Friday, 29 March 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--The Wonderful Birch (Russia, 1890)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we look at a tale from Russia entitled The Wonderful Birch. It was collected by folklorist Andrew Lang and published in The Red Fairy Book. Lang's source for this tale was "From the Russo-Karelian." 

Andrew Lang was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic and most well-known for his publications on folklore, mythology, and religion. He collected folklore and fairy tales from around the world, published them in hardback books with beautiful illustrations and named each volume after coloured fairies. The first to debut was The Blue Fairy Book in 1889, followed by The Red Fairy Book in 1890, The Green Fairy book in 1892, The Yellow Fairy Book in 1894, The Pink Fairy Book in 1897, The Grey Fairy book in 1900, The Violet fairy Book in 1901, The Crimson Fairy book in 1903, The Brown Fairy book in 1904, The Orange Fairy Book in 1906, The Olive Fairy Book in 1907 and ending with The Lilac Fairy Book in 1910. He also collected and published poetry as well as books about animals, princes and princesses and a translation of The Arabian Nights.

This is a long, but well told tale. It begins with a curse and magical transformation as our tale last week did. In this story, a witch enchants the true wife and turns her into a sheep and recreates herself in the form of the true wife, deceiving the husband, but not his daughter. In this way, our mother is not just a desperate stepmother trying to make her way in the world and ensure an inheritance for her and her offspring, but an actual witch. After the sheep mother is slaughtered, her bones grow a magical birch tree and in this way she helps her daughter from beyond the grave.

As in many tales, our heroine is faced with impossible tasks. These are more of a threat to her as the witch says she will eat the Cinder Girl up if she fails to complete them. She must remove barleycorn, hemp seeds and finally milk from the hot ashes, but she is able to do so with the help of a branch from the wonderful birch.

One of the most interesting things about this tale to me is while the witch mother is most certainly not sympathetic, the step sister is. The story says:

At the banquet the prince invited her to sit next him in the place of honour; but the witch's daughter gnawed the bones under the table. The prince did not see her, and thinking it was a dog, he gave her such a push with his foot that her arm was broken. Are you not sorry for the witch's daughter? It was not her fault that her mother was a witch.

This tale is also unusual in that the prince smears the doorway and the threshold with tar and therefore over the course of three nights our heroine loses her golden ring, her golden circlet and both of her golden slippers. Many trials ensue for our heroine (including an animal transformation of her own) and the ending is rather like the Scottish ballad Tam Lin because the prince must hold her through a variety of frightening transformations until her real shape has been set free.

This is one of my favourite versions of this tale. The only thing I do not like is the way the prince treats dogs. He seems to be forever kicking the step sister who is under the table gnawing on a bone thinking she is a dog. It is somehow unacceptable to do this to a person ( we feel quite sorry for her) but it is somehow OK to treat an animal in this manner. In my mind, this does not make him a worthy prince. Also the way that he convinces our heroine to treat her partially blind and lame sister (which was all his fault) as a literal doormat makes me think that neither of them have much strength of character and probably deserve each other. But it is still a cracking read, so I will continue to count it as a favourite. 

Image result for the wonderful birch

The Wonderful Birch source

Once upon a time there were a man and a woman, who had an only daughter. Now it happened that one of their sheep went astray, and they set out to look for it, and searched and searched, each in n different part of the wood. Then the good wife met a witch, who said to her, "If you spit, you miserable creature, if you spit into the sheath of my knife, or if you run between my legs, I shall change you into a black sheep."

The woman neither spat, nor did she run between her legs, but yet the witch changed her into a sheep. Then she made herself look exactly like the woman, and called out to the good man, 

"Ho, old man, halloa! I have found the sheep already!"

The man thought the witch was really his wife, and he did not know that his wife was the sheep; so he went home with her, glad at heart because his sheep was found. When they were safe at home the witch said to the man, "Look here, old man, we must really kill that sheep lest it run away to the wood again."

The man, who was a peaceable quiet sort of fellow, made no objections, but simply said, "Good, let us do so."

The daughter, however, had overheard their talk, and she ran to the flock and lamented aloud, 

"Oh, dear little mother, they are going to slaughter you!"

"Well, then, if they do slaughter me," was the black sheep's answer, "eat you neither the meat nor the broth that is made of me, but gather all my bones, and bury them by the edge of the field."

Shortly after this they took the black sheep from the flock and slaughtered it. The witch made pease-soup of it and set it before the daughter. But the girl remembered her mother's warning.
She did not touch the soup, but she carried the bones to the edge of the field and buried them there; and there sprang up on the spot a birch tree -- a very lovely birch tree.

