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(excerpts from posts)
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1) I am preparing to do a set of folk and fairy tales from England and one I want to tell is the Old Woman in the Vinegar Bottle. I think of a vinegar bottle as one containing Heinz Vinegar. What is meant by the Vinegar Bottle in this story?

2) I'm curious about the original structure the fisherman and his wife live in, in the Grimm tale. (Actually, it's a Runge tale, but that's a separate issue.) I've seen it translated a number of ways. Hovel seems to work, or shack for those who like transparent speech, but it seems like at least once it was translated as "chamber pot."
Response: I'm not sure about the Runge/Grimm house, but in Britain it's very common to describe shabby, dirty, or otherwise unpleasant buildings as "a right shit-hole." Pardon my French. (Although come to think of it, it's not regarded as an especially vulgar phrase.) Another common phrase involving excrement is the rather judgemental "piss-poor." For exemplo: "He had a piss-poor excuse for not turning up the other day."

3) When we talked about this once before, Brit John Row explained about the house (as others have just now) and added that, even knowing about that, he rather liked the image of the old girl leaning back against a jar of CH3COOH. When I tell the story, I always tell about the house but invite kids (that's who I tell it to) to imagine whatever kind of vinegar bottle they want to.

4) I think this came up before, but I found the reference online
that suggests it was a kind of house where hops were stored or dried - would be like living in a grain silo.
Response: I couldn't help noticing that, excepting for the information about vinegar bottle possibly being colloquial for a storage house, the rest of the story's background information at that website is lifted nearly whole cloth from Margaret Read MacDonald's THE STORYTELLERS START-UP BOOK, 1993, August House. And the text of the story itself is presented word for word, indent for indent, the same as MacDonald's. The plagerism is doubly unfortunate given that the website is a scouting resource. More's the pity, because Margaret is usually very generous in giving permission to use her work.
Response: Well, you've just answered a question in my mind, for I kept thinking, "That's the BEST version of Vinegar Bottle that I've ever read." In fact, I've often thought of telling it, but hadn't liked ANY version that I found. So when I tell MY adaptation of it later this month, I'll be sure to mention Margaret Read McDonald as a wonderful source and inspiration!

5) I either read or heard the introduction that you may have heard of salt box houses--and there may have been others, like gingerbread houses--but this house was a vinegar bottle house.

6) For seven year olds, Margaret Reed McDonald has another great choice, the Welsh tale of "The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle." I think it is in her Storytellers Start-up Book or one of the Twenty Tellable Tales books.

I have it on good authority (John Row) that a "vinegar bottle" is actually a type of little round hut with a pointed roof, but, like him, I like to picture the woman as leaning back on a bottle of Heinz.

Bones: Once there was a little old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle. One day she was sitting beside her door and she was saying to herself "Oh, what a pity, what a pity, pity, pity, that I should have to live in a house like this. Why, I should live in a fine cottage with a thatched roof and roses growing up the walls.

Well, there was a fairy passing by, and she heard the little old woman, and she thought "Well, if that is what she wants, 'tis that she should have!"

So she went up to the little old woman and she said "Tonight when you go to bed, turn 'round three times, and close your eyes, and when you wake up in the morning, see what you shall see."

Next morning woman is living in her dream house. She says "This is just what I always wanted; I shall be so happy living here." Later, Fairy returns and hears her wish for a fine house in town with lace curtains and a brass knocker at the door; same thing happens. Then...

Fine mansion on the hill with servants to wait on me hand and foot...
I should live in the palace and be the queen...
I should be the Pope and tell people what to think!

When the fairy hears that, she says "Well, if that is what she wants, 'tis that
she shall NOT have." Gives her the same formula, though--turn round 3 times, etc.--and when she wakes up in the morning, she was living in her (kids always figure it out and say it together) vinegar bottle.

[This is a great tale for telling, because kids always join by the second or third time around with all the fairy's directions, and by the end they are practically telling it with me. It makes it very easy to commend them for being such good storytellers and charge them to go home and tell that story to somebody they know.

Funny thing happened once. I had asked at the beginning "Would you like to hear a story that comes from Wales?" The kids all said "Ye-e-e-e-s" in the way only second graders can. At the end of the story, one puzzled child raised her hand and asked "But what happened to the whales?"]

Mary Grace

(This web page updated 11/13/04)


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