Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
This week we look at a tale of a little girl in rags from Soviet Georgia. It was collected and published in Georgian Folk Tales in 1894 by English scholar and translator Marjory Scott Wardrop. She was an amazing woman. She never married and travelled extensively with her brother the British diplomat and scholar Sir John Oliver Wardrop where together they collected and translated volumes of works into English. She was fluent in seven foreign languages and taught herself Georgian so she could travel to Georgia (then part of Imperial Russia) in 1894-5. There she translated and published several books including the first English prose translation of a medieval epic poem by Shota Rustaveli After her death, her brother created the Marjory Wardrop Fund at Oxford University "for the encouragement of the study of the language, literature, and history of Georgia, in Transcaucasia.”
This tale has many elements that you expect to see in a Cinderella tale (mistreatment by a stepmother, magical helper, impossible tasks, lost slipper, royal wedding) but also bears some resemblance to the Aarne Thompson Uther classification of ATU 480—the Kind and the Unkind Girls where good behaviour is rewarded, and bad behaviour is punished. You see this in Perrault’s tale of Diamonds and Toads or the Grimm’s version of Mother Holle or in more contemporary retellings like Robert San Souci's The Talking Eggs.
This tale begins interestingly because our heroine is not forced to wear rags by her evil stepmother (she comes later) but rather wears rags because they are so poor. Once her father remarries, the stepmother sets her up with impossible tasks. She is given a loaf of badly cooked bread and told to eat it all and share it with every passer-by, but to come him with a whole loaf at the end of the day. Later she is told to gather all the grains of millet together that have been spread all over the farmyard and to fill a trough with her tears before nightfall. Rag Girl’s magical helper is a cow who feeds our girl by producing food from its horns. As in other tales, the magical helper is slaughtered, and the bones still help our heroine from beyond the grave.
The most interesting detail to me is the King finds the slipper and declares he will marry who it fits without having seen her first. I also really like that we have a plucky heroine in this tale who is not passive. When the slipper is brought to their house, the stepmother puts her own daughter upon a throne to receive the King but hides Rag Girl under a basket that the King uses as a chair. She pokes him with a needle to get his attention. She comes out from under the basket and tries on the shoe and it fits. Then her shameless stepmother was left with a dry throat. As a child, I would have hoped that meant her throat was slit and bled dry for her treachery (I was a bloodthirsty girl), but I suspect it means she was at a loss for words.
Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl source
There was and there was not, there was a miserable peasant. He had a wife and a little daughter. So poor was this peasant that his daughter was called Conkiajgharuna (Little Rag Girl).
Some time passed, and his wife died. He was unhappy before, but now a greater misfortune had befallen him. He grieved and grieved, and at last he said to himself, "I will go and take another wife; she will mind the house and tend my orphan child." So he arose and took a second wife, but this wife brought with her a daughter of her own. When this woman came into her husband's house and saw his child, she was angry in heart.
She treated Little Rag Girl badly. She petted her own daughter, but scolded her stepdaughter, and tried to get rid of her. Every day she gave her a piece of badly cooked bread, and sent her out to watch the cow, saying, "Here is a loaf; eat of it, give to every wayfarer, and bring the loaf home whole." The girl went and felt very miserable.
Once she was sitting sadly in the field and began to weep bitterly. The cow listened, and then opened its mouth, and said, "Why are you weeping? What troubles you?" The girl told her sad tale. The cow said, "In one of my horns is honey, and in the other is butter, which you can take if you want to, so why be unhappy?" The girl took the butter and the honey, and in a short time she grew plump. When the stepmother noticed this, she did not know what to do for rage. She rose, and after that every day she gave her a basket of wool with her; this wool was to be spun and brought home in the evening finished. The stepmother wished to tire the girl out with toil, so that she should grow thin and ugly.
Once when Little Rag Girl was tending the cow, it ran away onto a roof. [In some parts of the Caucasus the houses of the peasantry are built in the ground, and it is quite possible to walk onto a roof unwittingly. (Note by Wardrop)] She pursued it, and wished to drive it back to the road, but she dropped her spindle on the roof. Looking inside she saw an old woman seated, and said to her, "Good mother, will you give me my spindle?"
The old dame replied, "I am not able, my child, come and take it yourself." The old woman was a devi.
The girl went in and was lifting up her spindle, when the old dame called out, "Daughter, daughter, come and look at my head a moment. I am almost eaten up."
The girl came and looked at her head. She was filled with horror; all the worms in the earth seemed to be crawling there. The little girl stroked her head and removed some, and then said, "You have a clean head. Why should I look at it?"
