Friday, June 1, 2012


This is another one that I went back and forth on for some time. Despite my misgivings, I’m going ahead with it for what might seem to others like a stupid reason: It’s the only story from Charles Perrault’s original book which I have not adapted in any form. Those who are unfamiliar with this title might wonder why I held off for so long. Before those people read the story, let me make this abundantly clear: THIS ONE IS NOT FOR LITTLE KIDS!!! It is scary and bloody and served as the partial inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula! Read on only if you can take it. Otherwise, I apologize, and next week will give you something about a bunny or a piggie or maybe Leroy. For now, you have been warned.

The lesson of today’s story is to be very careful when entering into a marriage. You are being told this at the outset so that you can benefit from the lesson even if you don’t read the story. Consider yourself warned that this is a scary tale full of terrible secrets and tragic deaths. If you feel strong enough to continue, we shall begin:

In a faraway land, there lived a nobleman who was very wealthy and had many homes in town and the country. His grandest home was his country estate, a mansion that rivaled even the grandeur of the king’s palace. This was the house in which he felt, above all others, that he was truly “at home.” He hunted in the adjacent forest, fished in the river and frequented the nearby village where he never failed to buy a round of drinks for all the men present.

Yes, he was generous, but he was not well-liked. The reason for people’s mistrust of him was his beard. It was long and bright blue, a most unnatural color. It was grotesque to look at so nobody really got too close to the man, and everyone just called him “Bluebeard.”

But Bluebeard longed for the company of a young woman, to brighten his home and liven his heart. He let it be known throughout the land that he was seeking a bride, but no mother or father would consent to let their daughters marry a man with such a frighteningly blue beard. Bluebeard decided to hold a dance at his mansion and invite everyone in the village to come and celebrate. It was a most successful party, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. But none moreso than a young woman named Kala, who had always heard that Bluebeard was a terrifying figure, but now saw that he was really quite kind, despite his odd appearance. Bluebeard talked it over with the girl’s parents, and in no time the match was made.

The wedding itself was a brief affair held the following afternoon. Very few of the invited villagers attended, out of fear of Bluebeard. Kala’s family was, of course, in attendance. Her mother and father and her three brothers, who were woodcutters by trade. They were very protective of their baby sister and this marriage to this strange, odd-looking man did not sit right with them. But, they kept their mouths shut since Kala seemed so happy.

After the wedding, Bluebeard showed his new bride all around her new home. Every room of the mansion was full of gold, jewels, silver and riches Kala had never dreamed of. She rejoiced to think that her life would be full of such decadance and wealth. She was so excited, she ran to open the next door without her new husband inviting her to.

“Stop!” he cried as her hand went for the knob. “You must never go into that room. Everything else that I own is yours and you may wander this mansion freely. But that door must never be opened. Do you understand?”

Kala said she did, and put the door from her mind.

For the next several weeks, life was good for all concerned. Bluebeard was happy with his beautiful, charming new wife. Kala was happy to be living in so grand a home with so kind a man and to possess such wealth. And her family was happy when Bluebeard and Kala came to visit them and gave them gold and silver. Her parents were then able to repair and even improve their humble home and her hard-working brothers bought new, very sharp axes with which to ply their trade. They began to think they were wrong to mistrust Bluebeard just because of his appearance and were vey grateful to him for his generosity.

Then, one day, about two months after their marriage, Bluebeard told Kala that he was going on a long trip, taking stock of his holdings throughout the land, and that she was in charge of the mansion in his absence. Before he left, he handed her a ring of keys, saying, “These keys open every door in this mansion,” (This pleased Kala because, even after all this time, there were still quite a few rooms she had never been inside), “and you can use them as you see fit. But this key,” he added, holding up a very small, solid gold key, “opens the door I once told you never to open. I remind you that I forbid you from every entering that room. Can I trust you to hold this key and not use it until I return?” Kala said he could and took the keys before saying goodbye to her husband.