Some time had passed away -- who can tell how long they might have been living there? -- when the witch, to whom a child had been born in the meantime, began to take an ill-will to the man's daughter, and to torment her in all sorts of ways.

Now it happened that a great festival was to be held at the palace, and the king had commanded that all the people should be invited, and that this proclamation should be made:

Come, people all!
Poor and wretched, one and all!
Blind and crippled though ye be,
Mount your steeds or come by sea.

And so they drove into the king's feast all the outcasts, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. In the good man's house, too, preparations were made to go to the palace. The witch said to the man, "Go you on in front, old man, with our youngest; I will give the elder girl work to keep her from being dull in our absence."

So the man took the child and set out. But the witch kindled a fire on the hearth, threw a potful of barleycorns among the cinders, and said to the girl, "If you have not picked the barley out of the ashes, and put it all back in the pot before nightfall, I shall eat you up!"

Then she hastened after the others, and the poor girl stayed at home and wept. She tried to be sure to pick up the grains of barley, but she soon saw how useless her labour was; and so she went in her sore trouble to the birch tree on her mother's grave, and cried and cried, because her mother lay dead beneath the sod and could help her no longer. In the midst of her grief she suddenly heard her mother's voice speak from the grave, and say to her, "Why do you 
weep, little daughter?"

"The witch has scattered barleycorns on the hearth, and bid me pick them out of the ashes," said the girl; "that is why I weep, dear little mother."

"Do not weep," said her mother consolingly. "Break off one of my branches, and strike the hearth with it crosswise, and all will be put right."

The girl did so. She struck the hearth with the birchen branch, and lo! the barleycorns flew into the pot, and the hearth was clean. Then she went back to the birch tree and laid the branch upon the grave. Then her mother bade her bathe on one side of the stem, dry herself on another, and dress on the third. When the girl had done all that, she had grown so lovely that no one on earth could rival her. Splendid clothing was given to her, and a horse, with hair partly of gold, partly of silver, and partly of something more precious still. The girl sprang into the saddle and rode as swift as an arrow to the palace.

As she turned into the courtyard of the castle the king's son came out to meet her, tied her steed to a pillar, and led her in. He never left her side as they passed through the castle rooms; and all the people gazed at her, and wondered who the lovely maiden was, and from what castle she came; but no one knew her -- no one knew anything about her. At the banquet the prince invited her to sit next him in the place of honour; but the witch's daughter gnawed the bones under the table. The prince did not see her, and thinking it was a dog, he gave her such a push with his foot that her arm was broken. Are you not sorry for the witch's daughter? It was not her fault that her mother was a witch.

Towards evening the good man's daughter thought it was time to go home; but as she went, her ring caught on the latch of the door, for the king's son had had it smeared with tar. She did not take time to pull it off, but hastily unfastening her horse from the pillar, she rode away beyond the castle walls as swift as an arrow. Arrived at home, she took off her clothes by the birch tree, left her horse standing there, and hastened to her place behind the stove. In a short time the man and the woman came home again too, and the witch said to the girl, "Ah! you poor thing, there you are to be sure! You don't know what fine times we have had at the palace! The king's son carried my daughter about, but the poor thing fell and broke her arm."
The girl knew well how matters really stood, but she pretended to know nothing about it, and sat dumb behind the stove.

The next day they were invited again to the king's banquet.

"Hey! old man," said the witch, "get on your clothes as quick as you can; we are bidden to the feast. Take you the child; I will give the other one work, lest she weary."

She kindled the fire, threw a potful of hemp seed among the ashes, and said to the girl, "If you do not get this sorted, and all the seed back into the pot, I shall kill you!"

The girl wept bitterly; then she went to the birch tree, washed herself on one side of it and dried herself on the other; and this time still finer clothes were given to her, and a very beautiful steed. She broke off a branch of the birch tree, struck the hearth with it, so that the seeds flew into the pot, and then hastened to the castle.

Again the king's son came out to meet her, tied her horse to a pillar, and led her into the banqueting hall. At the feast the girl sat next him in the place of honour, as she had done the day before. But the witch's daughter gnawed bones under the table, and the prince gave her a push by mistake, which broke her leg -- he had never noticed her crawling about among the people's feet. She was very unlucky!

The good man's daughter hastened home again betimes, but the king's son had smeared the door-posts with tar, and the girl's golden circlet stuck to it. She had not time to look for it but sprang to the saddle and rode like an arrow to the birch tree. There she left her horse and her fine clothes, and said to her mother, "I have lost my circlet at the castle; the door-post was tarred, and it stuck fast."