This conduct pleased the old woman very much, and she said, "When you leave here, go along such and such a road, and in a certain place you will see three springs -- one white, one black, and one yellow. Pass by the white and black and put your head in the yellow and rinse it with your hands."
The girl did this. She went on her way and came to the three springs. She passed by the white and black, and bathed her head with her hands in the yellow fountain. When she looked up, she saw that her hair was quite golden, and her hands, too, shone like gold. In the evening, when she went home, her stepmother was filled with fury. After this she sent her own daughter with the cow. Perhaps the same good fortune would visit her!
So Little Rag Girl stayed at home while her stepsister drove out the cow. Once more the cow ran onto the roof. The girl pursued it, and her spindle fell down. She looked in, and seeing the devi woman, called out, "Dog of an old woman! Here! Come and give me my spindle!"
The old woman replied, "I am not able, child, come and take it yourself." When the girl came near, the old woman said, "Come, child, and look at my head."
The girl came and looked at her head, and cried out, "Ugh! What a horrid head you have! You are a disgusting old woman!"
The old woman said, "I thank you, my child; when you go on your way you will see a yellow, a white, and a black spring. Pass by the yellow and the white springs and rinse your head with your hands in the black one."
The girl did this. She passed by the yellow and white springs and bathed her head in the black once. When she looked at herself, she was black as an African, and on her head there was a horn. She cut it off again and again, but it grew larger and larger.
She went home and complained to her mother, who was almost frenzied, but there was no help for it. Her mother said to herself, "This is all the cow's fault, so it shall be killed."
This cow knew the future. When it learned that it was to be killed, it went to Little Rag Girl and said, "When I am dead, gather my bones together and bury them in the earth. When you are in trouble come to my grave, and cry aloud, 'Bring my steed and my royal robes!'" Little Rag Girl did exactly as the cow had told her. When it was dead she took its bones and buried them in the earth.
After this, some time passed. One holiday the stepmother took her daughter, and they went to church. She placed a trough in front of Little Rag Girl, spread a large measure of millet in the courtyard, and said, "Before we come home from church fill this trough with tears, and gather up this millet, so that not one grain is left." Then they went to church.
Little Rag Girl sat down and began to weep. While she was crying a neighbour came in a said, "Why are you in tears? What is the matter?" The little girl told her tale. The woman brought all the brood hens and chicken, and they picked up every grain of millet, then she put a lump of salt in the trough and poured water over it. "There, child," said she, "there are your tears! Now go and enjoy yourself."
Little Rag Girl then thought of the cow. She went to its grave and called out, "Bring me my steed and my royal robes!" There appeared at once a horse and beautiful clothes. Little Rag Girl put on the garments, mounted the horse, and went to the church.
There all the folk began to stare at her. They were amazed at her grandeur. Her stepsister whispered to her mother when she saw her, "This girl is very much like our Little Rag Girl!"
Her mother smiled scornfully and said, "Who would give that sun darkener such robes?"
Little Rag Girl left the church before anyone else; she changed her clothes in time to appear before her stepmother in rags. On the way home, as she was leaping over a stream, in her haste she let her slipper fall in.
A long time passed. Once when the king's horses were drinking water in this stream, they saw the shining slipper and were so afraid that they would drink no more water. The king was told that there was something shining in the stream, and that the horses were afraid.
The king commanded his divers to find out what it was. They found the golden slipper and presented it to the king. When he saw it, he commanded his viziers, saying, "Go and seek the owner of this slipper, for I will wed none but her." His viziers sought the maiden, but they could find no one whom the slipper would fit.
Little Rag Girl's mother heard this, adorned her daughter, and placed her on a throne. Then she went and told the king that she had a daughter whose foot he might look at. It was exactly the model for the shoe. She put Little Rag Girl in a corner, with a big basket over her. When the king came into the house he sat down on the basket, in order to try on the slipper.
Little Rag Girl took a needle and pricked the king from under the basket. He jumped up, stinging with pain, and asked the stepmother what she had under the basket. The stepmother replied, "It is only a turkey I have there."
The king sat down on the basket again, and Little Rag Girl again stuck the needle into him. The king jumped up, and cried out, "Lift the basket. I will see underneath!"
The stepmother pleaded with him, saying, "Do not blame me, your majesty, it is only a turkey, and it will run away."
But the king would not listen to her pleas. He lifted the basket up, and Little Rag Girl came forth, and said, "This slipper is mine, and fits me well." She sat down, and the king found that it was indeed a perfect fit. Little Rag Girl became the king's wife, and her shameless stepmother was left with a dry throat.
That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale from Serbia where the magical helper is both an animal and her mother.