In Summary: The Glass Coffin
Fairy tales are full of stories about pretty young women, enchanted, entrapped, or abandoned who are discovered and rescued by a passing prince. Though some of these tales – Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, to name a few – are well known, others, like ‘The Glass Coffin’ are less so. This particular story features not a prince and princess, but instead a tailor and a noble.
Once, a young apprentice to a tailor decided that he wanted to leave home. On his travels he found himself needing to pass through a great forest, and swiftly found himself lost within it. He wandered all day and, as night fell, resigned himself to sleeping there. The floor of the forest was covered in soft grass and fine moss and would have made quite a comfortable bed. But in the darkness of the trees, the young tailor feared that wolves or other hungry beasts would come upon him in his sleep and devour him whole.
Seeing no other option, the man climbed to the top of a tall tree and settled down on a sturdy branch for the night.
The night was cold and windy, and the tree blew this way and that, and he shivered in fear. From his vantage point, the young tailor saw in the distance, a glimmering light. Thinking that it must belong to someone human, the young tailor climbed from the tree and made his way towards it. He was correct. Soon he came to a small cottage, light still glistening from the windows. When he knocked, the door was answered by a surly man who, at first, turned this midnight stranger away. When the young tailor pleaded again, the strange man softened, allowing him a bed for the night.
The young tailor gratefully accepted, and slept the deep sleep of the dead. He would not have risen at all, had it not been for an inhuman shriek that pierced the walls of the cottage.
Hastening from his bed, the young tailor flung open the door to see two mighty creatures battling in the dawn-light. One a mighty stag, pale with tall and sharpened horns, and the other a great bull, squat and muscular, with coarse hair and fearsome horns. The two fought, the ground rocking beneath each stomp of their hooves, the forest shaking with each angry cry.
Finally, the stag manged to score a devastating blow, horns tearing into the bull’s side. The bull collapsed, blood pooling into the soft moss beneath it and still the stag did not relent – piercing the other beast with its horns until the bull fell still.
Horns still crimson, the stag turned to the young tailor, frozen in the doorway. Before he could move, the stag bounded forwards, gathering the young man in his horns and carrying him away.
The stag carried the young tailor through the forest, over streams, and across mountains. Finally, the creature stopped, and let the young man go. Still in shock, weak and damaged from the journey, it took the young tailor some time to pull himself together. When he did, he realised that he had been placed before a great wall of rock. The stag stepped forwards, and the rock opened.
The young tailor hesitated, but from the stone entrance a strange voice called, telling him not to fear, no harm would come to him. Following the voice, the young tailor entered, and found himself in a great hall, the walls and floors made of glistening polished stone. The voice came again, directing him to stand on one specific stone, in the centre of the hall. The young tailor obeyed again.
As soon as he stood on the stone, it sank, carrying him down into another, grander hall. And this one was not empty, for within sat a beautiful glass coffin and, within that, a beautiful girl.
As the young tailor watched, the young woman’s eyes flew open.
At first, she was shocked to see him there, but only for a moment before joy came over her. She begged him to release her, instructing him how to do so and, once free, she threw her arms around him and kissed him on the lips.
She told him that she was the daughter of a count, and that after the death of her parents she had been left in the care of her loving brother.
One night a strange man rode up to their manor. He was alone, and delayed on his journey, unable to reach his destination before night fell. He begged for shelter, which the young woman and her brother readily gave. The man dined with them, charming the woman’s brother and becoming fast friends, so much so that the brother begged the man to stay with them a few more days. After some hesitation, the man agreed.
That night the young woman awoke to the sound of beautiful music, enchanting enough to rouse her from her slumber and would have roused her from her bed, were she not pinned to it by some invisible force, her lips bound shut. As she lay there, the strange man walked through her wall and into her room.
He told her that he had fallen quite in love and wished to take her as his bride. Speech now returned to her, the young woman stayed silent, and refused his request. The man’s face grew dark with anger, but he turned and left without another word.
When the morning came, the young woman went immediately to her brother, only to find him gone. She asked the servant where, and they told her that he had the strange man had ridden from the castle shortly before dawn.
Fear gripping her, the young woman saddled her horse and pursued.
Soon after she entered the forest, however, the man came to her.
This time there was no bright music, no proposal and no brother. The man was alone, accompanied only by a great stag whose eyes flowed with tears.
The young woman demanded to know where her brother was and, when the man refused to answer, she drew a pistol. The man laughed and, filled with rage, the young woman shot at him. The man laughed harder as the bullet rebounded, striking the young woman’s poor horse and killing it instantly. The man cast a spell, and the young woman fell to the floor, unconscious. When she woke, she was trapped in the coffin.
She barely had time to feel afraid before the strange man appeared again. Gloating, he told her that he had transformed her brother into a stag and released him into the woods. He bragged that he had taken her people and turned them to smoke, trapping them in bottles, and that he had shrunk her home and lands, and placed them inside a coffin on their own. Only if she gave him her hand in marriage would he would release them all, a task as easy as opening the bottles they were trapped in. Weeping, the girl refused.
Furious, the man left again, and the girl slept a fitful sleep full of strange dreams and premonitions. Until she opened her eyes and saw the young tailor’s face.
Now free, she and the tailor went around the room, finding each jar and opening them to reveal clouds of smoke that soon resolved themselves into humans. The young woman laughed and wept with each one, calling them by name and clutching at them with desperate hands as they clutched her back.
Finally, the two found the second glass coffin and carried it outside, where it opened.
The young tailor watched on in amazement as land unfolded itself from the box, farmland and houses and roads spilling out and growing as they went, reclaiming their place amongst the landscape. Finally, a grand manor sprung out, settling proudly on top of the hidden cavern where the young woman had slept so long.
Almost as soon as the coffin emptied, the young woman let out a joyful shriek. The young tailor looked up at the sound and there, from the woods, a man appeared. The young woman’s brother, and Count of these lands.
Taking his sister in his arms, the brother joyfully proclaimed that the strange magician was dead slaughtered by the stag-brother while he hid in the form of a bull.
The people returned to their homes, and the siblings to their manor, but they took the young tailor with them. And soon after, the young tailor and young woman were happily married and, it is said, they remain so to this day.