"And even had you lost two of them," answered her mother, "I would give you finer ones."
Then the girl hastened home, and when her father came home from the feast with the witch, she was in her usual place behind the stove. Then the witch said to her, "You poor thing! what is there to see here compared with what we have seen at the palace? The king's son carried my daughter from one room to another; he let her fall, 'tis true, and my child's foot was broken."

The man's daughter held her peace all the time and busied herself about the hearth.
The night passed, and when the day began to dawn, the witch awakened her husband, crying, "Hi! get up, old man! We are bidden to the royal banquet."

So the old man got up. Then the witch gave him the child, saying, "Take you the little one; I will give the other girl work to do, else she will weary at home alone."

She did as usual. This time it was a dish of milk she poured upon the ashes, saying, "If you do not get all the milk into the dish again before I come home, you will suffer for it."

How frightened the girl was this time! She ran to the birch tree, and by its magic power her task was accomplished; and then she rode away to the palace as before. When she got to the courtyard, she found the prince waiting for her. He led her into the hall, where she was highly honoured; but the witch's daughter sucked the bones under the table and crouching at the people's feet she got an eye knocked out, poor thing! Now no one knew any more than before about the good man's daughter, no one knew whence she came; but the prince had had the threshold smeared with tar, and as she fled her gold slippers stuck to it. She reached the birch tree, and laying aside her finery, she said, "Alas I dear little mother, I have lost my gold slippers!"

"Let them be," was her mother's reply; "if you need them, I shall give you finer ones."

Scarcely was she in her usual place behind the stove when her father came home with the witch. Immediately the witch began to mock her, saying, "Ah! you poor thing, there is nothing for you to see here, and we -- ah: what great things we have seen at the palace! My little girl was carried about again but had the ill-luck to fall and get her eye knocked out. You stupid thing, you, what do you know about anything?"

"Yes, indeed, what can I know?" replied the girl; "I had enough to do to get the hearth clean."

Now the prince had kept all the things the girl had lost, and he soon set about finding the owner of them. For this purpose a great banquet was given on the fourth day, and all the people were invited to the palace. The witch got ready to go too. She tied a wooden beetle on where her child's foot should have been, a log of wood instead of an arm, and stuck a bit of dirt in the empty socket for an eye and took the child with her to the castle. When all the people were gathered together, the king's son stepped in among the crowd and cried, "The maiden whose finger this ring slips over, whose head this golden hoop encircles, and whose foot this shoe fits, shall be my bride."

What a great trying on there was now among them all! The things would fit no one, however.

"The cinder wench is not here," said the prince at last; "go and fetch her and let her try on the things."

So the girl was fetched, and the prince was just going to hand the ornaments to her, when the witch held him back, saying, "Don't give them to her; she soils everything with cinders; give them to my daughter rather."

Well, then the prince gave the witch's daughter the ring, and the woman filed and pared away at her daughter's finger till the ring fitted. It was the same with the circlet and the shoes of gold. The witch would not allow them to be handed to the cinder wench; she worked at her own daughter's head and feet till she got the things forced on. What was to be done now? The prince had to take the witch's daughter for his bride whether he would or no; he sneaked away to her father's house with her, however, for he was ashamed to hold the wedding festivities at the palace with so strange a bride. Some days passed, and at last he had to take his bride home to the palace, and he got ready to do so. Just as they were taking leave, the kitchen wench sprang down from her place by the stove, on the pretext of fetching something from the cowhouse, and in going by she whispered in the prince's ear as he stood in the yard, 

"Alas! dear prince, do not rob me of my silver and my gold."

Thereupon the king's son recognised the cinder wench; so he took both the girls with him and set out. After they had gone some little way they came to the bank of a river, and the prince threw the witch's daughter across to serve as a bridge, and so got over with the cinder wench. There lay the witch's daughter then, like a bridge over the river, and could not stir, though her heart was consumed with grief. No help was near, so she cried at last in her anguish, "May there grow a golden hemlock out of my body! Perhaps my mother will know me by that token."

Scarcely had she spoken when a golden hemlock sprang up from her and stood upon the bridge.

Now, as soon as the prince had got rid of the witch's daughter, he greeted the cinder wench as his bride, and they wandered together to the birch tree which grew upon the mother's grave. There they received all sorts of treasures and riches, three sacks full of gold, and as much silver, and a splendid steed, which bore them home to the palace. There they lived a long time together, and the young wife bore a son to the prince. Immediately word was brought to the witch that her daughter had borne a son -- for they all believed the young king's wife to be the witch's daughter.

