The theme was The Devil in the Detail, so I thought I would tell the Grimm story Bärenhäuter (Bearskin), but I also wanted to make it mine. It seemed to me that having to stay dirty for seven years would be more of a challenge for a man who liked to be neat and clean, so the ordinary soldier became an officer, who put on his last dash of perfume and stripped off his fine clothes because he knew their value, and they would settle the last of his debts, together with five of his six remaining bullets, before he shot himself on the deserted heath. The bear, which the Devil summons up to test the officer’s courage, is not a real bear, but a bearskin animated by magic, though scary enough to make the officer use his last remaining bullet, which, in a sense, forces him to abandon suicide and take the Devil’s challenge (and avoids the messiness of having to skin a bear on the spot, and the need to harm a protected species in the telling of a story).
Having lodged Bearskin in an annex to the stables, with poorly-built walls, it was a simple matter to send the distressed businessman to a store-room next door, where Bearskin could hear, through a handy knot-hole, his lamentations as he prepared to hang himself. After he has restored the merchant’s fortunes, Bearskin accepts his invitation to visit his home, not out of any desire for marriage, but because he is lonely for human society. The two elder daughters (do they have a different mother from the youngest? I don’t know) refuse even to meet him. In a piece of prefiguring (which occurred to me too late, but which I will use next time I tell it) one of them says she would sooner hang herself, the other that she would sooner jump down a well than meet him. The youngest, who really loves her father, makes the offer of marriage to Bearskin, since she is the only thing she truly possesses that she can give him in gratitude, and they do the stuff with the ring that is already in the story.
After which, everything unfolds as it does in the text… though I will leave it to the Devil to tell Bearskin about the suicides of his sisters-in-law, and let him decide when to tell his wife… we’ll simply have them stomp off in high dudgeon before the wedding.
These are my methods: to preserve what I see as the point of the story, but to reinforce motivations and remove what I feel to be unnecessarily offensive, especially if I can do it cleverly.