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"The Woodcutter's Son"

sim's picture

ONCE upon a time, there lived a poor woodcutter, a widower with two sons. His sons were twins and were as alike as two robin's eggs in a nest. The way the woodcutter knew who was whom was that one boy had a string tied around his left wrist and the other boy had a string tied around his right wrist.

One day, in winter, when the ground was hard and painful to walk upon, the woodcutter went into the forest to cut down a tree crowned with mistletoe to sell to a witch in the village.

He took his children with him because the twins were of the age when boys want to follow their fathers everywhere. The woodcutter went deep into the forest until he found a tall oak with mistletoe in the topmost branches.

He took his axe and began chopping the trunk of the oak. He watched his sons dart around the trees, playing. Finally, he judged that his children needed to be behind him for safety's sake, because he needed but a handful of strokes to fell the tree. He called out for his sons to come to him, but only one came from behind the tree.

"Where is your brother?" demanded the woodcutter, but the boy wouldn't answer.

For hours, they searched, but the other boy wasn't to be found. The woodcutter ran to the village, carrying the son he still had. He went to the witch, demanding she help him find the missing boy.

They returned to the woods, to the oak tree, and searched until daybreak. "Is there nothing you can do?" begged the woodcutter.

The witch answered that she could use the magic of twins to return the missing boy, but the woodcutter would only see one child at a time.

The woodcutter closed his eyes. He heard the boys greet each other and they laughed about hiding and finding one another. He opened his eyes and saw his son, the one with the string on the other wrist. But he saw only the one child.

"Where have you been?" cried the woodcutter. "Where is your brother?" But the boy couldn't answer his father, no matter how much he tried. The woodcutter took his one son home.

Whenever his back was turned or his eyes were closed or he was in another room, he would hear the twins, but when he looked, it was always the boy with the string tied on the other wrist.

After a few years, the woodcutter came upon a plan to have both his sons around him, always. He took a hot poker from the hearth of the fireplace and put out his eyes.

As the years passed, he heard his sons grow up. He heard the voices of his sons' wives and of his sons' children. The woodcutter's cabin was filled with the voices of his family.

One day, the woodcutter grew ill. His son, the one with the string tied around the other wrist, went to the village and fetched the witch. The witch went to the woodcutter's room, to his bed, and gave him a poultice of mistletoe.

For days, the woodcutter healed until his illness ended. But the poultice worked too well. The woodcutter's eyes were healed.

He looked around his empty cabin. He ran outside, hoping to hear any sound of his family, but all he found outside was a pile of bones, one of which had a string around it.

The End.

good and grim

You've got a good tone here, appropriate for a fairy tale with an edge to it. The structure of the story really works well too. It has the feel of a tale that's making a point about how the world works.

Not quite sure about the links between the woodcutter's blindness, the mistletoe, and the survival of the boys. They're implied by the witch's spell, but I'm not sure the connection is strong enough to make the pile of bones seem 'right' (by fairy tale standards).

It might be because the boy went missing, but there wasn't a sense that some great harm came on him, or that the harm might have something to do with the mistletoe tree. (Of course, maybe you didn't intend it too, but the story seems to imply that too.)

Not trying to nitpick. It just seems like another go at this might tighten it up and make it better. Hope this helps.

sim's picture

Heisenberg's Fairy Tales

At first, I thought I'd write a little thought experiment in the guise of a fairy tale. I thought I'd try to illustrate wave-particle duality by using twins both of whom you could never see at the same time; if you looked (observed, as the physicists say) you'd only see one. Looking back, I'd have been better off using Clark Kent and Superman (except in Superman 2, Supes appeared to be in 2 places at once in what I thought was an example of super-speed).

Anyway, putting his eyes out kept the probability field from collapsing. Until the last bit, which seemed to fit the fairy tale, but was admittedly arbitrary and mostly served to end the story. I'll see about tightening it.


ryeguy123's picture


I had the same confusion, trying to figure out the cause and effect of what was going on. Your explanation makes me appreciate the story much more. A fairy tale where the sons are like Schrodinger's cat. If you could give us readers some more hints of this dimension to the story, that would really enhance it.

The tone of the storytellng was spot on.

Ryan Somma