After watching and enjoying the musical, The Robber Bridegroom, and I decided to read the novella of the same name by Eudora Welty, upon which it was based: a Mississippian variation on a Brothers Grimm tale, in which a young woman discovers that her fiance is part of a band of cannibal bandits. Welty’s take on the story has more in common with the myth of Psyche and Cupid, by way of Snow White.
The Brother’s Grimm’s cannibal robber is transformed into a dashing backwoods outlaw named Jamie Lockhart, also known as The Bandit of The Woods. Jamie somehow manages to hide his identity by staining his face with berry juice. When The Bandit of the Wood cheekily steals an expensive dress off the back of Rosamund Musgrove, the daughter of a wealthy planter, her outraged father enlists Jamie Lockhart to deal with the criminal. If he takes out this “menace to womankind,” he gets the beautiful Rosamund’s hand in marriage and all of her father’s fortune. The Snow White plot kicks in when Salome, Rosamund’s evil and jealous stepmother, constantly dispatches Goat, the village idiot, to dispose of the girl.
The romance between Jamie and Rosamund bares many similarities to the Psyche and Cupid story. Rosamund takes up with The Bandit of The Woods, unaware of his real identity: Jamie Lockhart, the man her father wants to marry her off to. Like with her mythological counterpart, Rosamund’s curiosity causes her to listen to bad advice and drives her and Jamie apart. The pregnant Rosamund wanders the Mississippi wilderness and is tested by a number of threats including Indians and murderous bandits and is eventually reunited with her beloved, who is now a wealthy merchant in the glittering city of New Orleans.
The Robber Bridegroom is an enjoyable mix of the fantastical elements of Greco-Roman myth, the dark whimsy of a Grimm fairytale, and the earthy cleverness American folklore. It has some confusing moments which the musical version simplifies and improves upon. The original Grimm tale has the heroine see her fiance’s gang of robbers dragging in a young woman who they have killed with the intention of eating her. Welty’s take on the story has the villainous Little Harp plot to get revenge on Jamie Lockhart by killing Jamie’s girlfriend. Somehow an indian girl is killed in Rosamund’s place (Rosamund sees this in a scene borrowed from the Grimm version) which angers the local indian tribe, who retaliates by kidnapping Salome for some reason. In the musical, Salome is hilariously thrown into a ravine by Little Harp after she is mistaken for Rosamund while in the book, Salome is danced to death by Indians? In the musical, Salome is hilariously thrown into a ravine by Little Harp after she is mistaken for Rosamund while in the book, Salome is danced to death by the indians?
If you are interested in myths, fairytales, and folklore, this is a book you should definitely give a read, since it is a story woven from familiar elements of the three genres. The Robber Bridegroom is an entertaining way to waste a day or two.