"So, so," said the witch to herself; "I had better away with my gift for the infant, then."
And so saying she set out. Thus it happened that she came to the bank of the river, and there she saw the beautiful golden hemlock growing in the middle of the bridge, and when she began to cut it down to take to her grandchild, she heard a voice moaning, "Alas! dear mother, do not cut me so!"

"Are you here?" demanded the witch.

"Indeed I am, dear little mother," answered the daughter "They threw me across the river to make a bridge of me."

In a moment the witch had the bridge shivered to atoms, and then she hastened away to the palace. Stepping up to the young Queen's bed, she began to try her magic arts upon her, saying, "Spit, you wretch, on the blade of my knife; bewitch my knife's blade for me, and I shall change you into a reindeer of the forest."

"Are you there again to bring trouble upon me?" said the young woman.

She neither spat nor did anything else, but still the witch changed her into a reindeer, and smuggled her own daughter into her place as the prince's wife. But now the child grew restless and cried, because it missed its mother's care. They took it to the court, and tried to pacify it in every conceivable way, but its crying never ceased.

"What makes the child so restless?" asked the prince, and he went to a wise widow woman to ask her advice.

"Ay, ay, your own wife is not at home," said the widow woman; "she is living like a reindeer in the wood; you have the witch's daughter for a wife now, and the witch herself for a mother-in- law."

"Is there any way of getting my own wife back from the wood again?" asked the prince.

"Give me the child," answered the widow woman. "I'll take it with me tomorrow when I go to drive the cows to the wood. I'll make a rustling among the birch leaves and a trembling among the aspens -- perhaps the boy will grow quiet when he hears it."

"Yes, take the child away, take it to the wood with you to quiet it," said the prince, and led the widow woman into the castle.

"How now? you are going to send the child away to the wood?" said the witch in a suspicious tone and tried to interfere.

But the king's son stood firm by what he had commanded, and said, "Carry the child about the wood; perhaps that will pacify it."

So the widow woman took the child to the wood. She came to the edge of a marsh, and seeing a herd of reindeer there, she began all at once to sing:

Little Bright-eyes, little Redskin,
Come nurse the child you bore!
That bloodthirsty monster,
That man-eater grim,
Shall nurse him, shall tend him no more.
They may threaten and force as they will,
He turns from her, shrinks from her still,

and immediately the reindeer drew near and nursed and tended the child the whole day long; but at nightfall it had to follow the herd, and said to the widow woman, "Bring me the child tomorrow, and again the following day; after that I must wander with the herd far away to other lands."

The following morning the widow woman went back to the castle to fetch the child. The witch interfered, of course, but the prince said, "Take it, and carry it about in the open air; the boy is quieter at night, to be sure, when he has been in the wood all day."

So the widow took the child in her arms and carried it to the marsh in the forest. There she sang as on the preceding day:

Little Bright-eyes, little Redskin,
Come nurse the child you bore!
That bloodthirsty monster,
That man-eater grim,
Shall nurse him, shall tend him no more.
They may threaten and force as they will,
He turns from her, shrinks from her still,

and immediately the reindeer left the herd and came to the child and tended it as on the day before. And so it was that the child throve, till not a finer boy was to be seen anywhere. But the king's son had been pondering over all these things, and he said to the widow woman, "Is there no way of changing the reindeer into a human being again?"

"I don't rightly know," was her answer. "Come to the wood with me, however; when the woman puts off her reindeer skin, I shall comb her head for her; whilst I am doing so you must burn the skin."

Thereupon they both went to the wood with the child; scarcely were they there when the reindeer appeared and nursed the child as before. Then the widow woman said to the reindeer, "Since you are going far away tomorrow, and I shall not see you again, let me comb your head for the last time, as a remembrance of you."

Good; the young woman stripped off the reindeer skin and let the widow woman do as she wished. In the meantime the king's son threw the reindeer skin into the fire unobserved.

"What smells of singeing here?" asked the young woman and looking round she saw her own husband. "Woe is me! you have burnt my skin. Why did you do that?"

"To give you back your human form again."

"Alack-a-day! I have nothing to cover me now, poor creature that I am!" cried the young woman, and transformed herself first into a distaff, then into a wooden beetle, then into a spindle, and into all imaginable shapes. But all these shapes the king's son went on destroying till she stood before him in human form again.

"Alas! wherefore take me home with you again," cried the young woman, "since the witch is sure to eat me up?"

