Annotated Fairy Tale: Hog Bridegroom

Well, gang, it’s the middle of the night, I’ve got insomnia, and that can only mean that it’s time for another Annotated Fairytale!

There’s a whole class of stories about hog and hedgehog bridegrooms, some of which are weirder and grimmer than others. The hedgehog ones tend to be variations on a theme, and rather cute—the hedgehog demands that a rooster be taken to the blacksmith and shod, and then rides him around playing the bagpipes, which is possibly the greatest thing ever—and the pig ones tend to be pretty standard transformed-fiancee fare, except that they usually kill a couple of wives before they find the one who isn’t put off by their appearance.  (In a few versions, they’re all from the same family, and you have to assume that the parents are being held at swordpoint by the time sister number three gets her turn in the bridal bed.)

This particular version is Romanian, and is pretty obviously a version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but with some peculiar twists along the way.


The Story of the Pig

Once upon a time there was an old man who had an old wife; the old man was 100 and his wife 90. Both these old people had snow-white hair, and both were as gloomy as a rainy day and all because they had no children. They kept on wishing they had even one child, for all day and night they were as lonely as lonely, and their ears tingled with boredom.

While I do not recommend children as a cure for boredom, this is still a great description.

And as well as all that, they were as poor as church mice. Their cottage was an old ramshackle place, covered with ragged tarpaulin. Their beds were some boards covered with a blanket. And that was all. For some time past, life had become even more unbearable, for not a living soul ever came near them, as if they were ill of the plague, poor things!

Constant complaints about their backaches from sleeping on the boards eventually proved too much for the neighbors.

One day, the old woman gave a loud sigh and said to the old man, “Dear me, old man, dear me! Just think! In all our life no one has ever said to us, ‘father’ or ‘mother.’ There’s no sense in going on living in this world, for I believe God will not bless a house where there are no children.”

“Well, old woman, what are we to do if it is God’s will?”

“That’s all very well, old man, but do you know what I was thinking last night?”

“I will know if you’ll tell me, old woman.”

As a side note, if I live to a great old age, and my Significant Other starts calling me “old woman,” I’m gonna bury his dentures in the cat’s litterbox and pretend it was an accident.

“Tomorrow morning, as soon as it is daylight, get up and go out; just follow your nose; and the very first thing which crosses your path — whether it is a person, or a snake or an animal at all — you must pick it up, put it in your knapsack, and bring it home. We will bring it up as best we can, and that will be our child.”

This was in the days before animal rescue had been invented.

The old man, sick of loneliness and longing for children, got up early next morning, took his sack and his stick and did as the old woman told him. He set out and followed some ravines until he came to a swamp. And what should he see there but a sow and twelve little pigs wallowing in the mud and basking in the sun. As soon as the sow saw the old man, she began to grunt and took to her heels, followed by the little pigs — all except one who stuck in the mud — being scraggy, skinny, and sickly, and unable to follow the others.

The old man seized it, thrust it in his bag, mud and all, and set off home.

“Thank goodness,” he said, “that I have found something to console my old woman! I am just wondering whether it was God or the Devil who put that thought in her head last night.”

“Just wondering. Don’t intend to do anything about it either way. Pig demons will at least be a nice change from boredom.”

And on arriving home he said, “Look, my old dear, what a treasure I brought you! Good luck to him! A boy with beautiful eyes and long lashes and as pretty as a picture! He’s the very image of you!”

Somebody’s sleeping on the board in the living room tonight.

“… Now, get him bathed and take care of him as only you know how to take care of little boys, for, as you see, he’s rather dirty, poor little mite!”

“Old man, old man!” said the old woman, “you mustn’t joke about him; for isn’t he one of God’s creatures, just like ourselves, and perhaps even more innocent, poor thing!”

Then, sprightly as a child, she got some soap and water and prepared to bath him, and because she knew all about newborn pigs—

…this might be normal peasant knowledge, I grant you, but given how many people in fairy tales are as dumb as posts, I sort of wonder if this is the fairy tale plot equivalent of the bubbly co-ed who happens to know Morse Code and was also a candy-striper and thus can perform brain surgery.

—she bathed him, rubbed him gently all over with oil, twigged his nose and cast a spell on him, so as to frighten away the evil eye from her treasure!

“Sure, I can do magic. But only on newborn pigs. It’s a specialty.”

Then she combed him and looked after him so well, that, at the end of a few days, he became quite strong; and with bran and peelings, he began to recover and to grow so that it was a joy to look at him. And the old woman was beside herself with the joy of having such a fine boy, so comical, and podgy, and round as a melon. For everyone who said he was ugly or cheeky, she always had the answer — that her boy was quite different form all others! Only one thing still troubled the old woman: that he couldn’t say “mother” and “father.”

One day the old man wanted to go to town to buy a few odds and ends.

“Old man, don’t forget to bring some delicacy for the boy, for he must be longing for something, the darling!”

“Very well, old woman.” But to himself, he thought, “Deuce take him, for I’ve had enough of your nagging about him. We haven’t enough bread and salt for ourselves, let along stuff him up with good things. If I did everything my old woman tells me, I should go mad!”

Sweety, you’re letting her dress up a pig and claim it’s her son. You are having this internal conversation waaaaay too late. The barn door is not only open, the cows are in Vegas with your life savings.

At last the old man went to the town, bought what he had to buy and when he came home, the old woman asked him, as she always did, “Well, old man, what did you hear in the town?”

“What did I hear, old woman? Not very good news: The emperor wants to get his daughter married.”

“And you call that bad news, old man?”

“Now, be patient for a little, my dear, for that isn’t all, and when I heard the rest, my hair stood on end. When I tell you the whole story, I believe your flesh will creep.”

“But why, old man? Dear me!”

“Then this is why, old woman. Now listen: The emperor has sent his heralds through the whole world to proclaim that the man who can build a golden bridge from his own house to the royal palace — a bridge paved with precious stones and planted on both sides with all kinds of trees with different kinds of birds singing in the branches, which are not to be found anywhere else in the world — may have the hand of his daughter, and even more — half of his kingdom. Whoever dares to come and ask for the hand of the princess, without having succeeded in making the bridge as I described it to you, will have his head cut off on the spot. Till now, a crowd of kings’ and emperors’ sons — dear know where they all come from! — have arrived and not one has succeeded. And every single one has been mercilessly beheaded by the emperor without any exception, till the people are weeping for pity. Now, old woman, what have you to say? Is that good news? And what is more, the emperor has fallen ill with worry.”

Standard fairy tale impossible task. What I love is that nobody ever says “Hey, have you noticed he’s off his rocker? How ’bout a bloody serf uprising, maybe?” No, they all just feel bad that the emperor is worried. All that beheading must be getting him down, the poor wee darling. Horrors! Woe! The executioners are coming down with carpal tunnel!

“Woe, woe, old man, the emperor’s ill health is our health! What you have told me about the emperors’ sons breaks my heart when I think of the sorrow and sadness of the bereaved mothers! What a good thing our child can’t speak, and that he won’t be tempted by such extravagance.”

“A good thing, old woman, but what a good thing it would be to have a boy who could build a bridge and win the emperor’s daughter, for I know it would be the end of all our wants, and what a blessing that would be!”

We could afford a finished board! Without splinters!

While the old couple were talking, the pig sat in his bed in a corner by the fire, his snout in the air, his eyes fixed on them, listening to everything they said and only puffing from time to time.

And as the old people chatted together, they suddenly heard a voice from the fireplace: “Father and mother, I will do it.”

The old woman fainted with joy; the old man, however, thinking it was the Devil, took fright and, in great bewilderment stared into every corner of the hut to see where the voice could have come from, but seeing no one, came to his senses.

I hate it when the Devil starts doing ventriloquism in the house.

But the young pig cried again, “Father, don’t be afraid! It is I! Wake mother up and go and tell the emperor that I will build the bridge.”

Then the old man said hesitatingly, “But, will you be able to do it, my darling?”

Sure, now you like the pig.

“Don’t worry about that father, as long as you are with me. Just go and tell the emperor the news!”

Then the old woman, recovering, kissed the boy and said to him, “Mother’s darling, don’t run your head into danger. And you are going to leave us alone again, sad at heart and without any support!”

Next time, I’m adopting a potato. Or a rock.

“Don’t worry at all, mummy, for you will see who I am.”

Then the old man, finding nothing else to say, combed his beard nicely, took his stick, left the house, and set out for the emperor’s palace.

Sure, I’m about to go claim that my son’s a talking pig who can build magic bridges, but hey, at least my beard is nice. Wouldn’t want people to think I was a wild-bearded crazy man or something.

A sentry, seeing him hanging about, asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“I have to see the emperor about something. My son bets he can make the bridge.”

The sentry, knowing the command of the emperor, wasted no time in further talk, but led the old man into the presence of the emperor.

On seeing the old man, the emperor asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“May you live long, illustrious and all-powerful emperor! My son, on hearing that you have a daughter to be married, has sent me, on his behalf, to inform your majesty that he can build the bridge.”

“If he can build it, let him do so, old man; then my daughter and half my kingdom will be his. But if he does not succeed, then … perhaps he has heard what has happened to others, more highly bred than he?”

I’ll have you know my son is a pure-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot!

Actually, that reminds me of an incident at the farm where we get our meat from. We went out for a picnic a few months ago, and there was this mother pig with a litter of the weirdest looking piglets. “What breed is this?” we asked, baffled, since the farmer is big into heirloom breeds and keeps an Old Spot boar.

“Half pot-bellied pig, half Old Spot,” he said.

We examined this answer from all angles and finally I—you know I’m the one asking these sorts of questions—said “Tucker, why would you breed him to a pot-bellied pig?”

“I didn’t!” he said, exasperated. “He did it himself. Through an electric fence.”

We all looked at the boar. The boar looked smug as only six hundred pounds of testosterone with his very own mud wallow can look.

“Worse,” said Tucker gloomily, “this is the second time he’s done it. And I reinforced the fence after the first time.”

Several men present removed their hats.

Anyway, what were we talking about?

“If you undertake this, then go and bring your son to me. If not, then begone and get rid of any foolish nonsense in your head.”

Right, crazy emperor, beheading, magic bridge, unfinished sleeping board.

The old man, on hearing these words right from the emperor’s lips, bowed down to the ground, then left and set off towards his hut to bring his son. When he arrived home, he told his son what the emperor had said.

Then the pig, bursting with happiness, began to skip about the cottage, dived under the bed, upset several pieces of crockery with his snout and said, “Come on, daddy, let us go to the emperor.”

I love the detail of upsetting the crockery with his snout.

Then the old woman began to weep and said, “It seems I am not to have any luck in this world! Till now I have struggled to bring him up and provide him with all his needs and now … it seems as if I am to be deprived of him!” And still weeping, she fell into a swoon with worry.

But the old man kept his word; put on his fur hat, pushed it down over his ears, and took his stick in his hand, and went out, saying, “Come on with your father, boy, let us go and buy your mother a daughter-in-law.”

Maybe she’ll be a chicken! Or a cow!

Then the pig, out of sheer joy, took one more dive under the bed, then followed the old man, and until they arrived, he trotted behind grunting and snuffing on the ground, as a pig should do. They had hardly arrived at the gates of the imperial palace, when the guards, catching sight of them, began to look at each other and burst out laughing.

“What does this mean, old man?” said one of them.

“Well, this is my son, who reckons he can build the bridge for the emperor.”

“Good gracious, old man, you still have a lot to learn; it’s easy to see you are doting,” said an old guardsman.

“Well! Every man’s fate is written on his forehead, and everyone must die once.”

“It seems to us that you, old man, are looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight,” said the sentries.

And let’s take a minute and point out some really fabulous dialog here. A lot of fairy tales don’t even both with dialog as such, but this is really nice. “Every man’s fate is written on his forehead.” “Looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight.” This is wonderful.

“That has nothing to do with you. Be careful, mind what you say, and go and tell the emperor that we have arrived,” replied the old man.

The sentries looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

Then one of them went and told the emperor of the arrival of the new candidates: the old man and his pig! The emperor commanded them to present themselves. The old man, on entering, bowed low and remained humbly standing at the door. But the pig, grunting, trotted ahead up the carpet, and began to sniff through the room.

Then the emperor, seeing such frightful impertinence, wanted on one hand to laugh, but on the other, he was very angry and said, “Well, old man! When you came last time, it seemed to me you had all your wits about you, but now what are you thinking of? Wandering about followed by a pig! And who, may I ask, gave you the idea of making fun of me?”

“Heaven forbid, your majesty, that I, an old man, should ever think of such a thing! I crave your forgiveness, your imperial majesty, and this is my son who sent me to you before, if your majesty remembers?”

“And it is he who will build the bridge for me!”

“It is our hope, your majesty, that he will be the one to do it.”

“Now! Take your pig and get out.”

As a stand-alone line, this one is not quite on par with “I have no particular predilection for tortoises,” but it’s right up there.

“If the bridge is not built by tomorrow morning, old man, your head will be where your feet are now. Do you understand?”

“God is merciful, your majesty. If, however, the desire of your majesty should be fulfilled, then with your majesty’s permission, we should like the princess sent home to us.”

So saying, he left, and taking the pig, set off home, followed by some soldiers, who had been ordered by the emperor to keep an eye on him until next day, to see what it all meant. What a lot of chatter, what roars of laughter, and what speculation this joke caused in the palace and all over the country!

No one in the kingdom had ever seen “Babe.”

Towards evening, when the old man and the pig arrived home, the old woman was overcome by fear and trembling and began to weep, saying, “Oh me! Old man, what are you up to now? What do I want with soldiers?”

“You dare to ask that! It’s your doing! I allowed myself to be carried away by your foolish head, and to be coaxed to bring you an adopted child, so to speak.

So to speak, indeed.

And now you see what a pickle we’re in! I didn’t bring any soldiers. They brought me! And my head is only to stay on my shoulders until tomorrow morning!”

The pig, meantime, was wandering about the cottage, sniffing around for food, and was not at all concerned about the trouble he had caused. The old couple quarreled and squabbled for a while, but worried and all as they were about the events of the day, they at last fell asleep.

Then the pig jumped lightly on the bed, broke a window, and the breath from his nostrils shot out like two tongues of fire and reached from the old man’s cottage — which was now no longer a cottage — to the emperor’s palace.

Some monsters breathe fire. The pig breathes bridges. Like you do.

And the bridge with everything commanded by the emperor, was now complete. The old man’s cottage was now a palace — much grander than that of the emperor.

The board is inlaid with gold! The splinters have been replaced with Swarovski crystals!

And suddenly the old couple were clad in imperial purple, and their palace was full of all the good things in the world.

Proof that I am not the author of these fairy tales, as I believe that many things are good, like blue whales and Tasmanian devils, which would nevertheless be somewhat awkward to have in the palace. I can just about believe that they have a wing for Obscure Rainforest Beetles, Birds Of Paradise, And Small Brightly Colored Frogs Of Excessive Toxicity, but the blue whales stretch credibility.

And the pig romped about and frisked all over the fine carpets.

Meanwhile, extraordinary rumors were spreading all over the kingdom, and even the emperor and his counselors were overawed when they beheld this great miracle. And the emperor, fearing lest some misfortune should befall him, took counsel and was advised to hand over his daughter to the old man; so he sent for her immediately. Because the emperor, however powerful, was overcome by fear owing to the great wonder which had just happened.

The pig breathes bridges, man! You better watch it, he’ll come up to the palace and hyperventilate and we’ll be ass-deep in girders! We’re off the map now, man!

Okay, in my head, that’s what the counselors said. In my head, they also have a bong, and, unaccountably, a great deal of hemp jewelry. I did mention it was late, didn’t I?

The wedding did not take place. Well, how could it, when there was no one to marry!

There’s a pig right there. I don’t know what you’re complaining about. It talks and everything.

When the princess arrived at the bridegroom’s house, she was very pleased with it and liked her mother- and father-in-law, but when she caught sight of the bridegroom, she was very astonished. But, after a few moments, she shrugged her shoulders, saying to herself, “If this is what God and my parents wished for me, let it be so.” And she at once set about her housekeeping.

Seriously, given the way the emperor’s been acting, I was kind of expecting to marry a volcano or a doormat or a jeweled lobster or something. At least the pig’s a mammal.

The pig snuffed about the house during the daytime as was his custom, but each night when it was time to go to bed, his pig’s skin dropped off, and out stepped a handsome prince! And before long, his wife grew quite accustomed to him, for he was no longer ugly as he had been at the beginning.

This is all very casual. I can only imagine how the first night went down. “And you’re a pig. And you’re not a pig. And…okay, time out, gonna need a minute here. I’m not complaining about the lack of hot pig lovin’—although I hear they can do it through an electric fence—but this is all happening a little fast. Do your parents know about this? I mean, I love your mother, but I had her pegged as “insane woman projecting childlessness onto convenient target” and your father as an enabler of her delusions, and now I’m having to reassess this whole family dynamic. Does having your skin fall off hurt?”

After a week or two, the young princess, very homesick, set out to visit her parents, leaving her husband at home, for she was ashamed to be seen with him.

No matter how good he is in bed, at the end of the day, you’re still not-quite-married to a pig. Probably a moral lesson there somewhere.

When her parents saw her, they were overjoyed and asked her all about her new home and her husband. She told them all she knew.

Then the emperor began to advise her saying, “My darling! You mustn’t be led into doing him any harm, in case misfortune should overtake you; for, as far as I can see, the man, or whatever he is, has great magic powers. There must be something strange about him, since he has done something which is beyond human strength.”

Also, y’know, he’s a freakin’ were-pig.

Then the empress and her daughter went out to stroll in the garden, and the mother gave her daughter quite different advice: “My dear! What kind of life will you lead, if you can’t appear in society with your husband?”

When your father went mad and became obsessed with bridges and beheadings, I could hardly show my face at Bingo Night.

“I give you this advice: See to it that there is always a good fire in the stove, and when your husband falls asleep, take that pigskin and put it in the fire and let it burn, and then you will be rid of it.”

“What a good idea, mother! Such a thought never entered my head….”

And when the young princess returned home, she ordered a good fire to be lit in the stove. When her husband was fast asleep, she took the pigskin from the place where he had put it, and threw it on the fire. Then the hairs on it began to singe and the skin began to sizzle, turning into burnt rind and ashes. Such a frightful odor spread through the house that it woke her husband, who jumped up terrified and looked sorrowfully towards the stove.

And when he saw this great misfortune, he burst into tears saying, “Alas! Stupid woman! What have you done? If someone told you to do that, you were ill advised; but if you did it on your own initiative, it was a great mistake.”

Then the young wife noticed that she was girt round the waist with a belt of iron, while her husband said, “You have listened to the advice of others and brought misfortune to the old couple and to us as well. If ever you need me, remember my name is Prince Charming, and I will be found at the Incense Monastery.”

All those times we said that Prince Charming was a pig, and here we are.

Just as he finished speaking, a sudden gust of wind blew, and a terrifying whirlwind whisked the emperor’s son-in-law off his feet and carried him out of sight. Then the wonderful bridge immediately began to crack and crumbled to the ground, so that it was impossible to say what had become of it; and the palace where the old couple and their daughter-in-law lived with all its riches and all its magnificence, turned once more into the miserable little cottage which the old couple had inhabited. When they saw this great misfortune and their daughter-in-law in such misery, they began to scold her with tears in their eyes and ordered her sharply to go back home as they had no means of supporting her.

And if you think you’re sleeping on the guest board, you’re sadly mistaken, young lady!

Finding herself so forlorn and deserted, she wondered what was to be done; where to go. Should she go home? She was afraid of her father’s severity and the dangerous gossip of the people. Should she stay there? But she had none of the things she needed and was tired of the remorse of her parents-in-law.

At last she decided to go and search throughout the whole world for her husband. And having taken this decision, she said, “Please help me, God?” and set out, just wandering where her fancy led her. She went on straight ahead, through the wilderness for a whole year until she came to a desolate place she had never seen before. And here, seeing a little hidden house, the roof moss-covered (which showed how old it was), she knocked on the door.

