Gredzens (The Ring): A Fairytale about following and leading*

Posted by jlubans on February 12, 2012

(Illustration 1. A collection of plays by Mirdza Timma)
RAITS is the prince, born to wealth and splendor. TISS is the orphaned, barefoot swineherd. Legend has it that a miasma-shrouded castle, laden with treasure, in the middle of an enchanted forest awaits a liberator. But only if the knight errant can survive a battle with a 9-headed dragon and discover a magic ring – hidden somewhere in the wooded landscape - before darkness descends. If you fail, you turn into a tree and join the many other failed adventurers.

I like fairy tales as a rule, and this one, by Mirdza Timma, sang to me. Raits is not your usual entitled royal, looking down his aristocratic nose at the lesser among us. Nor is the outcast Tiss the cowering rustic scraping and bowing to his “betters”. Each - Raits and Tiss - is his own person. Tiss loves his pigs and the pigsty. Often, he sleeps out of doors and is happiest with his pigs in the fields and forests. He knows the forest world. Raits, chivalrous, well trained and courageous, undertakes the dangerous challenge. He does so to do good and because it is his destiny.

When none of the courtiers will accompany Raits to liberate the castle, someone suggests the expendable Tiss. Tiss knows he has to say yes, but he brings his own contrarian knowledge and skills to the challenge. We discover how what the prince does – rationalizing where he will go and what he will do – is balanced by Tiss’ intimate and intuitive knowledge of the forest and the ways of nature. Instead of being a liability, the swineherd complements the prince.

At the forest’s perimeter, Raits tells Tiss not to accompany him any further, essentially sparing Tiss’ life. Tiss, after a short nap, enters the forest regardless and takes the trail perceived as the most dangerous. He comes to Raits rescue – the 9-headed dragon (a “moving hill”) is about to chow-down on Raits. Tiss whips out his slingshot and systematically knocks out each head. Raits then chops off the heads, one by one.

The quest is not complete. The ring is still to be found. Tiss is hungry and shoots a stone into a nut tree, bringing down clusters of nuts to eat. By chance, one falls into his pocket.

Sunset is not far off. After a final handshake initiated by the prince, they have a Don Quixote (Raits) and Sancho Panza (Tiss) exchange about the qualities of tree bark, roots and the best exposure for trees, while awaiting the inevitable. They stand together late into the night. Nothing happens. Raits is puzzled since he knows that only the ring could spare them. Still, they receive a heroic welcome back at his castle.

Tiss, of course, has the ring in his pocket – it fell out of the nut tree. It takes a while for Tiss – a bit of an oaf to all but Raits - to figure out what he might have done with the ring. With the guidance of a wise old magician, Raits’ encouragement, and some more adventures in the forest, Tiss relocates the ring. He gives it to Raits so he can claim the castle. The prince refuses to put it on his finger – it is Tiss’. Doing so, the fog dissipates in the enchanted forest. The old heroes revive, transformed from trees to human forms. The sun shines on the castle with its “amber framed” windows, a “garden where the nightingales sang and the brooks splashed cool and clear water,” quenching thirst and giving wisdom. Raits and Tiss jointly take possession of the liberated castle and they rule wisely and kindly, “in harmony and friendship,” for many years.

Tiss has many traits of the best followers (independent – even, contrarian - thinking, a willingness to learn, courage, intelligence and humility). Raits is the born leader sensible enough to appreciate Tiss and then at the end to share his princely power with the swineherd. Raits, understands how Tiss complements the prince’s own good qualities.
(Illustration 2. Cover of Miglas kamoliņš :pasakas (folktales) by Mirdza Timma. Published in Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC, [2008]. This book may have the ring story in it.) Update, February 20. The Ring is not in this book. Rather it is in this one by Mirdza Timma published in 1953: Zelta atslēdziņa pasakas. My library colleague tells me a copy can be found at the U of Minnesota!
I hope to track down the original Latvian language version of this story for my planned short course in Riga: "Democracy in the Workplace: Self-Managing Teams & Managing Self". I look forward to that class discussion!
August 19, 2012 UPDATE: Also available in Latvian in Timma’s 1953 book: Zelta atslēdziņa pasakas 1953 (Saturs: Zelta atslēdziņa. Kalps Andis. Mairas āboli. Zobens. Ķēniņa draugi. Pūķa kāvējs. Uģa cirvis. Divas laimes. Gredzens.)

*Timma, Mirdza (1925-1962), “The Ring” (Gredzens) in the anthology, Latvian Literature, edited by Aleksis Rubulis. Consulting editor, Marvin J. Lahood. Toronto: Daugava Vanags Publishers. 1964. pp. 370 – 382 translated by Austra Zervins with a drawing of Ms. Timma by Gvido Brūveris.

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