"She will not eat you up," answered her husband; and they started for home with the child.
But when the witch wife saw them, she ran away with her daughter and if she has not stopped, she is running still, though at a great age. And the prince, and his wife, and the baby lived happy ever afterwards.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale of a Brahman who married a wicked stepmother.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Pepelyouga (Serbia, 1914)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we look at a story from Serbia. The tale of Pepelyouga was published in 1914 in a volume entitled Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians. The author is listed as Woislav M. Petrovitch but unfortunately, the only biographical data I can find is that he was attaché to the Serbian royal legation to the court of Saint James.

This tale starts with a curious prophecy that whichever maiden drops her spindle down a cliff, her mother will be transformed into a cow. The most beautiful maiden in the group does just that and returns home to find the prophecy has been fulfilled. Her true mother is put out to pasture (literally) and her father remarries.

The stepmother gives her impossible tasks such as spinning rough hemp into fine thread, but she is helped by her bovine mother who fulfils the role of magical helper. In other tales, our heroine has been fed from a cow’s ears, but in this tales the cow chews the hemp and the fine thread comes out of her ear. Later after her mother is slaughtered and eaten, her mother’s bones continue to bless the girl and help her from beyond the grave by providing clothes to wear to church.

Our heroine is helped by many animals in this tale. First, her own mother who was turned into a cow, then later at her mother’s grave two doves help her perform another impossible task of gathering up all the millet seeds that had been scattered and cooking a meal. Lastly when she is hidden under a trough to prevent her from trying on the golden slipper, a cockerel calls out and shows the Prince how to find her.

Of all the versions of this tale I have read, this one has the best ending I have ever seen. Since so many of these tales (not just Cinderella, but fairy tales in general) have to do with waiting for someone to rescue the woman and marry her, they often seem to fall short in the mutual love department. It doesn’t matter if the woman loves the Prince, she is happy to marry him to improve her station in life. Love often doesn’t have anything to do with it and in many Cinderella versions, it is very one sided. The Prince sees the girl at church and wants to claim her for his own. She has little say in the matter. Is it love for the Prince or just the desire to own her because she is beautiful like an ornament or trinket? Therefore, the ending to this tale warms my heart because of how gently the Prince woos her after he finds the slipper fits. The last lines are

He lifted her up tenderly and escorted her to his palace. Later he won her love, and they were happily married.

A “fairy tale” ending, indeed.
Image result for serbian marra

Pepelyouga source
On a high pasture land, near an immense precipice, some maidens were occupied in spinning and attending to their grazing cattle, when an old strange looking man with a white beard reaching down to his girdle approached, and said, "Oh fair maidens, beware of the abyss, for if one of you should drop her spindle down the cliff, her mother would be turned into a cow that very moment!"

So saying the aged man disappeared, and the girls, bewildered by his words, and discussing the strange incident, approached near to the ravine which had suddenly become interesting to them. They peered curiously over the edge, as though expecting to see some unaccustomed sight, when suddenly the most beautiful of the maidens let her spindle drop from her hand, and before she could recover it, it was bounding from rock to rock into the depths beneath. When she returned home that evening, she found her worst fears realised, for her mother stood before the door transformed into a cow.

A short time later her father married again. His new wife was a widow and brought a daughter of her own into her new home. This girl was not particularly well favoured, and her mother immediately began to hate her stepdaughter because of the latter's good looks. She forbade her henceforth to wash her face, to comb her hair or to change her clothes, and in every way she could think of she sought to make her miserable.

One morning she gave her a bag filled with hemp, saying, "If you do not spin this and make a fine top of it by tonight, you need not return home, for I intend to kill you."

The poor girl, deeply dejected, walked behind the cattle, industriously spinning as she went, but by noon when the cattle lay down in the shade to rest, she observed that she had made but little progress and she began to weep bitterly.

Now, her mother was driven daily to pasture with the other cows and seeing her daughter's tears she drew near and asked why she wept, whereupon the maiden told her all. Then the cow comforted her daughter, saying, "My darling child, be consoled! Let me take the hemp into my mouth and chew it; through my ear a thread will come out. You must take the end of this and wind it into a top." So this was done; the hemp was soon spun, and when the girl gave it to her stepmother that evening, she was greatly surprised.

