May 14, 2012

The Man in the Green Coat, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Here is the first winning entry of the "Marprilay" edition of EC. OK, it's not really an edition or issue of the zine, but the winners are still great, and we are pleased to present them, beginning with Lissa Sloan. By the end of seven days, I hope we are caught up with publishing.

We always want more, don’t we?  A man gets something he wants, and is he satisfied?  Hardly.  He wants something more.   If a man has nothing, of course he’ll take anything he can get.  Take that fellow by the fire.  A soldier, I’ll wager.  But now the wars are over and no one wants him.  He’ll probably spend his last coin on that meal he’s eating. 


I’ve seen his type before.  There was one fellow so desperate he even gambled with his soul.  He was a soldier too, having the last meal he could afford, when up walks the Devil and buys him a drink.  There the Devil sits, a handsome fellow in a fine green coat, and offers him a bargain.  If the soldier can keep to the terms for seven years, he will have riches to last him the rest of his days.  If not, the Devil takes his soul. 

The terms are simple enough.  The Devil provides the soldier with a coat and a cloak he must wear.  The coat is the Devil’s own fine green coat, and every time the soldier puts his hand in the pocket, he finds a pile of gold coins inside.  The cloak is the skin of a bear.  Hardly fashionable, but never mind.  The soldier must not wash, nor comb his beard or hair, nor cut his nails.  The soldier agrees.  He’ll take anything he can get, remember? 

“There is one thing more,” adds the Devil.  “All the seven years long, you must never pray.”  The soldier shrugs.  He is not a praying man.  So the soldier and the Devil trade coats, the soldier puts on the bearskin, and the bargain has begun.

Off goes our soldier, but let’s call him Bearskin now, shall we?  Everyone else does.  Off goes Bearskin to make his way in the world.  At first, he doesn’t do too badly.  He looks a little scruffy, but he has gold to pay for what he likes, so no one makes a fuss.  But soon enough, he must pay a little more to sit by the fire.  He must take the servants’ stairway to the finest room in the inn.  And after a while, not even a pocket full of gold will entice a lady to keep him company.

Even the beggars in the street shrink from him.  Who wouldn’t?  Bearskin gives them money anyway.  He has an endless supply, so why shouldn’t he help them?  He knows how it is to be hungry and cold, to be unwanted. 

He is a good man, our Bearskin, but he has another reason for his generosity.  It occurs to him one rainy night as he gives a handful of coins to an urchin huddled under a bridge.  The boy can’t believe his luck.  His hands itch to take it, but he is the suspicious type.  “What do you want for it?” he asks. 

“Nothing,” is on Bearskin’s lips, but he catches it in time.  Instead, he says, “Pray for me.  Please.”

He wants more, you see?  His belly is full, he has a warm place to sleep, but it is not enough.   Even on the battlefield, he had his fellow soldiers, sweating and bleeding and dying beside him.  But now—never has he been so alone.  He couldn’t be bothered to before, but now he wants nothing more than to pray.  So whenever this monster steps from the shadows, a pile of gold in his clawed hand, his request is always the same.  Pray for me.  Please.  And they do.

Then one night, Bearskin meets someone who wants to do more than pray.  Funny, these people who want to do more, not just have more.  You do meet them sometimes, though.  This one is a wealthy merchant.  No, he was wealthy.  But he has fallen upon hard times.  He has given his carriages and horses to the debt collectors, and next they are coming for his house.  What will become of his three daughters, he sobs into his glass of wine, while he is in debtors’ prison?  Bearskin hears it all, from behind the screen where the innkeeper has hidden him.  He beckons the merchant over to him.   “I can help you.” 

The merchant gratefully accepts—what else can he do?  But praying for Bearskin is not enough.  He insists that Bearskin come home with him and promises him one of his three daughters for a wife.  The first two daughters refuse this hideous beast, even though he has been the saving of them.  They are proud beauties, with cold blue eyes.  But the youngest one is different.  She is frightened of Bearskin, yes, but she holds his gaze with round green eyes, as green as his mud-caked coat once was.  She tells her father that a promise must be kept, and she will keep it. 

Bearskin is ashamed to take her now, the way he is, but he takes a ring from his finger, breaks it in two, and gives half of it to the girl with the green eyes.  “I am not free,” he tells her, “and must wander the world for three years more.  At the end of those three years I will return for you.  If I do not return, then I am dead, and you are free.”  With that he leaves her.

Bearskin continues on his way, but something is different.  Now when he gives out his gold, he asks folks to pray for the girl with the green eyes.  Not that she love him, only that she is safe and well and happy.  Always wanting more, aren’t we?

At last the seven years are over, and Bearskin has won his bargain.  He meets the Devil, who gives him back his old coat, somehow now as fine as the green one has become tattered.  Gracious even in defeat, the Devil gives him a wash and a shave and trims his nails. 

And off Bearskin goes to claim his bride.  No one recognizes him at her house, of course.  He cleaned up rather well, you see, and the proud sisters with the cold blue eyes are fighting one another to sit next to him.  The youngest sister sits across from Bearskin with her eyes downcast.  What difference does it make to her if a handsome stranger asks her father for one of his daughters?  She is promised to another, one she fears a little, but pities more.  She even prays for him, though he never asked her to.  When the older sisters have run from the room to put on their finest gowns and her father has gone to order dinner, she does look up.  The stranger offers her a glass of wine, and at the bottom what should she find but half a ring, exactly matching the one she wears in a locket around her neck.  Isn’t she the lucky girl, getting more when she hoped for nothing?

Now that Bearskin and his girl with the green eyes have each other, they truly want nothing more.  Like I said, you do meet these oddities from time to time.  Most folks though, are like the blue eyed sisters—who, since they could not have Bearskin for themselves, both killed themselves in a bitter passion.  You might think the Devil was disappointed as well, but don’t pity him for his lost bargain.  He got those two haughty beauties for the price of one grubby soldier, after all.  And if you think he wasn’t pleased about getting more, you’d be quite mistaken.

I do pity that fellow by the fire though.  I think I’ll buy him a drink. Perhaps he’s the bargaining type. 


Lissa’s work has appeared in the "Little Red Riding Hood" issue of Enchanted Conversation.  She never wears bearskin, but would be very pleased to own a fine green coat.

Altered illustration by Arthur Rackham.

8 comments

  1. I have never read Bearskin, but this is a very enticing tale. It has a very strong message about those who want more. Bearskin finds a way to help others and outsmart the devil in his own game. Bearskin not only gets all the riches for the rest of his life but he has a beautiful bride. The fact that Bearskin even felt ashamed of how he looked during the seven years he still got what he wished for after succeeding. I heard of the tale Bearskin in a previous post I commented on and I was interested in reading it and now I understand why. While this is not the original rendition I am very interested now in reading it. I thought this one grabbed the attention very well and it definitely had me enjoying every big of it. Now I need to go read Bearskin for a better comparison.

    Brandon Dell

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  2. How interesting. I have read and commented on other submissions by this author. Like one of her other stories "No Harm in Tears" this author is able to put a new outlook on a story.

    Bearskin must have really reeked after those seven long years. Probably seven months were enough! I also imagine time must have really moved quite slowly for him, especially after finding a bride.

    I admit as I read this, I kept waiting for the soldier to falter. It seems that almost every story involving a deal with the devil ends poorly. The devil always seems to have some twist that causes the poor soul to fail the bargain. I was waiting for the soldier to sacrifice himself by praying for the young girl. However, I am a fan of happy endings, so I am just as satisfied with the ending provided. I don't need anything more, you see?

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  3. The Man in the Green Coat is quite different than any other fairy tale I’ve read. There some common features of fairy tales such as the rule of threes, the number seven, and sibling rivalry, however this turned out to be a much more positive story than most. Every paragraph I read I expected the story to take a turn, for the soldier to fail and fall victim to the devils will. I thought this story did a great job showing how some people are more negative and greedy than others, and how those different attitudes can benefit / hurt them. The soldier is able to keep the bet of neither shaving nor bathing for seven years because he understands that great fortune will be his if he does. He also manages to maintain a friendly disposition and be generous to beggars even though he is a hideous site that no one would go near and has all the money he could ever want. I also felt there was an underlying message trying to show that appearances really don’t tell everything about a person and that it is better to give people a chance than to make assumptions.

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  4. I really enjoyed the fact that this tale came full circle. The final line could very well be the first line, and in the final line, it also clues the reader into the fact that the story is told from the devil’s point of view; at least that was my interpretation. After interpreting it in such a way, I had to read the tale again. Reading “Man in the Green Coat” the second time around, with the knowledge that it is told from the devil’s point of view, adds an extra aspect of mischievous evil. Knowing the desires and weaknesses of men, the devil, is able to easily spot those most susceptible to being led astray, or “gambling with their soul”, and in true devil fashion, the use of the third person disguises the devil’s own telling of the story. I found this particular aspect very clever. Also, it was no mistake to make the color of the coat green. It represents envy, and the desire for more, both of which are clearly presented in the opening of the story.

    -Adam Z.

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  5. Halfway through “The Man in the Green Coat,” I made a connection between said story and that of “King Pig,” one that I recently read. What caught my attention is the fact that each titular character is human, yet possesses beastly qualities. Theses human and “animal” traits transform throughout each tale. For King Pig, we are a given a character who appears filthy and animalistic – what with physical pig characteristics, it was hard for most to see past these inhuman traits. For The Man in the Green Coat, we are given a man who, after gambling his soul, takes on a grisly appearance for seven years in exchange for a lifetime of riches. It is safe to say both men have an intense appearance, but these outward qualities only shelter what mostly good intention they really possess. Their images are not everything. Just because this is the case does not mean looks do not play an incredibly important part in the stories. Like any other fairy tale, it all comes down to the way someone looks physically.

    -JP

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  6. While reading the part in this story about the youngest girl choosing to help her father keep his promise, I thought about Beauty's dedication to her father in "Beauty and the Beast" when she thought she was sacrificing herself when she left to be with the Beast. I was happy that Bearskin was aware of his appearance, and was considerate enough to wait until his deal with the Devil was done to take the girl to be his wife. I didn't expect this to turn out well, because of the saying "making a deal with the Devil" which is what he literally did. I know he was desperate, but many stories with beings with power that offer supernatural assistance or a deal often want something in return. I'm taught that there's no good in the Devil, but it's surprising that he did give him some sort help by giving him some money, but I was expecting the Devil to do something underhanded to Bearskin to keep him from winning the bet. Over all, I did like that there was a happy ending, and that the jealousy of the sisters caused their fate, like in Charles Perrault's version of the "Beauty and the Beast" where the sisters were turned into statues.

    ****Angella M.****

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  7. Awesome story! I kind of felt like it was a beauty and the beast story. Bearskin has become bearded, dirty, and unkempt because of his deal with the devil so he is like the beast. He meets a father who is hard pressed for money, like Beauty’s father, and the man promises Bearskin one of his daughters. Like “Beauty and the Beast” by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, here the youngest daughter has two prideful and vain older sisters. The youngest girl is afraid of Bearskin but still genuinely promises herself to him. Aside from the resemblance to “Beauty and the Beast” I think the main point was to tell people that they should be appreciative of what they have. Bearskin had all the money he could ask for but he was prohibited from praying. Something he admitted he didn’t do much anyway. It was not until late that he realized what a lonely existence it was to have everyone shun him because of his appearance. It actually surprised me that everything turned out okay for him. Usually deals with the devil don’t go over so well. – Melinda P.

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  8. This story makes me think “The Wager” meets “Beauty and the Beast”. “The Wager” is a book written by Donna Jo Napoli. This book is about a very wealthy man named Don Giovanni who, like Bearskin, people needed and were kind to in the beginning. Once Giovanni lost his wealth and Bearskin’s service was over they were no longer needed and cast out. The devil offers Giovanni a magic purse that produces gold coins when you whisper to it and the deal is he must not bathe for three years three months and three days. Very similar to Bearskin’s story. The Beast in this story would be Bearskin because he is not what he appears to be. He looks scary and dirty to the three daughters and as in “Beauty and the Beast” it is the youngest daughter who is willing to change her life for her father’s sake. In both stories the daughter finds out who the Beast really is and is pleased with what she has. The moral to this story is obviously that you shouldn’t be greedy and to just be grateful for what you have, like the girl with green eyes who never asked for more.
    Paige F.

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