My mother moved back from Switzerland about a year ago now, but she still has mail forwarded from her Swiss address. In fact, she still has accounts at her Swiss bank, and a few nights ago she opened an envelope from said Swiss bank to find a letter and a small, beautifully illustrated copy of Der Wolf und die Sieben Jungen Geisslein, by everyone’s favorite, Bruder Grimm.
She called to tell me about it right away, because the book has all kinds of adorable goats in it, and you know how I feel about goats. My first question, naturally, was “Why is your bank sending you children’s books?” I’ve had an account with my own bank for more than ten years, and I’ve never gotten a single children’s book from them. (“I don’t know,” my mother said. “There was a letter, but of course it’s in German.”)
Once my mother started texting me the pictures, the book began to seem a tad sinister, as a gift from one’s financial institution. Look! Here is a wolf, slit all asunder across the middle, being stitched up by a mother goat!
(Is this a reference to the economy? The banking crisis? Is the wolf our global markets? Is the wolf our personal finances, sewn up by the kindly bank/goat?)
We tried to get the gist of the story by looking at the pictures. Here, I assumed, was the mother goat returning home and beginning to cry because her children have once again transformed her neat, cozy domicile into a chaotic, debris-strewn hellscape (Food and broken dishes on the floor! KIDS!):
“WHY CAN’T I HAVE NICE THINGS?” she weeps. (I’d like a framed print of that one, actually.)
Whatever else was going on, it seemed clear that this goat was doing the wolf a favor by stitching him up. Probably some sort of parable about kindness even to wolves, or maybe they were already friends—after all, they’d been seen shopping together in a previous illustration:
As it turns out, no. Nope. Not friends. The story is, in fact, rather a grisly one (“well, it IS Bruder Grimm,” my mother reminded me). A Google search came up with the following synopsis:
“A mother goat leaves her seven children at home while she ventures into the forest to find food. Before she leaves, she warns her young about the Big Bad Wolf who will try to sneak into the house and gobble them up. The Big Bad Wolf will pretend to be their mother and convince the kids to open the door. The young goats will be able to recognize their true mother by her white feet and sweet voice.
The mother goat leaves and the seven kids stay in the house. Before long, they hear a voice at the door that says “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” His gruff voice betrays him and the goats do not let him in. A little while later, they hear another voice at the door: “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” This time the voice is high and sweet like their mother’s. They are about to let him in when the youngest kid looks under the crack in the door and notices the Big Bad Wolf’s big, black feet. They refuse to open the door, and the Big Bad Wolf goes away again.
The Big Bad Wolf goes to the bakery and buys some flour, smearing it all over his coat, turning his black feet white. He returns to the goat’s house, and says “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” The kids see his white feet and hear his sweet voice, so they open the door. The Big Bad Wolf jumps into the house and gobbles up six of the kids. The youngest goat hides from the wolf and does not get eaten.
Later that day, the mother goat returns home from the forest. She is distraught to find the door wide open and all but one of her children missing. She looks around and sees the Big Bad Wolf, fast asleep under a tree. He had eaten so much, he could not move. The mother goat calls to her youngest child to quickly get her a pair of scissors, a needle and some thread. She cuts open the Big Bad Wolf’s belly and the six goat children spring out miraculously unharmed. They fill the Big Bad Wolf’s belly with rocks, and the mother sews it back up again. When the Big Bad Wolf wakes up, he is very thirsty. He goes to the river to drink, but falls in and drowns under the weight of the rocks. The Goat Family lived happily ever after.”
So! Thanks for banking with us!
(Incidentally, my children also recognize ME by my white feet and sweet voice.)
I confess that the moral of the story seems rather…opaque. Children are easily tricked? Always have a peephole? Keep a sturdy pair of scissors handy? Don’t be so greedy you can’t make a clean getaway? Revenge is sweet?
Maybe it was sent as a warning about identity theft?
(You are not our mother! Our mother’s voice is fine and lovely, but your voice is rough. DU BIST DER WOLF!)
Here is the wolf, having whitened his paw with flour before waving it in the window:
I hope my children would not be stupid enough to fall for this, but who can say?
It is a very pretty book, and a gift is a gift, so it has been added to the library.
Here is Mother Goat in her shawl (throughout, the most convincing representation of myself I have ever seen in print), returning home to find six of her children eaten:
She’s shocked, obviously.
There is no river in this version. Instead, the thirsty wolf goes to a well to drink:
See the goat family celebrating around the wolf’s watery grave! There is nothing like vigilante justice to bring a family together.
And here is the wolf full of rocks, lurching around and traumatizing an innocent pig family:
(There is obviously a Virginia Wolf/Woolf joke in there somewhere.)
When I think of Swiss banks I think of discretion and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, but maybe the real draw is thoughtful little gestures like this. Step up your game, Wells Fargo.