Then she head the voice of an old woman inside saying, “Who’s there?”

“It is I. A lost traveler.”

“If you are a good person, come into my little den; but if you are a wicked person, get away out of this, for I have a fierce dog with teeth of steel, and if I let him out he will make short work of you.”

I often use this on Jehovah’s Witnesses, myself.

“I am a good person, good woman.”

Then the old woman opened the door, and the traveler entered.

“But what chance brought you here, and how did you ever find your way through this desolate land where no magic bird ever penetrates, let alone a human being?”

I like the specificity of this one. Magic birds can’t even get here. Such an eloquent unit of measurement! “Well, we had a moderately enchanted parakeet make it most of the way once, but he got exhausted and had to walk home…”

Then the traveler heaved a deep sigh and said, “My sins have brought me here, good woman. I am looking for the Incense Monastery and don’t know in which part of the world to find it.”

“Evidently you still have some luck if you have chanced to find me. I am Saint Wednesday. Perhaps you may have heard of me?”

“Your name is familiar, good woman, but it never entered my head that I should find you here.”

“You see!”

Okay, it’s the Catholic in me, but I love this. In various other version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, she meets with the Four Winds and various other things, but in this one you get these marvelous saints-of-the-week. I have never heard of Saint Wednesday in any other context, and I don’t know if she was common in Romanian fairy tales, or invented just for this job.

Then Saint Wednesday gave a loud shout and immediately all the creatures in her domain assembled. She asked them about the Incense Monastery, and all replied at once that they had never heard of it. Saint Wednesday, hearing this, was very disappointed, but, being unable to help, she gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a small glass of wine to have something to eat on the way, and she also gave her a golden distaff which could spin alone and said kindly, “Take care of it, for it will come in useful when you are in need.”

Then she directed her to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Friday.

The princess set out and wandered for another whole year, still through wild, unfamiliar places, until, with great difficulty, she arrived at the house of Saint Friday. And here the same thing happened as at the house of Saint Wednesday, except that Saint Friday gave her a piece of holy bread, a little glass of wine, and a golden reeling machine, which could wind alone; and she, too, directed her, with great kindness and gentleness to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Sunday.

The princess set out again from there the very same day and wandered for another whole year through places which were even more desolate than those through which she had already traveled. And being weary with three years of wandering, it was with difficulty that she arrived at the house of Saint Sunday. And Saint Sunday received her with the same ceremony and just as warmly as her sisters had done. And taking pity on the wretched weary girl, Saint Sunday shouted out once with all her might, and immediately, all living things in her domain assembled: from the waters, from the land, from the air. And then she asked them whether any of them had ever heard of the Incense Monastery. They all replied, with one voice, that they had never even heard the name mentioned. Then Saint Sunday gave a deep sigh from the depths of her heart, looked sadly at the unfortunate princess and said, “It looks as if God is angry with you or something, because you cannot find what you are looking for, my daughter! For this is the end of a world which even I don’t know, and however much you or anyone else should wish to go further, it is quite impossible.”

“The end of a world which even I don’t know.” Really, this one has some lovely phrases.

And at that moment a lame lark was seen limping along as best he could. And warbling, warbling, warbling, he stopped before Saint Sunday. Then she asked him too, “Lark, do you by any chance know where the Monastery of Incense is?”

“Of course I know, mistress. My heart’s desire took me there, and there I broke my leg.”

My heart’s desire was competitive ice dancing. It’s hard when you’re a lark.

“If you do, then go there at once and take this woman with you, as you know the way, and give her the best advice you can.”

Then the lark, sighing, replied humbly, “With all my heart, I obey your command, O mistress, although it is very difficult to get there.”

Then Saint Sunday too, gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a little wine to have something to eat on the way to the Monastery of Incense; and she also gave her a large gold clucking hen and chickens also made of gold in case of need on the way. Then she entrusted her to the care of the lark, who set off at once, warbling as he went.

Sometimes the lark went on foot; sometimes the princess flew through the air; sometimes she went on foot; sometimes he flew. And when the poor princess could no longer go either way, the lark at once took her on his back and flew along with her. Going on like this for another whole year, with great difficulty and hardship, they flew over innumerable countries and seas, over terrifying forests and deserts, where dragons crept along, poisonous asps, basilisks with the evil eye, otters, each with twenty-four heads, and thousands of other dreadful monsters who lay with open mouths, just ready to gobble them up; it would be quite impossible for any human tongue to describe the greed, the cunning, and the wickedness of these animals.

I would comment on the peculiar flying princess and the apparently enormous lark, but I am completely stuck on the otters with twenty-four heads. Dude. There’s this split second where you’re reading along going “Okay, okay, dragons, asps, basilisks, fine–wait, otters? Why are otters on this list?” and then you keep reading and WHAM! Twenty-four headed otters. Are they tiny heads? Does it have a really big body? Or is it just insanely top-heavy and constantly trying to swim in different directions at once? Do they have to eat travelers because the fish can get away, or are the fish so paralyzed with shock—“SWEET JESUS, BOB DO YOU SEE THAT THING OR AM I HAVING A FLASHBACK?”—that they just sit there staring and the otter sort of flumphs up to it like an elephant seal covered in otter eyeballs and eats it?

In the end, after so much trouble and so much danger, they succeeded in arriving at the entrance to a cave. Here the princess mounted once more onto the lark’s wings which were now scarcely able to flutter, and he alighted into another world which was more beautiful than Paradise.

Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s lovely. How many heads do the otters have here?

“Here we are at the Monastery of Incense,” said the lark. “Prince Charming, whom you have sought through so many difficulties, lives here. Is there not something familiar here?”

Then, although her eyes were dazzled by so much splendor, she looked more closely and at once recognized the wonderful bridge from the other world and the palace where she and Prince Charming had lived for such a short time, and her eyes filled with tears of joy.

“Wait a moment! Don’t be in such a hurry to rejoice, for you are still a stranger in these parts, and you are not yet out of danger,” said the lark.

He then showed her a well where she must go three days in succession; he told her who she would meet and what she should say; he advised her what to do in turn with the distaff, with the reeling machine, and the golden clucking-hen and chickens, given to her by the three sisters, Saint Wednesday, Saint Friday, and Saint Sunday.

Then, saying good-bye to the princess entrusted to his care, he turned back suddenly, flying without stopping, afraid lest someone should break his other leg too.

They hate larks in Paradise. It’s kind of a problem. There are Lark Anti-Defamation Leagues and everything, but you get into the small towns, and…well.

And the unhappy princess watched him as he flew, her eyes full of tears. Then she went towards the well which he had pointed out.

And when she reached the well, she took out first of all the spindle from the place where she had carried it, and then sat down to rest.

Shortly afterward, a servant came to draw water, and seeing an unknown woman and the miraculous distaff, spinning golden thread by itself (thread which was thousands of times finer than the hair of your head), fled to her mistress to tell her the news.

The hair on my head is pretty fine. This kinda sucks in some regards, as it will frizz out given a single drop of moisture anywhere in the atmosphere. But regardless of this, even if I had hair like electrical wire, thousands of times finer is a LOT. This thread cannot possibly be visible to the naked eye. The servant is apparently coming to the well to draw water with an electron microscope in her back pocket.

The mistress of this servant was the old witch who turned the Devil’s hair gray,

Oh god, the phrases keep coming!

the housekeeper of Prince Charming’s palace, a marvelous sorceress, who could make water curdle, and knew all the Devil’s mischief in the world. But there was only one thing the old hag didn’t know: man’s thoughts.

The Shadow’s got her totally beat there.

The old witch, on hearing about this wonder, sent the servant at once to ask this strange woman to come to the palace. And when she arrived, the witch asked, “I have heard that you have a golden distaff which can spin alone. Would you sell it to me, woman, and how much do you want for it?”

“Will you allow me to spend one night in the room where Prince Charming sleeps?”

“Of course. Give me the distaff and stay here until the evening when the prince returns from the hunt.”

Doesn’t bat an eyelash. “Sure, I regularly sell tickets to watch the prince sleep. It’s a thing. We call it the Twilight Special.”

Then the princess gave up the distaff and remained. The hunchbacked, toothless old woman, knowing that the prince was accustomed to drink a cup of sweet milk every evening, now prepared one for him to make him sleep right through till the next morning. And as soon as he returned from the hunt and lay down on his bed, the old hag sent him the milk; and as soon as he had drunk it, he fell fast asleep. Then the old woman called the unknown traveler into the room of the prince, as had been arranged, and left her there, whispering softly, “Sit here until the morning. I will come and fetch you then.”

The old woman whispered and went on tiptoe so that the prince should not hear, and she took good care that a faithful servant who accompanied him to the hunt every day and who was sleeping in the same room, should not hear either.

And as soon as the old woman had left the room, the unhappy princess knelt down by her husband’s bed and began to week bitterly, saying, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Put your right arm round my waist so that the spell may be broken.”

Oddly this does not seem to be a euphemism.

And poor thing, she persevered like this until the morning, but in vain, for the prince seemed to have gone to the next world. At daybreak, the witch came along and sulkily told her to leave the courtyard and go away. The unfortunate princess came out without having succeeded in making her husband hear, and very unhappy, went once more to the well and this time took out her reeling machine. Again the servant came to fetch water and seeing this second wonderful object, rushed off to her mistress and said that the woman had now a golden reel, which could wind alone and which was even more wonderful than the distaff she had given her. Then the old witch sent the servant to summon her and took possession of the reeling machine with the same craftiness, and the next morning took her out of the prince’s room and chased her out of the palace.

That night, however, the prince’s faithful servant sensed what was happening and taking pity on the poor stranger, set out to discover the old woman’s trick. And when the prince rose and was setting off to hunt, his faithful servant told him in detail what had happened in his room on the two previous nights. And the prince, on hearing this, gave a sudden start, as if the sky had fallen. Then he cast down his eyes and began to weep. And while tears were streaming from his eyes, at the well, his spell-bound and tormented wife now took out her golden hen and chickens — her last hope. And while she stood by the well, the servant came along once more to fetch water.

Magic distaff, meh. Magic reeling machine—I know this is about weaving, but I keep seeing a fishing rod—whatever. Lot of versions, it’s a set of three dresses.

But the golden hen and chickens? Now I’m intrigued.

And when she saw still another wonder, she didn’t even wait to draw water, but rushed to her mistress, saying, “Good gracious, mistress! Imagine what I have seen! That woman now has a golden hen with chickens also of gold — so beautiful they are that they could steal your eyesight.”

Do not look directly into the chickens. Use a smoked lens or make a pinhole chicken camera. Staring at the chickens can cause damage and irritation to the retina.

When the old woman heard that, she sent for her at once, saying to herself, “She won’t get what she’s looking for.”

And when the princess came in, the old witch took possession of the golden hen and chickens by the same sly means.

But the prince, when he returned that evening from the hunt and when his milk was brought in, said to himself, “I won’t drink any more of this milk.”

So he threw it away and lay down, pretending to fall sound asleep.

When the old woman thought he was asleep, and was confident that he was now under the spell of the magic milk, she once more brought the princess into the room, just as she had done on the preceding nights; and leaving her there, she went off. The, the troubled girl, falling on her knees by her husband’s bedside, dissolved in a flood of tears, again saying these words, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Have pity on an innocent soul who has been tortured for four years with the most cruel suffering, and put you right arm round my waist so that the spell may break, for I cannot bear this any longer.”

I think it’s been at least six years, but hey, who’s keeping track?

And when she had finished speaking, Prince Charming stretched out his hand, as if in sleep, and when he touched her waist — bang! The belt burst open, and the spell was broken. Then the princess told her husband how much she had suffered since he had disappeared.

“…and the lark kept talking about ice dancing and there were these twenty-four headed otters and I’ve been sleeping on things that would make a board look comfortable and did I mention the otters had twenty-four freakin’ heads? Seriously, I’m not gonna get over that in a hurry. Also, you used to be a pig. I think I’m holding up very well, all things considered. By the way, I met a couple of saints. They say hi.”

Then Prince Charming rose, and, although it was the middle of the night, awoke the whole court and ordered the old witch to be brought to him, together with all the treasures taken so slyly from the princess. Then he ordered a wild mare be brought to him and a sack of nuts.

…I cannot even begin to figure out where he is going with this.

And he ordered the old witch and the sack of nuts to be tied to the mare’s tail and to set the mare galloping. And this was done. And when the mare began to gallop, each time a nut dropped from the bag, a little bit of the witch dropped too; and when the sack fell, the witch’s head dropped off.

This is the weirdest use of sympathetic magic I have ever heard of. Seriously, you already tied her to a mare’s tail, the nut thing may just be gilding the lily.

The old witch was the sow with the pigs from the swamp — one of which had been brought home by the old man, Prince Charming’s foster father. By her wicked tricks she had turned her master, Prince Charming, into the miserable, mangy little pig, so that later on she could make him marry one of her eleven daughters who followed her from the swamp.

I like to think they went on to lead various fulfilling lives, perhaps as saints. Or otter trainers.

That is why Prince Charming punished her so severely. The faithful servant was handsomely rewarded with gifts by the prince and princess who keep him in their service as long as he lived.

And very soon a son was born to the prince and princes.

Now remember, good people, that Prince Charming had no wedding ceremony when he was married. But now he celebrated both a wedding and a christening, a thing which never happened before and which I’m sure will never happen again.

Oh honey. How long ago was this written? You’d be amazed what we get up to in the future.

Prince Charming took a wish, and immediately the parents of the princess arrived and his foster parents, the old man and the old woman — once more dressed in imperial purple.

The board was padded this time. The old man assumed that the Devil was involved.

And he seated them at the head of the table. And millions of people assembled for that large and sumptuous wedding reception, and the gaiety went on for three days and three nights, and unless it has ended, it must still be going on.

And with that, dear readers, I am going to bed. Perchance to dream of…err….hogs. (Oh, who are we kidding? It’s otter heads all the way down.)

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Wonderful Birch

Here we go, yet another one! I admit, however, that this is not so deeply bizarre as the Wonderful Sheep, but it still is…err…wonderful! And has sheep!

This is a Russian version of the Cinderella story, and naturally has some bits that would never make the Disney cut, but also a few lines that I find surprisingly charming, and a weirdly sympathetic character who isn’t the heroine (to no one’s great surprise. Hell, I haven’t like a heroine since the Large and Lonely Tortoise.)

The Wonderful Birch

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 a 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.”

See, this is how you know it’s a fairy tale. Real fairy tales, as various people have pointed out, often have completely nonsensical elements. How many of us are really worried about random strangers spitting into the sheath of our knife, or running between our legs? I mean, sure, it would be unpleasant, but the issue just does not arise. It’s such a weird thing to warn somebody against.

The woman neither spat, nor did she run between her legs, but yet the witch changed her into a sheep.

The witch is totally not playing fair here. I’m all for people suffering horrible fates if they break the rules in a fairy tale, but when you don’t break the rules and they get you anyway, it’s dirty pool.

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.”

That’ll teach it!

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.”

Okay, okay, hold on. First off, how did the daughter know? Was she watching the sheep get changed? Did the witch not notice her? This is a really big oversight! If I am going around turning people into sheep, I want the witnesses to be transheepified as well!

Second, the sheep talks.

Now, if I am this hypothetical daughter, I might think “There is no way that Dad will believe Mom is really a sheep and this is an imposter, and if I bring it up, the witch may kill me.” This would be quite understandable. But damnit, I have a talking sheep. This is proof! I just have to wait until the witch pops out to the corner store for a sixpack, get Dad out to the flock, and have the talking sheep say her piece!

Furthermore, the witch’s work is REALLY shoddy if she leaves her victims the power of speech. That’s just crap witchery right there.

The only thing that settles this for me is that perhaps there is something very gratifying about being a sheep, and Mom much prefers standing in a field with her brethren all day. Her speech is certainly philosophical. She has attained the Zen of sheepdom. Why fret? Today’s lambs are tomorrow’s mutton. The wool groweth and the wool is shearedeth away. Life, death, it’s all one in the great wheel of sheep.

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.

Joseph Campbell said once that there was only one consistent rule in fairy tales–“Anyone that animals like, or whom they assist in any way, wins.”  (Exceptions are made for a few classes of animals, I believe—wolves can go either way, and there’s a lot of freaky domestic animals belonging to giants and whatnot.) And this is mostly true. You can’t even go with “Be kind” or “Be polite” because now and again that bites you in the ass (and I’ll post one about that sometime here soon.)

I would argue, however, that there may actually be one more–“Cannibalism Always Ends Badly.”

The bit about animals made a great impression on me when I was young, and anyway, as my father always said, “If dogs don’t like him, don’t date him.” But I have also avoided dating cannibals, just on the off chance.

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.

The poor and the wretched appear to be able to afford horses and/or boats. The medieval Russian economy was certainly smokin’.

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!”

It always comes back to cannibalism with this woman.

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 labor 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?”

I love my mother very much, and she is thankfully quite alive (Hi, mom!) but I would still probably be unsettled to hear the dead talking to me. On the other hand, if you’re having one of those days, you’re having one of those days. Still, this bespeaks a certain lack of coping mechanisms. It’s been long enough for a birch tree to grow up. If this were anywhere but a fairy tale, the moment when a witch has just threatened to eat you is probably not the best time to begin sobbing about your late mom. I miss my grandmother, but I don’t engage in a bout of tears about that when a semi is bearing down on me, ya know?

But it’s a fairy tale, so that’s fine.

“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.”

It’s like the Giving Tree! Only not so co-dependent!

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.

They gloss over how the horse arrived, but I like to think it just fell out of the upper branches, whinnying hysterically.

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.

It was the butler’s day off.

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 honor; 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.

I love this line. The stepsisters always get the cold shoulder, and the entire reason I love this story is because some unknown Russian storyteller actually felt the injustice of that.

Were I retelling this story, not merely blathering about it, I would be completely unable to resist turning the witch’s daughter into a dog turned into a human, in much the same way that the mother was turned into a sheep. (Makes sense, right? The witch can’t have children, adopts a dog, presents it to her husband, who has already proven to be less than observant, as a daughter. Ooh, maybe she’s the sheepdog! Wow, this writes itself…)

And then I would immediately be more interested in the dog-girl than in the daughter and her pet tree and things would get badly derailed.

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.

You know, like you do.

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.

Since nobody remarks on the horse or pile of clothes, I assume the tree ate them.

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.”

This got weirdly cover-for-abuse suddenly, or is it just me?

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!”

No comment from her on the barleycorns yesterday. You’d think she’d figure out something odd was up. I say again, this is not a first-rate witch.

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 honor, 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!

I love you so much, nameless Russian storyteller.

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.

Hang on, hang on, hold up. In order for her circlet to stick to the doorposts, does she not have to walk into the door? And wouldn’t her hair stick? Seriously? What is this guy’s thing with tar? I mean, if it had happened the second day, then it would make sense, because she got away the first day, but this just gives the impression that his idea of a good time is going out with a bucket of tar and making things good ‘n sticky. Peasants in his town must live in mild dread of the prince’s visits. “Goddamnit, Ivan! The prince was here, and wait until you see what he did to the outhouse door! I’ve told you to watch him!”

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.”

This has a call-and-response sort of air to it, and I would almost expect it to go with losing the ring as well.

Also, how do you ever expect her to learn the value of a circlet when you just replace them right away, tree-lady?

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.”

Where is the witch when this girl is under the table gnawing bones? Get a kid-leash, lady! (See? Again with the dog thing! I’m telling you, it’s a natural!)

Also, it just occurred to me that the prince kicks his dogs hard enough to break bones. To hell with him. I hope somebody turns him into a sheep.

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 honored; 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!

Sweet CHRIST. How pointy are these people’s shoes?

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!”

They were so pointy, and I loved them. Bit of goop on the toe of the left one, though. Say, have you seen my half-sister around? No reason.

“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?”

I know that you probably shouldn’t let the prince carry your daughter around if he keeps breaking her arms and knocking her eyes out, lady.

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

And at no point does the witch stop and go “Hey, wait a minute, getting a dish of milk out of ash is not actually possible to mortals!” Feh. Baba Yaga ought to repo this woman’s broomstick. Sheep-mom is twice the witch she is, and she’s DEAD.

