During our pilot episode, both Josh and myself were unable to conclude what exactly a "Fitcher" was in the Brothers Grimm's "Fitcher's Bird". Well, we've had an opportunity to look further into it and we found some interesting stuff.
Older than the Grimms
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published Fitcher's Bird (or Fitcher's Vögel) in 1843, but it's likely that they were re-inventing a story that came out of France in 1697 which was written by a man named Charles Perrault. Perrault penned a tale by the title of "Bluebeard", which featured an old wealthy aristocrat whom society shunned due to his ugly face and horrible blue beard. Bluebeard had married many times but no one ever knew what became of his wives... they just stopped appearing in public after a while and, after a while longer, Bluebeard would remarry.
You already know what happened to them. In a way very similar to the modus operandi of the sorcerer in Fitcher's Bird, Bluebeard entrusted his new wives with a key to a forbidden room (no egg, though). He then went out of town on business and made it clear to his brides that they had the run of the home in his absence, but that they were never to enter that room. Of course, they enter the room, drop the key on the blood-covered floor, and are unable to get the stains off of it. Bluebeard returns, flies into a rage, and kills the wife.
The difference in this story, save the missing egg, is that the girl who eventually triumphs over Bluebeard is not rescuing her sisters (or magically putting them back together for that matter). This girl drops the key as well and is sentenced to death but asks Bluebeard for a 15-minute stay of execution so that she may say her prayers before the end. Bluebeard permits this and the girl locks herself in the highest tower. Just as Bluebeard beats down the door and is about to cut her head off, the girl's brothers show up and cut the villain to bits. End of story.
So what is a Fitcher, exactly?
Get ready to venture down the rabbit hole, here we go. Let's start with Wikipedia. Wikipedia makes the following reference to the term "Fitcher" as used by the Brothers Grimm:
Regarding the meaning of Fitcher, the Grimms wrote in the notes to the tale that "The Icelandic fitfuglar (swimming-bird), which looked as white as a swan, will help to explain Fitcher's Vogel," and although this "swan" theory was endorsed by Albert Teodor Lysander, later commentators merely gloss over fitfuglar as "web-footed bird," which is the Cleasby-Vigfusson dictionary definition. Others scholars advocate the view that the word derives from German Feder (feather), or Fittich (wings).
That's interesting and all, but it doesn't explain why the girl in Fitcher's Bird referred to the Sorcerer's home as "The Fitcher's House," as if it was a Fitcher who owned the home. Josh and I both mulled over this for a few days and came up with the following notions.
- Fitcher could be a geographical location. "The Fitcher's House" might be akin to saying "The Norwegian's House" or "The New Yorker's House."
- Fitcher could be a profession. A "Fitcher" might be someone who fitches or someone who does something with or to fitches.
So we followed these leads.
Fitcher as a Profession
As I was using my Google-fu to search the depths of the web for the term Fitcher used throughout history I accidentally spelled "Fitches" instead of "Fitchers". The result was a word that Google Chrome didn't underline as misspelled. I found that strange and decided to look for the definition of the word "fitches". Here's what I found:
Fitch: an old-fashioned term for polecat or for the fur of a polecat.
I looked up the origin of this word and found that it was late Middle English derived from the Middle Dutch word "visse" meaning polecat. So if you said "fitch" you were, in late Middle English, speaking specifically about the fur of a polecat. I took this a step further an googled the use of this word over time, starting with it's creation.
Those two red marks, respectively, represent the years in which the Brothers Grimm published Fitcher's Bird (1843) and the year in which it was republished in the seventh and final edition of their book (1857).
It could just be coincidence but it does seem awfully convenient that a word which was loosing steam by ~1830, and which is awfully close to "fitcher", would peak during two key years for the publications of Fitcher's Bird. This doesn't necessarily mean anything, but Middle English and German are both Indo-European languages (I think) so I wanted to look into it further.
After about an hour I found "The Annotated Brothers Grimm" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, annotated by Maria Tatar and discovered that "The Fitcher's House" wasn't the correct translation of the text. As it turns out, our heroine says she's come from "Fitze Fitcher's House". Fitze Fitcher is our villain's proper name, apparently.
There are also a few references to the names Fischer and Fichter, but those seem to be dead ends. If Fitcher is anything more than a last name, it seems not to be, at least with this level of research, a profession.
Fitcher as a location
Short section here. Briefly: nope. There are no cities or villages that made it from antiquity into the historical records of modernity. Perhaps hidden in a dusty book in some underground library in Norwich, but not anywhere we can find on the internet.
This is my own idea, so take it as nothing more than wild speculation. Given that Fitze Fitcher had all the wealth and riches a young girl could ask for I suspect that he also had nice clothes, possibly a few fur coats. I therefore hypothesize that a Fitcher is a person who traps and kills fitches, making elegant clothing from their fur. So "the Fitcher's House" would be the like saying "The house of that dude who makes totally awesome coats from the fur of weasels". The villain is called "The Fitcher" because he is the only Fitcher in town. The story is called Fitcher's Bird (Fitcher's Vogel) because it is Fitcher's (or *the* Fitcher's) wife who, disguised as a large bird, is the victor and heroine of the story. They could have called this story, "The Coat Maker's Feather-Covered Wife". Any reference to the Icelandic "fitfuglar" is wild guessing; probably due to a combination of poor translations and facts lost to history.
Otherwise there seems to be no method to the madness surrounding the mystery of Fitcher and his birdy bride.
What do you think?
- Wikipedia on Indo European Language: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_languages
- Wikipedia on Bluebeard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluebeard
- Surla Lune Fairytales: http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/bluebeard/stories/fitchersbird.html
- JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3831246
- Google Definitions: https://goo.gl/eTNmNm
- Wikipedia on Fitcher's Bird: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitcher%27s_Bird