Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
This week we look at a tale from Wales. I came across this book at our public library entitled Welsh Folk Tales by Peter Stevenson a few years ago. Recently, we got a copy in at the bookshop where I work and a re-read of it reminded me there was a most unusual Cinderella version in it.
The introduction states that there was a welsh gypsy storyteller by the name of Ellen Woods of Gogerddan who was said to be a witch who was paid to curse enemies, bewitch animals, tell fortunes and make love potions. She passed her tales onto her grandson the fiddler and storyteller Matthew Wood. John Sampson who was a librarian at Liverpool University translated these tales from Romani to English for the Gypsy Lore Society after meeting Matthew in 1896. The story of Cinder-Girl the Little Slut was published in 1923.
This tale follows the traditional storyline we have come to expect in these tales up to a point. Girl is persecuted by her sisters, girl is made to dress in rags and can’t go to church, a magical helper appears (an old beggar woman) who grants her a wish, a shoe is lost and found, and wedding takes place. Where it becomes unusual is after the royal marriage and the birth of her children. Still jealous, the eldest sister replaces our heroine’s babies with ugly dogs and her husband has her declared a witch and tries to burn her at the stake. The old beggar woman reappears and turns her into a wild pig and she runs off into the forest. Here she becomes the magical helper for her own children who are being raised by the eldest sister. She is eventually murdered by her husband’s huntsman but her brave Firstborn Girl retrieves a piece of her mother’s liver from her corpse hanging outside the city gates and uses it to make a wish that brings her family back together. Now that is an unusual tale. It is also told in a very engaging style. The book credits the Society for Storytelling and you can see why—this would make a cracking oral story. It also wins the award for most commas in a list. As you read it, see if I’m wrong about this.
A small house, three sisters. The two older sisters thought themselves grand ladies, but they were ashamed of their grimy youngest sister, so they hid her amongst the cinders in the coal-hole where no one could see her. If anyone came to call they said, “Hide yourself, little slut.”
One Sunday, the two sisters came home from church all a-flutter about a handsome prince they had seen. Cinder-girl asked if she might be allowed to go to church and see the prince? “No, grimy little pig,” they said, “go and hide with the coal.”
Next Sunday, the two sisters went to church, leaving the Cinder-girl alone. An old beggar woman came to the door. Cinder-girl invited her in and gave her tea and cake. The old woman took the grimy girl by the land and led her outside. She gave her a white pebble and said, “Throw it against that rock, you will see a door, go inside, there will be a bed chamber, take off your grimy clothes, put on a fine dress, and a pair of golden slippers, go outside, you will see a pony, ride to the church, sit by the door, the prince will see you, then hurry home, put on your grimy clothes and say nothing.” And the old beggar woman disappeared, as they do in fairy tales.
Cinder-girl did as she was told, and everything happened the way the old woman said. Later that morning, a fine lady in golden slippers entered the church. The prince asked who she was, but no one knew. This went on for three weeks. On the third Sunday the beggar woman came again and told the Cinder-girl, “This day, leave early, the prince will follow, a slipper will fall from your foot and he will find it.”
Cinder-girl did as she was told and as she ran home a slipper fell from her foot. The prince followed and found the golden slipper. He held a banquet and invited every maiden in the land to attend. They came, rich and poor, fair and dark, scrubbed and grimy. Each lady tried on the slipper, in they came, out they went, and it fitted none. Eldest sister chopped off a piece of her foot and it still didn’t fit, and oh, there was blood and mess. The prince called for the serving maids, until there was only one girl left. Cinder-girl held out her foot. The slipper fitted, the prince wiped away the grime and recognised her. Eldest sister cursed her.
Well, there was a wedding and a feast, and they went to bed, and within a year Cinder-girl gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Eldest sister was so green with envy she stole the newborn baby and left an ugly dog in the bed. When the prince saw the child, he was so embarrassed that he had fathered a dog, he said nothing.
Another year, another child, this time a son. Eldest sister stole the child and left an even uglier dog in the bed and told the prince that Cinder-girl had given birth again. The prince felt disgraced. Cinder-girl implored him for another chance.
Another year, another son, another ugly dog, and the prince convinced himself he had married a witch. He ordered the servants to drag her out of bed, tie her to a stake and burn her. The beggar-woman appeared, enchanted the servants, freed Cinder-girl, turned her into a grimy pig and told her to hide in the forest or else her husband’s huntsmen would cut out her liver and hang it by the castle gate.
So Cinder-pig hid in the forest for many years while her children were raised by her eldest sister. One day, she saw her children playing by the river. She approached them and told them not to cry. She explained that she wasn’t a pig, she was their mother, and she was about to be slain by their father’s huntsmen, who would hang her liver by the castle gate. She told them not to be squeamish, to go to the castle, take a piece of her liver, make a wish and all would be well. Being children they were quite happy to follow the advice of a talking pig.
The day dawned when Cinder-pig was chased and slain by the prince’s huntsmen, and her liver was hung by the castle gate. Firstborn girl was the bravest. She remembered what her Cinder-pig mother had told her, and she went alone to the castle gate, reached up on her tiptoes, picked a piece of the slimy red liver and took it to her brothers who were waiting by the river. They made a wish, to live happily together by the river, and in the blink of an eye there stood a cottage full of gold.
The children ran away from eldest sister and lived in the cottage by the river. One day, a stranger passed by and stopped to light his pipe. He saw three children wearing golden belts, so he knocked on the cottage door and asked for a light for his pipe. The boys invited him in, but the girl said no. He ordered the boys to give him their belts and as they did, they turned into swans and swam on the lake. Firstborn girl ran into the forest and hid. She remembered what the talking pig had told her.
She crept back to the castle gate, picked a piece of the red liver, returned to the cottage and wished for her family to be together again. The swans turned back into her brothers, the pig liver became her Cinder-girl mother and the prince walked in as if he had woken from a dream.
Cinder-girl’s family lived a simple life in the cottage by the river, and the brave firstborn girl, when she was old enough, travelled the world and became rich with wisdom.
Well, those are the adventures, there’s no more to tell.
That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale of Tattercoats.