Wolkstein, Diane. "Four Hairs from the Beard of the Devil." The Magic Orange Tree and other Haitian Folktales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. 44-48.
Ethnic Origin: Haitian
Running Time: 10-12 minutes
Power Centers: This story flows on a very even keel but I have identified two power centers. The first finally occurs with the Devil's first line, "I smell fresh meat." This is the end of the first part of the story and the beginning of the second. At this point the main action, focus and point of the story are about to happen. At the end of the story, when the boy delivers the four hairs, the second power center occurs. This it is at this point we realize that the boy has matured from this ordeal and no longer needs to live with the abuse of his stepmother.
Characters: Our Hero, the boy: Evil stepmother: King of Spain and his daughter: King John: Guard: Devil's wife and Devil.
Scenes: 1. His unpleasant stepmother sends the young boy on an impossible task.
2. He ventures down a long road and one-by-one meets the King of Spain, King John, and the guard who request that he ask questions of the devil.
3. He reaches the Devil's house and is let in by the Devil's wife.
4. While hiding under the bed he learns all he needs to know and escapes in the morning.
5. Returning down the long road he relays the answers to the questions and is rewarded.
6. He returns home and delivers the four hairs but leaves to join the King of Spain.
Synopsis: With a great consistent flow and no real moral overtones, this is a colorful story that is extremely satisfying. The young boy is sent off into the world on an impossible task by his stepmother in order to be rid of him. On his way to get the four hairs he is given questions to ask of the Devil. No one believes that he will find the Devil let alone survive the encounter. Finally, he finds the Devil's house and wins over his wife who agrees to help. While he hides under the bed she pulls hairs from the Devil's beard as he sleeps and asks the question when he wakes. In this way, the boy completes his task and is rewarded for answering the other's questions. When he gets home he presents the four hairs to his dumbfounded stepmother takes a last look around. Then he proceeds back to the King of Spain ostensibly to court his your daughter.
Rhymes/Special Phrases/ "Flavor": This story has much flavor. The first is the use of the greeting "honor", a term to which the proper response is "respect". This is a subtle but very meaningful term. The phrase "oh-oh" is also used very commonly and takes on many different meanings depending how it is said. The scene with the devil is one non-stop "flavor" event. First "I SMELL FRESH MEAT" is a grand entrance that perfectly epitomizes the character of this Devil. Next the drawn-out process of removing the Devil's hair "Fsst" is wonderful. Finally the "All King's Are Fools" is a great line. Basically the Devil steals the story away as an abrupt and domineering character who all the while is a complete dupe.
Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? Developmental characteristics?: This story definitely proceeds into subject materials that are not appropriate for all ages. For young adults, though, it is suitably advanced without going to far. First and most obviously is the figure of the Devil. This is a controversial figure and plays a major role within the story. Plus the Devil has been removed from the "safe" context of religious parable to a far more everyday existence and thus is potentially even more troubling for younger audiences. For young adults the Devil as a dupe starts to blur the lines between pure good and evil. It provides a sentiment that even they can overcome the most diabolical of enemies. Additionally, this is a witty story with phrases that would be extremely catchy to this audience and pokes fun at all authority figures from his stepmother and the kings to the Devil himself but at the same time shows respect (i.e. "honor"). At the risk of being too insightful, I truly believe our hero, the young boy is someone they can identify with and root for on a far more complex level than simply he lived happily ever after. He did not need anyone to save him and by the end seemed entirely in control of his destiny. At the end, he seems intent on pursuing the King's daughter as a final subtle intent.
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two):
The closest version I could find is this story from a Puerto Rican collection. Whether this is technically a version or actually a variant, I'm not entirely sure but it would seem to be a similar culture.
Alegria, Ricardo E. "The Bird of Seven Colors." The Three Wishes: A Collection of Puerto Rican Folktales. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969. 25-30.
There are many stories that follow a very similar plot line but I particularly liked these two variants for their cultural and historical perspective as well as their age suitability.
Danaher, Kevin. "The Griffin." Folktales of the Irish Countryside. New York: David White,1970. 81-92.
Alderson, Brian. "The Three Golden Hairs of the Devil." The Brothers Grimm: Popular Folk Tales. London: Victor Gollancz Limited, 1978. 170-177.
Brief comparison of all versions/variants/ in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the difference in style rather than those of content:
I found this a very difficult age group to select a story for. In the end, I believe my main criteria for choosing was based on the maturity level of the content of the story. The version and variants I also considered gave me considerable insight into the nature and origins of the story but were lacking in one way or another.
"The Bird of Seven Colors" was a bit on the childish side. It did not have the same level of maturity as the others. The evil figure as a multicolored bird did not stir the same sort of awe that the Devil does or even the mystical Griffin figure. The story has a good consistent flow but lacks the significant side stories and "flavor" that "Four Hairs" contains in abundance. I would even have a difficult time reccomending this story for younger audiences as there is little flair contained within.
I thought that "The Griffin" might be an interesting choice based on the Irish origin of the story but after reading it realized that little of this heritage is present within. Again, although mystical and perhaps more frightening, the Griffin figure did not interest me as much as the Devil. The story did give a more complete story line than the others but this almost made it to involved and wordy. Finally, again, the "flavor" was just not there. It would seem that this story could have contained a great deal of native color but it does not. These stories all have a very consistent flow but it is the "flavor" that brings out the originality and allows the audience as well as the teller to have fun with it.
It was great to find a Brother's Grimm variant of the story that so closely mirrored my story. "The Three Golden Hairs" expands the scope of the story even farther by exploring the history and relationship between the king and the young boy. This makes for a longer and more involved story that is in many ways more satisfying at the end. For this program, I felt the story was too long and again the amount of "flavor" was not enough. This would be a better story for a mixture of ages (7 and up) as part of a longer program. I would worry that it is too long but with some additions and subtractions it would be fine.
All of these stories are extremely tellable. They have a very easy flow and several events within that keep it the story changing. For this audience though, I had two areas of concern. One, the subject matter had to respect the maturity level of the audience. Two, the story had to be funny and engaging to keep them interested. Only "Four Hairs" really satisfied these criteria for me.