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.

“Ivan! That child has the foot-beetles!” “Well, don’t stare. I’m sure it’s not her fault.”

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.”

I happen to know all the people in my kingdom, from my late night tarring expeditions.

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.

The really odd thing about this is that the prince listens to all this. He specifically asks for the cinder wench, and then as soon as she shows up, ignores her and hands over the items to what is supposed to be a peasant woman, despite the fact that this poor dog-girl has FOOT-BEETLES. And a dirt clod for an eye, and apparently an unfinished wooden log for an arm.

I really hope that the ring went on the log, which could presumably be lathed into proper size quite easily, but this being a fairy tale, you know that it wasn’t. That poor girl.

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.

I bet she doesn’t like you either, dog-kicker.

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 recognized 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.

You know, all she wanted was to maybe herd a few sheep, maybe get a pat on the head, get told that she did a good job, get a nice bone with some scraps left on it. You’ve kicked her arm and leg in, somebody stabbed her in the eye with their high heels, and now you’re flinging her across the river and walking on her.

This girl cannot catch a break.

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.

Posthumous trees were the preferred form of communication in Russia at that time.

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.

That this is directly outside of the hut where the witch lives apparently doesn’t trouble them in the least. And seriously, I realize that the witch was mean to you, but we’ve never heard about your half-sister doing anything mean to anyone, ever—and if there is anyone in the entire world who should know to be nice to a magic tree, it’s YOU, honey! Can’t you give the hemlock a pat? Tell it you’re sorry it came to this?

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,

Infants love trees. Well known fact.

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,

This has got to be a translation thing. But does being shivered to very small bits fix being turned into a bridge/tree/whatever? Apparently so. Magic, what’re you gonna do?

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.

And again, the witch is breaking the rules. Still, I’ve got no sympathy for Princess Whoziwhatsis these days.

I do rather wonder what the ladies-in-waiting thought about the reindeer in the bed, though. I mean, that’s a hard thing to work around.

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.

I have often had the desire to taking crying children to court, but have never found a lawyer willing to pursue the matter.

“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.”

“Wow, I never noticed. They all look the same once you apply the tar.”

“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.”

I told you before, kids love trees! None of this newfangled television stuff—in my day, we rustled trees and we liked it! That was our entertainment! Leave us alone with a larch, we’d be fine for HOURS!

Kids today, you’re all soft. Get off my tree.

“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.

He’s really cutting into my coating-thing-with-tar time. The peasantry have been able to use their outhouses fearlessly for a month, and you can’t tell me that’s normal!

“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.”

I am really starting to think that being a herd animal is weirdly hypnotic or something. Sheep-Mom was totally calm about her impending doom, and now Reindeer-Girl is going “Yes, well, I could stay with my child…or I could follow the herd! Oooh! I hear we’re going to Siberia! They have lichen! LICHEN!”

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.”

Trees and tar! Just the stuff for a growing lad!

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?”

It’s been a couple of days, and I just now thought of this!

“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.”

Hey, it works with selkies. And trees.

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 my head, this totally just turned into a weird furry lesbian porno flick. Did I mention that I’m drinking vodka, in honor of our Russian folktale? I am. Mmmm…vodka and hot reindeer lovin’! Preach it, sister!

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.

I know when I’m worried that I have nothing to wear, I immediately transform myself into wool-related objects. Also, what is this obsession with wooden beetles?

But all these shapes the king’s son went on destroying till she stood before him in human form again.

You know, if your wife has turned into a spindle, maybe throwing the spindle into the fire is a bad idea. Except in this case, it appears to have worked. Still, I’d probably have tried a few other things first.

Then again, we should probably just be grateful he didn’t dunk her in tar.

“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.

Because he has proved marvelously skilled at protecting you in the past, right?

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.

The bit about running still at a great age is a pretty good line too. But that poor dog-girl! I mean, you wouldn’t want her stay with Mister Dog-Kicking Bridge-Flinging Spindle-Burner there, obviously, but her mother’s no prize pig either.

I like to think that she slunk away some night, regained her old form, and went happily herding sheep for somebody who appreciated a one-eyed dog with a weird foot. I bet she won prizes.

And never, ever ever peed on a tree.

Annotated Fairy Tales: The Wonderful Sheep

Okay, gang, even by my standards this one is seriously out there. It starts at “King Lear” and goes straight to bugfuck crazytown. Along the way we encounter ghosts, talking sheep, and an honest-t0-god rain of lobster-patties. It’s…something.

This particular…thingy…was written by Madame d’Aulnoy of France and published in 1697. (d’Aulnoy also gave us rather more well-known stories, including “The White Cat” which shares some of the same window-dressings, although not the rain of lobster-bits.) The translation is found in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, nearly two hundred years later.

Racism in fairy tales is hardly uncommon, but most of it is a sort of in-passing commentary (leaving aside things like Orientalism in the Arabian Nights, which is a whole ‘nother can of wet herring.) This fairy tale is somewhat unusual in that it has a black character who gets an actual speaking part, which is something I very rarely run across in European fairy tales and might almost be quite progressive…except that she’s relegated to the same role as the talking animal companions, and it gets worse from there. I honestly don’t know enough about the literature of the era to know how exactly to parse this in the context of the day, but it’s sure cringeworthy now. (If there are any experts on late 17th century French literature who’d like to weigh in on whether this is the equivalent of the crows in Dumbo or was a legitimate attempt at multiculturalism that comes out agonizing three hundred-odd years out, the comments are open!)

Seriously, though, the whole story is just messed up. So of course I had to talk about it.

Without further ado, then…and I may need alcohol to get through this one…I give you:

The Wonderful Sheep

ONCE upon a time–in the days when the fairies lived– there was a king who had three daughters, who were all young, and clever, and beautiful; but the youngest of the three, who was called Miranda, was the prettiest and the most beloved.

The King, her father, gave her more dresses and jewels in a month than he gave the others in a year; but she was so generous that she shared everything with her sisters, and they were all as happy and as fond of one another as they could be.

I told you, it’s starting at King Lear. This is totally how Regan and Goneril got started.

Now, the King had some quarrelsome neighbors, who, tired of leaving him in peace, began to make war upon him so fiercely that he feared he would be altogether beaten if he did not make an effort to defend himself. So he collected a great army and set off to fight them, leaving the Princesses with their governess in a castle where news of the war was brought every day–sometimes that the King had taken a town, or won a battle, and, at last, that he had altogether overcome his enemies and chased them out of his kingdom, and was coming back to the castle as quickly as possible, to see his dear little Miranda whom he loved so much.

It occurs to me that there must be quite an astonishing mail system in this kingdom if they’re getting daily news from the front.

The three Princesses put on dresses of satin, which they had had made on purpose for this great occasion, one green, one blue, and the third white; their jewels were the same colors. The eldest wore emeralds, the second turquoises, and the youngest diamonds, and thus adorned they went to meet the King, singing verses which they had composed about his victories.

When he saw them all so beautiful and so gay he embraced them tenderly, but gave Miranda more kisses than either of the others.

Presently a splendid banquet was served, and the King and his daughters sat down to it, and as he always thought that there was some special meaning in everything, he said to the eldest:

“Tell me why you have chosen a green dress.”

“Sire,” she answered, “having heard of your victories I thought that green would signify my joy and the hope of your speedy return.”

I have no idea how green is supposed to signify this, but I suspect if you’re living with that sort of person, you learn to make stuff up on the spot.

“That is a very good answer,” said the King; “and you, my daughter,” he continued, “why did you take a blue dress?”

“Sire,” said the Princess, “to show that we constantly hoped for your success, and that the sight of you is as welcome to me as the sky with its most beautiful stars.”

Better answer.

“Why,” said the King, “your wise answers astonish me, and you, Miranda. What made you dress yourself all in white?

“Because, sire,” she answered, “white suits me better than anything else.”

Not a good answer.

“What!” said the King angrily, “was that all you thought of, vain child?”

“I thought you would be pleased with me,” said the Princess; “that was all.”

The King, who loved her, was satisfied with this, and even pretended to be pleased that she had not told him all her reasons at first.

I am getting bad vibes about the king. He plays favorites and seems to have some weird paranoia going on.

“And now,” said he, “as I have supped well, and it is not time yet to go to bed, tell me what you dreamed last night.”

The eldest said she had dreamed that he brought her a dress, and the precious stones and gold embroidery on it were brighter than the sun.

The dream of the second was that the King had brought her a spinning wheel and a distaff, that she might spin him some shirts.

But the youngest said: “I dreamed that my second sister was to be married, and on her wedding-day, you, father, held a golden ewer and said: `Come, Miranda, and I will hold the water that you may dip your hands in it.'”

The King was very angry indeed when he heard this dream, and frowned horribly; indeed, he made such an ugly face that everyone knew how angry he was, and he got up and went off to bed in a great hurry; but he could not forget his daughter’s dream.

“Does the proud girl wish to make me her slave?” he said to himself. “I am not surprised at her choosing to dress herself in white satin without a thought of me. She does not think me worthy of her consideration! But I will soon put an end to her pretensions!”

Good thing she didn’t tell him about the dream where she was trying to get to class and there was a test she hadn’t studied for and then it turned out she was naked.

He rose in a fury, and although it was not yet daylight, he sent for the Captain of his Bodyguard, and said to him:

“You have heard the Princess Miranda’s dream? I consider that it means strange things against me, therefore I order you to take her away into the forest and kill her, and, that I may be sure it is done, you must bring me her heart and her tongue. If you attempt to deceive me you shall be put to death!”

I see Madame d’Aulnoy was cannibalizing Snow White…or wait, this was the 1600’s, maybe the Brother Grimm cannibalized this one. Hmm. Hard to say. The heart is one thing, but the tongue is an interesting twist.

The Captain of the Guard was very much astonished when he heard this barbarous order, but he did not dare to contradict the King for fear of making him still more angry, or causing him to send someone else, so he answered that he would fetch the Princess and do as the King had said. When he went to her room they would hardly let him in, it was so early, but he said that the King had sent for Miranda, and she got up quickly and came out; a little black girl called Patypata held up her train, and her pet monkey and her little dog ran after her. The monkey was called Grabugeon, and the little dog Tintin.

This won’t end well.

The Captain of the Guard begged Miranda to come down into the garden where the King was enjoying the fresh air, and when they got there, he pretended to search for him, but as he was not to be found, he said:

“No doubt his Majesty has strolled into the forest,” and he opened the little door that led to it and they went through.

By this time the daylight had begun to appear, and the Princess, looking at her conductor, saw that he had tears in his eyes and seemed too sad to speak.

He routinely lost large sums at poker.

“What is the matter?” she said in the kindest way. “You seem very sorrowful.”

“Alas! Princess,” he answered, “who would not be sorrowful who was ordered to do such a terrible thing as I am? The King has commanded me to kill you here, and carry your heart and your tongue to him, and if I disobey I shall lose my life.”

The poor Princess was terrified, she grew very pale and began to cry softly.

Looking up at the Captain of the Guard with her beautiful eyes, she said gently:

Will you really have the heart to kill me? I have never done you any harm, and have always spoken well of you to the King. If I had deserved my father’s anger I would suffer without a murmur, but, alas! he is unjust to complain of me, when I have always treated him with love and respect.”

“Fear nothing, Princess,” said the Captain of the Guard. “I would far rather die myself than hurt you; but even if I am killed you will not be safe: we must find some way of making the King believe that you are dead.”

“What can we do?” said Miranda; “unless you take him my heart and my tongue he will never believe you.”

The Princess and the Captain of the Guard were talking so earnestly that they did not think of Patypata, but she had overheard all they said, and now came and threw herself at Miranda’s feet

“Madam,” she said, “I offer you my life; let me be killed, I shall be only too happy to die for such a kind mistress.”


“Why, Patypata,” cried the Princess, kissing her, “that would never do; your life is as precious to me as my own, especially after such a proof of your affection as you have just given me.”

“You are right, Princess,” said Grabugeon, coming forward, “to love such a faithful slave as Patypata; she is of more use to you than I am, I offer you my tongue and my heart most willingly, especially as I wish to make a great name for myself in Goblin Land.”

…okay. This is taking a weird turn. Grabugeon appears to have some peculiar agenda. Is the monkey a goblin spy? Why are goblins impressed by offering to give up your organs?

“No, no, my little Grabugeon,” replied Miranda, “I cannot bear the thought of taking your life.”

“Such a good little dog as I am,” cried Tintin, “could not think of letting either of you die for his mistress. If anyone is to die for her it must be me.”

Oh, barf.

And then began a great dispute between Patypata, Grabugeon, and Tintin, and they came to high words, until at last Grabugeon, who was quicker than the others, ran up to the very top of the nearest tree, and let herself fall, head first, to the ground, and there she lay–quite dead!

It is a bad day when your followers begin committing suicide to spite each other.

The Princess was very sorry, but as Grabugeon was really dead, she allowed the Captain of the Guard to take her tongue; but, alas! it was such a little one–not bigger than the Princess’s thumb–that they decided sorrowfully that it was of no use at all: the King would not have been taken in by it for a moment!

“Alas! my little monkey,” cried the Princess, “I have lost you, and yet I am no better off than I was before.”

“The honor of saving your life is to be mine,” interrupted Patypata, and, before they could prevent her, she had picked up a knife and cut her head off in an instant.

Right, I’m off to get some gin.

And hey, even leaving aside all the unpleasant overtones to this and going straight for the practical, how the hell do you cut your own head off with a knife?

But when the Captain of the Guard would have taken her tongue it turned out to be quite black, so that would not have deceived the King either.


“Am I not unlucky?” cried the poor Princess; “I lose everything I love, and am none the better for it.”

…more gin. This requires more gin.

Okay. I’m going to leave the black tongue thing because I cannot even figure out how to deal with it—I mean, where do you even GO from there?!—but on a purely psychological note, the princess is really…off…here.

For my money, there are a lot of perfectly appropriate responses to having two friends commit messy suicide in front of you. I would have accepted screaming, wailing, sobbing, curling in fetal position and rocking, swearing, cursing god, and deciding to go back to bed for a month. Any of those would have been fine. This is not fine. Maybe the King was on to something.

“If you had accepted my offer,” said Tintin, “you would only have had me to regret, and I should have had all your gratitude.”

Tintin’s being a bit of a dick about this whole thing.

Miranda kissed her little dog, crying so bitterly, that at last she could bear it no longer, and turned away into the forest. When she looked back the Captain of the Guard was gone, and she was alone, except for Patypata, Grabugeon, and Tintin, who lay upon the ground.

Wait–hang on–how did the dog die? What? Did the Captain of the Guard kill him and take the dog’s heart and tongue? This can’t be a small dog, if it’s got a human-sized heart, and the King will have to be pretty dense not to recognize a dog’s tongue from a human one and dude, this whole sequence is just majorly messed up.

She could not leave the place until she had buried them in a pretty little mossy grave at the foot of a tree, and she wrote their names upon the bark of the tree, and how they had all died to save her life.

A) Have you ever tried to dig a grave for a human and a human-sized dog, with your bare hands, in tree-root filled soil? Not gonna happen. (We’ll assume the monkey was negligibly sized.)

B) That’s a very large piece of bark, or she is writing very very small.

C) If the king is trying to kill you, do you maybe think that right outside the palace is perhaps not the best place to write the full accounting of how you’re deceiving him? This is like the huntsman in Snow White getting his stag taxidermied, wall-mounted, and then hanging a little sign around its neck saying “Used Its Heart To Fool The Queen.”

And then she began to think where she could go for safety–for this forest was so close to her father’s castle that she might be seen and recognized by the first passer-by, and, besides that, it was full of lions and wolves, who would have snapped up a princess just as soon as a stray chicken.

See above on the inadvisability of sticking around writing bark eulogies.

So she began to walk as fast as she could, but the forest was so large and the sun was so hot that she nearly died of heat and terror and fatigue; look which way she would there seemed to be no end to the forest, and she was so frightened that she fancied every minute that she heard the King running after her to kill her. You may imagine how miserable she was, and how she cried as she went on, not knowing which path to follow, and with the thorny bushes scratching her dreadfully and tearing her pretty frock to pieces.

You’ll forgive me if I’m still hung up on the freaky competitive suicide pact and not all that worried about her frock.

At last she heard the bleating of a sheep, and said to herself:

“No doubt there are shepherds here with their flocks; they will show me the way to some village where I can live disguised as a peasant girl. Alas! it is not always kings and princes who are the happiest people in the world. Who could have believed that I should ever be obliged to run away and hide because the King, for no reason at all, wishes to kill me?”

When he’s that kind of king, he’s just that kind of king, honey.

So saying she advanced toward the place where she heard the bleating, but what was her surprise when, in a lovely little glade quite surrounded by trees, she saw a large sheep; its wool was as white as snow, and its horns shone like gold; it had a garland of flowers round its neck, and strings of great pearls about its legs, and a collar of diamonds; it lay upon a bank of orange-flowers, under a canopy of cloth of gold which protected it from the heat of the sun. Nearly a hundred other sheep were scattered about, not eating the grass, but some drinking coffee, lemonade, or sherbet, others eating ices, strawberries and cream, or sweetmeats, while others, again, were playing games. Many of them wore golden collars with jewels, flowers, and ribbons.

This has taken an unexpected turn.

Miranda stopped short in amazement at this unexpected sight, and was looking in all directions for the shepherd of this surprising flock, when the beautiful sheep came bounding toward her.

“Approach, lovely Princess,” he cried; “have no fear of such gentle and peaceable animals as we are.”

“What a marvel!” cried the Princess, starting back a little. “Here is a sheep that can talk.”

“Your monkey and your dog could talk, madam,” said he; “are you more astonished at us than at them?”

This is the only logical thing anyone says in this entire story.

“A fairy gave them the power to speak,” replied Miranda. “So I was used to them.”

“Perhaps the same thing has happened to us,” he said, smiling sheepishly.


“But, Princess, what can have led you here?”

“A thousand misfortunes, Sir Sheep,” she answered. “I am the unhappiest princess in the world, and I am seeking a shelter against my father’s anger.”

Dude, quit whining. You’re not even in the top ten unhappy princesses. The girl from Donkeyskin would have a lot to say about that, and the Goose Girl is probably still talking to a severed horse head on a wall.

“Come with me, madam,” said the Sheep; “I offer you a hiding-place which you only will know of, and where you will be mistress of everything you see.”

“I really cannot follow you,” said Miranda, “for I am too tired to walk another step.”

The Sheep with the golden horns ordered that his chariot should be fetched, and a moment after appeared six goats, harnessed to a pumpkin, which was so big that two people could quite well sit in it, and was all lined with cushions of velvet and down.

I keep seeing snatches of other fairy tales here, like the pumpkin carriage, and wondering if d’Aulnoy was taking them or if they got taken from her. Probably this is doctoral thesis material for somebody.

The Princess stepped into it, much amused at such a new kind of carriage, the King of the Sheep took his place beside her, and the goats ran away with them at full speed, and only stopped when they reached a cavern, the entrance to which was blocked by a great stone. This the King touched with his foot, and immediately it fell down, and he invited the Princess to enter without fear. Now, if she had not been so alarmed by everything that had happened, nothing could have induced her to go into this frightful cave, but she was so afraid of what might be behind her that she would have thrown herself even down a well at this moment.

This might save trouble.

So, without hesitation, she followed the Sheep, who went before her, down, down, down, until she thought they must come out at the other side of the world–indeed, she was not sure that he wasn’t leading her into Fairyland. At last she saw before her a great plain, quite covered with all sorts of flowers, the scent of which seemed to her nicer than anything she had ever smelled before; a broad river of orange-flower water flowed round it and fountains of wine of every kind ran in all directions and made the prettiest little cascades and brooks. The plain was covered with the strangest trees, there were whole avenues where partridges, ready roasted, hung from every branch, or, if you preferred pheasants, quails, turkeys, or rabbits, you had only to turn to the right hand or to the left and you were sure to find them.

…sooooo the magic sheep lives in an underground orchard with meat hanging from the branches. No, sir! Nothing weird going on here!

In places the air was darkened by showers of lobster-patties, white puddings, sausages, tarts, and all sorts of sweetmeats, or with pieces of gold and silver, diamonds and pearls.

Like I said…rains of lobster-patties. And puddings. And diamonds. Depending on where in the orchard you go, this could either be near-fatal or very very messy. And what happens to the lobster-patties? Do they just lay around on the grass? Does this whole section stink of rotten fish, or is there some clean-up sheep who comes through with a rake every few hours?

More importantly, how much absinthe was going around the salon that “wonderous” = “rain of lobster-patties”?!

This unusual kind of rain, and the pleasantness of the whole place, would, no doubt, have attracted numbers of people to it, if the King of the Sheep had been of a more sociable disposition, but from all accounts it is evident that he was as grave as a judge.

Keeping his people out from under hurtling gold projectiles tends to keep you grim.

As it was quite the nicest time of the year when Miranda arrived in this delightful land the only palace she saw was a long row of orange trees, jasmines, honeysuckles, and musk-roses, and their interlacing branches made the prettiest rooms possible, which were hung with gold and silver gauze, and had great mirrors and candlesticks, and most beautiful pictures. The Wonderful Sheep begged that the Princess would consider herself queen over all that she saw, and assured her that, though for some years he had been very sad and in great trouble, she had it in her power to make him forget all his grief.

“You are so kind and generous, noble Sheep,” said the Princess, “that I cannot thank you enough, but I must confess that all I see here seems to me so extraordinary that I don’t know what to think of it.”

As she spoke a band of lovely fairies came up and offered her amber baskets full of fruit, but when she held out her hands to them they glided away, and she could feel nothing when she tried to touch them.

This is never adequately explained and seems strangely nightmarish.

“Oh!” she cried, “what can they be? Whom am I with?” and she began to cry.

At this instant the King of the Sheep came back to her, and was so distracted to find her in tears that he could have torn his wool.

“What is the matter, lovely Princess?” he cried. “Has anyone failed to treat you with due respect?”

“Oh! no,” said Miranda; “only I am not used to living with sprites and with sheep that talk, and everything here frightens me. It was very kind of you to bring me to this place, but I shall be even more grateful to you if you will take me up into the world again.”

Take me to a place where the weather does not turn to seafood, I beg of you!

“Do not be afraid,” said the Wonderful Sheep; “I entreat you to have patience, and listen to the story of my misfortunes. I was once a king, and my kingdom was the most splendid in the world. My subjects loved me, my neighbors envied and feared me. I was respected by everyone, and it was said that no king ever deserved it more.”

He’s modest, too!

“I was very fond of hunting, and one day, while chasing a stag, I left my attendants far behind; suddenly I saw the animal leap into a pool of water, and I rashly urged my horse to follow it, but before we had gone many steps I felt an extraordinary heat, instead of the coolness of the water; the pond dried up, a great gulf opened before me, out of which flames of fire shot up, and I fell helplessly to the bottom of a precipice.

“I gave myself up for lost, but presently a voice said: `Ungrateful Prince, even this fire is hardly enough to warm your cold heart!’

“`Who complains of my coldness in this dismal place?’ I cried.

“`An unhappy being who loves you hopelessly,’ replied the voice, and at the same moment the flames began to flicker and cease to burn, and I saw a fairy, whom I had known as long as I could remember, and whose ugliness had always horrified me. She was leaning upon the arm of a most beautiful young girl, who wore chains of gold on her wrists and was evidently her slave.

“`Why, Ragotte,’ I said, for that was the fairy’s name, `what is the meaning of all this? Is it by your orders that I am here?’

“`And whose fault is it,’ she answered, `that you have never understood me until now? Must a powerful fairy like myself condescend to explain her doings to you who are no better than an ant by comparison, though you think yourself a great king?’

“`Call me what you like,’ I said impatiently; `but what is it that you want–my crown, or my cities, or my treasures?’

“`Treasures!’ said the fairy, disdainfully. `If I chose I could make any one of my scullions richer and more powerful than you. I do not want your treasures, but,’ she added softly, `if you will give me your heart–if you will marry me–I will add twenty kingdoms to the one you have already; you shall have a hundred castles full of gold and five hundred full of silver, and, in short, anything you like to ask me for.’

“`Madam Ragotte,’ said I, `when one is at the bottom of a pit where one has fully expected to be roasted alive, it is impossible to think of asking such a charming person as you are to marry one! I beg that you will set me at liberty, and then I shall hope to answer you fittingly.’

I will give the prince credit for thinking on his feet here.

“`Ah!’ said she, `if you really loved me you would not care where you were–a cave, a wood, a fox-hole, a desert, would please you equally well. Do not think that you can deceive me; you fancy you are going to escape, but I assure you that you are going to stay here and the first thing I shall give you to do will be to keep my sheep–they are very good company and speak quite as well as you do.

“As she spoke she advanced, and led me to this plain where we now stand, and showed me her flock, but I paid little attention to it or to her.

“To tell the truth, I was so lost in admiration of her beautiful slave that I forgot everything else,

Oh my god, you’re a moron. Look, I realize common wisdom has it that men think about sex seven hundred times a day or some ridiculous number like that, but you couldn’t go ten minutes, with an evil fairy standing in front of you, without tuning her out to fantasize about her slave girl? Dude. How can you possibly have run a kingdom?

and the cruel Ragotte, perceiving this, turned upon her so furious and terrible a look that she fell lifeless to the ground.

“At this dreadful sight I drew my sword and rushed at Ragotte, and should certainly have cut off her head had she not by her magic arts chained me to the spot on which I stood;

That faint thudding sound is me banging my head quietly on my desk.

all my efforts to move were useless, and at last, when I threw myself down on the ground in despair, she said to me, with a scornful smile:

“`I intend to make you feel my power. It seems that you are a lion at present, I mean you to be a sheep.’

“So saying, she touched me with her wand, and I became what you see. I did not lose the power of speech, or of feeling the misery of my present state.

“`For five years,’ she said, `you shall be a sheep, and lord of this pleasant land, while I, no longer able to see your face, which I loved so much, shall be better able to hate you as you deserve to be hated.’

“She disappeared as she finished speaking, and if I had not been too unhappy to care about anything I should have been glad that she was gone.

“The talking sheep received me as their king, and told me that they, too, were unfortunate princes who had, in different ways, offended the revengeful fairy, and had been added to her flock for a certain number of years; some more, some less. From time to time, indeed, one regains his own proper form and goes back again to his place in the upper world; but the other beings whom you saw are the rivals or the enemies of Ragotte, whom she has imprisoned for a hundred years or so; though even they will go back at last. The young slave of whom I told you about is one of these; I have seen her often, and it has been a great pleasure to me. She never speaks to me, and if I were nearer to her I know I should find her only a shadow, which would be very annoying.

Everyone in this fairy-tale is either dead or unspeakably self-centered. “I ogled the girl and the fairy killed her, but now that she’s trapped in a horrible shadowy undeath, I enjoy ogling her from a distance, but find it annoying that I cannot actually press my sheeply attentions upon her.”

However, I noticed that one of my companions in misfortune was also very attentive to this little sprite, and I found out that he had been her lover, whom the cruel Ragotte had taken away from her long before; since then I have cared for, and thought of, nothing but how I might regain my freedom.

It’s no fun ogling the dead when you know they’re the property of another enchanted sheep.

(Dear god, how am I even in a situation where I am typing that in context?)

I have often been in the forest; that is where I have seen you, lovely Princess, sometimes driving your chariot, which you did with all the grace and skill in the world; sometimes riding to the chase on so spirited a horse that it seemed as if no one but yourself could have managed it, and sometimes running races on the plain with the Princesses of your Court–running so lightly that it was you always who won the prize. Oh! Princess, I have loved you so long, and yet how dare I tell you of my love! what hope can there be for an unhappy sheep like myself?”

Also, I’m a stalker sheep.

Miranda was so surprised and confused by all that she had heard that she hardly knew what answer to give to the King of the Sheep, but she managed to make some kind of little speech, which certainly did not forbid him to hope, and said that she should not be afraid of the shadows now she knew that they would some day come to life again. “Alas!” she continued, “if my poor Patypata, my dear Grabugeon, and pretty little Tintin, who all died for my sake, were equally well off, I should have nothing left to wish for here!”

Prisoner though he was, the King of the Sheep had still some powers and privileges.

“Go,” said he to his Master of the Horse,

The sheep have horses…? Wow, this is getting kind of Animal Farm here.

“go and seek the shadows of the little black girl, the monkey, and the dog: they will amuse our Princess.”

Let’s trap them in shadowy undeath too! It’ll make her feel better!

And an instant afterward Miranda saw them coming toward her, and their presence gave her the greatest pleasure, though they did not come near enough for her to touch them.

I like to think they spent their off hours plotting to trap her in a hellish undeath, too.

The King of the Sheep was so kind and amusing, and loved Miranda so dearly, that at last she began to love him too. Such a handsome sheep, who was so polite and considerate, could hardly fail to please,

I realize that love will find a way and all, and of course he can talk, which is something, but…err…SHEEP! Jesus christ, people! “Where the men are men, and the sheep are enchanted princes who are really kind of bastards.”

especially if one knew that he was really a king, and that his strange imprisonment would soon come to an end. So the Princess’s days passed very gaily while she waited for the happy time to come. The King of the Sheep, with the help of all the flock, got up balls, concerts, and hunting parties, and even the shadows joined in all the fun, and came, making believe to be their own real selves.

The horrible fraying of my soul in the black wind between worlds is hardly noticeable during the party!

One evening, when the couriers arrived (for the King sent most carefully for news–and they always brought the very best kinds),

I will admit, I do love that line. Almost Carroll-esque.

it was announced that the sister of the Princess Miranda was going to be married to a great Prince, and that nothing could be more splendid than all the preparations for the wedding.

“Ah!” cried the young Princess, “how unlucky I am to miss the sight of so many pretty things!

Oh my god, could you be any more shallow?

Here am I imprisoned under the earth, with no company but sheep and shadows, while my sister is to be adorned like a queen and surrounded by all who love and admire her, and everyone but myself can go to wish her joy!”

Wish her joy. Uh-huh. Mind you, the line “no company but sheep and shadows” isn’t bad either. “I’m half-sick of sheep and shadows!” she said, in a very strange retelling of the Lady of Shalott…

“Why do you complain, Princess?” said the King of the Sheep. “Did I say that you were not to go to the wedding? Set out as soon as you please; only promise me that you will come back, for I love you too much to be able to live without you.”

Miranda was very grateful to him, and promised faithfully that nothing in the world should keep her from coming back. The King caused an escort suitable to her rank to be got ready for her, and she dressed herself splendidly, not forgetting anything that could make her more beautiful. Her chariot was of mother-of-pearl, drawn by six dun-colored griffins just brought from the other side of the world, and she was attended by a number of guards in splendid uniforms, who were all at least eight feet high and had come from far and near to ride in the Princess’s train.

They were secretly hoping for a pick-up basketball game with the other guards.

Miranda reached her father’s palace just as the wedding ceremony began, and everyone, as soon as she came in, was struck with surprise at her beauty and the splendor of her jewels. She heard exclamations of admiration on all sides; and the King her father looked at her so attentively that she was afraid he must recognize her; but he was so sure that she was dead that the idea never occurred to him.

However, the fear of not getting away made her leave before the marriage was over. She went out hastily, leaving behind her a little coral casket set with emeralds. On it was written in diamond letters: “Jewels for the Bride,” and when they opened it, which they did as soon as it was found, there seemed to be no end to the pretty things it contained. The King, who had hoped to join the unknown Princess and find out who she was, was dreadfully disappointed when she disappeared so suddenly, and gave orders that if she ever came again the doors were to be shut that she might not get away so easily.

Some faint echoes of Cinderella here, again, but it’s getting a little creepy with the king.

Short as Miranda’s absence had been, it had seemed like a hundred years to the King of the Sheep. He was waiting for her by a fountain in the thickest part of the forest, and the ground was strewn with splendid presents which he had prepared for her to show his joy and gratitude at her coming back.

As soon as she was in sight he rushed to meet her, leaping and bounding like a real sheep. He caressed her tenderly, throwing himself at her feet and kissing her hands, and told her how uneasy he had been in her absence, and how impatient for her return, with an eloquence which charmed her.

Is anyone else wondering how he’s doing all this caressing? I mean, the hooves…

You know, let’s not speculate too closely.

After some time came the news that the King’s second daughter was going to be married. When Miranda heard it she begged the King of the Sheep to allow her to go and see the wedding as before. This request made him feel very sad, as if some misfortune must surely come of it, but his love for the Princess being stronger than anything else he did not like to refuse her.

“You wish to leave me, Princess,” said he; “it is my unhappy fate–you are not to blame. I consent to your going, but, believe me, I can give you no stronger proof of my love than by so doing.”

The Princess assured him that she would only stay a very short time, as she had done before, and begged him not to be uneasy, as she would be quite as much grieved if anything detained her as he could possibly be.

So, with the same escort, she set out, and reached the palace as the marriage ceremony began. Everybody was delighted to see her; she was so pretty that they thought she must be some fairy princess, and the Princes who were there could not take their eyes off her.

The King was more glad than anyone else that she had come again, and gave orders that the doors should all be shut and bolted that very minute. When the wedding was all but over the Princess got up quickly, hoping to slip away unnoticed among the crowd, but, to her great dismay, she found every door fastened.

She felt more at ease when the King came up to her, and with the greatest respect begged her not to run away so soon, but at least to honor him by staying for the splendid feast which was prepared for the Princes and Princesses. He led her into a magnificent hall, where all the Court was assembled, and himself taking up the golden bowl full of water, he offered it to her that she might dip her pretty fingers into it.

At this the Princess could no longer contain herself; throwing herself at the King’s feet, she cried out:

“My dream has come true after all–you have offered me water to wash my hands on my sister’s wedding day, and it has not vexed you to do it.”

Also, I have a death-wish!

The King recognized her at once–indeed, he had already thought several times how much like his poor little Miranda she was.

“Oh! my dear daughter,” he cried, kissing her, “can you ever forget my cruelty? I ordered you to be put to death because I thought your dream portended the loss of my crown. And so it did,” he added, “for now your sisters are both married and have kingdoms of their own–and mine shall be for you.” So saying he put his crown on the Princess’s head and cried:

“Long live Queen Miranda!”

Personally, my first order would be to send him into immediate exile. You’re obviously dealing with an unstable personality here, and tomorrow you just know he’s going to wake up and start the civil war.

All the Court cried: “Long live Queen Miranda!” after him, and the young Queen’s two sisters came running up, and threw their arms round her neck, and kissed her a thousand times, and then there was such a laughing and crying, talking and kissing, all at once, and Miranda thanked her father, and began to ask after everyone– particularly the Captain of the Guard, to whom she owed so much; but, to her great sorrow, she heard that he was dead.

Gee, if you’d thought of it, you could have trapped him in a horrible undeath too!

Presently they sat down to the banquet, and the King asked Miranda to tell them all that had happened to her since the terrible morning when he had sent the Captain of the Guard to fetch her. This she did with so much spirit that all the guests listened with breathless interest. But while she was thus enjoying herself with the King and her sisters, the King of the Sheep was waiting impatiently for the time of her return, and when it came and went, and no Princess appeared, his anxiety became so great that he could bear it no longer.

“She is not coming back any more,” he cried. “My miserable sheep’s face displeases her, and without Miranda what is left to me, wretched creature that I am! Oh! cruel Ragotte; my punishment is complete.”

Y’know, I might–just might–have gone “Oh, crap! Her father, who already tried to kill her once, figured out what was up and decided to finish the job! Maybe I should lay siege to the palace with my awesome SHEEP ARMY and figure out what’s going on before I automatically assume that she hates me because I’m a sheep!”

I have different self-esteem issues than an enchanted sheep, though. I guess that’s a good thing.

For a long time he bewailed his sad fate like this, and then, seeing that it was growing dark, and that still there was no sign of the Princess, he set out as fast as he could in the direction of the town. When he reached the palace he asked for Miranda, but by this time everyone had heard the story of her adventures, and did not want her to go back again to the King of the Sheep, so they refused sternly to let him see her.

People are dicks. On the other hands, the sheep’s sort of a bastard, so maybe they’ve got the right idea.

In vain he begged and prayed them to let him in; though his entreaties might have melted hearts of stone they did not move the guards of the palace, and at last, quite broken-hearted, he fell dead at their feet.

Unexpected. Presumably he’ll be raised from the dead, right?

In the meantime the King, who had not the least idea of the sad thing that was happening outside the gate of his palace, proposed to Miranda that she should be driven in her chariot all round the town, which was to be illuminated with thousands and thousands of torches, placed in windows and balconies, and in all the grand squares.

No fire hazard is too great for my little princess!

But what a sight met her eyes at the very entrance of the palace! There lay her dear, kind sheep, silent and motionless, upon the pavement!

She threw herself out of the chariot and ran to him, crying bitterly, for she realized that her broken promise had cost him his life, and for a long, long time she was so unhappy that they thought she would have died too.

…wait a minute, he’s actually dead-dead?

So you see that even a princess is not always happy– especially if she forgets to keep her word; and the greatest misfortunes often happen to people just as they think they have obtained their heart’s desires!



That’s a rather astonishing fuck-you to the audience at the end of the story, isn’t it? I mean, on the one hand, you figure with all those Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque endings where Beauty ALMOST doesn’t return in time, there’d have to be a case where she never did return at all, but still! Dude!

My only theory is that the author didn’t much like Miranda either by the end, and decided to crush her.

And I still want to know about Goblin Land, which you note never comes up again, and why the monkey was looking to make a name for herself. It’s such a weird aside that doesn’t go anywhere.

Rains of lobster-patties. What a world.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Crystal Casket

What the heck, it’s been awhile! Here’s an Italian version of “Snow White” that, in my opinion, focuses on the REALLY important question—namely, what in the name of God was Prince Charming doing mooning after a corpse? (The Disney version really glosses over this point. I will accept that one may wish to kiss one’s dead loved ones one last time, but there’s a far cry between that and riding around kissing random dead girls in the woods.)

There are no dwarves, but there are fairies and an eagle, which is something. There is also an unsettling pre-echo of the whole Real Doll thing. It’s a bit worrisome and gets moreso as time goes on.

Original found at the marvelous folklore archive here. (I have corrected a couple of typos.)

The Crystal Casket

There was once a widower who had a daughter. This daughter was between ten and twelve years old. Her father sent her to school, and as she was all alone in the world commended her always to her teacher. Now, the teacher, seeing that the child had no mother, fell in love with the father, and kept saying to the girl, “Ask your father if he would like me for a wife.”

This she said to her every day, and at last the girl said, “Papa, the school-mistress is always asking me if you will marry her.”

This here is the set-up to a Disney movie all on its own.

The father said, “Eh! my daughter, if I take another wife, you will have great troubles.”

At least he’s aware of it.

But the girl persisted, and finally the father was persuaded to go one evening to the school-mistress’ house. When she saw him she was well pleased, and they settled the marriage in a few days.

Dad’s earlier prescience seems rather weird now. “Well, gonna suck for you. But hey, I’ll get married in a couple days anyway!”

Poor child! How bitterly she had to repent having found a stepmother so ungrateful and cruel to her! She sent her every day out on a terrace to water a pot of basil, and it was so dangerous that if she fell she would go into a large river.

While I try to start out sympathetic to our heroines, I gotta say, a lot of other heroines have to do REAL work. I water my basil occasionally, and it takes about thirty seconds. Basil is not noted for attacking gardeners, pushing them into rivers, or even being particularly frost-hardy. The only way this seems plausible is if it’s a sort of Cat’s Eye inch-around-the-building-on-the-ledge situation, and that renders the basil less than useful for cooking.

One day there came by a large eagle, and said to her, “What are you doing her?” She was weeping because she saw how great the danger was of falling into the stream. The eagle said to her, “Get on my back, and I will carry you away, and you will be happier than with your new mamma.”

This is already much cooler than a pack of dwarves. Do dwarves fly? No, they do not! You never saw Snow White tooling around the treetops on Grumpy’s back, now did you?

After a long journey they reached a great plain, where they found a beautiful palace all of crystal; the eagle knocked at the door and said, “Open, my ladies, open! for I have brought you a pretty girl.”

If this were one of the other types of fairy tales, the next line would be “Fire up the oven!”

When the people in the palace opened the door, and saw that lovely girl, they were amazed, and kissed and caressed her. Meanwhile the door was closed, and they remained peaceful and contented.

Let us return to the eagle, who thought she was doing a spite to the stepmother. One day the eagle flew away to the terrace where the stepmother was watering the basil. “Where is your daughter?” asked the eagle.

Clearly the inching-along-the-ledge thing was exaggerated. If it was really all that bad, you’d move the damn basil to the front porch, but the stepmom is still out on the terrace with a watering can. Also, the eagle appears to be female.

“Eh!” she replied, “perhaps she fell from this terrace and went into the river; I have not heard from her in ten days.”

Meanwhile, somebody’s gotta water the basil.

The eagle answered, “What a fool you are! I carried her away; seeing that you treated her so harshly I carried her away to my fairies, and she is very well.” Then the eagle flew away.

The stepmother, filled with rage and jealousy, called a witch from the city, and said to her, “You see my daughter is alive, and is in the house of some fairies of an eagle which often comes upon my terrace; now you must do me the favor to find some way to kill this stepdaughter of mine, for I am afraid that some day or other she will return, and my husband, discovering this matter, will certainly kill me.”

Or you could, y’know, move the damn basil and tell your husband she was carried off by a freaky talking eagle. Dear old dad is obviously not monitoring the situation closely. Seriously, people, it’s the cover-up that kills you every time…

The witch answered, “Oh, you need not be afraid of that; leave it to me.”

What did the witch do? She had made a little basketful of sweetmeats, in which she put a charm; then she wrote a letter, pretending that it was her father, who, having learned where she was, wished to make her this present, and the letter pretended that her father was so glad to hear that she was with the fairies.

Let us leave the witch who is arranging all this deception, and return to Ermellina (for so the young girl was named).

I take back what I said. Watering basil may be the least grueling task set to a fairy-tale heroine, but anyone named Ermellina has suffered a great deal already.

The fairies had said to her, “See, Ermellina, we are going away, and shall be absent four days; now in this time take good care not to open the door to anyone, for some treachery is being prepared for you by your stepmother.”

She promised to open the door to no one: “Do not be anxious, I am well off, and my stepmother has nothing to do with me.”

But it was not so. The fairies went away, and the next day when Ermellina was alone, she heard a knocking at the door, and said to herself, “Knock away! I don’t open to anyone.”

She is also smarter than Snow White. Plus Snow only got little happy singing bluebirds, and Ermellina gets an eagle.

But meanwhile the blows redoubled, and curiosity forced her to look out of the window. What did she see? She saw one the servant girls of her own home (for the witch had disguised herself as one of her father’s servants). “O my dear Ermellina,” she said, “your father is shedding tears of sorrow for you, because he really believed you were dead, but the eagle which carried you off came and told him the good news that you were here with the fairies. Meanwhile your father, not knowing what civility to show you, for he understands very well that you are in need of nothing, has thought to send you this little basket of sweetmeats.”

Ermellina had not yet opened the door; the servant begged her to come down and take the basket and the letter, but she said, “No, I wish nothing!” but finally, since women, and especially young girls, are fond of sweetmeats, she descended and opened the door.

I don’t even know if it’s worth commenting on specific episodes of sexism in fairy tales any more. There are too many. Instead, I think I’ll stare out my window for a minute. There’s a white-throated sparrow and a couple of doves out there at the moment. No eagles at the time of this writing.

When the witch had given her the basket, she said, “Eat this,” and broke off for her a piece of the sweetmeats which she had poisoned. When Ermellina took the first mouthful the old woman disappeared. Ermellina had scarcely time to close the door, when she fell down on the stairs.

When the fairies returned they knocked at the door, but no one opened it for them; then they perceived that there had been some treachery, and began to weep. Then the chief of the fairies said, “We must break open the door,” and so they did, and saw Ermellina dead on the stairs.

Her other friends who loved her so dearly begged the chief of the fairies to bring her to life, but she would not, “for,” she said, “she has disobeyed me.”

I initially thought that the chief of the fairies was being a bit of a hard-ass here, but when you think about it, you know this isn’t her first heroine. She’s probably been through this a dozen times in the last few centuries, and after the first couple, I imagine you get pretty stern. Raising the dead can’t be a cakewalk even if you’re a fairy. The first couple were probably “Oh, you poor dear! Let me save you from your own stupidity!” but after awhile, you get to “I told you not to open the door! How many times do I have to tell you people never to open the door?! No resurrection for YOU!”

But one and the other asked her until she consented; she opened Ermellina’s mouth, took out a piece of the sweetmeat which she had not yet swallowed, raised her up, and Ermellina came to life again.

We can imagine what a pleasure it was for her friends; but the chief of the fairies reproved her for her disobedience, and she promised not to do so again.

Once more the fairies were obliged to depart. Their chief said, “Remember, Ermellina: The first time I cured you, but the second I will have nothing to do with you.”

“Seriously, kid, I can raise the dead once a month, no more. I was going to go rez a very nice lady with three small children who did good work in the community, but noooo, YOU had to go open the door. This time I’m off to save some lepers. Learn from your mistakes.”

Ermellina said they need not worry, that she would not open to anyone. But it was not so; for the eagle, thinking to increase her stepmother’s anger, told her again that Ermellina was alive.

Whatever you might think of Snow White’s bluebirds, at least they didn’t go start shit with the Queen.

The stepmother denied it all to the eagle, but she summoned anew the witch, and told her that her stepdaughter was still alive, saying, “Either you will really kill her, or I will be avenged on you.”

The old woman, finding herself caught, told her to buy a very handsome dress, one of the handsomest she could find, and transformed herself into a tailoress belonging to the family, took the dress, departed, went to poor Ermellina, knocked at the door and said, “Open, open, for I am your tailoress.”

Ermellina looked out of the window and saw her tailoress; and was, in truth, a little confused (indeed, anyone would have been so).

“Gee, the last time somebody disguised themselves as somebody I knew, but surely this could never happen again!”

The tailoress said, “Come down, I must fit a dress on you.”

She replied, “No, no; for I have been deceived once.”

“But I am not the old woman,” replied the tailoress, “you know me, for I have always made your dresses.”

WHAT old woman? Who mentioned an old woman? Where do old women come into this? The last one was disguised as a servant girl.

Poor Ermellina was persuaded, and descended the stairs; the tailoress took to flight while Ermellina was yet buttoning up the dress, and disappeared. Ermellina closed the door, and was mounting the stairs; but it was not permitted her to go up, for she fell down dead.

Let us return to the fairies, who came home and knocked at the door; but what good did it do to knock! There was no longer anyone there. They began to weep. The chief of the fairies said, “I told you that she would betray me again; but now I will have nothing more to do with her.”

“We’re all invited to a party at the leper’s house, though!”

So they broke open the door, and saw the poor girl with the beautiful dress on; but she was dead. They all wept, because they really loved her. But there was nothing to do; the chief struck her enchanted wand, and commanded a beautiful rich casket all covered with diamonds and other precious stones to appear; then the others made a beautiful garland of flowers and gold, put it on the young girl, and then laid her in the casket, which was so rich and beautiful that it was marvelous to behold. Then the old fairy struck her wand as usual and commanded a handsome horse, the like of which not even the king possessed. Then they took the casket, put it on the horse’s back, and led him into the public square of the city, and the chief of the fairies said, “Go, and do not stop until you find someone who says to you, ‘Stop, for pity’s sake, for I have lost my horse for you.'”

This is oddly specific. I always wonder how much lee-way there is in these things—does the horse get to stop if he finds someone who says “Stop, for god’s sake!” or “Stop, for the love of bunnies!”?

Now let us leave the afflicted fairies, and turn our attention to the horse, which ran away at full speed. Who happened to pass at that moment? The son of a king (the name of this king is not known);

Oh, I’ve been through the desert on a king with no name…

and saw this horse with that wonder on its back. Then the king began to spur his horse, and rode him so hard that he killed him, and had to leave him dead in the road; but the king kept running after the other horse.

I like to think the eagle came by and ate the dead horse. Possibly with basil.

The poor king could endure it no longer; he saw himself lost, and exclaimed, “Stop, for pity’s sake, for I have lost my horse for you!”

Then the horse stopped (for those were the words). When the king saw that beautiful girl dead in the casket, he thought no more about his own horse, but took the other to the city. The king’s mother knew that her son had gone hunting; when she saw him returning with this loaded horse, she did not know what to think. The son had no father, wherefore he was all powerful.

I thought he was the son of a king, but apparently he’s actually the king, or something like that, with a dowager queen in residence.

He reached the palace, had the horse unloaded, and the casket carried to his chamber; then he called his mother and said, “Mother, I went hunting, but I have found a wife.”

“But what is it? A doll? A dead woman?”

“Mother,” replied her son, “don’t trouble yourself about what it is, it is my wife.”

Necrophilia or real doll action? It’s hard to tell, because they start calling her “the doll” later on almost exclusively.

His mother began to laugh, and withdrew to her own room (what could she do, poor mother?).

Ha ha ha my son’s lost his shit oh god ha ha I need a drink…

Now this poor king no longer went hunting, took no diversion, did not even go to the table, but ate in his own room. By a fatality it happened that war was declared against him, and he was obliged to depart. He called his mother, and said, “Mother, I wish two careful chambermaids, whose business it shall be to guard this casket; for if on my return I find that anything has happened to my casket, I shall have the chambermaids killed.”

“Chambermaids killed. Got it,” she said, heading for the liquor cabinet.

His mother, who loved him, said, “Go, my son, fear nothing, for I myself will watch over your casket.”

Do those people who get really into their real doll thingies and talk to them and claim they’re married ever take them to meet their mothers? Does Mom have to sit through dinner with the real doll at the table? That’s sort of what I’m picturing here. “Oh, sure, yeah, I’ll take care of your, uh, “wife.” I’m sure we’ll…um….have a fine time. Yes. You go fight your war, dear. Damn, these bottles do not last as long as they used to, do they?”

He wept several days at being obliged to abandon this treasure of his, but there was no help for it, he had to go. After his departure he did nothing but commend his wife (so he called her) to his mother in his letters.

“Oh look, another letter from Junior. Majordomo! Send me up another bottle of the red. And the white. And those little butter cookies I like.”

Let us return to the mother, who no longer thought about the matter, not even to have the casket dusted; but all at once there came a letter which informed her that the king had been victorious, and should return to his palace in a few days. The mother called the chambermaids, and said to them, “Girls, we are ruined.”

They replied, “Why, Highness?”

“Because my son will be back in a few days, and how have we taken care of the doll?”

“In retrospect, using it for target practice was ill-advised.”

They answered, “True, true; now let us go and wash the doll’s face.”

They went to the king’s room and saw that the doll’s face and hands were covered with dust and fly specks, so they took a sponge and washed her face, but some drops of water fell on her dress and spotted it.

Apparently this was not a tightly sealed crystal casket, if the flies got in. Also, eww.

The poor chambermaids began to weep, and went to the queen for advice.

“You better have brought wine, girls. Momma’s going through a rough patch on the family front.”

The queen said, “Do you know what to do! Call a tailoress, and have a dress precisely like this bought, and take off this one before my son comes.”

This is the fairy tale equivalent of buying an identical goldfish.

They did so, and the chambermaids went to the room and began to unbutton the dress. The moment that they took off the first sleeve, Ermellina opened her eyes. The poor chambermaids sprang up in terror, but one of the most courageous said, “I am a woman, and so is this one; she will not eat me.”

She clearly hasn’t been reading enough fairy tales!

To cut the matter short, she took off the dress, and when it was removed Ermellina began to get out of the casket to walk about and see where she was. The chambermaids fell on their knees before her and begged her to tell them who she was. She, poor girl, told them the whole story. Then she said, “I wish to know where I am.”

Then the chambermaids called the king’s mother to explain it to her. The mother did not fail to tell her everything, and she, poor girl, did nothing but weep penitently, thinking of what the fairies had done for her.

Well, at least she’s learned from her mistakes, one hopes.

The king was on the point of arriving, and his mother said to the doll, “Come her; put on one of my best dresses.” In short, she arrayed her like a queen. Then came her son. They shut the doll up in a small room, so that she could not be seen.

The fact they’re still calling her “the doll” throws a creepy sort of light over all this.

The king came with great joy, with trumpets blowing, and banners flying for the victory. But he took no interest in all this, and ran at once to his room to see the doll; the chambermaids fell on their knees before him saying that the doll smelled so badly that they could not stay in the palace, and were obliged to bury her.

Incidentally, two of the compounds caused by the putrefaction of flesh are called “putrescine” and “cadaverine.” Which is neither here nor there, but rather interesting.

The king would not listen to this excuse, but at once called two of the palace servants to erect the gallows. His mother comforted him in vain: “My son, it was a dead woman.”

“No, no, I will not listen to any reasons; dead or alive, you should have left it for me.”

Finally, when his mother saw that he was in earnest about the gallows, she rang a little bell, and there cam forth no longer the doll, but a very beautiful girl, whose like was never seen.

What I find kind of interesting here is that the queen is obviously trying to keep him from meeting this girl, and only produces her in the end in order to save the two chambermaids from being killed. I could see two reasons for this. One, she doesn’t want him to marry a total stranger with a trash-talking eagle familiar and a pathological fear of basil. This would be quite understandable. On the other hand, I like to think that maybe she realizes that anybody who moons over a maybe-a-doll-but-maybe-a-dead-body in a casket is probably not a good mate for a living woman.

On the gripping hand, maybe she plans to kill him and rule the kingdom with an iron, if somewhat drunken fist. I would also be good with this option.

The king was amazed, and said, “What is this!”

Then his mother, the chambermaids, and Ermellina were obliged to tell him all that had happened.

Sorry, sweetie, I thought we might be able to smuggle you out of the country on eagle-back. Instead you’re gonna have to stick around. Let me pour you some wine…

He said, “Mother, since I adored her when dead, and called her my wife, now I mean her to be my wife in truth.”

“Yes, my son,” replied his mother, “do so, for I am willing.”

You’re sufficiently crazy-pants to kill me if I say no, I expect. Or send me to water the basil. (Maybe this has been a euphemism all along, and “water the basil” is the medieval Italian equivalent of “away in the cornfield.”)

They arranged the wedding, and in a few days were man and wife.

Not to be, um, excessively graphic here, but am I the only person wondering if the king was going to ask her to lay really really still when…ugh. Now I’ve squicked myself out. Where’s that wine, again?

Annotated Fairy Tale #3 — The Prince and the Tortoise

You didn’t think you were getting off this easy, did you? This has always been one of my favorites, probably because a great many people act surprisingly rationally, (instead of everybody acting batshit crazy) and it contains one of the greatest lines in all fairytale-dom. Compared to the sheer cracked-ness of “Master-Maid,” though, this one is pretty straightforward.

This is from a translation of the Arabian Nights from Powys Mathers, 1964.

The Prince and the Tortoise

It is related that there was once, in the antiquity of time and the passage of the age and of the moment, a powerful sultan whom Allah had blessed with three sons: Ali, the eldest, Hussein, the second, and Muhammad, the youngest. They were all indomitable males and heroic warriors; but the youngest was the most handsome, the bravest and the most generous. Their father loved them equally and, in the justice of his heart, had resolved to leave to each an equal part of his riches and his kingdom.

Compared to the last couple of kings we’ve dealt with, this sultan is awesome. No beatings, and I bet he didn’t skimp on the pensions, either.

Also, when they came to marriageable age, the king called his wise and prudent wazir to him, saying, “O wazir, I wish to find wives for my three sons, and have called you to me that you may give me your advice.”

Seeking wise and prudent advice! This is wonderful! Go, Sultan! Buck that trend!

The wazir reflected for an hour, and then answered, lifting his head, “O king of time, the matter is delicate, for good and evil chance are not to be told beforehand, and against the decree of destiny there is no provision. I suggest that you take the three princes, armed with their bows and arrows, up to the terrace of the palace, and there, after bandaging their eyes, make them each turn round several times, After that, let them fire their arrows straight ahead of them, and let the houses upon which the arrows fall be visited. Have the owners of the houses brought before you and ask of each his daughter in marriage for the marksman of the arrow which fell upon his house. Thus each of your sons will have a bride chosen by destiny.”

…or, y’know, not so much. Seriously, what are you paying this guy? What if the prince shoots his bride-to-be in the head? That’s going to be really awkward.

“Your advice is excellent, and I shall act upon it!” cried the sultan.

I applaud his enthusiasm, even as I question his judgement.

As soon as his sons returned from hunting, he told them of the trial which was to be made and led them up, with their bows and quivers, to the terrace of his palace.

The dignitaries of the court followed and watched with breathless interest while the eyes of the young men were bandaged.

Small bets were placed on whether they would accidentally shoot anyone important. 

The eldest prince was turned about, and then discharged his arrow straight in front of him. It flew through the air with great swiftness and fell upon the dwelling of a most noble lord. In like manner the second prince’s arrow fell upon the terrace of the commander-in-chief of the king’s army.

But, when Muhammad drew his bow, the arrow fell upon a house whose owner was not known.

The king, with his retinue, set forth to visit the three houses, and found the great lord’s daughter and the commander-in-chief’s daughter were girls as fair as moons, and that their parents were delighted to marry them to the two princes. But when the king visited the third house, on which Muhammed’s shaft had fallen, he found in it no inhabitant except a large and lonely tortoise.

Awww. I admit, the fact that it is a large and lonely tortoise gets me. You go, lonely tortoise!

Therefore, deeming that there could be no thought for a moment of marrying a prince to such an animal, the sultan decided that the test should be made again. The youngest prince mounted again to the terrace and again shot an arrow blindfold, but it fell true upon the house of the large and lonely tortoise.

The tortoise, by this point, was probably getting a little annoyed at all the holes in her roof. It’s not easy to climb a ladder when you’re a tortoise.

The king grew angry at this, and cried, “By Allah, your shooting is not fortunate today, my son! Pray for the prophet!”

“Blessing and peace be upon him and upon his companions and those who are faithful to him!” answered Muhammad.

“Now invoke the name of Allah,” exclaimed the king, “and shoot a third arrow.”

“In the name of the merciful, the compassionate!” exclaimed Muhammad, as he strongly drew his bow and sent a third shaft onto the roof of the house inhabited by the large and lonely tortoise.

We should probably take a moment here to point out that the tortoise is a homeowner, which is pretty impressive. You may be large and lonely and lacking in thumbs, but you’re livin’ the dream, baby!

When the Sultan saw, beyond any manner of doubt, that destiny favored the tortoise, he decided that his youngest son should remain a bachelor, and said to him, “My son, as this tortoise is not of our race, or our kind, or our religion, it would be better for you not to marry at all until Allah takes us again into his compassion.”

You do get the impression that if she had been a Muslim tortoise, there would have been fewer objections. Nevertheless, please note how rational the sultan is being here—pray, ask for mercy, try again, then give it up and call it a day. At no point is the tortoise persecuted (other than the holes in her roof) and he hasn’t started beating his son with weasels. There is nothing freaky going on here!

This is deeply unusual for a fairy tale.

But young Muhammad cried in dissent from this, “I swear by the virtues of the prophet (upon whom be prayer and peace!) that the time of my celibacy is over! If the large tortoise is written in my destiny I shall assuredly marry her.”

…well, we knew it couldn’t last.

Celibacy does strange things to a young man’s brain. (Including, apparently, making tortoises hella sexy.) So…err…yeah.

“She is certainly written in your destiny!” cried the astonished sultan. “But it would be a monstrous thing for a human being to wed with a tortoise!”


It’s worth noting that there are probably a round dozen Animal Bride stories, and the most objection anyone makes in any of the others is “Dumbass, you married a frog.” Nobody ever points out that it is freaky and wrong to be married to a frog, nobody speculates on what the frog and the fella get up to, it’s just “Dude, only losers marry frogs.” (I will have to review one of these later, just for the contrast.) The sultan is winning mad props from me on this one, for being the only guy in a fairy tale I’ve read to point out that it is Not Cool To Marry A Reptile.

“I have no predilection for tortoises in general,” cried the prince. “It is this particular one whom I wish to marry.”

Despite my above statement, I have to admit, that is possibly my favorite line in any fairy tale ever.

The sultan, who loved his son, made no more objections but, though the weddings of Ali and Hussein were celebrated with great splendor for forty days and forty nights and then felicitously consummated, no one at court, neither his two brothers, nor their wives, nor the wives of the amirs and dignitaries, would accept an invitation to Muhammed’s bridal feast, and, instead, they did all in their power to spoil and make it sad.

Aw, c’mon! Sure, your brother’s developed a freaky terrapin fetish, but the tortoise was already large and lonely, and now you’re being mean. I hope your roof leaks from all those arrow holes.

Poor Muhammad was bitterly humiliated by the mocking smiles and turned backs which everywhere greeted him; but of his marriage night he would say nothing, and only Allah, from whom no secrets are hid, can tell what passed between the two. It is certain, at least, that no one in that kingdom could imagine how a human youth might couple with a tortoise, even though she were as big as a stock jar.

And let’s give the Arabian Nights a big hand here for actually addressing the mechanics-of-hot-tortoise-lovin’ issue that we were all mentally either trying to work out or trying really hard not to work out! You don’t get that in the Brothers Grimm!

Having said that, let’s just assume they cuddled.

In the time which came after the three weddings, the years and preoccupations of his reign, added to the emotion of his disappointment in Muhammad, bowed the king’s back and thinned his bones. He pined away and became yellow. He lost his appetite and, with his appetite, his vision, so that he became almost completely blind.

The fact that he turned yellow presumably means his liver is in a bad way...

The three princes, who loved their father dearly, resolved to leave his health no longer in the ignorant and superstitious care of the harem.

I’d think the harem would rather resemble the tastes of the man who assembled it, so we may have a finally got a strike against the sultan here.

When they had concerted together, they approached the sultan and kissed his hand, saying, “Dear father, your face is becoming yellow, your appetite is weakening, and your sight is failing you. If these things go on, we shall soon be tearing our garments for grief that we have lost the prop of all our life. Therefore you must listen to our counsel and obey it. We have determined that our wives and not the women of the harem shall henceforth prepare your food, for these last are great experts in the kitchen and by their cookery can give you back appetite which shall furnish strength, strength which will furnish health, and health which will restore your vision.”

The sultan was deeply touched by this care on his sons’ part. “May Allah shower his blessings upon you!” he said. “But I am afraid that this will be a great nuisance for your wives.”

Leaving aside the harem, the Sultan still comes across as incredibly self-effacing. “No, no, don’t let me be a bother…”

“A nuisance to our wives?” they cried. “They are your slaves and have no more urgent object in life than to prepare the food which will restore you to health.”

Do your wives know about this? I hear the tortoise has been going to grad school…

“We have agreed that each of them shall prepare a separate dish, and that you shall choose your favorite in appearance, odor, and taste. Thus appetite will come back to you, and your eyes be cured.”

“You know better than I do what is for the best,” answered the sultan, as he embraced them.

Particularly after that debacle where you picked wives by shooting at them. We fired the wazir.

The three princes went joyfully to their wives and bade them prepare the most admirable dish they could, and each said further, to excite a spirit of emulation, “It is essential that our father should prefer the cooking of our house.”

Really, guys, wouldn’t it be enough to have your beloved father recover from being blind and jaundiced? Do we have to make this into a competition?

After they had given their orders, the two elder brothers were for ever mocking Muhammad and asking him how a tortoise cooked, but he met all their jests with a calm smile.

I have an image of her gripping the frying pan handle in her beak and practicing omelet flips. “Better get the towel, Bob, the mistress has blinded herself with fried eggs again…”

His wife, the large and lonely tortoise,

She’s still lonely? Aw, man. That poor tortoise. You live your life, you save enough to buy a house, and then some dude shoots arrows in your roof and expects you to cook a dinner that will reverse advanced liver disease and macular degeneration. I was hoping the cuddling would help with the loneliness.

had only been waiting for such an opportunity to show what she could do. At once she set to work, and her first care was to send a confidential servant to her elder sister-in-law, begging her to send back all the rat and mouse dung which she could collect in her house, that the tortoise, who never employed any other condiment, might use these matters for seasoning the rice dishes which she was preparing for the sultan.

I am now picturing the most unsettling set of salt and pepper shakers ever.

“As Allah lives, I will do no such thing!” said Ali’s wife to herself. “If these things make really good seasoning, let the wretched tortoise find her own. I can make all the use of them that is necessary.” Then aloud to the servant she said, “I regret that I have to refuse your mistress’s request, but I have hardly enough rat and mouse dung for my own requirements.”

Why you gotta be hating on the tortoise? What did the tortoise ever do to you?

When the servant returned with this answer, the tortoise laughed happily, and sent her to Hussein’s wife with a request for all the hens’ and pigeon’s droppings which she had by her. The servant returned from this mission empty handed, with a bitter and disobliging message from the second princess. But when the tortoise had caused the words to be repeated to her, she fell into an ecstasy of contentment and laughed so heartily that she fell over on her backside.

Get the pry-bar, Bob, the mistress is flipped on her shell again.”

As soon as she was a little recovered, she prepared those meats which she could cook best, covered the dish which held them with a wicker cover, and wrapped the whole in a rose-scented napkin. Then she dispatched her servant with the dish to the sultan, at the same moment as his other two daughters-in-law were sending theirs by slaves.

The time of the meal arrived, and the sultan sat down before the three dishes; but, when he had lifted the lid of that sent by the eldest son’s wife, there rose so foul a steam and odor of rat turds that it might well have asphyxiated an elephant.

Now, let’s stop and think about this for a minute. Let’s assume that for some reason you have a grudge against a large and lonely tortoise, who, I don’t know, wore the same hat as you to a party once.  And now the tortoise has sent to you for rat turds and pigeon crap, claiming that she is going to make a dinner out of them.

Even assuming that you are so lost to reason as to believe this, wouldn’t you think “Ha, ha, stupid tortoise and her lack of understanding of human spices!”and go make your best dinner?

But okay, fine. Let’s even assume that you envy the tortoise for her snazzy house, now that the roof has been patched, and the bit where she’s trying to get her PhD in Chelonian Studies. You’re about to prepare a meal so awesome that it is expected to heal the dying.

Have you ever seen the cooks on Chopped panic when they get a secret ingredient in the basket that they’ve never heard of before? You need a little time to figure out what an ingredient does and how you cook it and all kinds of things. And it’s not like Chopped, and somebody handed you a basket and said “Hearts of palm, pomegranate seeds, gummi bears and RAT TURDS! You have fifteen minutes–go!” You don’t have to use the rat turds!

And even assuming all these things, would you not at least sample the dish beforehand, and then go “Hmm, maybe tortoise palates are different!”

People have been acting so intelligently so far. This is a real disappointment.

The sultan was so disagreeably affected by this stench that he fell head over heels in a swoon, and, when his sons succeeded in bringing him to with rose-water and the use of fans, he sat up and cursed his daughter-in-law heartily.

In a little while he became calmer and consented to try the second dish; but, as soon as it was uncovered, a fetid stink of burnt birds’ droppings took him by the throat and eyes so that he thought that the hour of blindness and death was upon him. It was not until the windows had been thrown open and the dish removed and benzoin burnt with incense to purify the air, that the disgusted old man felt himself strong enough to say, “What harm have I done to your wives, my sons, that they should try to dig me a grave before my time?”

It’s a fair question. (And “took him by the throat and the eyes so that he thought that the hour of blindness and death was upon him”—now how’s that for vivid writing?)

The two elder princes could only answer that the thing passed their understanding; but young Muhammad kissed his father’s hand and begged him to forget his previous disappointments in the delight of the third dish.

“What is that, Muhammad?” cried the king in an indignant rage. “Do you mock your old father? When women can prepare such frightful foods, do you expect me to touch the cooking of a tortoise? I can see that you have all sworn to destroy me.”

It’s well known in the marketplace that she’s ruined a fortune in omelet pans!

Muhammad went on his knees and swore, by his life and by the verity of the faith, that the third dish would make up for all, and that he himself would eat anything of it which was not to his father’s taste. He urged with such fervor and humility that the sultan at last signed to the slave to lift the third cover, and waited with a set jaw, murmuring, “I seek refuge in the protection of Allah!”

You gotta admire the old guy’s fortitude.

But it was the soul of all fine cooking which rose from the dish that the tortoise had prepared. It exquisitely dilated the fans of the old man’s heart, it nourished the fans of his lungs, it shook the fans of this nostrils, it brought back lost appetite, it opened his eyes and clarified his vision. He ate for an hour without stopping, then drank an excellent sherbet of musk and pounded snow, and finally gurked several times from the very bottom of his satisfied stomach.

I like a good gurk myself, in the privacy of my own kitchen.

In great delight he gave thanks to Allah and praised the cooking of the tortoise. Muhammad accepted his congratulations modestly, in order not to excite the jealousy of his brothers. “That is only one of my wife’s talents, dear father,” he said. “Allah grant that she may some day find a chance really to earn your praises.” Then he begged the king to allow his future nourishment to be entirely in the hands of the tortoise, and his delighted father readily agreed to the arrangement, which in a few weeks entirely reestablished his health and eyesight.

Fortunately she had just completed her thesis by this time and could turn to cooking.

To celebrate his cure the sultan gave a great feast, and bade his three sons attend it with their wives. At once the two elder princesses began to make preparation that they might appear with honor and success before their father-in-law.

The large tortoise also schemed how to whiten her husband’s visage before the people by the beauty of her escorting and the elegance of her clothes.

Her first step was to send her confidential servant to Ali’s wife with a request for the loan of the big goose which she had in her courtyard, that the tortoise might use it as a fitting steed on which to ride to the festivities. The princess gave so peremptory a refusal that the good tortoise fell over on her backside in the convulsions of laughter which it occasioned her.

“Bob, get the prybar, the mistress—” “Already on it.”

Then she sent to the second sister to borrow her large he-goat for the same purpose, and never has the tortoise been so convulsed and dilated with pure joy as was this one when she received a second and much ruder refusal.

There is still no reason to be rude about this! It is perfectly possible to compose a civil note about why you can’t spare the he-goat!

The hour of the feast came, and the old queen’s women were drawn up in good order at the outside door of the harem to receive the three royal brides. As they waited, a cloud of dust rolled towards them and, when it dissipated, they saw a gigantic goose waddling forward with the speed of the wind, throwing her legs to left and right, beating her wings, and carrying the first princess of the kingdom clinging to her neck in disordered fright.

Dude, forget the rest of this fairy tale—she’s got a riding goose! How awesome is THAT? Forget warhorses! Can you imagine the enemy’s reaction when geese come at them? Geese are savage! A goose will kill a man just to watch him die! Pound for pound, the only thing meaner than a goose is a mantis shrimp, and those don’t do well on land for prolonged periods.

Almost immediately afterwards, a he-goat, rearing and savagely bleating, came up to the entrance also, bearing upon his back the second princess, all stained with dust and dung.

And positively anti-climatic after the goose.

The sultan and his wife were deeply offended by this double exhibition, and the former cried, “See, they are not content with strangling and poisoning me; they wish to mock me before the people!”

First note of the existence of his wife. Nevertheless, I would think that a great warrior like yourself would recognize the awesome potential of the War Goose.

The queen received the two women coldly, and an uncomfortable pause was only broken by the arrival of the third princess. The king and his wife were full of apprehension, saying to each other, “If two humans could show so absurdly, what can we expect from a tortoise? There is no power or might save in Allah!” So saying, they waited with caught breath for what might appear.

We seem to be switching erratically between “king” and “sultan,” which we’ll chalk up to translation.

The first rank of couriers appeared, announcing the arrival of prince Muhammed’s wife, and presently four handsome grooms, dressed in brocade and rich tunics with trailing sleeves, led up the palanquin. It was covered with bright-colored silks, and the black men who carried it set it down by the stairs. An unknown princess of bright splendor stepped from it, and the women, supposing her to be a maid of honor, waited for the alighting of the tortoise. Yet, when the palanquin was borne away, and this delightful vision mounted the steps alone, they recognized her as Muhammed’s bride and received her with honor and effusion. The sultan’s heart rejoiced to see her grace and nobility, her charming manners and musical movements.

At once the sultan bade his sons and their wives be seated by him and by the queen, and, when they had taken their places, the feast was served.

The first dish was, as usual, a profusion of rice swollen in butter. Before anyone could take a mouthful the beautiful princess lifted the dish and poured all its contents over her hair. Immediately each grain of rice turned to a pearl, and the pearls ran down the long strands of hair and tinkled to the floor in a bright cascade.

“Dude. I was eating that.”

Before the company could recover its wits after so admirable a prodigy, she also lifted a large tureen, filled with thick green soup, and poured its contents over her head in the same way. The green soup changed to an infinity of emeralds among her hair, and these fell about her like green rain, to mingle their sea-tints with the pearls upon the floor.

“Muhammed, your wife is gorgeous, but her table manners leave something to be desired.”

During the delighted confusion which followed, the servants brought other supplies of rice and green soup for the guests to eat, and the two elder princesses, now yellow with jealousy, could not leave well alone. The eldest seized on the dish of rice and the second on the tureen of green soup; both poured the contents of these things upon their heads. But the rice remained rice in the hair of the first, horribly daubing her with butter, and the soup, remaining soup, ran down in a sticky course over the hair and face and garments of the second, for all the world like cow slop.

And again we have the “when someone is behaving strangely, we do not imitate them!” problem. Sigh.

The sultan was disgusted at these accidents and commanded his two elder daughters-in-law to withdraw from the feast, also he proclaimed that he wished never to see them again, or smell them, or hear of them. Their husbands, therefore, led them away in a great rage, and you may suppose that all four noses trailed very near the ground. So much for them.

“Even though I made you marry women chosen by shooting blindly into the air, I am appalled!” Sultan loses points here. Although “So much for them” is a nicely conversational dismissal. 

When prince Muhammad and his magic princess were left alone with the sultan, he embraced them and took them to his heart, saying, “You alone are my children!” He wrote a will leaving his throne to his youngest son and, calling together his amirs and wazirs, made his intention known to them. Then to the two young people, he said, “I wish you both to stay with me in my palace until the end.”

“To hear is to obey,” they answered. “Our father’s desire is upon our heads and before our eyes.”

That she might never again be tempted to resume the appearance of a tortoise and so shock the old sultan, the princess ordered her servant to bring the large and lonely shell which she had left at home that day and, when it was fetched, burnt it without compunction. Ever afterwards she remained in her own delightful form. And glory be to Allah who gave her a faultless body, a marvel to the eyes of men!

And a doctorate. Looks only last so long, kids.

The giver showered his blessings upon these two and delighted them with numerous children.

Several of whom were tortoises.

Standard ending of course, but one way that this runs counter to the usual run of fairy-tales is that the bride is the one who burns the tortoise shell. The vast majority of Animal Bride tales require the husband to find the skin that the bride wears in animal form and then burn it (the response from the bride varies wildly.) but this is the only one I know where the bride takes the matter into her own hands. Which is an interesting bit of agency.

But I really just love it for the line about having a predilection for tortoises.


Annotated Fairy Tale #2 — The Master-Maid

Okay, I had fun with the last one, and apparently people enjoyed it, so without further ado, The Master Maid. This one is from the Blue Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang, and was collected in Norway in the mid-1800s. It’s one of Aarne-Thompson Type 313 (which is broadly tales of magical flight from a supernatural opponent.)

The Master Maid

ONCE upon a time there was a king who had many sons. I do not exactly know how many there were, but the youngest of them could not stay quietly at home, and was determined to go out into the world and try his luck, and after a long time the King was forced to give him leave to go.

Well, that’s a pretty standard opening, although I do like the “I do not know how many there were,” rather than a bald number.

When he had traveled about for several days, he came to a giant’s house, and hired himself to the giant as a servant.

This is a bad move. Giants are always bad. Fairies can go either way, dwarves can go either way, but witches and giants are always bad. Once in a blue moon you might get a helpful Baba Yaga, but only if you’re not a dumbass.

In the morning the giant had to go out to pasture his goats, and as he was leaving the house he told the King’s son that he must clean out the stable. “And after you have done that,” he said, “you need not do any more work today, for you have come to a kind master, and that you shall find. But what I set you to do must be done both well and thoroughly, and you must on no account go into any of the rooms which lead out of the room in which you slept last night. If you do, I will take your life.”

“Well to be sure, he is an easy master!” said the Prince to himself as he walked up and down the room humming and singing, for he thought there would be plenty of time left to clean out the stable; “but it would be amusing to steal a glance into his other rooms as well,” thought the Prince, “for there must be something that he is afraid of my seeing, as I am not allowed to enter them.”

The fact that the giant just told him that he’d kill him if he went into the other rooms and the Prince still thinks he’s an easy master without irony kinda makes me wonder what the Prince’s home life was like. That’s seriously not normal.

So he went into the first room. A cauldron was hanging from the walls; it was boiling, but the Prince could see no fire under it. “I wonder what is inside it,” he thought, and dipped a lock of his hair in, and the hair became just as if it were all made of copper. “That’s a nice kind of soup. If anyone were to taste that his throat would be gilded,” said the youth, and then he went into the next chamber.

Personally I always sample soup with my hair first.

There, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall, bubbling and boiling, but there was no fire under this either. “I will just try what this is like too,” said the Prince, thrusting another lock of his hair into it, and it came out silvered over. “Such costly soup is not to be had in my father’s palace,” said the Prince; “but everything depends on how it tastes,” and then he went into the third room. There, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall, boiling, exactly the same as in the two other rooms, and the Prince took pleasure in trying this also, so he dipped a lock of hair in, and it came out so brightly gilded that it shone again. “Some talk about going from bad to worse,” said the Prince; “but this is better and better. If he boils gold here, what can he boil in there?”

As this is never mentioned again anywhere in the story, I envision the prince going through the rest of the plot with weird three-tone metallic hair, and possibly 80’s shoulderpads as well.

He was determined to see, and went through the door into the fourth room. No cauldron was to be seen there, but on a bench someone was seated who was like a king’s daughter, but, whosoever she was, she was so beautiful that never in the Prince’s life had he seen her equal.

“Oh! in heaven’s name what are you doing here?” said she who sat upon the bench.

“I took the place of servant here yesterday,” said the Prince .

“May you soon have a better place, if you have come to serve here!” said she.

“Oh, but I think I have got a kind master,” said the Prince. “He has not given me hard work to do today. When I have cleaned out the stable I shall be done.”

Back home, we shoveled stables all day, with our tongues! Then they beat us and then we drew straws for who got eaten by weasels that night! This place is awesome! Nobody’s waved a weasel at me in a threatening manner at all!

“Yes, but how will you be able to do that?” she asked again. “If you clean it out as other people do, ten pitch- forksful will come in for every one you throw out. But I will teach you how to do it; you must turn your pitch- fork upside down, and work with the handle, and then all will fly out of its own accord.”

This doesn’t work in my garden. I’ve tried.

“Yes, I will attend to that,” said the Prince, and stayed sitting where he was the whole day, for it was soon settled between them that they would marry each other, he and the King’s daughter; so the first day of his service with the giant did not seem long to him.

I sort of wonder at this point whether she’s agreeing to marry the first guy who comes along in hopes of getting free of the giant, or if the giant has killed ten or twenty princes and she’s been waiting until one came along who tickled her fancy.

But when evening was drawing near she said that it would now be better for him to clean out the stable before the giant came home. When he got there he had a fancy to try if what she had said were true, so he began to work in the same way that he had seen the stable-boys doing in his father’s stables, but he soon saw that he must give up that, for when he had worked a very short time he had scarcely any room left to stand.

I do approve of the fact that he’s actually testing this, rather than just accepting straight out that it’s magic manure.

So he did what the Princess had taught him, turned the pitchfork round, and worked with the handle, and in the twinkling of an eye the stable was as clean as if it had been scoured. When he had done that, he went back again into the room in which the giant had given him leave to stay, and there he walked backward and forward on the floor, and began to hum and sing.

Then came the giant home with the goats. “Have you cleaned the stable?” asked the giant.

“Yes, now it is clean and sweet, master,” said the King’s son.

“I shall see about that,” said the giant, and went round to the stable, but it was just as the Prince had said.

“You have certainly been talking to my Master-maid, for you never got that out of your own head,” said the giant.

The funny thing about this is that the giant is going to say this every time, and yet at no point does he ever do anything about it. Also, apparently the King’s daughter is the Master-maid, and shall henceforth be known as such, even though I get a totally weird cross-dressing vibe out of that, myself.

“Master-maid! What kind of a thing is that, master?” said the Prince, making himself look as stupid as an ass; “I should like to see that.”

“Well, you will see her quite soon enough,” said the giant.

On the second morning the giant had again to go out with his goats, so he told the Prince that on that day he was to fetch home his horse, which was out on the mountain-side, and when he had done that he might rest himself for the remainder of the day, “for you have come to a kind master, and that you shall find,” said the giant once more. “But do not go into any of the rooms that I spoke of yesterday, or I will wring your head off,” said he, and then went away with his flock of goats.

“Yes, indeed, you are a kind master,” said the Prince;

Oh, well, sure, he threatened to wring my head off, but still, what a guy! Back home we were beaten with live hedgehogs for sneezing! This place is like a resort!

“but I will go in and talk to the Master-maid again; perhaps before long she may like better to be mine than yours.” So he went to her. Then she asked him what he had to do that day.

“Oh! not very dangerous work, I fancy,” said the King’s son. “I have only to go up the mountain-side after his horse.”

You would think after the bit with the stables it might occur to him to be just a teensy bit suspicious.

“Well, how do you mean to set about it?” asked the Master-maid.

“Oh! there is no great art in riding a horse home,” said the King’s son. “I think I must have ridden friskier horses before now.”

That’s how we lost the last six princes. The three before that didn’t figure out the pitchfork trick and suffocated in manure.

“Yes, but it is not so easy a thing as you think to ride the horse home,” said the Master-maid; “but I will teach you what to do. When you go near it, fire will burst out of its nostrils like flames from a pine torch; but be very careful, and take the bridle which is hanging by the door there, and fling the bit straight into his jaws, and then it will become so tame that you will be able to do what you like with it.” He said he would bear this in mind, and then he again sat in there the whole day by the Mastermaid, and they chatted and talked of one thing and another, but the first thing and the last now was, how happy and delightful it would be if they could but marry each other, and get safely away from the giant; and the Prince would have forgotten both the mountain-side and the horse if the Master-maid had not reminded him of them as evening drew near, and said that now it would be better if he went to fetch the horse before the giant came. So he did this, and took the bridle which was hanging on a crook, and strode up the mountain-side, and it was not long before he met with the horse, and fire and red flames streamed forth out of its nostrils. But the youth carefully watched his opportunity, and just as it was rushing at him with open jaws he threw the bit straight into its mouth, and the horse stood as quiet as a young lamb, and there was no difficulty at all in getting it home to the stable. Then the Prince went back into his room again, and began to hum and to sing.

Three-tone metallic hair, and he sings. Did anybody ever see the video for “You Spin Me Round?”

Toward evening the giant came home. “Have you fetched the horse back from the mountain-side?” he asked.

“That I have, master; it was an amusing horse to ride, but I rode him straight home, and put him in the stable too,” said the Prince.

“I will see about that,” said the giant, and went out to the stable, but the horse was standing there just as the Prince had said. “You have certainly been talking with my Master-maid, for you never got that out of your own head,” said the giant again.

Normally the hero’s a bit of an idiot, but the fact that the giant KNOWS that there is fraternizing and hasn’t stopped it does not speak well of the villain either.

“Yesterday, master, you talked about this Master- maid, and today you are talking about her; ah, heaven bless you, master, why will you not show me the thing? for it would be a real pleasure to me to see it,” said the Prince, who again pretended to be silly and stupid.

“Oh! you will see her quite soon enough,” said the giant.

On the morning of the third day the giant again had to go into the wood with the goats. “Today you must go underground and fetch my taxes,” he said to the Prince. “When you have done this, you may rest for the remainder of the day, for you shall see what an easy master you have come to,” and then he went away.

“Well, however easy a master you may be, you set me very hard work to do,” thought the Prince;


“but I will see if I cannot find your Master-maid; you say she is yours, but for all that she may be able to tell me what to do now,” and he went back to her. So, when the Mastermaid asked him what the giant had set him to do that day, he told her that he was to go underground and get the taxes.

“And how will you set about that?” said the Mastermaid .

“Oh! you must tell me how to do it,” said the Prince, “for I have never yet been underground, and even if I knew the way I do not know how much I am to demand.”

The prince has definitely learned his lesson on this one. This is so rare in fairy tales and in princes that we must be quite impressed.

“Oh! yes, I will soon tell you that; you must go to the rock there under the mountain-ridge, and take the club that is there, and knock on the rocky wall,” said the Master-maid. “Then someone will come out who will sparkle with fire; you shall tell him your errand, and when he asks you how much you want to have you are to say: `As much as I can carry.'”

“Yes, I will keep that in mind,” said he, and then he sat there with the Master-maid the whole day, until night drew near, and he would gladly have stayed there till now if the Master-maid had not reminded him that it was time to be off to fetch the taxes before the giant came.

So he set out on his way, and did exactly what the Master-maid had told him. He went to the rocky wall, and took the club, and knocked on it. Then came one so full of sparks that they flew both out of his eyes and his nose. “What do you want?” said he.

“I was to come here for the giant, and demand the tax for him,” said the King’s son.

“How much are you to have then?” said the other.

“I ask for no more than I am able to carry with me,” said the Prince.

“It is well for you that you have not asked for a horse- load,” said he who had come out of the rock. “But now come in with me.”

I suspect that I am not alone in really wanting to know what would have happened if he’d asked for a horse-load. Would they eat him? Turn him into a horse to carry it all? Sadly, this goes unanswered. We are also somewhat tantalized by what exactly the “one” that comes out of the rock wall is. Curse you, vague Norwegian folklorists!

This the Prince did, and what a quantity of gold and silver he saw! It was lying inside the mountain like heaps of stones in a waste place, and he got a load that was as large as he was able to carry, and with that he went his way. So in the evening, when the giant came home with the goats, the Prince went into the chamber and hummed and sang again as he had done on the other two evenings.

“Have you been for the tax?” said the giant.

“Yes, that I have, master,” said the Prince.

“Where have you put it then?” said the giant again.

“The bag of gold is standing there on the bench,” said the Prince.

“I will see about that,” said the giant, and went away to the bench, but the bag was standing there, and it was so full that gold and silver dropped out when the giant untied the string.

“You have certainly been talking with my Master- maid!” said the giant, “and if you have I will wring your neck.”

Always with the neck wringing…

“Master-maid?” said the Prince; “yesterday my master talked about this Master-maid, and today he is talking about her again, and the first day of all it was talk of the same kind. I do wish I could see the thing myself,” said he.

“Yes, yes, wait till to-morrow,” said the giant, “and then I myself will take you to her.”

“Ah! master, I thank you–but you are only mocking me,” said the King’s son.

Next day the giant took him to the Master-maid. “Now you shall kill him, and boil him in the great big cauldron you know of, and when you have got the broth ready give me a call,” said the giant; then he lay down on the bench to sleep, and almost immediately began to snore so that it sounded like thunder among the hills.

Sooner or later all fairy-tales descend into cannibalism.

The interesting thing here is that the giant obviously trusts the Master-maid to carry this out, despite the fact that he knows she’s been giving the prince advice. Has he got something on her? She can’t be under a geas, as we’ll shortly see. Does he think she’s too scared to defy him? Does he still believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that she’s on his side?

…were they a thing? They might have been a thing. That’s unsettling. Might explain a few things, though.

We also note that he has absolutely no doubts that the Master-maid is capable of overpowering this young man without any help. This is the sort of thing that makes you go “Whoa. The Master-maid is clearly a badass.”

So the Master-maid took a knife, and cut the Prince’s little finger, and dropped three drops of blood upon a wooden stool; then she took all the old rags, and shoe- soles, and all the rubbish she could lay hands on, and put them in the cauldron; and then she filled a chest with gold dust, and a lump of salt, and a water-flask which was hanging by the door, and she also took with her a golden apple, and two gold chickens; and then she and the Prince went away with all the speed they could.

You kinda get the impression that the Master-maid has thought her escape attempt through. Most fairy tales like this, the princess receives a series of magical items and they become useful in unexpected ways, sort of like the plot of Paycheck. The Master-maid, on the other hand, clearly has a checklist. “Golden chickens…check…lump of salt…check…”

And when they had gone a little way they came to the sea, and then they sailed, but where they got the ship from I have never been able to learn.

I am so explaining away my next plot-hole with this one. “And where they got the tactical nuke from, I have never been able to learn.”

Now, when the giant had slept a good long time, he began to stretch himself on the bench on which he was lying. “Will it soon boil?” said he

“It is just beginning,” said the first drop of blood on the stool.

For whatever weird reason, there’s a long history of talking blood-drops in fairy tales. You get them in “The Goosegirl” too (and I may have to talk about that one sometime, because whenever the heroine spends her days talking to a decapitated talking horse-head, you’ve got somethin’ weird going on.)

So the giant lay down to sleep again, and slept for a long, long time. Then he began to move about a little again. “Will it soon be ready now?” said he, but he did not look up this time any more than he had done the first time, for he was still half asleep.

“Half done!” said the second drop of blood, and the giant believed it was the Master-maid again, and turned himself on the bench, and lay down to sleep once more.

Sadly, hemo-ventriloquism is a mostly vanished art.

When he had slept again for many hours, he began to move and stretch himself. “Is it not done yet?” said he.

“It is quite ready,” said the third drop of blood. Then the giant began to sit up and rub his eyes, but he could not see who it was who had spoken to him, so he asked for the Master-maid, and called her. But there was no one to give him an answer.

“Ah! well, she has just stolen out for a little,” thought the giant, and he took a spoon, and went off to the cauldron to have a taste; but there was nothing in it but shoe-soles, and rags, and such trumpery as that, and all was boiled up together, so that he could not tell whether it was porridge or milk pottage. When he saw this, he understood what had happened, and fell into such a rage that he hardly knew what he was doing. Away he went after the Prince and the Master-maid so fast that the wind whistled behind him, and it was not long before he came to the water, but he could not get over it. “Well, well, I will soon find a cure for that; I have only to call my river-sucker,” said the giant, and he did call him. So his river-sucker came and lay down, and drank one, two, three draughts, and with that the water in the sea fell so low that the giant saw the Master-maid and the Prince out on the sea in their ship.

Okay, forget the rest of the story, what the heck is a river-sucker? And how is it so completely common that the storyteller doesn’t even bother to explain—“You know, a river-sucker, jeez, what’re you, dumb?”—as if they’re as common as horses, stables, and porridge.

I’m seeing a giant plecostomus, myself. Perhaps kept in a duffel-bag for just such occasion.

“Now you must throw out the lump of salt,” said the Master-maid, and the Prince did so, and it grew up into such a great high mountain right across the sea that the giant could not come over it, and the river-sucker could not drink any more water.

“Bleah!” said the giant plecostomus. “It’s all salty! I can feel my arteries clanging shut!”

“Well, well, I will soon find a cure for that,” said the giant, so he called to his hill-borer to come and bore through the mountain so that the river-sucker might be able to drink up the water again.

The hill-borer is kept in a different colored duffel-bag. There was a mix-up once, and it ended with a hillside with a giant hickey, and it was just awkward for everyone. (Giant mole, you think?)

But just as the hole was made, and the river-sucker was beginning to drink, the Master-maid told the Prince to throw one or two drops out of the flask, and when he did this the sea instantly became full of water again, and before the river- sucker could take one drink they reached the land and were in safety.

On a more serious note, we’re getting some parallels to Medea and Jason here, with the throwing things off the boat to confound pursuit, although this is very much sanitized for your protection.

So they determined to go home to the Prince’s father, but the Prince would on no account permit the Master-maid to walk there, for he thought that it was unbecoming either for her or for him to go on foot.

You were shoveling stables three days ago. This is an unexpected bit of snobbery.

“Wait here the least little bit of time, while I go home for the seven horses which stand in my father’s stable,” said he; “it is not far off, and I shall not be long away, but I will not let my betrothed bride go on foot to the palace.”

“Oh! no, do not go, for if you go home to the King’s palace you will forget me, I foresee that.”

“How could I forget you? We have suffered so much evil together, and love each other so much,” said the Prince; and he insisted on going home for the coach with the seven horses, and she was to wait for him there, by the sea-shore. So at last the Master-maid had to yield, for he was so absolutely determined to do it. “But when you get there you must not even give yourself time to greet anyone, but go straight into the stable, and take the horses, and put them in the coach, and drive back as quickly as you can. For they will all come round about you; but you must behave just as if you did not see them, and on no account must you taste anything, for if you do it will cause great misery both to you and to me,” said she; and this he promised.

All those who think that the prince will have learned to listen to the absurdly competent Master-maid and will be very sure not to break his promise, raise your hand!

Okay, if your hand is raised, you have failed Fairytales 101. Please report to the office for our remedial class, entitled “Why We Do Not Insult Old Women At Wells And Other Vital Lessons.”

But when he got home to the King’s palace one of his brothers was just going to be married, and the bride and all her kith and kin had come to the palace; so they all thronged round him, and questioned him about this and that, and wanted him to go in with them; but he behaved as if he did not see them, and went straight to the stable, and got out the horses and began to harness them. When they saw that they could not by any means prevail on him to go in with them, they came out to him with meat and drink, and the best of everything that they had prepared for the wedding; but the Prince refused to touch anything, and would do nothing but put the horses in as quickly as he could.

He’s making a noble effort, anyhow. I give the prince in this story credit for that, even if everybody comes off badly in comparison to the Master-maid.

At last, however, the bride’s sister rolled an apple across the yard to him, and said: “As you won’t eat anything else, you may like to take a bite of that, for you must be both hungry and thirsty after your long journey.” And he took up the apple and bit a piece out of it.

Oh, surprise, surprise.

But no sooner had he got the piece of apple in his mouth than he forgot the Master-maid and that he was to go back in the coach to fetch her.

“I think I must be mad! what do I want with this coach and horses?” said he; and then he put the horses back into the stable, and went into the King’s palace, and there it was settled that he should marry the bride’s sister, who had rolled the apple to him.

Is that an enchanted apple in your pocket, or are you the woman of my dreams?

The Master-maid sat by the sea-shore for a long, long time, waiting for the Prince, but no Prince came.

No word if she sold seashells during this period.

So she went away, and when she had walked a short distance she came to a little hut which stood all alone in a small wood, hard by the King’s palace. She entered it and asked if she might be allowed to stay there. The hut belonged to an old crone, who was also an ill-tempered and malicious troll. At first she would not let the Master-maid remain with her; but at last, after a long time, by means of good words and good payment, she obtained leave. But the hut was as dirty and black inside as a pigsty, so the Master-maid said that she would smarten it up a little, that it might look a little more like what other people’s houses looked inside. The old crone did not like this either. She scowled, and was very cross, but the Master- maid did not trouble herself about that.

She slices! She dices! She redecorates people’s houses against their will!

She took out her chest of gold, and flung a handful of it or so into the fire, and the gold boiled up and poured out over the whole of the hut, until every part of it both inside and out was gilded. But when the gold began to bubble up the old hag grew so terrified that she fled as if the Evil One himself were pursuing her, and she did not remember to stoop down as she went through the doorway, and so she split her head and died.

This whole sequence is just deeply bizarre. Mind you, I’d try to avoid wildly spewing molten gold myself, so I can’t argue with the crone. But seriously, if the house was filthy and she gilded it, wouldn’t that still be pretty nasty? Have you ever seen when people paint over a surface without cleaning it first, and you get weird dust lumps and gunk? I’m seeing an episode of Hoarders with every surface gilded. Rotten fruit? Gild it! Back issues of Hag Quarterly? Gild ’em! Dress you wore to the troll-prom twenty-seven years ago? Gild it! Cockroaches? Gild them and use them as festive napkin rings!

Next morning the sheriff came traveling by there. He was greatly astonished when he saw the gold hut shining and glittering there in the copse, and he was still more astonished when he went in and caught sight of the beautiful young maiden who was sitting there; he fell in love with her at once, and straightway on the spot he begged her, both prettily and kindly, to marry him.

“Well,but have you a great deal of money?” said the Master-maid.

Can you still be a gold-digger when you are technically living in a gold house? Or does she just want to be sure that he’s not marrying her for her fabulous freaky gilded trash-heap?

“Oh! yes; so far as that is concerned, I am not ill off,” said the sheriff. So now he had to go home to get the money, and in the evening he came back, bringing with him a bag with two bushels in it, which he set down on the bench. Well, as he had such a fine lot of money, the Master-maid said she would have him, so they sat down to talk.

Hey, the prince betrayed her. I can see the Master-maid deciding that she was only marrying for money from here on out, and anyway he did beg her both prettily and kindly. There’s something to be said about that.

But scarcely had they sat down together before the Master-maid wanted to jump up again. “I have forgotten to see to the fire,” she said.

“Why should you jump up to do that?” said the sheriff; “I will do that!” So he jumped up, and went to the chimney in one bound.

“Just tell me when you have got hold of the shovel,” said the Master-maid.

“Well, I have hold of it now,” said the sheriff.

“Then you may hold the shovel, and the shovel you, and pour red-hot coals over you, till day dawns,” said the Master-maid. So the sheriff had to stand there the whole night and pour red-hot coals over himself, and, no matter how much he cried and begged and entreated, the red-hot coals did not grow the colder for that.

This was really quite unwarranted behavior by the Master-maid. You’re not interested, fine, but you don’t need to leave him with burns over 90% of his body. If he had been aggressively pressing his suit, that would be one thing, but they specified that he was really quite nice about the wooing, and you did agree to marry him.

On the other hand, maybe after the giant and the amnesiac prince, she’s just really really bitter.

When the day began to dawn, and he had power to throw down the shovel, he did not stay long where he was, but ran away as fast as he possibly could; and everyone who met him stared and looked after him, for he was flying as if he were mad, and he could not have looked worse if he had been both flayed and tanned, and everyone wondered where he had been, but for very shame he would tell nothing.

Sweety, you don’t need to be ashamed! The Master-maid is the one at fault here! Also, you might want to run to the hospital!

The next day the attorney came riding by the place where the Master-maid dwelt. He saw how brightly the hut shone and gleamed through the wood, and he too went into it to see who lived there, and when he entered and saw the beautiful young maiden he fell even more in love with her than the sheriff had done, and began to woo her at once. So the Master-maid asked him, as she had asked the sheriff, if he had a great deal of money, and the attorney said he was not ill off for that, and would at once go home to get it; and at night he came with a great big sack of money–this time it was a four-bushel sack–and set it on the bench by the Master-maid. So she promised to have him, and he sat down on the bench by her to arrange about it, but suddenly she said that she had forgotten to lock the door of the porch that night, and must do it.

“Why should you do that?” said the attorney; “sit still, I will do it.”

So he was on his feet in a moment, and out in the porch.

“Tell me when you have got hold of the door-latch,” said the Master-maid.

“Ihave hold of it now,” cried the attorney.

“Then you may hold the door, and the door you, and may you go between wall and wall till day dawns.”

What a dance the attorney had that night! He had never had such a waltz before, and he never wished to have such a dance again. Sometimes he was in front of the door, and sometimes the door was in front of him, and it went from one side of the porch to the other, till the attorney was well-nigh beaten to death. At first he began to abuse the Master-maid, and then to beg and pray, but the door did not care for anything but keeping him where he was till break of day.

Good god, this woman is out of control.

Also, is it just me, or is it pretty obvious by now that the Master-maid is one heck of a witch? She’s like a magical MacGyver! Give her a coal-shovel or a door-handle and she’ll beat you senseless! If you give her a paperclip and a handgun, she can perform brain surgery AND start a supernova!

As soon as the door let go its hold of him, off went the attorney. He forgot who ought to be paid off for what he had suffered, he forgot both his sack of money and his wooing, for he was so afraid lest the house-door should come dancing after him. Everyone who met him stared and looked after him, for he was flying like a madman, and he could not have looked worse if a herd of rams had been butting at him all night long.

You beat an attorney until he forgot to sue? Daaaaamn.

On the third day the bailiff came by, and he too saw the gold house in the little wood, and he too felt that he must go and see who lived there; and when he caught sight of the Master-maid he became so much in love with her that he wooed her almost before he greeted her.

The Master-maid answered him as she had answered the other two, that if he had a great deal of money, she would have him. “So far as that is concerned, I am not ill off,” said the bailiff; so he was at once told to go home and fetch it, and this he did. At night he came back, and he had a still larger sack of money with him than the attorney had brought; it must have been at least six bushels, and he set it down on the bench. So it was settled that he was to have the Master-maid. But hardly had they sat down together before she said that she had forgotten to bring in the calf, and must go out to put it in the byre.

“No, indeed, you shall not do that,” said the bailiff; “I am the one to do that.” And, big and fat as he was, he went out as briskly as a boy.

“Tell me when you have got hold of the calf’s tail,” said the Master-maid.

“I have hold of it now,” cried the bailiff.

“Then may you hold the calf’s tail, and the calf’s tail hold you, and may you go round the world together till day dawns!” said the Master-maid. So the bailiff had to bestir himself, for the calf went over rough and smooth, over hill and dale, and, the more the bailiff cried and screamed, the faster the calf went. When daylight began to appear, the bailiff was half dead; and so glad was he to leave loose of the calf’s tail, that he forgot the sack of money and all else. He walked now slowly–more slowly than the sheriff and the attorney had done, but, the slower he went, the more time had everyone to stare and look at him; and they used it too, and no one can imagine how tired out and ragged he looked after his dance with the calf.

If someone who wasn’t a beautiful princess was doing all this, we’d be sending a hero out to have her killed. This is prime crazy-witch behavior.

On the following day the wedding was to take place in the King’s palace, and the elder brother was to drive to church with his bride, and the brother who had been with the giant with her sister. But when they had seated themselves in the coach and were about to drive off from the palace one of the trace-pins broke, and, though they made one, two, and three to put in its place, that did not help them, for each broke in turn, no matter what kind of wood they used to make them of. This went on for a long time, and they could not get away from the palace, so they were all in great trouble. Then the sheriff said (for he too had been bidden to the wedding at Court):

Fresh off the burn ward, and so high on morphine he could say this without screaming!

“Yonder away in the thicket dwells a maiden, and if you can get her to lend you the handle of the shovel that she uses to make up her fire I know very well that it will hold fast.” So they sent off a messenger to the thicket, and begged so prettily that they might have the loan of her shovel-handle of which the sheriff had spoken that they were not refused; so now they had a trace-pin which would not snap in two.

Yeah, the last person who begged her prettily for something didn’t do so well...

But all at once, just as they were starting, the bottom of the coach fell in pieces. They made a new bottom as fast as they could, but, no matter how they nailed it together, or what kind of wood they used, no sooner had they got the new bottom into the coach and were about to drive off than it broke again, so that they were still worse off than when they had broken the trace-pin. Then the attorney said, for he too was at the wedding in the palace: “Away there in the thicket dwells a maiden, and if you could but get her to lend you one-half of her porch- door I am certain that it will hold together.”

He was probably weeping uncontrollably while he said this.

So they again sent a messenger to the thicket, and begged so prettily for the loan of the gilded porch-door of which the attorney had told them that they got it at once. They were just setting out again, but now the horses were not able to draw the coach. They had six horses already, and now they put in eight, and then ten, and then twelve, but the more they put in, and the more the coachman whipped them, the less good it did; and the coach never stirred from the spot. It was already beginning to be late in the day, and to church they must and would go, so everyone who was in the palace was in a state of distress. Then the bailiff spoke up and said: “Out there in the gilded cottage in the thicket dwells a girl, and if you could but get her to lend you her calf I know it could draw the coach, even if it were as heavy as a mountain.” They all thought that it was ridiculous to be drawn to church by a calf, but there was nothing else for it but to send a messenger once more, and beg as prettily as they could, on behalf of the King, that she would let them have the loan of the calf that the bailiff had told them about. The Master- maid let them have it immediately–this time also she would not say “no.”

“No,” hasn’t been her problem. It’s the “Yes, of course I’ll marry you–GOTCHA!” that I’d worry about.

Then they harnessed the calf to see if the coach would move; and away it went, over rough and smooth, over stock and stone, so that they could scarcely breathe, and sometimes they were on the ground, and sometimes up in the air; and when they came to the church the coach began to go round and round like a spinning-wheel, and it was with the utmost difficulty and danger that they were able to get out of the coach and into the church. And when they went back again the coach went quicker still, so that most of them did not know how they got back to the palace at all.

I’m starting to wonder where she got this calf. It wasn’t one of the things she packed, as I recall, so apparently there was just a magic calf laying around the house. Possibly having been gilded.

When they had seated themselves at the table the Prince who had been in service with the giant said that he thought they ought to have invited the maiden who had lent them the shovel-handle, and the porch-door, and the calf up to the palace, “for,” said he, “if we had not got these three things, we should never have got away from the palace.”

The King also thought that this was both just and proper, so he sent five of his best men down to the gilded hut, to greet the maiden courteously from the King, and to beg her to be so good as to come up to the palace to dinner at mid-day.

“But whatever you do, don’t propose to her! No good will come of it!”

“Greet the King, and tell him that, if he is too good to come to me, I am too good to come to him,” replied the Master-maid.

So the King had to go himself, and the Master-maid went with him immediately, and, as the King believed that she was more than she appeared to be, he seated her in the place of honor by the youngest bridegroom.

The King is not an idiot, even if he apparently beat his sons with weasels during their childhood.

When they had sat at the table for a short time, the Master- maid took out the cock, and the hen, and the golden apple which she had brought away with her from the giant’s house, and set them on the table in front of her, and instantly the cock and the hen began to fight with each other for the golden apple.

Now I’m seeing her with two gold chickens stuffed under her clothes, sitting down to dinner. “Excuse me, ma’am, but did your brassiere just…cluck?”

“Oh! look how those two there are fighting for the golden apple,” said the King’s son.

“Also, do you normally throw gilded fowl on the table during nice dinners?”

“Yes,and so did we two fight to get out that time when we were in the mountain,” said the Master-maid.

So the Prince knew her again, and you may imagine how delighted he was. He ordered the troll-witch who had rolled the apple to him to be torn in pieces between four- and-twenty horses, so that not a bit of her was left, and then for the first time they began really to keep the wedding, and, weary as they were, the sheriff, the attorney, and the bailiff kept it up too.

Okay, there’s a LOT freaky with this ending. For one thing, we established earlier that the troll-witch was the bride’s sister, right? So she’s expected to party down after her sister was just drawn and quartered? Was this light entertainment before the cheese course? Fine, okay, people routinely get horribly murdered at the end of fairy-tales, just to make sure that everything comes out properly, but I’ll point out that a) apparently they now have troll-witches as in-laws, and b) the late troll-witch’s great sin is making the prince forget the Master-maid, whereas the Master-maid herself has killed an old woman, taken her house, beaten three members of the community half to death, and engaged in illicit transportation of fowl. (And probably stole a boat, too. You can’t tell me that she got that boat by legal means! There’s a trail of gilded corpses on the way to that boat, mark my words!)

And the sheriff, the attorney, and the bailiff, who can barely walk and could be forgiven for bursting into uncontrollable screaming at the sight of the Master-maid, are limping through the ceremony as well? Yeeesh. If the troll-witch had still be available to make them forget her, I bet they’d be fighting over that apple like…well…golden chickens.

I give this fairy tale major props for having a competent and empowered heroine, but…well…dude.

An Annotated Fairy Tale

I frequently find myself on-line reading fairy tales. And being me, I frequently find myself maintaining a sort of mental running commentary about said fairy tales, and since I am spending today recuperating from Con-mode, I have nothing better to do than inflict it upon you!

The Blue Light is a folktale of Aaren-Thompson type 562. There’s a half-dozen versions or so. This one’s from Grimm, by way of the marvelous folktale collection put on-line by the University of Pittsburgh.

The Blue Light

Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served the king loyally for many long years. When the war was over and the soldier could no longer serve because of the many wounds he had received, the king said to him, “You can go home now. I no longer need you. There will be no more money for you, because wages are only for those who earn them.”

So, the king’s a dick. Good to know.

Because the soldier did not know how he could earn a living, he sadly walked the whole day long, until he came to a forest in the evening. As darkness fell he saw a light. He approached it and came to a little house, where a witch lived. “Give me a night’s shelter and a little to eat and drink,” he said to her, “otherwise I will perish.”

“Oho!” she answered. “Who gives anything to a runaway soldier? But I will have pity and take you in after all, if you will do what I ask of you.”

Insomuch as there is a moral to fairy tales, it’s that you should always be nice to the less fortunate. You’re probably better off being nice to the less fortunate when they’re animals and old women, however, since there’s an equally large body of folksongs that detail the hazards of letting soldiers sleep over. In situations like these, the witch pretty much has to flip a coin and hope she doesn’t wind up pregnant.

“What do you want?” asked the soldier.

“For you to dig up my garden tomorrow.”

Ideally you should ask to see the garden first in these cases, as it is entirely likely that it is guarded by ravenous griffins and hip deep in griffin crap.

The soldier agreed, and the next day he worked with all his might, but could not finish before evening. “I see,” said the witch, “that you can do no more work today. I will take you in for one more night if tomorrow you will cut up and split a stack of wood for me.”

Compared to a lot of people, the witch is being very nice about this. The ogre in “Master-Maid” threatened to eat the hero if he didn’t finish by sunset. I’m surprised the witch isn’t bringing him a pillow and some Dr. Scholl’s inserts.

The soldier took the entire day to do this, and that evening the witch proposed that he remain a third night. “Tomorrow I have only a small task for you. Behind my house there is a dry well into which my light has fallen. It burns blue and never goes out. I want you to get it for me.”

I am pretty sure you are not supposed to go into tunnels when the lights start burning blue.

The next day the old woman led him to the well and lowered him down it in a basket. He found the blue light and gave a sign that she should pull him up again. And she did pull him up, but when he was close to the edge, she wanted to take the blue light from him. “No,” he said, sensing her evil thoughts, “I shall not give you the light until I am standing on the ground with both feet.”

Then the witch became furious, let him fall back into the well, and walked away. The poor soldier fell to the damp floor without being injured. The blue light continued to burn, but how could that help him?

I am not sure if this was a radical about-face by the witch, or if she was planning on killing him the whole time and thought she’d at least get some manual labor out of the bargain first. In some of the other versions, the witch is replaced by a charcoal burner who conveniently dies in his sleep, and in at least one, the witch is a perfectly nice person who gave him piles and piles of money, and the soldier hacks her head off when she won’t tell him what the light is for. But we’ll go with strange soldier-telepathy for the moment.

He saw that would not be able to escape death. He sadly sat there for a while. Then he happened to reach into his pocket and found his tobacco pipe, which was still half full. “This will be your last pleasure,” he thought, pulled it out, lit it with the blue light, and began to smoke.

You lit a fire in a tunnel where the flames were burning blue. By rights you should be spread all over the landscape in an inch-thick layer of goo.

After the fumes had wafted about the cavern, suddenly there stood before him a little black dwarf, who said, “Master, what do you command?”

“Why should I command you?” replied the bewildered soldier.

“I must do everything that you demand,” said the dwarf.

The plot thickens!

“Good,” said the soldier, “then first help me out of this well.”

The dwarf took him by the hand and led him through an underground passage, and he did not forget to take the blue light with him. Along the way he showed him the treasures that the witch had collected and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold as he could carry.

In some of the other versions, the dwarf is replaced by a man made of iron, and in about half of them, it’s a trio of dogs, with eyes as big and round as a series of big round things. (Millstones, towers, etc.)  My mental image of the dogs with huge eyes involved a series of mutant pugs and was a trifle unsettling. Pugs already have that problem with their eyes popping out when they sneeze too hard or get whacked in the back of the head, and if you’ve got eyes like millstones, I imagine you don’t even dare swallow hard. And good luck catching THAT in a wet towel and taking the dog to the vet. They’d have to be like those freaky Margaret Keane animals. Let’s stick with the dwarf.

When he was above ground, he said to the dwarf, “Now go and bind the old witch and take her to the judge.”

Not long afterward she came riding by on a tomcat as fast as the wind and screaming horribly. And not long after that the dwarf was back. “It is all taken care of,” he said. “The witch is hanging on the gallows. Master, what do you command now?”

Well, I’ll give the soldier some credit for having the witch sent to the judge instead of having the dwarf kill her outright. We’ll assume there was a fair trial, as Vaguely Medieval Europe was always so good about that with witches.

I would have liked to know more about the tomcat as fast as the wind, though.

“Nothing at the moment,” answered the soldier. “You can go home, but be ready when I call you.”

“It is only necessary,” said the dwarf, “for you to light your pipe with the blue light, and I will be with you.” With that he disappeared before his very eyes.

The soldier returned to the city from which he had come. He moved into the best inn and had beautiful clothes made for himself. Then he told the innkeeper to furnish his room as luxuriously as possible. When it was finished he summoned the black dwarf and said, “I served the king loyally, but he sent me away to starve. For this I now want revenge.”

“What am I to do?” asked the little man.

“Late this evening, when the king’s daughter is lying in bed, bring her here to me in her sleep. She shall do maid service for me.”

I see we’re just going to abandon the moral high ground right away.

The dwarf said, “That is an easy thing for me, but a dangerous thing for you. If you are found out, it will not go well for you.”

The dwarf may be the only person in this story with any sense.

At the strike of twelve the door opened, and the dwarf carried the king’s daughter in.

“Aha, is that you?” cried the soldier. “Get to work now! Go fetch the broom and sweep the room.” When she was finished he called her to his chair, stuck his feet out at her, and said, “Pull off my boots,” then threw them in her face, and she had to pick them up and clean them and make them shine.

I had been wondering if “maid service” was a euphemism. I suppose it could be worse. But my sympathy is definitely gone. I realize that the king’s a dick, but I’m pretty sure his daughter didn’t have anything to do with the military pension situation, and you’re using your amazing magic tinderbox just so you can throw boots at her head?

She did everything that he ordered her to do, without resisting, silently, and with half-closed eyes.

Nothing creepy ’bout that at all.

At the first cock’s crow, the dwarf carried her to the royal palace and back to her bed.

The next morning, after the king’s daughter had gotten up, she went to her father and told him that she had had an amazing dream. “I was carried away through the streets as fast as lightning and taken to a soldier’s room. I had to serve as his maid and wait on him and do common work, sweep the room, and clean his boots. It was only a dream, but still I am as tired as if I had really done it all.”

“The dream could have been true,” said the king. “I will give you some advice. Fill your pocket with peas, then make a small hole in your pocket. If you are carried away again, they will fall out and leave a track on the street.”

The king may be a dick, but this is really rather clever. (In other versions he sees a spot of boot-grease on her face, which explains a little better why he was willing to believe that this was really happening.)

As the king was thus speaking, the dwarf was invisibly standing nearby and heard everything.

Honestly, the dwarf deserves Employee of the Year. You notice the the soldier never thanks him for any of this.

That night when he once again carried the sleeping princess through the streets, a few peas did indeed fall out of her pocket, but they did not leave a track, because the cunning dwarf had already scattered peas in all the streets. And once again the king’s daughter had to do maid service until the cock crowed.

The next morning the king sent his people out to look for the track, but it was to no end, for in all the streets there were poor children gathering peas and saying, “Last night it rained peas.”

Personally I might have just closed up her pocket, but I suppose if one of your superpowers is making it rain peas, you take any chance to can get to use it. I would imagine this annoys the heck out of the dwarf’s friends. “Damnit, Bob! We’re just locked out of the house here! This is not an appropriate situation for the rain of peas!” 

“We must think of something else,” said the king. “Leave your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you return from there, hide one of them. I will be sure to find it.”

The black dwarf overheard this proposal, and that evening when the soldier again wanted the king’s daughter brought to him, the dwarf advised him against this, saying that he had no way to protect him against such trickery. If the shoe were to be found in his room, it would not go well with him.

Let me get this straight. The dwarf can make it rain vegetables, go invisible, drag witches off to be tried fairly by a jury of their peers (I am clinging to this one, damnit) and smuggle sleeping women all over town, but if somebody throws a shoe under the bed, he’s powerless?

“Do what I tell you,” replied the soldier, and for a third night the king’s daughter had to work like a maid. But before she was carried back, she hid a shoe under the bed.

Maybe the dwarf is a recovering brownie, and he can’t touch shoes. He’ll lose his mind if shoes get involved. He had to join Shoes Anonymous for recovering fairy cobblers.

On the other hand, it’s a fairy tale, and there are so many red-hot iron shoes, shoes that make you dance endlessly, shoes that cause passing farmhouses to fall on your head, etc, that maybe he’s being quite sensible about this.

The next morning the king had the entire city searched for the shoe, and it was found in the soldier’s room. The soldier himself, following the little man’s request, was already outside the city gate, but they soon overtook him and threw him into prison.

Bet you wish you’d kept that tomcat-as-fast-as-the-wind now, huh?

In his haste, he had forgotten to take along his most valuable things: the blue light and the gold.

Translation: The soldier is too stupid to live. This is not like forgetting to pack your toothbrush.

He had only one ducat in his pocket. Standing at the window of his prison and weighted down with chains, he saw one of his comrades walking by. He knocked on the glass, and as he walked by, he said, “Be so good and bring me the little bundle that I left at the inn. I’ll give you a ducat for it.”

The comrade ran forth and brought back the desired things. As soon as the soldier was alone again, he lit his pipe and summoned the black dwarf. “Have no fear,” he said to his master. “Just go where they lead you, and let everything happen, but take the blue light with you.”

If I were the dwarf, I might be trying to shed this guy by now and go back to my nice well, which isn’t full of ingrates.

The next day the soldier was tried, and although he had done nothing wrong, the judge still sentenced him to death.

No, actually I’m pretty sure kidnapping and throwing boots at the princess for revenge counts as wrong, and there’s still the question of the possibly innocent witch, since I am growing increasingly suspicious of the accuracy of soldier telepathy. Frankly, maybe the witch was the telepathic one and realized what a jerk you are and decided to drop you down the well for a reason.

As he was being led out, he asked the king for one last wish.

“What sort of a wish?” asked the king.

“That I might smoke one more pipe on the way.”

“You can smoke three,” answered the king, “but do not think that I will let you live.”

Never ever ever grant the last wishes of people with known magical associates.

Then the soldier pulled out his pipe and lit it with the blue light. As soon as a few rings of smoke had risen, the dwarf was standing there. He had a cudgel in his hand and said, “What does my master command?”

“Strike the false judges and their henchmen to the ground for me. And don’t spare the king either, who has treated me so badly.”

I will give you that the king was a dick about the pensions, and if you want to strike him down, I’m willing to turn a blind eye. But the judges nailing you for kidnapping really don’t qualify as “false” and let me point out that you thought they were good enough for the witch (who increasingly has my sympathy.)

Then the dwarf took off like lightning, zip-zap, back and forth, and everyone he even touched with his cudgel fell to the ground and did not dare to move. The king became afraid. He begged for mercy, and in order to save his life, he gave to the soldier his kingdom as well as his daughter for a wife.

I bet she was thrilled.