a great hole in her forehead.”
“Oh, how unfortunate,” said the landlord, wringing his hands. “This all comes of my fiery temper. Dear Little Claus, I will give you a bushel of money; I will bury your grandmother as if she were my own; only keep silent, or else they will cut off my head, and that would be disagreeable.”
And so it came to be that LC got himself another bushel of cash by extorting the emotions of others. But no transaction would be complete without fucking with GC once more. In exactly the same way as last time…
Yes, GC killed his grandmother then tried to sell the body.
When GC finally realized he had been had yet again, he tried yet again to murder LC. This time he did not fuck around with chances. He just strolled over to LC, put him in a bag, and head off to the river. But here is where he made his fatal mistake: he stopped halfway to the lake to attend church. To get divine reassurance that he was doing the right thing? Maybe. The point being, he left LC in the sack outside, where LC had the opportunity to trick an old cattle driver into switching places with him.
“Presently an old cattle driver, with snowy hair, passed by, carrying a large staff in his hand, with which he drove a large herd of cows and oxen before him. They stumbled against the sack in which lay Little Claus, and turned it over. “Oh dear,” sighed Little Claus, “I am very young, yet I am soon going to heaven.”
“And I, poor fellow,” said the drover, “I who am so old already, cannot get there.”
“Open the sack,” cried Little Claus; “creep into it instead of me, and you will soon be there.”
“With all my heart,” replied the drover, opening the sack, from which sprung Little Claus as quickly as possible. “Will you take care of my cattle?” said the old man, as he crept into the bag.
“Yes,” said Little Claus, and he tied up the sack, and then walked off with all the cows and oxen.”
GC, none the wiser, returned from church, picked up and sack and continued onto the river where he mercilessly drowned the old man. He then turned around and who should he see? LC with a herd of cows.
In his finest impression of a gorilla, GC scratched his head in confusion,
“Did I not drown you just now?” he grunted.
“You did!” said LC, “And thank you, for if you hadn’t drowned me I would not have come across the wonderful, uh, sea-cows! Yeeeees, the sea-cows which I found after the…mermaid totally rescued me. Mermaid. Yeah.”
“Well….I want some sea-cows.” said GC.
And I do believe you can guess the ending to this story.
You can probably guess the moral of this story too, which is don’t trust any fucker named Claus.