Kala spent the next few days exploring the house. She opened doors she had never opened before and saw treasures even greater than the ones she had come to know. Before long, she had opened and explored every single room in the mansion…except one. The more time she spent in wandering through her new home, the more the thought of that forbidden door ate away at her imagination. She tried to imagine what could be so precious and valuable that Bluebeard would protect is so fiercely. Why could she go into every other room, but not that one? He trusted her with his gold, jewels, silver, silks. What prize lay behind that door with which she could not be trusted?

Curiosity is no sin, but it should be exercised with great caution, and the greater the curiosity, the greater should be the caution. Poor Kala was curious but none too cautious, and she decided to open the door. I’ll just peek my head in for a minute, she told herself, turning the key in the lock she had twice promised never to open. After all, he’ll never know what I’ve done. With this thought firmly in her mind, she turned the knob and opened the door.

The room within was very dark and cold. It had no windows and only one door, the door through which Kala had just entered. Dimly, she could see the outline of a candleabra in front of her, so she stepped inside and felt her way toward it. The door was very heavy and, as soon as Kala had let go of it, it swung shut, plunging the room into complete blackness. But greater than the darkness was the smell. It was the most horrific, putrid smell Kala had ever experienced. Between being disoriented in the dark and taken aback by the stench, it is not surprising that a moment later she tripped and fell over something lying on the floor, causing her to drop her keys. She was now close enough to the candle holder to light it with a match from her pocket and she held it up to see what she had tripped over…and what she saw almost made her heart stop with terror.

It was a woman. Once she had been young and dressed in a silk gown, similar to Kala’s, but now she lay dead on the cold stone floor. Kala threw the candlelight all over the room. Corpses piled on top of each other. Hung up on the walls. Some with great, festering wounds, some still with nooses around their necks. Some faces frozen in horrified screams, some with eyes closed who had no doubt died peacefully in their sleep. Some were decayed beyond all recognition, some were merely skeletons, but a few were fresh enough that you might have thought they were only sleeping. But each and every one definitely and unmistakably murdered.

The next moment saw Kala scrabbling wildly for the keys. As soon as she had them in her hands she ran for the door, forced it open and locked it tight behind her. Then she ran to her room, took off her gown, which was covered in the filth of death, and ordered the servants to burn it at once. She bathed and spent a good hour scrubbing every inch of her skin. All the while her mind was racing, trying to make sense of what she had seen.

“Ma’am?” came the voice of a maid at her door. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine!” she yelled with uncharacteristic force. “Everything is fine.”

“Please, ma’am, you are not well.”

“I tell you I’m fine, now leave me!”

But the maid refused to listen. She entered her mistress’s room. “Have you seen it?” she asked.

“Seen what?” asked Kala, although she knew only too well to what the maid was referring.

“The Secret Room, of course.”

“You know about that room?”

“I have served the master for many years. You are not the first bride to give in to curiosity. It’s happened before. The master says he has to leave for a few days and gives his wife the same keys he gave you. Sooner or later she decides it can do no harm to peek into that room. And when she does, she finds the remains of the master’s wives. The women he trusted with his secret and who broke their promise. And soon, they join the others in that secret room.”

It was a horrible story, but Kala knew that every word of it was absolutely true. She was not even surprised when the maid went on to say that Bluebeard had been doing this for almost a hundred years. “Years ago he made a wicked pact,” she explained. “He doesn’t age, he doesn’t change. Only he has to wear that blue beard. That’s the mark of his curse, ma’am. That’s why everyone who looks at it feels so uneasy.”

“What do I do?” asked Kala.

“I don’t know, ma’am. But you’ll have to do it fast. You see, this whole thing is a test. Master isn’t really in another county like he claims. He’ll be back tonight, to make sure you haven’t unlocked that door!”

