I’ve been re-reading, MLVF’s “Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales.” Like most of her books, this is a transcribed lecture filled with insights gleaned from decades of analytical work—both on herself and for her patients.
Von Franz and the joke story.
One chapter explored the Grimm tale, “The Straw, the Coal and the Bean.” Some websites call this a “household tale.” Von Franz describes it as a Schwank –a joke-story. MLVF notes that this joke (like all humor) has many “dark” elements.
After admitting that she finds these stories the hardest to interpret, Von Franz dissects each image in the tale: the old woman, the act of cooking, the fire, the straw, coal, bean, bridge, tailor, and thread.
Does she ruin a joke with these “amplifications” and interpretation? MLVF admits that the joke itself (as the dream itself) is always better than any interpretation. Read the original (above) and see what you think. Do you want more info, or is the tale satisfying enough alone?
My favorite amplifications concern the bridge. According to Von Franz, the bridge links the unconscious to consciousness. She says that the straw has associations with pagan rituals and the underworld. It is an image linked to the unconscious. Like an unconscious impulse, the straw lacks self-knowledge—thinking it can build a bridge toward consciousness, when it cannot. The coal also lacks self-knowledge—it is hotheaded. Von Franz writes, “(the coal) becomes frightened at hearing her own opposite! Water and fire are the great opposites….if you get to the middle of the bridge that unites the opposites; you cannot cross it if you don’t know your own opposite. That is why you cannot be changed in analysis if you don’t know your own shadow, if you don’t know that all your ideals have a very seamy underside. Without that awareness, you can’t cross into new life. There’s no transition without a confrontation of the opposites.”
The image of the bursting bean is perfect, isn’t it? Why? It must be an archetypal image. It is provocative. In the movie, “Alien” it was a horrible sight, but here it is funny. A little bean popping open the way it would if cooked too long. Here, the bean laughs too hard. Any extreme can lead to a breaking apart.
The bean laughs at the misfortune of the others and so has great misfortune himself—then we mirror the story and laugh at the bean. It is charming–the tale ensures that you’ll recall it when eating a bean. Like all traditional tales (MLVF says this story is very ancient), The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean has many layers of possible meanings, including several cautions about how to live.