Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Nix of Mill Pond

1 December 04 Nix of Mill Pond

Fairies live in woods, leading men astray into enchanted forests, the world of fantasy and confrontation with reality. In literature, the netherland of fairies often represents the human consciousness, the dreams and schemes that we wish to do, but frequently fear to try. In Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck casts a spell on Titania to fall in love with an ass, parodying the foibles of love.

In Germany, there are stories of the Lorelei, the water nymphs luring the unwary huntsmen to their deaths with beautiful voices. Grimm records one of these stories in the Nix of the Mill Pond. The formula is familiar. An innocent man chances upon a body of water from which emerges the nix, nymph or sprite who entrances him with her beauty. In Rusalka, the Czech version, the nymph yearns to become embodied and joined in marriage with a man, but the price of the transformation is the loss of her voice. Only through the faithfulness of her beloved and the subsequent marriage, will Rusalka become truly human. The process is in reverse, discovering a dream and briinging it into reality through faithful application and personal discipline. However, the Rusalka story warns of outside influences for on the bridal night, the bridegroom is lured away by a seductive rival. Nearly the same theme appears in Tschaikovsky's famous ballet, Swan Lake, in which there are two apparitions of swan maidens: Odile and Odette, one white and the other black, each in competition for his affections, possibly representing the Good versus the Bad Intention since all people are born with both and frequently make decisions with leanings toward one or the other, including marriage.

In the Nix of the Mill Pond, the watersprite deceives the Miller who promises the newly born within his house:

"The Miller saw at once that it was the Nix of the mill-pond, and he knew not from fear whether to stop or go away. The Nix solved his doubts by calling him in a gentle voice, and asking him why he was so sad. At first the Miller was dumb; but as she spoke kindly to him, he took courage, and told her that he had once lived in riches and prosperity, but now he was so poor that he did not know what to do."

The Complete Illustrated Works of The Brothers Grimm, 1984 p 747 (first published in 1853 by George Routledge and Sons Ltd as Grimm's Household Stories) ISBN 1 85152 505 X

Doubt enters the Miller's life through misfortune. The Evil Intention persuades him to acquiesce. Life cannot get much worse. Because of the hardships and misery, he faces, he cannot see the consequences. He sees the immediate overwhelming daily struggle of survival with the misery that poverty inflicts on others. His intentions ar mixed. He hates the hardship, but sees no other alternative and is readily beguiled by the opportunity that the Nix lays before him. If he has sufficient food on his table and wealth to care for his family's needs, what dangers can be hidden in the innocuous agreement? Oppressed, he makes the pact, desiring a better life. Upon realization that he has traded his son for his own comfort, the bargain becomes a harsh reality. None of his friends can advise him.

The warning is clear. If a person indulges too greatly in his desires, they can swallow his life, just as the Nix claims the Miller's son. The metaphor warns the reader to be careful of schemes that sound too good, or plans that are built on air. Some dreaming is healthy, but becomes dangerous when the dreamer is narcisstic, basking hours within his own reflection, rather than working. Each person has a water nix that can betray him into self-destruction, by luring him into unfeasible projects or speculative endeavors. The relationship between reality and fantasy is illusive. Man first conceives a thing before bringing it into reality. Without the encounter with the nix or nymph, man lacks creativity. When the nix or nymph dominate and drive hard bargains concerning future life, the relationship becomes self-destructive. Only when the two are equally matched in marriage is an endeavor succesful. The man must be as strong as the dream, matching it with both physical and intellectual capacity, but not allowing it to dominate him.

Moreover, such decisions bear influence over generations. Although the Miller's son is apprenticed as a Huntsman, his fate overcomes him. One day, he in turn comes upon the mill-pond where the Nix waits for him. Unwary of his father's decision, he is entrapped by the contract. The burden of the bargain passes onto the wife on his diappearance. To break the spell, transformation is required as well as tenacious fidelity. The wife must struggle with the complex problems inherited from her father-in-law's facile decision years before. Only through much suffering does the conflict between nix and man resolve. Applied to business, the mtaphor illustrates a situation: a bad decision regarding investments. With it, consequences continue for years with a company struggling with bankruptcy or being sold to pay off debts. To redeem the company from the inadvertant bad decision, transformations must be made. Consultants consulted for restructuring and management changes hands.

Throughout literature, water-nixes and sprites appear, analyzed by Jung in his interpretations of dreams and symbols. Of the versions I know, a favoite come from a brilliant writer, Jan de Hartog.