Next morning the woman roughly ordered the maiden to spin a still larger bag of hemp, and as the girl, thanks to her mother, spun and wound it all, her stepmother, on the following day, gave her twice the quantity to spin. Nevertheless, the girl brought home at night even that unusually large quantity well spun, and her stepmother concluded that the poor girl was not spinning alone, but that other maidens, her friends, were giving her help. Therefore she, next morning, sent her own daughter to spy upon the poor girl and to report what she saw. The girl soon noticed that the cow helped the poor orphan by chewing the hemp, while she drew the thread and wound it on a top, and she ran back home and informed her mother of what she had seen. Upon this, the stepmother insisted that her husband should order that particular cow to be slaughtered. Her husband at first hesitated, but as his wife urged him more and more, he finally decided to do as she wished.

On learning what had been decided, the stepdaughter wept more than ever, and when her mother asked what was the matter, she told her tearfully all that had been arranged. Thereupon the cow said to her daughter, "Wipe away your tears, and do not cry any more. When they slaughter me, you must take great care not to eat any of the meat, but after the repast, carefully collect my bones and inter them behind the house under a certain stone; then, should you ever be in need of help, come to my grave and there you will find it."

The cow was killed, and when the meat was served the poor girl declined to eat of it, pretending that she had no appetite; after the meal she gathered with great care all the bones and buried them on the spot indicated by her mother.

Now, the name of the maiden was Marra, but, as she had to do the roughest work of the house, such as carrying water, washing, and sweeping, she was called by her stepmother and stepsister Pepelyouga (Cinderella).

One Sunday, when the stepmother and her daughter had dressed themselves for church, the woman spread about the house the contents of a basketful of millet, and said, "Listen, Pepelyouga; if you do not gather up all this millet and have dinner ready by the time we return from church, I will kill you!"
When they had gone, the poor girl began to weep, reflecting, "As to the dinner I can easily prepare it, but how can I possibly gather up all this millet?" But that very moment she recalled the words of the cow, that, if she ever should be struck by misfortune, she need but walk to the grave behind the house, when she would find instant help there. Immediately she ran out, and, when she approached the grave, lo! a chest was lying on the grave wide open, and inside were beautiful dresses and everything necessary for a lady's toilet. Two doves were sitting on the lid of the chest, and as the girl drew near, they said to her, "Marra, take from the chest the dress you like the best, clothe yourself, and go to church. As to the millet and other work, we ourselves will attend to that and see that everything is in good order!"

Marra needed no second invitation; she took the first silk dress she touched, made her toilet, and went to church, where her entrance created quite a sensation. Everybody, men and women, greatly admired her beauty and her costly attire, but they were puzzled as to who she was, and where she came from. A prince happened to be in the church on that day, and he, too, admired the beautiful maiden.

Just before the service ended, the girl stole from the church, went hurriedly home, took off her beautiful clothes and placed them back in the chest, which instantly shut and became invisible. She then rushed to the kitchen, where she discovered that the dinner was quite ready, and that the millet was gathered into the basket. Soon the stepmother came back with her daughter, and they were astounded to find the millet gathered up, dinner prepared, and everything else in order. A desire to learn the secret now began to torment the stepmother mightily.

Next Sunday everything happened as before, except that the girl found in the chest a silver dress, and that the prince felt a greater admiration for her, so much so that he was unable, even for a moment to take his eyes from her. On the third Sunday, the mother and daughter again prepared to go to church, and, having scattered the millet as before, she repeated her previous threats. As soon as they disappeared, the girl ran straight to her mother's grave, where she found, as on the previous occasions, the open chest and the same two doves. This time she found a dress made of gold lace, and she hastily clad herself in it and went to church, where she was admired by all, even more than before. As for the czar's son, he had come with the intention not to let her this time out of his sight, but to follow and see where she went. Accordingly, as the service drew near to its close, and the maiden withdrew quietly as before, the enamoured prince followed after her. Marra hurried along, for she had none too much time, and, as she went, one of her golden slippers came off, and she was too agitated to stop and pick it up. The prince, however, who had lost sight of the maiden, saw the slipper and put it in his pocket. Reaching home, Marra took off her golden dress, laid it in the chest, and rushed back to the house.

The prince now resolved to go from house to house throughout his father's realm in search of the owner of the slipper, inviting all the fair maidens to try on the golden slipper. But, alas! his efforts seemed to be doomed to failure; for some girls the slipper was too long, for others too short, for others, again, too narrow. There was no one whom it would fit.

Wandering from door to door, the sad prince at length came to the house of Marra's father. The stepmother was expecting him, and she had hidden her stepdaughter under a large trough in the courtyard. When the prince asked whether she had any daughters, the stepmother answered that she had but one, and she presented the girl to him. The prince requested the girl to try on the slipper, but, squeeze as she would, there was not room in it even for her toes! Thereupon the prince asked whether it was true that there were no other girls in the house, and the stepmother replied that indeed it was quite true.