Sure enough, a moment later, Kala heard the heavy footfalls which she knew belonged to her husband. She was terrified, but she tried to keep a clear head. “Get out,” she said to the maid. “You and all the servants. Take the night off. Go into the village. Don’t let him see you leave. And,” she added as the maid turned to go, “go to my brothers. The house at the end of town, just past the blacksmith. Tell them to come for me at once!” The maid curtsied and left the room quickly. Kala took a moment to steal herself for what was to come and went to greet her husband.

“Darling, you’re home so soon!” she said, trying to act surprised.

“Well, I found I couldn’t stay away from you,” replied Bluebeard. “Everything went well in my absence, I take it?”

“Very well.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And do you still have those keys I gave you?”

Kala was startled for a moment, but shook it off and said, “Yes. I have them right here.” She handed the ring to Bluebeard who inspected them carefully. Kala could not imagine why he was examining the keys until she suddenly remembered that she had dropped them in the forbidden room. Her fears were realized a second later, when her husband asked her, “What is this all over the golden key?”

“I don’t know,” Kala lied. Of course she knew exactly what it was: Blood. She had dropped the keys in a pool of blood and had been so distressed that it had not occurred to her to wipe it off.

I know,” said Bluebeard, all pretense dropped. “And what’s more, I know how it got there. You broke your promise. You betrayed me. And since you were so keen to get inside that room, I will oblige you and see to it that you never leave it again!”

With a roar of fury, Bluebeard drew his dagger and lunged at Kala, who ran faster than she had ever run before. Bluebeard tore after her, more animal than man, now, fueled by rage and blood lust, knocking over decorations, furniture, and candles as he ran after his wife. Kala led the chase all through the house. Luckily, she had come to know it well since coming to live here and found it easy to stay at least one room ahead of Bluebeard. But, in the end, she found herself in the corner of the dining room, backed against the stained glass window by her ravenous husband who stalked toward her slowly, looking even more inhuman in the light of the flames that were rising up all over the mansion.

“Say your prayers, ungrateful wretch!” growled Bluebeard.

Kala shut her eyes tight…until she heard a loud crash from above her. She looked up and saw the stained glass window was in shards and climbing into the room were her three brothers, armed with their new axes. Without a word or even a thought they advanced on Bluebeard and, within moments, had hacked him to pieces with the same axes they had bought with Bluebeard’s gold only a few weeks ago. Then they took hold of their sister and ran from the burning mansion with all their might, not stopping until they were well out of harm’s way. Only then did Kala dare to look back at the mansion she had once called home as it smoldered into nothing but ash.

Bluebeard was dead. All of his possessions, his wealth and treasures, were destroyed. And even if they hadn’t been, Kala, though by all right their legal owner, would not have wanted them. Nothing that reminded her of the terrible man she had been only too eager to marry would be allowed within her sight from then on. And perhaps she grew stronger for this experience and overcame the nightmares that plagued her well after Bluebeard’s death. And perhaps she one day married another, a man with whom she shared a genuine bond of love and friendship. Perhaps she even managed to live happily ever after. History does not relate what happened to Kala after Bluebeard’s death, so we are forced to draw our own conclusions.

Whatever the rest of Kala’s life had in store, you can be sure that she learned to be more cautious than curious, to put her trust in the right people, and to be very careful when entering into a marriage. In which case, I think it’s safe to assume that she did live happily ever after…but, that’s just what I think. How about you?

If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics (1987)(TV) This anime series’ title is a slight misnomer as it featured some stories (this one included) which are not attributed to the Brothers Grimm (although there are a few Grimm stories which are similar, such as “The Robber Bridegroom”). But still, a pretty good show, typical of the kind of 80’s fare we used to call “Japanimation.”
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. One story, entitled “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” reminds me of Bluebeard, and, in the “Wizarding World,” carries the same infamous reputation according to Albus Dumbledore, who, apropos to this story, once told Mr. Potter, “Curiosity is no sin, Harry.”
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