Jan de Hartog, is known primarily for two books, The Peaceable Kingdom and The Captain. A prolific writer, Hartog served as a captain of the North Sea Fleet during the WWII in merchant marine. The Captain belongs with a group of novels that reflect his sea duties, along with The Distant Shore and others. He joined with merchant vessels smuggling concentration camp victims into Palestine. He also wrote for young audience, including the story of the nymph of the Lost Sea, the Zuider Zee.

Jan de Hartog came into my hands by my brother who died suddenly on December 1, 1971 in an unexplained rollover while hauling Christmas trees. How a cab can roll over its driver after it has been braked in a cul-de-sac is relatively inexplicable, especially when the truck is two weeks off the sales lot. Brakes simply don't fail on rigs two weeks new, but I suppose evidence in double-logging, might explain some of the mysterious circumstances that surrounded his death and those of his colleagues. Trucks don't swim very well in the Columbia River, either—but I am sure that at the time, the police believed in fairytales.

On this day, a little dark blue, Toyota Corolla got swept under the carriage of a sixty-foot rig, just off I-5 and 45th NE crossing the bridge during rush hour. I was on my way to a voice lesson on Mercer Island. A very still voice warned me to look in the review mirror. The rig charged throuh the lanes behind me, sweeping the merging traffic off to the sides, but I had nowhere to go caught in the center lanes. Quickly overcoming me, it sucked the car under the trailer. Horrified I saw myself being pulled back under its rear wheels. Somehow, in seconds, I escaped being crushed to death, but the little red car ahead of me was impaled on its grill and carried for nearly a mile where the rig finally stopped. The car was totalled. I stopped to see whether the people were alive. They got out, shaking in terror. We stood there together on the highway shoulder exchanging our horror. The driver of the rig climbed down, blaming us for cutting in front of him. He didn't even see the red car until he ground to halt.

To this day, I believe that my brother protected me that day, warning me of impending danger. Of the thousands of vehicles (5000+ an hour), I was the only one to stop, the only one to file a police report and the only one to bear witness for the insurance investigator. Unfortunately for the couple, they lost their new car—less than a week old—and their birthday present—skiing in the nearby mountains. However, they won their case. The driver was sky high. Drugs.

In honor of my brother who loved the sea, and gave me the wonderful stories of Jan de Hartog.

By Jan de Hartog

Jan de Hartog, The Lost Sea

other books by Jan de Hartog

Grimms Household Tales

Nix of the Mill Pond
online text

Nix of the Mill-Pond
translated by Maragaret Hunt

The Household Tales of Brothers Grimm
translated by Margaret Hunt

The Household Tales of Grimm
edited by William Barker, recommended by Gutenberg Project as more faithful to original texts

Nix in the Mill-Pond
translated by Margaret Hunt

transl by Ashlimann, The Nixie in the Pond
Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales -- Grimms' Fairy Tales), 7th ed. (Berlin, 1857), no. 181

Grimm's Household Tales

Grimms Brothers Home Page

Planet PDF Grimm's Fairy Tales
and much more for .pdf download


Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake
with Seiji Ozawa as conductor

DVD, Tschaikovsky Swan Lake with Royal Ballet at Covent Garden
Markarova and Dowell

University of Oregon : Swan Lake
catalog of video recordings look to bottom for
Maiia Plisetskaia, Nikolai Fadeyechev, Ballet and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Ballet,

another good recording would be Fonteyn/Nureyev or Nureyev's production in Vienna 1991 --brilliant production

Fonteyn/Nureyev with Wiener Staatsopern Ballet
must be a re-issue of an earlier tape as Nureyev was in
Vienna in 1991, but Fonteyn died that year of cancer –

for other very good options

Margot Fonteyn

Gallery of Margot Fonteyn

Wikipedia Fonteyn
learn more about this incredible woman and fortunately she brought ballet to film

Antonin Dvorak, Rusalka
Vaclav Neumann, Czech Philharmonic with Benackova, Soukupova, Ochman, Drobkov

Antonin Dvorak, Rusalka
synopsis by Opera News

Fokine, Les Sylphides
Jim Williams, ballet photographer

More fairies in pointe shoes: Les Sylphides


22 June 2003 The Ugly Duckling

1 December 2004 Nix of Mill Pond

3 November Silence of Longing part 2
part 2: Rusalka, Berg and literary social criticism

1 November The Silence of Longing p2
reposted on 3d November was deleted

1 November The Silence of Longing p1

24 October The Waterline p1

24 October The Waterline Going Deeper p2

24 October 2003 The Waterline: Drowning p3


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