That very moment a cock flew onto the trough and crowed out lustily, "Kook-oo-ryeh-koooo! Here she is under this very trough!"

The stepmother, enraged, exclaimed, "Sh! Go away! May an eagle seize you and fly off with you!" The curiosity of the prince was aroused. He approached the trough, lifted it up, and, to his great surprise, there was the maiden whom he had seen three times in church, clad in the very same golden dress she had last worn, and having only one golden slipper.

When the prince recognised the maiden he was overcome with joy. Quickly he tried the slipper on her dainty foot. It not only fit her admirably, but it exactly matched the one she already wore on her left foot. He lifted her up tenderly and escorted her to his palace. Later he won her love, and they were happily married.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for the tale of the Wonderful Birch.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Little Rag Girl (Soviet Georgia, 1894)

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.

 Image result for mother hulda gold
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.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Little Saddleslut (Greece, 1884)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we look at a variant of Cinderella from Greece entitled Little Saddleslut that was collected by Edmund Martin Geldart in his 1884 book Folk-Lore of Modern Greece: The Tales of the People.  Geldart studied at Oxford where he was friends with Gerald Manley Hopkins. Upon graduation he was appointed assistant-master at Manchester Grammar School, but a breakdown compelled him to give up his teaching post. He went abroad and spent time in Athens, where he developed an interest in the language and culture of modern Greece. He eventually returned to England and became a classics and modern languages teacher and later became a curate until his religious views changed and he left the Anglican church and joined the Unitarians.

This version bears some resemblance to other tales we have looked at (there are mean sisters and a shoe is lost) but it also resembles other tales like The Juniper Tree due to the cannibalism and there is a magic house with talking dishware which rather put me in mind of Beauty and the Beast. There is also shades of the Greek myth about the birth of Perseus where his mother Danaë is made pregnant by Zeus and her father locks her and the baby in a wooden chest and throws them in the sea.

The sisters in this tale are not just mean to our protagonist, they are cannibals who kill and eat their own mother. They put her on a saddle that is covered with bird poop and give her the nickname Little Saddleslut for not joining in their gore fest. Our heroine is virtuous and saves her mother’s bones and gives them a proper burial. The grave brings forth gold coins and a garment so blindingly beautiful that people could not gaze directly at it. As you would expect, she loses her shoe and the prince finds it, but one of the nicest things about this tale is the fact that the prince recognises her right away even though she is covered in bird poop. The moment he sees her, he knows the shoe will fit. She does not need a makeover to be recognised. Later, after her sisters have thrown her into the river in a wooden chest and she lives in the house with talking dishware he does not seem to recognise her. I can’t be sure. He tries to steal one of her talking spoons by sticking it in his shoe, but I am not clear if this is just a random act of kleptomania or is it a test to make her reveal her true identity. Also, the trigger for boxing her into the river was the fact that she’d had a baby and the sisters were jealous. Unlike Danaë, the baby was not included in the sea chest and when she is reunited with the prince, the child is never mentioned. However, it does have a satisfactory ending because the sisters are hewed into pieces for their treachery.

Little Saddleslut source

There were once three sisters spinning flax, and they said, "Whosever spindle falls, let us kill her and eat her."

The mother's spindle fell, and they left her alone.

Again they sat down to spin, and again the mother's spindle fell, and again and yet again.

"Ah, well!" said they, "let us eat her now!"

"No!" said the youngest, "do not eat her; eat me, if flesh you will have."

But they would not; and two of them killed their mother and cooked her for eating.

When they had sat down to make a meal of her, they said to the youngest, "Come and eat too!"

But she refused and sat down on a saddle which the fowls were covering with filth, and wept, and upbraided them.

Many a time they said to her, "Come and eat!" but she would not; and when they had done eating, they all went away.

Then the youngest, whom they called Little Saddleslut, gathered all the bones together and buried them underneath the grate, and smoked them every day with incense for forty days; and after the forty days were out, she went to take them away and put them in another place. And when she lifted up the stone, she was astonished at the rays of light which it sent forth, and raiment was found there, like unto the heavens and the stars, the spring with its flowers, the sea with its waves; and many coins of every kind; and she left them where she found them.

