Three Fairytales by Manfred Kyber

Translated by William J. Jackson

“Wintertime”; illustration by Eduard Schultz, 1867; courtesy

Translator’s Preface: Manfred Kyber (1880-1933) was born in Riga, now the capital of Latvia, but then a part of Russia. His family was German and when he was still a small boy they moved back to Germany. He studied philosophy at the University of Leipzig and later moved to Berlin where he published a novel, poetry, and theater criticism. He married Elisabeth Boltho, a Theosophist through whom he met Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and mystic, and became associated with the anthroposophical movement, which Steiner led. Kyber was not only a pacifist but an outspoken early proponent of animal rights. As well as poetry and novels, he published several volumes of fables and fairy tales, many of which have been translated into English. See the note at the end for links and further details about the translation and translator. Please note that we have also posted three other fairy tales by Kyber. WJJ

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The Snowman

Once upon a time there was a snowman who stood in the middle of the deep snow-covered forest, and he was made entirely of snow. He had no legs, and his eyes were made of coal—that’s all he had, and that’s not much. And he was cold, terribly cold. That’s what the grumbling old icicle that hung nearby said too, though he himself was even colder. “You are cold,” he said reproachfully to the snowman.

The snowman was hurt. “Well, you’re cold too,” he answered.

“Yes, but that’s something else again entirely,” said the icicle with a superior tone.

The snowman was so offended that he would have gone away if he had had any legs. But he had no legs and so he remained standing there, though he did decide to speak no more with the unfriendly icicle.

Meanwhile, the icicle had discovered something else to be irritated about and to criticize: a weasel ran along the path and with a hurried greeting passed the two of them. “You are long, much too long!” the icicle shouted after him. “And if I were as long as you are I wouldn’t go out on the street!”

“Look who’s talking!” growled the weasel, surprised and offended.

“That’s something else again entirely. I’m above you and beyond reproach,” said the icicle with impudent smugness, and he crackled too, in the sheer chill of the frosty air.

The snowman was furious over this rude manner of treating the folks who passed through the forest, and he turned himself as far as possible from the icicle.

Then someone laughed high above the snowman in the branches of the snow-laden fir tree, and when he looked up, there sat a beautiful, soft, white snow-elf; and she shook her long flowing hair, so that a thousand little snow-stars fell straight downwards onto the poor snowman’s head. Then the little snow-elf laughed all the more loudly and heartily.

The snowman, however, felt a very strange mood coming over him, and he did not know what he should say, and then finally he said: “I do not know what this is.”

“That is something else again entirely,” sneered the nearby icicle.

But the snowman was in such a strange mood that he didn’t even hear the icicle. He just looked high above himself into the fir tree, where, up in the crown of the tree the white snow-elf swayed, and shook her long flowing hair so that a thousand tiny snow-stars descended. The snowman wanted very much to say something to that little one up there above him, about whom he knew nothing, and he wanted to say something about that-which-he-didn’t-know-what-it-was, and which the icicle had said was something else again entirely.

The snowman thought a terribly long time, until his coal eyes were actually almost popping out of his head just from his thinking. And finally he knew what he wanted to say, and so he said:

Snow-elf in silver moonlight,
You shall be my heart’s delight!

Then he said no more, for he had the feeling that the little snow-elf must say something, and to be sure that too was not wrong. The little snow-elf, however, said nothing, but laughed so loudly and heartily that the old fir tree, which was not prepared for such a commotion, was shocked and became cross when the branch shook, and even noisily creaked.

Then it happened that the poor cold snowman became so burning hot around his heart that he actually began to melt, and that was not good. First his head melted, and that is the most unpleasant part—after that the going gets a little easier.

But the little snow-elf sat silently high above in the white crown of the fir tree, and she rocked and swayed and laughed and shook her long flowing hair, so that a thousand little stars of snow drifted down. The poor snowman melted more and more, and became smaller and more wretched, and all this was happening because of his burning heart. And so it continued, and before long the snowman was barely a snowman anymore, and then Christmas Eve came, and the little angels polished the golden and the silver stars in heaven so that they would shine brilliantly in the holy night.

And then something wonderful happened.

When the little snow-elf saw all the stars on that holy night she got into a strange mood, and she looked to where the snowman stood below, now nearly melted away. Then it was that the snow-elf also began to burn hotly around the heart, and she scurried down from the high treetop and kissed the snowman on the mouth—as much of it as there was left. And as the two burning hearts came together both of them quickly melted, so that even the icicle had to wonder about it— so distasteful and incomprehensible did the whole affair seem to him.

So, only the two burning hearts remained, and the snow queen had them brought to the crystal palace which is so beautiful and everlasting, never melting away. And for those two all the bells rang that holy night.

