The Three Army Surgeons
The Brothers Grimm kick things off with this tale about a trio of surgeons gathered at an inn, trying to prove their tolerance for pain. One severs his hand, another cuts out his eyes, while the third extracts his heart, each boasting they’ll reattach their parts with no difficulties come morning. Unfortunately the innkeeper leaves these items in an unlocked cabinet (she had other things on her mind, namely a lover’s tryst), during which time a cat absconds with said removals. Ever the pragmatist, our macabre heroine carves the cat’s eyes out, lops off a thief’s hand and procures a pig’s heart. The restored surgeons are none the wiser, that is, until they begin to act in the manner of their donors.
Which begs the question, where did that urban legend about hotels and organ theft originate?
Unconventional Page Turners
Though perpetrated by a cat, “The Three Army Surgeons” addresses the topic of consuming human organs. Cannibals have been depicted throughout literary history. Beginning with the Greek myth of Cronus devouring his offspring, cannibal tropes found their way to German, Russian and Danish folklore (Hansel and Gretel, Baba Yaga, even Hans Christian Andersen, in his lesser-known story “The Flea and the Professor”). Outside of fairy tales, such authors as Herman Melville, Tennessee Williams and Poppy Z. Brite incorporated cannibalism into their texts.
All manner of movies have explored the subject, two forerunners being Soylent Green and Sweeney Todd. Of course, there’s always Fried Green Tomatoes—guess what happens to the abusive husband—for the Jessica Tandy-inclined.
A Growing Practice
The second theme alluded to in “The Three Army Surgeons” is organ trafficking, which occurs around the world. According to an article by Susan Scutti, an estimated 50 percent of Americans who received transplants in 2013 may have obtained their organs through traffickers (28,954 recipients compared to 14,257 donors). Compounding this problem is the fact that traffickers have begun using children to replenish their supplies. An additional headline from 2013 verifies the report of a young girl from Somalia who was trafficked to the U.K. for illegal organ harvesting, one of thousands in a practice whose sales figures tally between $600 million and $1.2 billion.
This Fairy-Tale File brought to you by editorial assistant Kelsey Blackman and poetry editor Jon Riccio.