Afterwards her sisters came and found her sitting on the saddle and jeered at her. On Sunday her sisters went to church; then she, too, arose; she washed and attired herself, putting on the garment that was as the heavens with the stars, and went to church, taking with her a few gold pieces in her purse. When she went into the church all the people were amazed and could not gaze upon her by reason of the brightness of her garments. When she left the church, the people followed her to see whither she went. Then she filled her hand with money from her bag and cast it in the way, and so she kept throwing it down all the way she went, so that they might not get near her. Then the crowd scrambled for the coins and left her alone. And straightway she went into her house, and changed her clothes, and put on her old things, and sat down upon the saddle.

Her sisters came home from church and said to her, "Where are you, wretch? Come and let us tell you how there came into the church a maiden more glorious than the sun, who had such garments on as you could not look on, so brightly did they gleam and shine, and she strewed money on the way! Look, see what a lot we have picked up! Why did not you come too? Worse luck to you!"

"You are welcome to what you picked up; I don't want it," said she.

Next Sunday they went to church again, and she did the same. Then they went another Sunday, and just as she was flinging the money, she lost her shoe among the crowd, and left it behind her.
Now the king's son was following her, but could not catch her, and only found her shoe. Then said he to himself, "Whose ever foot this shoe exactly fits, without being either too large or too small, I will take her for my wife."

And he went to all the women he knew and tried it on but could not manage to fit it. Then her sisters came to her and spoke as follows to her, "You go and try; perhaps it will fit you!"

"Get away with you!" said she. "Do you think he will put the shoe on me, and get it covered with filth? Do not make fun of me."

The prince had taken all the houses in turn, and so he came at length to the house of Little Saddleslut, 
and his servants told her to come and try on the shoe.

"Do not make fun of me," she says.

However she went down, and when the prince saw her, he knew the shoe was hers, and said to her, 

"Do you try on the shoe."

And with the greatest ease she put it on, and it fitted her.

Then said the prince to her, "I will take you to wife."

"Do not make fun of me," she answered, "so may your youth be happy!"

"Nay, but I will marry you," said he, and he took her and made her his wife.

Then she put on her fairest robes. When a little child was born to her, the sisters came to see it. And when she was helpless and alone, they took her and put her into a chest, and carried her off and threw her into a river, and the river cast her forth upon a desert.

There was a half-witted old woman there, and when she saw the chest, she thought to cut it up [for firewood] and took it away for that purpose. And when she had broken it open, and saw someone alive in it, she got up and made off.

So the princess was left alone, and heard the wolves howling, and the swine and the lions, and she sat and wept and prayed to God, "Oh God, give me a little hole in the ground that I may hide my head in it, and not hear the wild beasts," and he gave her one.

Again she said, "Oh God, give me one a little larger, that I may get in up to my waist."
And he gave her one. And she besought him again a third time, and he gave her a cabin with all that she wanted in it; and there she dwelt, and whatever she said, her bidding was done forthwith.

For instance, when she wanted to eat, she would say, "Come, table with all that is wanted! Come food! Come spoons and forks, and all things needful," and straightway they all got ready, and when she finished the would ask, "Are you all there?" and they would answer, "We are."

One day the prince came into the wilderness to hunt and seeing the cabin he went to find out who was inside; and when he got there he knocked at the door.
And she saw him and knew him from afar, and said, "Who is knocking at the door?"

"It is I, let me in," said he.

"Open, doors!" said she, and in a twinkling the doors opened, and he entered. He went upstairs and found her seated on a chair.

"Good day to you," said he.

"Welcome!" said she, and straightway all that was in the room cried out, "Welcome!"

"Come chair!" she cried, and one came at once.

"Sit down," she said to him and down he sat. And when she had asked him the reason of his coming, she bade him stay and dine, and afterwards depart.

He agreed, and straightway she gave her orders: "Come table with all the covers," and forthwith they presented themselves, and he was sore amazed.

"Come basin," she cried. "Come jug, pour water for us to wash! Come food in ten courses!" and immediately all that she ordered made its appearance.

Afterwards when the meal was ended, the prince tried to hide a spoon, and put it into his shoe; and when they rose from table, she said "Table, have you all your covers?"

"Yes I have." "Spoons, are you all there?"

"All," they said, except one which said, "I am in the prince's shoe."

Then she cried again, as though she had not heard, "Are you all there, spoons and forks?"
And as soon as the prince heard her, he got rid of it on the sly and blushed.

And she said to him "Why did you blush? Don't be afraid. I am your wife."

Then she told him how she got there and how she fared. And they hugged and kissed each other, and she ordered the house to move and it did move. And when they came near the town all the world came out to see them. Then the prince gave orders for his wife's sisters to be brought before him, and they brought them, and he hewed them in pieces. And so henceforward they lived happily, and may we live more happily still.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for the tale of a little Rag Girl.