But as the bells rang, the weasel came out again, because he liked the sound of the bells, and then he saw that the couple was gone. “The couple has indeed vanished,” he said. “That must be Christmas magic.”

“Oh, that’s something else again entirely,” said the icicle thoughtlessly, and the weasel indignantly went back inside his home.

On that spot however, where the two had melted, there fell thousands upon thousands of tiny soft white flakes, so that nothing more could be seen or said about them. Only the icicle remained hanging there just as tightly as it had hung in the first place, and it will never melt from a burning heart; nor will it come into the crystal palace of the snow queen. For it is something else again entirely.

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The Little Root Professor

Once upon a time there was a little Root Professor who stood in the forest and was made entirely of roots. His trunk, his arms, and his legs were roots, and so was his head. The little Root Professor was only a teeny-tiny piece of a very tall tree, the tip-top of which he had never seen, and which he said did not exist.

Birds who had built their nests up at the top of the tree often perched on the little Root Professor’s nose and sang the most magnificent songs to him about the tip-top of the very tall tree, the tree of which he himself was only a teeny-tiny piece. But the little Root Professor still did not believe it, even when the birds sang into both his ears at once. And a squirrel too, running up and down the tree on his daily affairs had told the little Root Professor of all the miracles which could be seen above.

“There are wonders upon wonders,” said the squirrel. “And above all is heaven.”

“There’s no such thing,” said the little Root Professor. “For how could anything exist which I have not illuminated?”

The little Root Professor actually was able to glow, and I would like to tell you how it came about that he was able to cast light.

Since he was so firmly rooted he was not able to move from the spot where he stood, and all he ever did was think. And he thought so much that his head gradually became completely rotten. Now it so happens that his head was made of wood, and everyone knows that rotten wood glows in the dark. So the head of the little Root Professor glowed, and ever since he began to glow he was very pleased. Only it shouldn’t be too bright out, and the moon shouldn’t shine—the moon, which he didn’t know about, and which he denied.

At first when the little Root Professor grew rotten he was barely noticeable, but as years went on he began to glow so much that by his luster the earthworms were able to find their way around easily, and the woodchucks could see well enough to tally up their acorns. But of course, for the little Root Professor to be able to cast any light, it had to be quite dark out. So, the little Root Professor stood there in the still night as always, and he thought, and he glowed.

One night, however, was not an ordinary night, because the star of love was in the heavens. That night was not an ordinary night. It was the night the poet led home his beloved through the Fairytale Woods, which was his home. And as he reached the midway point in the deep Fairytale Woods where the seven silver springs flow, the poet kissed his beloved on the mouth, and fastened a rare crown on her head. There was something about the crown which was not of this earth, something which only a poet can braid in his beloved’s hair.

The star of love in God’s heaven was shining down on the two lovers below, and its light became engulfed in the crown on the maiden’s head. Then the crown blazed in a thousand wonderful colors, which were more beautiful than all the colors of the earth. For the maiden was the poet’s beloved and it was the crown of immortality which she wore. By the light of the crown the whole Fairytale Woods was illuminated— the water fairies rose from the dark waters, the elves tossed their veils back and forth, while the distant bells of sunken cities rang and rang.

And the creatures of the woods all came out to look around— the frog singing songs of praise, and even the mushrooms, who doffed their hats, saluting on all sides. Because a poet’s beloved is queen of all of Fairyland!

And only the little Root Professor saw nothing of the poet and his beloved, nor of the star of love, nor of the crown of immortality. He stood and cast his light, and thought that all the shining in heaven and on earth could only come from the light which he so fixedly beamed forth.

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The Other Shore

Once upon a time there was a collector, who collected all sorts of strange objects from distant lands. He collected ordinary everyday things too, but only those which had a special meaning, and had a particular history. The collector knew how to read the histories of these curious objects as few other people were able to, for it is not an easy art. So, he sat, day and night, amid all these strange items and tried to read the destinies they implied, knowing that humanity’s future depended on their proper interpretation. Like a broad stream, poor entangled humanity flooded around him as he stood by the shore and looked with understanding eyes, as wave upon wave passed him by.

But he sensed that he still lacked something; he knew that human life, about which he had read so much, had not only this one shore on which he stood and watched. He knew that it must also have another shore, and he sought that other shore— how long he had sought it already! But he hadn’t found it yet, though he hoped to find it sometime for certain. He sought in all the shops of all the towns, hoping that he might find something which could tell him something about the other shore. He had been a lifelong collector and seeker, and he had learned to be quite patient.

Then one time he came upon a very curious small-wares shop in a distant southern town. The shop was a genuine small-wares shop of life, for in it were represented all the things you could think of in human life, from the rarest most precious things down to the most commonplace trifles, and each thing, as is fitting and proper, had it’s own history. This unique curio shop had so many odds and ends, it was truly an amazing treasure-house of collectible keepsakes.

The collector, with his great experience, looked upon all the various kinds of items in the curiosity shop. Many pleased him very much, and he would have gladly bought lots of them, but each somehow reminded him of some other item which he had already seen and had already acquired.

“This is surely the strangest collection of things from human life that I’ve ever seen,” said the collector, and indeed, the shopkeeper appeared to be no ordinary merchant. For he had something calm and solemn in his character. The collector asked the shopkeeper if he might have something here which could tell him about the other shore.

In truth, the shopkeeper was not an ordinary merchant. He knew all too well how much pain and how many tears the many things which people bought from him at an expensive price brought to those very same people. They acquired the many things they bought with such a fervor that it seemed as if their entire lives depended on it. Very seldom did anyone come with a desire for the right object. Now, as the foreign collector asked the shopkeeper about the other shore, the shopkeeper smiled, and handed him a small lantern, which was not very showy, but was made with perfect workmanship. And this light burned already with an exquisite bluish flame without needing to be lit.

“These lamps are rarely given away,” said the merchant. “They are given only to those who ask about the other shore.”

“Then can this lamp tell me something about the other shore?” asked the collector, as he examined the lamp with a gaze of interest and astonishment, for he had nothing like this in his own collection, and it was something which he had never seen before anywhere.

“The lamp is not allowed to tell you anything about the other shore,” said the merchant. “You yourself must travel to the other shore. But the lamp will glow for you and show you the way to the other shore.”

Then the collector thanked the merchant and asked him what he would have to pay for the lamp.

“I have many objects here in my shop which a person can buy at a cheap price,” said the merchant. “And also among these things I have many which a person cannot buy, even in exchange for a kingdom. But the little lamp which you have in your hand costs nothing, since you asked about going to the other shore. It is your lamp, and it is an eternal lamp, and it will show you the way to the other shore.”

And so the collector became a wanderer. He left behind all the many curious things which up until then he had collected, and he traveled with the light of the eternal lamp, seeking after the other shore.

He saw many marvelous things along the way, things that he had never seen before. He saw how stone moved and shaped itself; he saw into the dreams of flowers, and he understood the speech of the animals.

But gradually the way of the wanderer became ever more solitary and deserted. He stood alone in a desert and saw seven steep craggy mountains. The lamp cast its little light on his path and told him that he had to climb all seven of the mountains. So he climbed all seven of the mountains, and from each mountain he hoped to see the other shore, but he didn’t see it. An icy new snow lay on all seven summits. But in the middle of the snow bloomed a red rose, bright as a ruby. The wanderer picked the rose and took it with him on his way.

Since he had climbed all seven of the mountains and had gathered the seven roses from the new icy snow of the peaks, he now stood before a gloomy gate. The gatekeeper stepped up to him and asked him what he wanted.

“I seek the other shore,” said the wanderer.

“What do you carry with you on your way?” asked the gatekeeper.

“Seven red roses and my eternal lamp,” said the wanderer.

Then the gatekeeper let him enter through the gloomy gate. “It is a long and dark way,” said the gatekeeper. “You must go on to the end, then you will come to the endless sea.”

“I don’t want the endless sea,” said the wanderer. “I’m looking for the other shore. The endless sea is shoreless.”

“You must wait until the sun rises, then you’ll see the other shore,” the gatekeeper said.

Then the wanderer went along the long dark passageway all the way to the end, and he sat himself down by the endless sea, for he had become very weary of his wandering. The endless sea surged at his feet, and over the surging waves and above the solitary wanderer on the beach was the starry night.

And the wanderer waited and watched the entire night with his eternal lamp. It was a long night, so long he thought it might never end.

At last the stars dimmed, the surging waves became still and clear, and over the waves the sun rose. And in the light of the risen sun a shining island emerged, rising high in the middle of the endless sea.

Now the wanderer realized that this was the other shore which he had been seeking. Through the darkness a dove came flying, and the dove showed the wanderer the way to the island, and he proceeded over the endless sea as certainly as if it were clear crystal, to the other shore.

About the other shore, however, I may tell you no more, just as the lamp could not. Each person must travel by himself or herself to the other shore, with the light of one’s own eternal lamp.

For the fairytale of the other shore is the fairytale of the wanderer.

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A NOTE ON THE TEXT: The German originals of these stories, “Der Schneemann”; “Der Kleine Wurzelprofessor”, and “Der Andere Ufer” were first published in Märchen, Stuttgart/Heilbronn: Walter Seifert Verlag, 1922.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Besides the information given in the Preface, we might also recommend this informative German language site on Kyber’s life and writings. There is also an page listing some of Kyber’s English language editions. The six stories that we have posted here have all been newly translated from the German by our Literary Editor, William J. Jackson. For further information about William, and links to his other postings, please click on this Author’s page link.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi