fairy tales

Annotated Fairy Tale – The Seven Doves

Well, gang, it’s late at night, I can’t sleep, and you know what that means!

(Been awhile, hasn’t it? Honestly, there are so few that I find that are completely mind-blowingly freakish. I fear we’ve set the bar too high. I mean, you never see otters with multiple heads in most of these. Still, we’ll do our best.)

This is an Italian fairy tale, of the “brothers turned into birds” variety. Most of these involve the sister not speaking for years and years, and frequently there’s magic shirts. There was a lovely book called Daughter of the Forest based on this story, and there’s a bunch of fairy tales based on it. (I may include a few choice bits at the end from some of the others.)

This one has none of these elements, and is just sort of bizarre.

As always, I owe mad props to the Folktales & Legends collections at Pitt for these stories.

So, without further ado…

The Seven Doves

There was once in the county of Arzano a good woman to whom every year gave a son, until at length there were seven of them, who looked like a syrinx of the god Pan, with seven reeds, one larger than another.

This image took me a minute, but it’s kinda neat when you get down to it. Except that jeez, seven boys in seven years…I don’t even want to know what their bathroom looked like. I mean, we’ve only got two in the house and it’s still like having a pack of wild dogs in residence.

And when they had changed their first teeth, they said to Jannetella their mother, “Hark ye, mother, if, after so many sons, you do not this time have a daughter, we are resolved to leave home, and go wandering through the world like the sons of the blackbirds.”

Some of these stories, the father is like “No more boys. Gonna have to kill everybody,” for no apparent reason. And some of them, the boys want a sister really really really bad. The reasons for this are never adequately explained. My guess is that it has something to do with fielding their own hockey team, and once you’ve got six players and a spare in case of injury, anything more just upsets the family dynamic.

Presumably girls did not play hockey in Italy. I don’t know either.

When their mother heard this sad announcement, she prayed Heaven to remove such an intention from her sons, and prevent her losing seven such jewels as they were. But the sons said to Jannetella, “We will retire to the top of yonder hill or rock opposite; if Heaven sends you another son, put an inkstand and a pen up at the window; but if you have a little girl, put up a spoon and a distaff. For if we see the signal of a daughter, we shall return home and spend the rest of our lives under your wings; but if we see the signal of a son, then forget us, for you may know that we have taken ourselves off.”

We flatly refuse to train another goalie.

Incidentally, I can’t help but think that the notion of having seven boys spend the rest of their lives at home might be a little more than Mom can bear. Seriously, you’re nine months and some change pregnant, and suddenly your seven sons are nagging you about the sex of the kid and how if you have a girl, they will never ever leave you alone. I…I might do a little soul searching in these circumstances.

On the other hand, if the bathrooms were as bad as I am imagining, maybe the thought off adding one more questionable aim to the mix is too much for the boys. And y’know, there’s something to be said for that.

Soon after the sons had departed it pleased Heaven that Jannetella should have given her a pretty little daughter; then she told the nurse to make the signal to the brothers, but the woman was so stupid and confused that she put up the inkstand and the pen.

“Confused.” Sure. That’s what we’ll tell the priest, anyway. Hot damn, I have my sewing room AND my guest bedroom back! Burn the bathrooms down, we’ll tell the priest it was stuffed full of heretics anyway.

As soon as the seven brothers saw this signal, they set off, and walked on and on, until at the end of three years they came to a wood, where the trees were performing the sword-dance to the sound of a river which made counterpoint upon the stones.

This is a truly marvelous image. I’m just seeing a tree doing the whole Russian saber dance, roots flying, while the other trees cheer and the river bangs on the drums. How can you not love that?

In this wood was the house of an ogre, whose eyes having been blinded whilst asleep by a woman, he was such an enemy to the sex that he devoured all whom he could catch.

This is the sort of tidbit that makes me go “Wait—wait—stop with the kids who won’t leave home, I want to know THIS story! Were they an item? Was this a lover’s quarrel gone horribly wrong? Was she an ogress? Did he kidnap her and she bided her time and decided to hell with waiting for a rescuer and got him in the eyes with a sharpened chicken bone in the middle of the night?

This is important stuff!

Anyway, the ogre’s still a jerk. Just because everyone who’s ever broken my heart has been male, you don’t see me killing and eating them, now do you? Because that would be overreacting.

When the youths arrived at the ogre’s house, tired out with walking and exhausted with hunger, they begged him for pity’s sake to give them a morsel of bread. And the ogre replied, that if they would serve him, he would give them food, and they would have nothing else to do but to watch over him, like a dog, each in turn for a day.

Seeing-eye dog, in this case. “No, this is a service human. I’m allowed to bring him inside.”

The youths, upon hearing this, thought they had found mother and father; so they consented, and remained in the service of the ogre, who having gotten their names by heart, called one time Giangrazio, at another Cecchitiello, now Pascale, now Nuccio, now Pone, now Pezzillo, and now Carcavecchia, for so the brothers were named; and giving them a room in the lower part of his house, he allowed them enough to live upon.

This is the only time that the brothers will be named. No word as to the number of bathrooms they will be forced to share, but they are living in the woods, so essentially the world is now their bathroom.

Also, they just replaced both parents with a blind cannibal monster. That’s gratitude for you.

Meanwhile their sister had grown up; and hearing that her seven brothers, owing to the stupidity of the nurse, (Yep. Stupid nurse! Ha ha! Seriously, whatever we’re paying you, double it.) had set out to walk through the world, and that no tidings of them had ever been received, she took it into her head to go in search of them. And she begged and prayed her mother so long, that at last, overcome by her entreaties, she gave her leave to go, and dressed her like a pilgrim.

Frankly, I’m just tired of this whole kid thing. Eight kids, and all they do is pester me about their siblings, like I have any damn control in the matter. The nurse and I are gonna stay here, with our exquisitely clean bathrooms, and drink. Have you looked at the bathroom? You could eat off that floor. Occasionally I do, just to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Then the maiden walked and walked, asking at every place she came to whether anyone had seen seven brothers. And thus she journeyed on, until at length she got news of them at an inn, where having inquired the way to the wood, one morning, she arrived at the ogre’s house, where she was recognized by her brothers with great joy, who cursed the inkstand and pen for writing falsely such misfortune for them.

The only explanation I can come up with for how they know about the brothers at the inn—given that this little girl is old enough to wander around, meaning that she’s got to be at least nine or ten, so it’s been seven years since the brothers went into the forest—is that the ogre likes to go in occasionally with his Seeing-Eye Human and have a drink, maybe play a little trivia. As long as there are no women in the bar—but then again, he’s blind. “Err…yeah, no women here. Completely woman free. We’re just…um…hosting a drag night. Your serving wench is really named Steve.”

You note that the brothers do not ask about Mom. It’s just ‘Curse that inkstand!’ and ‘by the way, we’ve been adopted by an ogre.’ I am really starting to think that Mom was glad to have her sewing room back.

Then giving her a thousand caresses, they told her to remain quiet in their chamber, that the ogre might not see her; bidding her at the same time give a portion of whatever she had to eat to a cat which was in the room, or otherwise she would do her some harm. Cianna (for so the sister was named) wrote down this advice in the pocket-book of her heart, and shared everything with the cat, like a good companion, always cutting justly, and saying, “This for me, this for thee, this for the daughter of the king!” giving the cat a share to the last morsel.

I am going to assume the daughter-of-the-king bit is some local idiom of the time. I do rather like the notion of writing advice in the pocket-book of one’s heart, though.

Note that the cat is female. Apparently the ogre only has a problem with human females, which is lending credence to my sharpened chicken-bone theory.

Now it happened one day that the brothers, going to hunt for the ogre, left Cianna a little basket of chickpeas to cook; and as she was picking them, by ill luck she found among them a hazelnut, which was the stone of disturbance to her quiet; for having swallowed it without giving half to the cat, the latter out of spite ran up to the hearth and put out the fire.

Ah…okay. This is a nut-eating cat…? In fairness, I don’t think Cianna can be blamed for not thinking that the cat would like a nut. I mean, when I eat pistachios in bed, Angus looks at me like I’m a weirdo and goes and lays on Kevin’s shins reproachfully.

I also kind of want to know how a cat puts out the fire. Particularly a female cat.

Cianna seeing this, and not knowing what to do, left the room, contrary to the command of her brothers, and going into the ogre’s chamber begged him for a little fire.

She can, however, be blamed for being too stupid to live. What part of cannibal ogre was unclear? “Hmm, he does eat women, but on the other hand, the fire’s out! I might have to wait until my brothers get home! HORRORS!”

Then the ogre, hearing a woman’s voice, said, “Welcome, madam! Wait a while, you have found what you are seeking.”

Steve? Is that–hey! You’re not Steve! And suddenly I am suspicious of trivia night!

And so saying he took a Genoa stone, and daubing it with oil he fell to whetting his tusks.

You hate to have blunt tusks. That would be uncivilized.

But Cianna, who saw that she had made a mistake, seizing a lighted stick, ran to her chamber; and bolting the door inside, she placed against it bars, stools, bedsteads, tables, stones, and everything there was in the room.

I’m not going to judge someone for keeping stones in the bedroom. My parents kept stones in the shower. I used to keep a big rock in my car. Useful objects, stones.

As soon as the ogre had put an edge on his teeth he ran to the chamber of the brothers, and finding the door fastened, he fell to kicking it to break it open.

Well, you wouldn’t blunt a freshly honed tusk on a door. That would be very uncivilized.

At this noise and disturbance the seven brothers came home, and hearing themselves accused by the ogre of treachery for making their chamber the abode of his women-enemies, Giangrazio, who was the eldest and had more sense than the others, and saw matters going badly, said to the ogre, “We know nothing of this affair, and it may be that this wicked woman has perchance come into the room whilst we were at the chase; but as she has fortified herself inside, come with me, and I will take you to a place where we can seize her without her being able to defend herself.”

Because it is absolutely plausible that a little girl wandered into the deep dark forest and turned up inside the house to ask to borrow a cup of fire.

Then they took the ogre by the hand, and led him to a deep, deep pit, where giving him a push they sent him headlong to the bottom; and taking a shovel, which they found on the ground, they covered him with earth.

Bear in mind this was their adoptive mother and father. You know, I hope Mom has parties in her sewing room. And all the guests comment on the immaculate bathroom with the hot tub and the attractive rocks in the shower.

Then they bade their sister unfasten the door, and they rated her soundly for the fault she had committed, and the danger in which she had placed herself; telling her to be more careful in future, and to beware of plucking grass upon the spot where the ogre was buried, or they would be turned into seven doves.

“Yeah, it’s no big thing. That’s dove grass. You know how it is.”

“Heaven keep me from bringing such a misfortune upon you!” replied Cianna.

So taking possession of all the ogre’s goods and chattels, and making themselves masters of the whole house, they lived there merrily enough, waiting until winter should pass away.

Now it happened one day, when the brothers were gone to the mountains to get firewood, to defend themselves against the cold, which increased from day to day, that a poor pilgrim came to the ogre’s wood, and made faces at an ape that was perched up in a pine tree; whereupon the ape threw down one of the fir apples from the tree upon the man’s pate, which made such a terrible bump that the poor fellow set up a loud cry.

….why are there apes in Italy?

I mean, Arzano is right by Naples. Where the hell is this taking place, that there are both pine trees and random apes?

Cianna hearing the noise went out, and taking pity on his disaster, she quickly plucked a sprig of rosemary from a tuft which grew upon the ogre’s grave; then she made him a plaster of it with chewed bread and salt, and after giving the man some breakfast she sent him away.

Whilst Cianna was laying the cloth, and expecting her brothers, lo! she saw seven doves come flying, who said to her, “Ah! better that your hand had been cut off, you cause of all our misfortune, ere it plucked that accursed rosemary and brought such a calamity upon us—

Okay, okay, hold on just a damn minute here!

Grass is not rosemary. They specifically warned her against plucking grass and she plucked rosemary. Rosemary is a shrub.

I am protesting this curse on the grounds of botanical inaccuracy! You cannot warn people against grass and then get mad when they start stripping needles off a woody perennial!

Have you eaten the brains of a cat, O sister, that you have driven our advice from your mind?

I….well, I admit, eating the brains of a cat tends to drive a lot of things out of my mind, in favor of “What the hell is going on and what is this in front of me and do I know them, because if this is a cat I know, I am going to make you so dead that dead people will go “Wow, that guy’s really dead.”

Ahem. Moving on.

Behold us turned to birds, a prey to the talons of kites, hawks, and falcons! Behold us made companions of water-hens, snipes, goldfinches, woodpeckers, jays, owls, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, starlings, woodcocks, cocks, hens and chickens, turkey-cocks, blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, tomtits, jenny-wrens, lapwings, linnets, greenfinches, crossbills, flycatchers, larks, plovers, kingfishers, wagtails, redbreasts, red finches, sparrows, ducks, fieldfares, wood-pigeons and bullfinches!

I…Ah….okay, see, most of these are Eurasian species, but turkey-cocks are North American, and we don’t have apes over here either. These guys have wandered onto the island from the Swiss Family Robinson or something.

I do give them mad props for quite an exhaustive list of birds, though I have to say, they could have stopped after “goldfinches” with the point pretty much made. Everything after that is just wallowing. “And the flycatchers! We have to hang out with flycatchers! Do you know what they’re like at parties!?”

A rare thing you have done! And now we may return to our country to find nets laid and twigs limed for us! To heal the head of a pilgrim, you have broken the heads of seven brothers; nor is there any help for our misfortune, unless you find the Mother of Time, who will tell you the way to get us out of trouble.”

Finally at the end of a whole lot of completely undeserved abuse—you were the ass who couldn’t tell grass from rosemary! You lay off your sister, young man, until you crack open a good horticultural identification guide!—we come to the clue of what she’s actually supposed to do.

Cianna, looking like a plucked quail at the fault she had committed, begged pardon of her brothers, and offered to go round the world until she should find the dwelling of the old woman. Then praying them not to stir from the house until she returned, lest any ill should betide them, she set out, and journeyed on and on without ever tiring; and though she went on foot, her desire to aid her brothers served her as a sumpter-mule, with which she made three miles an hour.

This is an interesting image, if nothing else. I assume her guilt-mule carried her bags.

At last she came to the seashore, where with the blows of the waves the sea was banging the rocks. Here she saw a huge whale, who said to her, “My pretty maiden, what go you seeking?”

And she replied, “I am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time.”

“Hear then what you must do,” replied the whale. “Go straight along this shore, and on coming to the first river, follow it up to its source, and you will meet with someone who will show you the way. But do me one kindness. When you find the good old woman, beg of her the favor to tell me some means by which I may swim about safely, without so often knocking upon the rocks and being thrown on the sands.”

Sonar. You have sonar. Just avoid the things that sound like rocks.

“Trust to me,” said Cianna. Then thanking the whale for pointing out the way, she set off walking along the shore; and after a long journey she came to the river, which was disbursing itself into the sea. Then taking the way up to its source, she arrived at a beautiful open country, where the meadow vied with the heaven, displaying her green mantle starred over with flowers.

And there she met a mouse, who said to her, “Whither are you going thus alone, my pretty girl?”

And Cianna replied, “I am seeking the Mother of Time.”

“You have a long way to go,” said the mouse; “but do not lose heart. Everything has an end. Walk on therefore toward yon mountains, and you will soon have more news of what you are seeking. But do me one favor. When you arrive at the house you wish to find, get the good old woman to tell you what we can do to get rid of the tyranny of the cats; then command me, and I am your slave.”

Have you tried eating their brains?

Cianna, after promising to do the mouse this kindness, set off toward the mountains, which, although they appeared to be close at hand, seemed never to be reached. But having come to them at length, she sat down tired out upon a stone; and there she saw an army of ants carrying a large store of grain, one of whom turning to Cianna said, “Who art thou, and whither art thou going?”

Note that the ants don’t address her with a somewhat condescending “my pretty” line. Ants are egalitarian like that. Your physical beauty is a measure of your carrying capacity to an ant. 

And Cianna, who was courteous to everyone, said to her, “I am an unhappy girl, who for a matter that concerns me am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time.”

“Go on farther,” replied the ant, “and where these mountains open into a large plain you will obtain more news. But do me a great favor. Set the secret from the old woman what we ants can do to live a little longer; for it seems to me a folly in worldly affairs to be heaping up such a large store of food for so short a life.”

Because pretty much what the world needs is a race of IMMORTAL SUPER-ANTS.

Come to think of it, have you guys heard about the Argentinian ant super-colony? Now that is some freaky shit right there. Go read up on it. I’ll wait. RadioLab did an awesome short about it. It was kind of scary.

“Be at ease,” said Cianna. “I will return the kindness you have shown me.” Then she passed the mountains and arrived at a wide plain; and proceeding a little way over it, she came to a large oak tree, whose fruit tasted like sweetmeats to the maiden, who was satisfied with little.

There is no world where acorns taste like sweetmeats. I don’t care if you have apes and turkeys and chaffinches all partying together on whale-back, acorns will still be acorns. Feh. Whoever wrote this fairy tale was not a gardener, I’ll tell you that.

Then the oak, making lips of its bark and a tongue of its pith, said to Cianna, “Whither are you going so sad, my little daughter? Come and rest under my shade.”

Cianna thanked him much, but excused herself, saying that she was going in haste to find the Mother of Time.

I just see the creepy trees from Wizard of Oz now. I’d excuse myself too, and try not to think about the fact I was just eating his reproductive organs.

And when the oak heard this he replied, “You are not far from her dwelling; for before you have gone another day’s journey you will see upon a mountain a house, in which you will find her whom you seek. But if you have as much kindness as beauty, I prithee learn for me what I can do to regain my lost honor; for instead of being food for great men, I am now only made the food of hogs.”

There were giants in the earth in those days—men of old, men of renown. And they ate acorns. Because that’s just how they rolled.

“Leave that to me,” replied Cianna. “I will take care to serve you.”

So saying she departed, and walking on and on without ever resting, she came at length to the foot of an impertinent mountain, which was poking its head into the face of the clouds. There she found an old man, who wearied and way-worn had lain down upon some hay. And as soon as he saw Cianna, he knew her at once, and that it was she who had cured his bump.

When the old man heard what she was seeking, he told her that he was carrying to Time the rent for the piece of earth which he had cultivated, and that Time was a tyrant who usurped everything in the world, claiming tribute from all, and especially from people of his age; and he added that, having received kindness from Cianna, he would now return it a hundredfold, by giving her some good information about her arrival at the mountain; and that he was sorry he could not accompany her thither, since his old age, which was condemned rather to go down than up, obliged him to remain at the foot of those mountains, to cast up accounts with the clerks of Time, which are the labors, the sufferings, and the infirmities of life, and to pay the debt of Nature.

Time’s a jerk. Apes are jerks. Nature’s a jerk. You, though–you’re okay, kid.

This bit does throw me a little, though, because “to cast up one’s accounts” is Regency slang for vomiting. So I’m feeling a little sorry for the clerks of Time right now.

So the old man said to her, “Now, my pretty innocent child, listen to me. You must know that on the top of this mountain you will find a ruined house, which was built long ago time out of mind; the walls are cracked, the foundations crumbling away, the doors worm eaten, the furniture all worn out, and in short everything is gone to wrack and ruin. On one side are seen shattered columns, on another broken statues, and nothing is left in a good state except a coat-of-arms over the door, quartered, on which you will see a serpent biting its tail, a stag, a raven, and a phoenix. When you enter, you will see on the ground files, saws, scythes, sickles, pruning-hooks, and hundreds and hundreds of vessels full of ashes, with the names written on them, like gallipots in an apothecary’s shop; and there may be read Corinth, Saguntum, Carthage, Troy, and a thousand other cities, the ashes of which Time preserves as trophies of his conquests. When you come near the house, hide yourself until Time goes out; and as soon as he has gone forth, enter, and you will find an old, old woman, with a beard that touches the ground and a hump reaching to the sky. Her hair, like the tail of a dapple-gray horse, covers her heels; her face looks like a plaited collar, with the folds stiffened by the starch of years. The old woman is seated upon a clock, which is fastened to a wall; and her eyebrows are so large that they overshadow her eyes, so that she will not be able to see you. As soon as you enter, quickly take the weights off the clock; then call to the old woman, and beg her to answer your questions; whereupon she will instantly call her son to come and eat you up; but the clock upon which the old woman sits having lost its weights, her son cannot move, and she will therefore be obliged to tell you what you wish. But do not trust any oath she may make, unless she swear by the wings of her son. Then give faith to her, and do what she tells you, and you will be content.”

Tl;dr—Time’s a serial killer and takes trophies and his mother’s afflicted with purple prose.

So saying, the poor old man fell down and crumbled away, like a dead body brought from a catacomb to the light of day.

Auugh! Didn’t see that coming! Jesus! I thought this was a nice story about blind misogynist ogres and misidentification of grasses!

Then Cianna took the ashes, and mixing them with a pint of tears, she made a grave and buried them, praying Heaven to grant them quiet and repose.

That’s…a lot of tears. I assume she had to mix them up into paste or something. Um. Ew.

And ascending the mountain, till she was quite out of breath, she waited until Time came out, who was an old man with a long, long beard, and who wore a very old cloak covered with slips of paper, on which were worked the names of various people. He had large wings, and ran so fast that he was out of sight in an instant.

This is again some fascinating imagery. I kind of don’t want to have my name on one of those slips of paper.

When Cianna entered the house of his mother, she started with affright at the sight of that black old chip; and instantly seizing the weights of the clock, she told what she wanted to the old woman, who setting up a loud cry called to her son.

But Cianna said to her, “You may butt your head against the wall as long as you like, for you will not see your son whilst I hold these clock-weights.”

Thereupon the old woman, seeing herself foiled, began to coax Cianna, saying, “Let go of them, my dear, and do not stop my son’s course; for no man living has ever done that. Let go of them, and may Heaven preserve you! for I promise you by the aquafortis of my son, with which he corrodes everything, that I will do you no harm.”

“That’s time lost,” answered Cianna. “You must say something better if you would have me quit my hold.”

“I swear to you by those teeth which gnaw all mortal things, that I will tell you all you desire.”

“That is all nothing,” answered Cianna; “for I know you are deceiving me.”

“Well then,” said the old woman, “I swear to you by those wings which fly over all, that I will give you more pleasure than you imagine.”

Go, Cianna! Although that last bit about pleasure was a bit disturbing.

Thereupon Cianna, letting go the weights, kissed the old woman’s hand, which had a moldy feel and a musty smell.

And the old woman, seeing the courtesy of the damsel, said to her, “Hide yourself behind this door, and when Time comes home I will make him tell me all you wish to know. And as soon as he goes out again, for he never stays quiet in one place, you can depart. But do not let yourself be heard or seen, for he is such a glutton that he does not spare even his own children; and when all fails, he devours himself, and then springs up anew.”

I smell a metaphor!

Cianna did as the old woman told her, and lo! soon after Time came flying quick, quick, high, and light, and having gnawed whatever came to hand, down to the very moldiness upon the walls, he was about to depart, when his mother told him all she had heard from Cianna, beseeching him to answer exactly all her questions.

After a thousand entreaties her son replied, “To the tree may be answered, that it can never be prized by men so long as it keeps treasures buried under its roots To the mice, that they will never be safe from the cat, unless they tie a bell to her leg, to tell them when she is coming. To the ants, that they will live a hundred years, if they can dispense with flying; for when the ant is going to die she puts on wings. To the whale, that it should be of good cheer, and make friends with the sea-mouse, who will serve him as a guide, so that he will never go wrong. And to the doves, that when they alight on the column of wealth, they will return to their former state.”

Dude! Sea-mouse? You have SEA-MICE in this strange and glorious land? What do they look like? Are there whales wandering around with little sea-mice perched on their heads, like tiny aquatic rodent GPS? “Go left at the Gulf Stream!”

So saying, Time set out to run his accustomed post; and Cianna, taking leave of the old woman, descended to the foot of the mountain, just at the very time that the seven doves, who had followed their sister’s footsteps, arrived there. Wearied with flying so far, they stopped to rest upon the horn of a dead ox; and no sooner had they alighted, than they were changed into handsome youths, as they were at first. But while they were marveling at this, they heard the reply which Time had given, and saw at once that the horn, as the symbol of plenty, was the column of wealth of which Time had spoken.

Well, that was….anti-climactic.

And also weren’t they whining about how dangerous it was for doves, and didn’t they get all snarky about her being disobedient?

Then embracing their sister with great joy, they all set out on the same road by which Cianna had come. And when they came to the oak tree, and told it what Cianna had heard from Time, the tree begged them to take away the treasure from its roots, since it was the cause why its acorns had lost their reputation.

No. It’s because they’re ACORNS. Look, you can eat acorns, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth to get the tannic acids out unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. It’s not because they think that particular oak is slutty or unkempt or maybe did something naughty with a squirrel once. It’s because they’re goddamn ACORNS.

Thereupon the seven brothers, taking a spade which they found in a garden, dug and dug, until they came to a great heap of gold money, which they divided into eight parts, and shared among themselves and their sister, so that they might carry it away conveniently. But being wearied with the journey and the load, they laid themselves down to sleep under a hedge.

Incidentally, they found the shovel to bury the ogre just lying on the ground. These people live in a land that apparently has tools just lying around randomly. I bet people are very scared of rakes.

Presently a band of robbers coming by, and seeing the poor fellows asleep, with their heads upon the cloths full of dollars, bound them hand and foot to some trees, and took away the money, leaving them to bewail not only their wealth, which had slipped through their fingers as soon as found, but their life; for being without hope of succor, they were in peril of either soon dying of starvation or allaying the hunger of some wild beast.

As they were lamenting their unhappy lot, up came the mouse, who, as soon as she heard the reply which Time had given, in return for the good service nibbled the cords with which they were bound and set them free.

But who will bell the cat? Really, this just leads you to a very cynical fable.

And having gone a little way farther they met on the road the ant, who, when she heard the advice of Time, asked Cianna what was the matter, that she was so pale-faced and cast down.

Yeah, what are you complaining about? I just learned that the secret of immortality is not to have sex. Ever. Because of the mating flight issue. Which is going to be a problem for the colony.

And when Cianna told her their misfortune, and the trick which the robbers had played them, the ant replied, “Be quiet, I can now requite the kindness you have done me. You must know, that whilst I was carrying a load of grain underground, I saw a place where these dogs of assassins hide their plunder; they have made some holes under an old building, in which they shut up all the things they have stolen. They are just now gone out for some new robbery, and I will go with you and show you the place, so that you may recover your money.”

So saying she took the way toward some tumble-down houses, and showed the seven brothers the mouth of a pit; whereupon Giangrazio, who was bolder than the rest, entering it, found there all the money of which they had been robbed.

Then taking it with them, they set out, and walked towards the seashore, where they found the whale, and told him the good advice which Time — who is the father of counsel — had given them.

And then the whale embarked on the epic Quest For The Legendary Sea Mouse. It took many many years and was so goddamn adorable that I am forbidden by law to tell it to you without a supply of insulin on hand.

And whilst they stood talking of their journey, and all that had befallen them, they saw the robbers suddenly appear, armed to the teeth, who had followed in their footsteps.

At this sight they exclaimed, “Alas, alas! we are now wholly lost, for here come the robbers armed, and they will not leave the skin on our bodies!”

“Fear not,” replied the whale,” for I can save you out of the fire, and will thus requite the love you have shown me. So get upon my back, and I will quickly carry you to a place of safety.”

Cianna and her brothers, seeing the foe at their heels and the water up to their throat, climbed upon the whale, who, keeping far off from the rocks, carried them to within sight of Naples; but being afraid to land them on account of the shoals and shallows, he said, “Where would you like me to land you? On the shore of Amalfi? ”

And Giangrazio answered, “See whether that cannot be avoided, my dear fish;

Actually I’m a mammal. But I’m starting to see where that whole grass/rosemary thing came from.

I do not wish to land at any place hereabouts; for at Massa they say barely good-day, at Sorrento thieves are plenty, at Vico they say you may go your way, at Castel-a-Mare no one says how are ye?”

Then the whale, to please them, turned about and went toward the Salt-Rock, where he left them; and they got put on shore by the first fishing boat that passed. Thereupon they returned to their own country, safe and sound and rich, to the great joy and consolation of their mother and father;

Who did not have to be pried, weeping, out of her bathroom, which she had barricaded with bleach bottles and a number of small decorative soaps and of course, an attractive stone. Nope. That certainly didn’t happen. At least as far as the priest is concerned.

and, thanks to the goodness of Cianna, they enjoyed a happy life, verifying the old saying, Do good whenever you can, and forget it.

This saying may require some mental unpacking. Still thinking about that one.


Incidentally, there’s a couple of variations on this story that have some great bits, so, for your comparative reading pleasure:

This is German, the brothers are ravens, and that’s all pretty typical—but the sister encounters this in her travels:

She walked on and on — far, far to the end of the world. She came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and ate little children. She hurried away, and ran to the moon, but it was much too cold, and also frightening and wicked, and when it saw the child, it said, “I smell, smell human flesh.”


In Finland she chases a magic cake that leads her to her brothers. I have nothing useful to add to that statement.

The Romanians are a little grimmer, but also have a good explanation for once:

Once upon a time there was such a famine in the land that the people lived on grass and even on sawdust, and were dying of hunger in untold numbers. At that time there lived a widow who had managed to husband a little flour. When she found that nothing else was left to her she took that flour and mixing it with water kneaded it into dough. Then she lit the furnace and got a shovel to put the dough on it and thence into the furnace to bake.

This woman had two sons and one daughter. The two boys came in just at the moment when the loaves of dough were on the shovel. They were so hungry that they did not wait for the dough to be baked, and before their mother had time to put the shovel into the oven they got hold of the dough, raw and uncooked as it was, and ate it up to the smallest bit. They did not leave even a little piece for their mother and sister.

When the mother saw the terrible greediness of her children, and that they ate the raw stuff and did not leave even a small piece for her or their sister, she cursed them and said, “May you be cursed by God and be changed into two birds; may you haunt the highest peaks of the mountains; may you never be able to eat bread even when you see it, because you did not leave any for me this day.”

No sooner had the boys gone out of the house than they were changed into two huge eagles, who, spreading their wings, flew away to the ends of the earth, no one knowing whither they had gone.

And that is why you don’t eat raw cookie dough, kids.

This one doesn’t end well–after trying to break the curse by not speaking, the heroine starts to have doubts.

Five years had passed, the girl not seeing anything of them, and not speaking all the time. After that time she said to herself, “What is the good of my sitting here and keeping silent when none of them have come; perchance they are dead, or who know what has happened?”

No sooner had she opened her mouth and spoken a word when in came her two brothers, and said to her mournfully, “Thou hast not kept thy vow, thou hast broken thy promise, thou hast spoken! If thou wouldst have waited one more year we would have become human beings, and the spell would have been broken. Now we are cursed forever. We must remain eagles and birds of prey.”

And so they have remained to this day, preying on birds and beasts, living on raw meat, never being able to touch bread, and even picking up children under six years of age, the years which their sister had to wait in order to break the spell.

Sooner or later, it all ends in cannibalism. Frankly, if we had a single takeaway for fairy tales, that’s not the most unlikely.

Annotated Fairy Tale: Tatterhood

I’ll be honest with you—I love this one. It’s very short compared to some of the drawn-out sagas we’ve seen and never once devolves into East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is sort of the go-to fairy tale for dragging things out. So this’ll be a quick little afternoon amusement instead of a lengthy epic. Still!

It’s also one of the very very few fairy tales that has a kick-ass female hero who isn’t just there in an advisory capacity. (Seriously, why was the Mastermaid not just killing everything in her path? Why did she even need the prince around?)

I do rather resent the ending, though.

A little digging turns up that this is Aarne-Thompson type 711, “Beautiful and Ugly Twin.” Apparently this is common in Norway and doesn’t come up much elsewhere. Go figure.



(collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, 1852)

Once upon a time there was a king and a queen who had no children, and that made the queen very sad. She seldom had a happy hour. She was always crying and complaining, and saying how dull and lonesome it was in the palace. “If we had children there would be life enough,” she said. Wherever she went in all her realm she found God’s blessing in children, even in the poorest hut. And wherever she went she heard women scolding their children, and saying how they had done this and that wrong. The queen heard all this, and thought it would be so nice to do as other women did.

We only have the kids on alternate weeks, and let me tell you that the scolding bit is about as much fun as chewing your leg off in a bear trap. Seriously, why are there dirty socks on the windowsill? Seriously? Again?

At last the king and queen took into their palace an adopted girl to raise, that they might always have her with them, to love her if she did well, and scold her if she did wrong, like their own child.

Ironically, she will vanish without a trace one paragraph from now.

One day the little girl whom they had taken as their own, ran down into the palace yard, and was playing with a golden apple. Just then an old beggar woman came by, who had a little girl with her, and it wasn’t long before the little girl and the beggar’s child were great friends, and began to play together, and to toss the golden apple about between them. When the queen saw this, as she sat at a window in the palace, she tapped on the pane for her foster daughter to come up. She went at once, but the beggar girl went up too; and as they went into the queen’s apartment, each held the other by the hand. Then the queen began to scold the little lady, and to say, “You ought to be above running about and playing with a tattered beggar’s brat.” And she started to drive the girl down the stairs.

The queen is setting herself up for one of those classic fairy-tale comeuppances here. Always be polite to beggars and always follow directions. 

Also, I hope you enjoyed the adopted girl because we will never hear from her again.

“If the queen only knew my mother’s power, she’d not drive me out,” said the little girl; and when the queen asked what she meant more plainly, she told her how her mother could get her children if she chose. The queen wouldn’t believe it, but the girl insisted, and said that every word of it was true, and asked the queen only to try and make her mother do it. So the queen sent the girl down to fetch up her mother.

“Do you know what your daughter says?” asked the queen of the old woman, as soon as ever she came into the room.

No, the beggar woman knew nothing about it.

The kid’s nuts, Your Majesty. She keeps trying to tell me that it’s fairies leaving dirty socks on the windowsill.

“Well, she says you can get me children if you will,” answered the queen.

“Queens shouldn’t listen to beggar girls’ silly stories,” said the old woman, and walked out of the room.

This right here is proof that the old woman has magical powers. She just told off the queen and walked out. You don’t do that unless you’re pretty confident that you can turn everybody into toads if the issue comes up.

Or you’re fireproof. Fireproof is also good.

Then the queen got angry, and wanted again to drive out the little girl; but she declared it was true every word that she had said.

“Let the queen only give my mother something to drink,” said the girl; “when she gets tipsy she’ll soon find out a way to help you.”

Possibly this is a seriously clever two-woman con designed to get Mom’s drink on.

The queen was ready to try this; so the beggar woman was fetched up again, and treated with as much wine and mead as she wanted; and so it was not long before her tongue began to wag. Then the queen came out again with the same question she had asked before.

“Kids? Whadya want kids for? It’s all dirty socks and dragging me in to talk to queens. Seriously, get a goat. Goats are useful. And they don’t wear socks.”

“Perhaps I know one way to help you,” said the beggar woman. “Your majesty must make them bring in two pails of water some evening before you go to bed. Wash yourself in each of them, and afterwards throw the water under your bed. When you look under your bed the next morning, two flowers will have sprung up, a beautiful one and an ugly one. Eat the beautiful one but leave the ugly alone. Be careful not to forget this last bit of advice.” That was what the beggar woman said.

All those who think the queen is going to listen, raise your hand. No, keep ’em up so I can count them.

Right. You have failed Fairy Tales 101. Report to the old well to be assigned whatever horrible thing will fall out of your mouth whenever you talk from now on. Ask for earthworms, they’re easier to hide than toads. And good in the garden.

Incidentally, that’s a lot of water to dump under the bed. If I did that, I’d expect a leak in the living room.

Yes, the queen did what the beggar woman advised her to do; she had the water brought up in two pails, washed herself in them, and emptied them under the bed; and when she looked under the bed the next morning, there stood two flowers; one was ugly and foul, and had black leaves; but the other was so bright, and fair, and lovely, she had never seen anything like it, so she ate it up at once. But the pretty flower tasted so sweet, that she couldn’t help herself. She ate the other one too, for, she thought, “I’m sure that it can’t hurt or help me much either way.”

Remarkably, the queen will not learn from this mistake.

Well, sure enough, after a while the queen was brought to bed. First of all, she had a girl who had a wooden spoon in her hand, and rode upon a goat.

There is almost no way to interpret this that does not involve the queen giving birth to a riding goat. I am guessing there was a lot of screaming and a lot of head-scratching on the part of the midwives—and how do you even explain that to the king? “Say, Your Majesty, you aren’t aware of any…err…odd shoots on the family tree, are you? You know…extra limbs…maybe with hooves…?”

It’s even more disturbing if you take the literal interpretation that she rode out on the goat, under her own power. I am not entirely sure that dilation in centimeters is what’s called for here. Presumably the queen had like three epidurals and maybe some laudanum. 

She was disgusting and ugly, and the very moment she came into the world she bawled out “Mamma.”

“If I’m your mamma,” said the queen, “God give me grace to mend my ways.”

Last time I take advice from drunk beggar women. Let me talk to the goat. Technically the goat’s mine, too.

“Oh, don’t be sorry,” said the girl on the goat, “for one will soon come after me who is better looking.”

I dunno, that’s a fine figure of a goat. Come to Mamma, goatikins! Lookit those liddle hoofie-woofies! Wooo, this is good laudanum!

After a while, the queen had another girl, who was so beautiful and sweet that no one had ever set eyes on such a lovely child. You may be sure that the queen was very well pleased.

This is even better than a goat!

The elder twin they called “Tatterhood,” because she was always so ugly and ragged, and because she had a hood which hung about her ears in tatters.

Incidentally, she’s the only character in the entire story who gets a name.

The queen could hardly bear to look at her.

Because she’s ugly or because they had to invent a new scale for vaginal tearing after that whole riding goat incident?

The nurses tried to shut her up in a room by herself, but it did no good. She always had to be where the younger twin was, and no one could ever keep them apart.

One Christmas eve, when they were half grown up, there arose a frightful noise and clatter in the hallway outside the queen’s apartment. Tatterhood asked what it was that was making such a noise outside.

“Oh,” said the queen, “it isn’t worth asking about.”

But Tatterhood wouldn’t give in until she found out all about it; and so the queen told her it was a pack of trolls and witches who had come there to celebrate Christmas.

The queen is incredibly blase about this. I am gonna go with serious laudanum habit, because otherwise having packs of trolls and witches in the hallways is completely commonplace. “Not worth asking about. Just witches and trolls again. It’s Tuesday, you know that’s witch-and-troll-in-the-hallway-day. Sheesh, go play with your brother the goat or something.”

So Tatterhood said that she would just go out and drive them away. In spite of all they could say, and however much they begged and asked her to leave the trolls alone, she just had to go out and drive the witches off. She begged the queen to be careful and keep all the doors shut tight, so that not one of them would open the least bit.

Anyone who thinks the queen listens, raise your hand.

Nobody? Good.

Having said this, off she went with her wooden spoon, and began to hunt out and drive away the hags.

The two-handed wooden Battlespoon is used to this day by an order of warrior nuns found only on a small island off the coast of Norway. The name is chock full of umlauts and is believed to have been the Viking word for “Just keep rowing, dude.” The nuns have artfully ragged habits and keep a flock of exceedingly handsome goats.

All the while there was such a commotion out in the gallery that the like of it had never before been heard. The whole palace creaked and groaned as if every joint and beam were going to be torn out of its place. Now I can’t say exactly what happened;

Oh, it was so totally the queen.

but somehow or other one door did open a little bit, and her twin sister just peeped out to see how things were going with Tatterhood, and put her head a tiny bit through the opening. But, pop! up came an old witch, and whipped off her head, and stuck a calf’s head on her shoulders instead; and so the princess ran back into the room on all fours, and began to “moo” like a calf.

The next time somebody pulls out that ancient astronaut crap about how primitive societies were so much more advanced than we are, I’m pointing to this story and claiming that the old Norse could do head transplants.

When Tatterhood came back and saw her sister, she scolded them all, and was very angry because they hadn’t kept better watch, and asked them what they thought of their carelessness now that her sister had been turned into a calf.

Great. Now my siblings are a goat and a calf—and I am still gonna be third in line to the throne. This family has issues, even leaving aside Mom’s increasing opium dependency.

“But I’ll see if I can’t set her free,” she said.

There’s only room for one farm animal in this family!

Then she asked the king for a ship with a full set of sails and good load of stores, but she would not have a captain or any sailors. No; she would sail away with her sister all alone. There was no holding her back, and at last they let her have her own way.

We will also never see the parents again. I would hope that they went back to their adopted daughter, but at this point, I think she’s well out of it. I like to think she ran off with the beggar-girl and her mother and learned witchcraft.

Tatterhood sailed off, and steered her ship right up to the land where the witches lived. When she came to the landing place, she told her sister to stay quite still on board the ship; but she herself rode on her goat up to the witches’ castle.

C’mon, bro, let’s go get our sister’s head back…

When she got there, one of the windows in the gallery was open, and there she saw her sister’s head hung up on the window frame; so she jumped her goat through the window into the gallery, snapped up the head, and set off with it. The witches came after her to try to get the head back. They flocked around her as thick as a swarm of bees or a nest of ants.

I want Pixar to do this movie, just so I can see Tatterhood with a severed head under one arm, riding her war-goat, beating the crap out of people with her spoon.

The goat snorted and puffed, and butted with his horns, and Tatterhood beat and banged them about with her wooden spoon; and so the pack of witches had to give up.

We may be witches, but a goat AND a spoon? That’s just crazy talk.

So Tatterhood got back to her ship, took the calf’s head off her sister, and put her own on again, and then she became a girl as she had been before.

I like to think that they tacked the calf-head on the front of the ship as a figurehead. And then became pirates. “STAND AND DELIVER OR YOU GET THE GOAT AND THE SPOON!”

After that she sailed a long, long way, to a strange king’s realm.

Well, I’ve terrorized all the other pirates until they just hand me money as soon as we pull alongside. Now I’m bored and the deck is ankle deep in goat crap.

Now the king of this land was a widower, and had an only son. When he saw the strange sail, he sent messengers down to the beach to find out where it came from, and who owned it; but when the king’s men came down there, the only person they saw on board was Tatterhood, and there she was, riding around and around the deck on her goat at full speed, until her strands of hair streamed in the wind. The men from the palace were all amazed at this sight, and asked if more people were not on board. Yes, there were; she had a sister with her, said Tatterhood. They wanted to see too, but Tatterhood said no.

“No one shall see her, unless the king comes himself,” she said; and so she began to gallop about on her goat until the deck thundered again.

I think we should take up barrel racing next, bro. We could make a killing on the pro-riding circuit!

(Incidentally, I told you guys about how my great-grandfather ran off with a trick rider from the rodeo, didn’t I? True story. Piece of family history. She was always described as “mannish” but of course all parties died long ago so all we know is the one line “he ran off with a mannish trick rider from the rodeo.” I have always wished we had some context on that.)

When the servants got back to the palace, and told what they had seen and heard down at the ship, the king wanted to set out at once to see the girl that rode on the goat. When he arrived there, Tatterhood brought out her sister, and she was so beautiful and gentle that the king immediately fell head over heels in love with her. He brought them both back with him to the palace, and wanted to have the sister for his queen; but Tatterhood said “No,” the king couldn’t have her in any way, unless the king’s son would take Tatterhood. That, as you may guess, the prince did not want to do at all, because Tatterhood was such an ugly hussy. However, at last the king and all the others in the palace talked him into it, and he gave in, promising to take her for his queen; but it went sore against his grain, and he was a very sad man.

I am torn here, because I’d feel for anybody being emotionally blackmailed into marrying against their will, but his reasons are so dreadful. She’s an ugly hussy? Dude! Have you seen what she can do with a spoon? This woman is a force of nature!

The goat does not apparently get any marital prospects.

Now they began making preparations for the wedding, both with brewing and baking; and when all was ready, they went to church. The prince thought it the worst church service he had ever been to in all his life.

That’s because you were born several centuries before the Satan-is-everywhere-in-popular-music sermon common in the mid-eighties.

The king left first with his bride, and she was so lovely and so grand, all the people stopped to look at her along the road, and they stared at her until she was out of sight. After them came the prince on horseback by the side of Tatterhood, who trotted along on her goat with her wooden spoon in her fist. To look at him, he was not going to a wedding, but to a burial, and his own at that. He seemed so sad, and did not speak a word.

In fairness, I can understand the prince being a teensy bit intimidated. She’s carrying the Battlespoon and he’s got to know she can take him with the goat tied behind her back.

“Why don’t you talk?” asked Tatterhood, when they had ridden a bit.

“Why, what should I talk about?” answered the prince.

Please don’t hurt me. They say some of those trolls turned up in Greenland. And they scream whenever they see silverware.

“Well, you might at least ask me why I ride upon this ugly goat,” said Tatterhood.

“Hey,” said the goat, “No need to get nasty about it. I thought we were a team.”

“Why do you ride on that ugly goat?” asked the prince.

“Is it an ugly goat? Why, it’s the most beautiful horse that a bride ever rode,” answered Tatterhood; and in an instant the goat became a horse, the finest that the prince had ever seen.

“If you could do this all along, sis, I wish you’d mentioned it. I totally would have had a shot with that hot Clydesdale babe back home.”

They rode on a bit further, but the prince was just as sad as before, and couldn’t say a word. So Tatterhood asked him again why he didn’t talk, and when the prince answered, he didn’t know what to talk about, she said, “Well, you can ask me why I ride with this ugly spoon in my fist.”

“Why do you ride with that ugly spoon?” asked the prince.

Oh god, please don’t hit me with it. I like all my limbs.

“Is it an ugly spoon? Why, it’s the loveliest silver fan that a bride ever carried,” said Tatterhood; and in an instant it became a silver fan, so bright that it glistened.

Because it was Tatterhood, I assume it was one of those razor-edged iron fans from the kung-fu movies.

They rode a little way further, but the prince was still just as sad, and did not say a word. In a little while Tatterhood asked him again why he didn’t talk, and told him to ask why she wore the ugly gray hood on her head.

“Why do you wear that ugly gray hood on your head?” asked the prince.

Actually he figured out what was going on by now, but he’s afraid that if he breaks the sequence, he’s gonna end up with a calf’s head. If he’s lucky.

“Is it an ugly hood? Why, it’s the brightest golden crown that a bride ever wore,” answered Tatterhood, and it became a crown at once.

Now they rode a long way further, and the prince was so sad, that he sat without making a sound or uttering a word, just as before. So his bride asked him again why he didn’t talk, and told him to ask now why her face was so ugly and gray?

“Yes,” asked the prince, “why is your face so ugly and gray?”

“Am I ugly? You think my sister beautiful, but I am ten times more beautiful,” said the bride, and when the prince looked at her, she was so beautiful, he thought that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. After that it was no wonder that the prince found his tongue, and no longer rode along with his head hanging down.

I dislike this. Tatterhood is a badass and deserves better.

I think it needs another section.

Now they rode an even longer way, and the prince was still sad and also slightly concerned because the former goat was trying to put the moves on his horse. So his bride asked him again why he didn’t talk.

“You might at least ask me why you’re such a shallow douchebag.”

“Why am I such a shallow douchebag?” asked the prince.

“Upbringing, I expect,” said Tatterhood. “You should meet my mother. Anyway, you’re not shallow. You’re a caring decent human being who would not judge me for my failure to conform to conventional beauty standards.”

And the prince discovered that he had previously undisclosed depths and said “Honestly, I still think this arranged marriage thing is a little weird, but I’m willing to get to know you better. Incidentally, what kind of music are you into?”

So they drank the bridal cup both deep and long, and, after that, both prince and king set out with their brides to the princesses’ palace, and there they had another bridal feast, and drank once more, both deep and long.

Absolutely no response from the king or queen. I blame the laudanum.

There was no end to the celebration. Now run quickly to the king’s palace, and there will still be a drop of the bridal ale left for you.

That is a nice little end phrase though. One of these days I’ll have to note down all the endings. Most of them are so much better than “happily ever after.” Except maybe the one with the pebbles.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Story of Log

Would you believe that it was July when I last did one of these?

Man. Time flies. Or maybe I just haven’t had insomnia nearly enough.

This is a Finnish folktale, sent in by an Alert Reader, who said I had to read it and was so very, very right. It’s from a website called “Finnish Folktales–The Gold Scales” and I haven’t been able to find any details about who translated or collected it originally. The website kindly allows one or two stories to be used from the site, and I am very grateful, because frankly, the world is a better place the more people hear of Log!


Log, The Hero Who Released The Sun

Hmm. Log. Well, it’s better than “Charming.” Probably an old Finnish name. Log Logsson. Inga Logsdottir. Maybe that’s Norwegian. Well, anyway. Log.

Once a poor couple had no children. Their neighbours all had boys and girls in plenty but for some reason God did not send them even one.

“If I cannot have a flesh and blood baby,” the woman said one day, “I’m going to have a wooden baby.”

Oh god, he’s really a log, isn’t he?

She went to the woods and cut a log of alder just the size of a nice fat baby. She dressed the log in baby clothes and put it in a cradle. Then for three whole years she and her husband rocked the cradle and sang lullabies to the log baby.

We saw this before with the Hog Bridegroom, but y’know…at least the pig was alive. Three years gets us heavily into people-with-baby-dolls-they-think-are-real uncomfortable silence territory.

At the end of three years one afternoon, when the man was out chopping wood and the woman was driving the cows home from pasture, the log baby turned into a real baby! It was so strong and hearty that by the time its parents got home it had crawled out of the cradle and was sitting on the floor yelling lustily for food.

Oh dear god, he’s made of were-wood.

It ate and ate and ate and the more it ate the faster it grew.

Ravenous log-baby! Nothing weird about that. Nope.

It was not any time at all in passing from babyhood to childhood, from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood. From the start, people of the village knew it as Log, and Log never got any other name.

I can’t help but imagine the way this went down, with the neighbors knowing that Log’s parents were suffering some very strange issues.

“Guess what? Log sat up today!”

“I…see.” *avoids eye contact* “Well. That’s…um…something. How nice for you.”

“And he said his first word, too!”

“…sure he did, Martha.”

And then one day here they come with the log, and it’s practically a teenager, and clearly it must LOOK like a log enough that they knew what it is, so the neighbors are presumably sitting on the porch, watching the family walk by.

“So a teenaged log just walked by with his parents…”

“I’m going to drink heavily now, Martha.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Sven.”

Log’s parents knew from the start that Log was destined to be a great hero. That was why he was so strong and so good. There was no one in the village as strong as he was, or anyone as kind and gentle.

Aww. It’s nice that Log is a sweetie. I suppose it’s probably very calming being were-wood. Maybe on the full moon you just stand out in the garden and root.

Now just at this time a great calamity overtook the world. The sun, the moon, and the dawn disappeared from the sky and as a result the earth was left in darkness.

“Who have taken from us the sun and the moon and the dawn?” the people cried in terror.

“Whoever they are, “the king said, “they shall have to restore them!”

Don’t be a sun and moon hog, dude.

“Where, O where are the heroes that will undertake to find the sun and the moon and the dawn and return them to their places in the sky?”

There were many men willing to offer themselves for the great adventure but the king realized that something more was needed than willingness.

“It is only heroes of unusual strength and endurance,” he said, “who should risk the dangers of so perilous an undertaking.”

So he called together all the valiant youths of the kingdom and tested them one by one. He had some waters of great strength and it was his hope to find three heroes: one who could drink three bottles of the strong waters, a second that could drink six bottles, and a third one to drink nine bottles.

…waters of great strength. Uh-huh. Is that what they’re calling it these days?

Hundreds of youths presented themselves and out of them all the king found at last two: one was able to take three bottles of the strong waters, the other six bottles.

“But we need three heroes!” the king cried. “Is there no one in this entire kingdom strong enough to drink nine bottles?”

My heroes must be strong and willing and have livers made of cast iron!

“Try Log!” someone shouted.

All the youths present at once took up the cry, “Log! Log! Send for Log!”

Everybody loves Log! Log is popular! He’s kind and gentle and oh-so-strong! The men want to be him, and the ladies want to be with him.

And I bet he has amazing woo–


No, no. I’m good. Not going for the easy shot there. We are dignified here. We are serious scholars of folklore. We are



…right. Now that’s out of our system.

I feel better now. Do you feel better now?

Do you want to sing the Log Song from Ren & Stimpy first? Okay. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Right. Moving on!

So the king sent for Log and sure enough, when Log came he was able to drink down nine bottles of the strong waters without any trouble at all.

Log is used to wood-grain alcohol. This is nuthin’. Hardly makes you blind at all.

“Here now,” the king proclaimed, “are the three heroes who are to release the sun and the moon and the dawn from whoever are holding them in captivity and restore them to their places in the sky!”

He equipped the three heroes for a long journey furnishing them money and food and drink of the strong waters, each according to his strength. He mounted them each on a mighty horse with sword and arrow and dog.

And dogs, too! That’s awesome! It’s nice to see a king for once who is neither an idiot nor a villain.

So the three heroes rode off in the dark and the women of the kingdom wept to see them go and the men cheered and wished that they, too, were going.

Roadtrip! And the king supplied the booze AND the dogs!

They rode on and on for many days that seemed like nights till they had crossed the confines of their own country and entered the boundaries of an unknown kingdom beyond. Here the darkness was less dense. There was no actual daylight but a faint greyness as of approaching dawn.

They rode on until they saw looming up before them the towers of a mighty castle. They dismounted near the castle at the door of a little hut where they found an old woman.

“Good day to you, granny!” Log called out.

Log is very polite. You would expect no less, of course. When was the last time you saw a tree with road rage?

“Good day, indeed!” the old woman said. “It’s little enough we see of the day since the Evil One cursed the sun and handed it over to Suyettar’s wicked offspring, the nine-headed serpent!”

“The Evil One!” Log exclaimed. “Tell me, granny, why did the Evil One curse the sun?”

Suyettar, near as I can tell, is a really nasty witch that shows up as a recurring villain in Finnish folktales. The Evil One, presumably, is the Devil, but Log is not required to fight him.

“Because he’s evil, my son, that’s why!”

No beating around the bush with motivations for us! We’ve got serpents to kill!

“He said the sun’s rays blistered him, so he cursed the sun and gave him over to the nine-headed serpent. And he cursed the moon, too, because at night when the moon shone he could not steal. Yes, my son, he cursed the moon and handed her over to Suyettar’s second offspring, the six-headed serpent. Then he cursed the dawn because he said he couldn’t sleep in the morning because of the dawn.”

I used to have this problem. Then we got Venetian blinds in the bedroom. I wonder if the Devil has considered this?

“So he cursed the dawn and gave her over to Suyettar’s third offspring, the three-headed serpent.”

“Tell me, granny,” Log said, “where do the three serpents keep prisoner the sun and the moon and the dawn?”

“Listen, my son, and I will tell you: When they go far out in the sea they carry with them the sun and the moon and the dawn. The three-headed serpent stays out there one day and then returns at night. The six-headed serpent stays two days and then returns, and the mighty nine- headed monster does not return until the third night. As each returns a faint glow spreads over the land. That is why we are not in utter darkness.”

This old lady is a serious quest giver. I assume there’s a big yellow exclamation point over her head or something.

Log thanked the old woman and then he and his companions pushed on towards the castle. As they neared it, they saw a strange sight that they could not understand. One half of the great castle was laughing and rocking as if in merriment and the other half was weeping as if in grief.

Probably this means the people in it, but I love the image of the castle itself sobbing into the moat and the other half shaking its towers in glee.

“What can this mean?” Log cried out. “We had better ask the old woman before we go on.”

So they went back to the hut and the old woman told them all she knew.

Many fairy tales would be easier if this old woman was hanging out in them.

“It is on account of the dreadful fate that is hanging over the king’s three daughters,” she said. “Those three evil monsters are demanding them one by one. Tonight when the three-headed serpent comes back from the sea he expects to devour the eldest. If the king refuses to give her up, then Suyettar’s evil son will devour half the kingdom, half of the castle itself, and half the shining stones. O, that some hero would kill the monster and save the princess and at the same time release the dawn that it might again steal over the world!”

Hint, hint.

Log and his fellows conferred together and the one they called Three Bottles, because his strength was equal to three bottles of the strong waters, declared that it was his task to fight and conquer the three-headed serpent.

I can take three bottles of Jack Daniels! I can take your damn serpent, too!

Meanwhile, in the castle preparations for the sacrifice of the oldest princess were going forward. As the king sewed the poor girl into a great leather sack, his tears fell so fast that he could scarcely see what he was doing.

“My dear child,” he said, “it should comfort you greatly to think that the monster is going to eat you instead of half the kingdom! Not many princesses are considered as important as half the kingdom!”

Heck of a bedside manner on this guy, huh?

The princess knew that what her father said must be true, and she did her best to look cheerful as they slipped the sack over her head. Once inside, however, she allowed herself to cry for she knew that no one could see her.

The sack with the princess inside was carried down to the beach and put on a high rock near the place where Suyettar’s sons were wont to come up out of the water.

There’s a sign. It says “Multi-headed Serpents Only. All Others Will Be Prosecuted. No Lifeguard On Duty. Do Not Feed The Twenty-Four-Headed-Otters.”

“Don’t be frightened, my daughter!” the king called out as he and all the court started back to the castle. “You will not have to wait for long, for it will soon be evening.”

…I see that we’ll be making up for the restraint of the previous king here. “It’s okay, honey! The monster will eat you at any moment! Isn’t that an ego-boost?”

Log and his companions watched the king’s party disappear and then Three Bottles solemnly drank down the three bottles of strong waters with which his own King had equipped him.

*glug glug glug*

“I’m goodsh. Lemme at ‘im. What’re you lookin’ at, anyway? Think you’re so speshul ‘cos you’re a damn LOG. Well, you’re not. You’re not speshul. You’re not better’n me. You’re just a damn…piece of…wood…


I din’t mean it, man. I love you. You know I do. You’re…like…my besht friend, man. Log. Wha’ever..”

As he was ready to mount his horse, he handed Log the leash to which his dog was attached.

“If I need help,” he said, “I’ll throw back my shoe and then you then release my dog.”

Both shoes are for wussies. Real men fight drunk, with one shoe, and their dog. Sort of like Rocky III meets Old Yeller.

With that he rode boldly down to the beach, dismounted, and climbed up the rock where the unfortunate princess lay in a sack. With one slash of the sword he ripped open the sack and dragged the princess out. She supposed of course that he was the three-headed serpent and at first was so frightened that she kept her eyes tightly shut not daring to look at him. She expected every minute to have him take a first bite and, when minutes and more minutes and more minutes still went by and he did not, she opened her eyes a little crack to see what was the matter.

“Oh!” the princess said. She was so surprised that for a long time she did not dare to take another peep.

“You thought I was the three-headed serpent, did not you?” a pleasant voice asked. “But I’m not. I’m only a young man who has come to rescue you.”

Fortunately he had time to sober up while she was peeping.

The princess murmured, “Oh!” again, but this time the “Oh!” expressed happy relief.

The third “Oh!” expresses something else again, but we got that out of our systems early on.

“Yes,” repeated the young man, “I am the hero who has come to rescue you. My comrades call me Three Bottles. And while we are waiting for the serpent to come in from the sea I wish you would scratch my head.”

…ah….is he still drunk?

The princess was not in the least surprised at this request. Heroes and monsters and fathers seemed always to want their heads scratched.



Is this a euphemism for…no, she said fathers, and he doesn’t seem like that kind of king, with the sobbing and the bad bedside manner and whatnot. Dumb, but well-meaning.  So…uh…huh. How ’bout that?

So Three Bottles stretched himself at the princess’ feet and put his head in her lap. He settled himself comfortably and she scratched his head while he gazed out over the dark sea waiting for the serpent to appear.

Is Three Bottles a large dog or a unicorn or something? “The Unicorn With The Iron Liver!” Man, that’d be a helluva furry kung-fu flick.

At first there was nothing to break the glassy surface of the water. They waited, and at last far out they saw three swirling masses rolling landward.

“Quick, princess!” Three Bottles cried. “There comes the monster now! Get down behind the rock and hide there while I meet the creature and chop off his ugly heads!”

I am fortified with head-scratches…apparently…

The princess, quivering with fright, crouched down behind the rock and Three Bottles, mounting his horse, rode boldly down to the water’s edge awaiting the serpent’s coming.

It came nearer and nearer in long easy swirls, slowly lifting its three scaly heads one after another. As it approached shore it sniffed the air hungrily. “Fee, fi, fo, fum!” it muttered in a deep voice, repeating the magic rime it had learned from its evil mother, Suyettar,

“Fee, fi, fo, fum!

I smell some yum, yum!

I’ll fall on him with a thud!

I’ll pick his bones and drink his blood!

Fee,fi, fo, fum! Yum! Yum!”

I can only guess that “Fee fi fo fum” is the monster equivalent of one of those old traditional tunes that everybody keeps putting new lyrics to. Or maybe it’s like how Emily Dickenson all scans to “Yellow Rose of Texas.”

“Stop boasting, son of Suyettar!” Three Bottles cried. “You’ll have time enough to boast after you fight.”

“Fight?” repeated the serpent as if in surprise. “Shall we fight, pretty boy, you and I? Very well! Blow then with your sweet breath, blow out a long level platform of red copper whereon we can meet and try our strength each with the other!”‘

“Nay,” answered Three Bottles. “You blow, and instead of red copper we shall have a platform of black iron.”

Oh, this is marvelous fairy tale detail. Head-scratches…little off, but blowing the platforms is just the thing.

So the serpent blew and on the iron platform that came of his breath, Three Bottles met him in combat. Back and forth they raged, Three Bottles striking right and left with his mighty sword, the serpent hitting at Three Bottles with all his scaly heads and belching forth fire and smoke from all his mouths. Three Bottles whacked off one scaly head and at last a second one, but he was unable to touch the third.

“I shall have to have help,” he acknowledged to himself finally, and reaching down he took one of his shoes and threw it over his shoulder back to his comrades who were awaiting the outcome of the struggle. At once they loosed the dog which bounded forward to its master’s assistance, and soon with the dog’s help Three Bottles was able to dispatch the last head.

Go, dog!

He was faint now with weariness and his comrades had to help him back to the old woman’s hut where he soon fell asleep.

She’s a quest-giver, an encyclopedia, and a bed & breakfast. This woman does everything. Forget the princess, marry her.

Night passed and dawn appeared. A great cry of relief and thanksgiving went up from all the earth.

“The dawn! The dawn!” people cried. “God bless the man who has released the dawn!”

Only at the castle was there sorrow still.

“My poor oldest daughter!” the king cried with tears in his eyes. “It was my sacrifice of her that has released the dawn!”

Then he called his servants and gave them orders to gather up his daughter’s bones and to bring back the leather sack.

“We shall need it again tonight,”he said.

I may be the king and have a huge castle and all, but leather sacks aren’t cheap!

He wiped his eyes and for a moment could say no more. “Yes, tonight we shall have to sew up my second daughter and offer her to the six-headed serpent, him that holds captive the moon. Otherwise the monster will devour half my kingdom, half the castle, and half the shining stones. Ail Ail Ail”

But the servants when they went to the high rock on the seashore found, not the princess’ bones, but the princess herself, sitting there with her chin in her hand, gazing down on the beach which was strewn with the fragments of the three-headed serpent.

“Sure, the serpent’s dead. But where’s that nice man I gave head-scratches to? Was I not supposed to scratch on the first date? Is he going to call?”

They led her back to her father and reported the marvel they had seen.

“There, king, lies the monster on the sand with all his heads severed! So huge are the heads that it would need three men with derricks to move one of them!”

“Some unknown hero has rescued my oldest daughter!” the king cried.

“Actually, he said his name was Thr–“

“I SAID, some unknown hero has rescued my oldest daughter!”

“Would that another might come tonight to rescue my second child likewise! But, alas! what hero is strong enough to destroy the six-headed monster?”

So when evening came they sewed the second princess in the sack and carried her out to the rock. Log and his companions saw the procession move down from the castle and they saw that the castle was again disturbed, one half of it laughing and one half weeping.

“It’s the second princess tonight,” the old woman told them. “Unless her father, the king, gives her to the six-headed serpent, the monster will come and eat half the kingdom, half the castle, and half the shining stones. He it is that holds the moon captive and the hero that slays him will release the moon.”

Yeah, yeah, we get it. It’s a pretty straightforward mathematical progression. Three, six, Log. 

I’m getting kind of curious about the shining stones, though. What are they? Are they like the magic rocks in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? How do they work?

Then he whom his comrades called Six Bottles cried out, “Here is work for me!”

He drank bottle after bottle of the strong waters until he had emptied six. “Now I am ready!” he shouted.

He then staggered four steps, vomited in a heroic fashion, drunk-dialed several exes, and then Log cleared his throat a few times and Six Bottles got the hint.

He mounted his mighty horse and as he rode off he called to his comrades, “If I need help I’ll throw back a shoe and then you unleash my dog!”

He rode to the rock on the shore and dismounted. Then he climbed the rock and released the second princess. He told her who he was and as they awaited the arrival of the six-headed serpent he lay at the princess’ feet and she scratched his head.

This might actually be less weird if it’s a euphemism, but I kinda think she’s really scratching his head.

This time the serpent came in six mighty swirls with six awful heads that reared up one after another. In terror the second princess hid behind the rock while Six Bottles, mounting his horse, rode boldly down to the water’s edge.

Like his brother serpent this one, too, came sniffing the air hungrily, muttering the magic rime he had learned from his mother, wicked Suyettar:

“Fee, fi, fo, fum!

I smell some yum, yum!

I’ll fall on him with a thud!

I’ll pick his bones and drink his blood!

Fee,fi, fo, fum! Yum! Yum!”

“Stop boasting!” Six Bottles cried. “You will have time enough to boast after you fight!”

“Fight?” repeated the serpent scornfully. “Shall we fight, little one, you and I? Very well! Blow then with your sweet breath, blow out a long level platform of white silver whereon we can meet and try our strength one with the other.”

“No,” answered Six Bottles. “You blow instead, and let it be a platform of red copper,”

Elegant! Unlike the poetry!

So the serpent blew and on the copper platform that came of his breath Six Bottles met him in combat. Back and forth they raged, Six Bottles striking left and right with his mighty sword, the serpent hitting at Six Bottles with every one of his six scaly heads and belching forth fire and smoke from all his mouths. Six Bottles whacked off one head, then another, then another. At last he had disposed of five heads. He tried hard to strike the last, but by this time the serpent had grown wary and Six Bottles’ own strength was waning. So he reached down and took one of his shoes and threw it over his shoulder back to his comrades who were awaiting the outcome of the struggle. At once they loosed the dog which bounded forward to its master’s assistance. Soon, with the dog’s help Six Bottles was able to dispatch the last head.

These are awesome dogs. My beagle would bay hysterically, wet himself, and the best I could hope for is that one of the heads would choke to death on him.

Then I’d be sad. And no amount of head-scratches would help.

Then his comrades led him, weary from the fight, to the old woman’s hut, and soon he fell asleep.

While he slept, the moon appeared in the sky and a great cry of relief and thanksgiving went up from all the world, “The moon! The moon! God bless the man who has released the moon!”

The king was awakened by the sound and looked out the castle window. When he saw the moon had returned to its place in the sky, his eyes overflowed with grief. “My poor second daughter!” he cried. “It was my sacrifice of her that has released the moon! Tomorrow morning I will send the servants to gather up her bones and to bring back the leather sack into which, alas! I must then sew my youngest daughter for the nine-headed serpent. Ai! Ai! Ai! How sad it is to be a father!”


But on the morrow when the servants went to the rock they found the second princess sitting there alone gazing down on the scattered fragments of the six-headed serpent.

“Here she is, safe and sound!” they reported to the king as they led the second princess to him. And, marvel of marvels! on the beach below the rock lies the body of the six-headed serpent torn to pieces! Its heads, king, are so monstrous that six men with derricks could scarcely move one of them!”

Derricks? Where’d they get derricks? Is this an oil rich country?

“God be praised!” the king cried. “Another unknown hero has come and saved the life of my second child! Would that a third might come tonight and rescue my youngest child! Alas, she is dearer to me than both the others,

We are standing RIGHT HERE, Dad.

but I fear me that even if there be heroes who could dispatch the first two serpents, there is never one who can touch him of the nine heads that holds the mighty sun a captive!”

And the poor king wept, so sure was he that nothing could save the life of his youngest child.

When Log and his companions heard of the king’s grief, Log at once stood forth and said, “This last and mightiest battle is for me!” He opened the strong waters and drank bottle after bottle till he had emptied nine. “Now let night come as soon as it will!” he cried. “I am ready for the monster!”

Log has a liver made of oak and is thus only slightly tipsy.

He started forth, telling his comrades he would throw back a shoe if he needed help from his dog.

So it was Log himself who slashed open the sack for the third time and released the youngest princess who was much more beautiful than her sisters. She fell in love with the mighty hero on first sight and was so thrilled with his godlike beauty

Hang on, when did he go from loglike to godlike? Nobody mentioned that Log was a studmuffin. We covered good, strong, kind and gentle, but nobody said he was pretty.

that when he put his head in her lap she hardly knew what to do–

It’s okay, baby. True Log Waits.

–although her father always declared that she scratched his head much better than either of her sisters.

Oh god, no. Just no. I don’t even know what….no. Just…ewww. I mean, it’s a sad day when the BEST possible explanation is headlice.

They had not long to wait for soon all the sea was a glitter with the swirls of the ninefold monster who was coming to shore with the captive sun in his keeping.

“Wait for me behind the rock!” Log cried to the princess as he leapt on his horse and started forward. “Be careful!” the princess cried after him.

Nearer and nearer came the swirls of the nine-coiled monster. One after another of his nine heads rose and fell as he approached, and every head sniffed more hungrily as it came nearer, and each head rumbled as it sniffed,

“Fee, fi, fo, fum!

I smell some yum, yum!

I’ll fall on him with a thud!

I’ll pick his bones and drink his blood!

Fee,fi, fo, fum! Yum! Yum!”

Does Log even have blood? What is the serpent smelling, anyway? Sap?

Is this actually an extemporaneous song about what the serpent is experiencing, or is this the monster equivalent of the football fight song? Does our side get a fight song?

Log, Log, he’s our log!

If he can’t do it, we’ll send in the dog!

“Stop boasting!” Log cried. “You will have time enough to boast after you fight!”

“Fight?” roared the awful monster. “Shall we fight, poor infant, you and I? Very well! Then blow out a long level platform of shining gold. On it, we can meet and try our strength each with the other!”

“No!” Log answered. “You blow. And instead of shining gold we shall have a platform of white silver.”

So the monster blew and on the silver platform that came of his breath Log met him in combat. Back and forth they raged, Log striking right and left with his mighty sword, the serpent hitting at Log with all his nine scaly heads and belching forth fire and smoke from all his nine mouths. Log whacked off head after head until six lay gaping on the sand. But the last three he could not get.

Suddenly he pointed behind the serpent and cried, “Quick! Quick! The sun!”

Log is surprisingly cunning for a were-tree.

The serpent looked around and Log whacked off a head. Now only two remained, but try as he would Log could get neither of them. Again he tried a subterfuge.

“Your wife! See, over there, they’re abusing her!”

The monster looked and Log whacked off another head.

Wait–hang on–time out. This is…actually, that’s sort of not-cool of Log, and sort of sweet of the serpent to go “What? Where? Honey! Are you okay?” This is the only even remotely nice thing we see out of a serpent, and y’know, it puts them in a whole new light, really.

But one now remained and as usual it was the hardest of them all to get. Log felt his strength waning while the monster seemed more nimble than ever.

“I shall have to have help,” Log thought.

He threw back his shoe to his comrades and they at once loosed his dog.

He’s very reluctant to call in the dog. I suppose when you’re a were-tree, you have a different sort of relationship to dogs and their…habits.

With the dog’s help Log was soon able to dispatch the last head. Then Three Bottles and Six Bottles helped him off his horse and supported him to the old woman’s hut where he soon fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning the blessed sun rose at his proper time and people all over the world fell on their knees with thanksgiving, and weeping with joy they cried out, “The sun! The sun! God bless the man who has released the sun!”

At the castle they woke up the king with the good news but the king only shook his head and murmured in grief, “Yes, the sun is released but what do I care now that my youngest daughter has been sacrificed!”

Hello? Two living daughters over here! And the farmers in the kingdom are probably pretty happy about that photosynthesis thing happening again.

He dispatched the servants to gather up her bones. They returned bringing the princess herself and telling a marvelous tale of the beach littered with nine severed heads so huge that it would need nine men with derricks to move one of them.

“What manner of heroes are these who have rescued my daughters!” cried the king. “Let them come forth and I will give them my daughters for wives and half my riches for dowry! But they will have to prove themselves the actual heroes by bringing to the castle the heavy heads of the monsters they have slain.”

When Log and his fellows heard this, they laughed with happiness and, strengthening themselves with deep draughts of the strong waters, they gathered together the many heads of the mighty serpents, bore them to the castle, and piled them up at the king’s feet. Then Log stepped forward and said: “Here we are, come to claim our reward!”

Three-Bottles and Six-Bottles were staggering a bit and thought it was best to let Log talk.

The king, true to his promise, gave them his daughters in marriage, the oldest to Three Bottles, the second to Six Bottles, and the youngest to Log. Then he apportioned them the half of his riches and, after much feasting and merrymaking, the heroes took their brides and their riches and bidding the king farewell started homewards.

As they rode through a great forest, they sighted a tiny hut. Log motioned his comrades to wait for him quietly, as he crept forward to see who was in the hut. It was well he was cautious for inside the hut was Suyettar herself talking to two other old hags.

The most impressive thing about this is that the old woman didn’t have to tell him to do it.

“Ay,” she was saying, “they have slain my three beautiful sons, my mighty offspring that held captive the sun and the moon and the dawn! But I tell you, sisters, they will pay the penalty. . . .”

To hear better, Log changed himself into a piece of firewood and slipping inside the hut hid himself in the woodpile near the stove.

Holy crap, TIME OUT AGAIN.

I was mostly joking about the were-wood thing! You’re telling me that in addition to godlike beauty, all around boy-scoutness, he can turn himself into firewood?

This is…potentially a rather dangerous talent, now that I think of it. “Hey, Martha, throw another log on the–Oh! Log! I didn’t realize you were…hiding in the woodpile…like a weirdo…”

We do not learn nearly enough of Log’s childhood. Did he hide in the woodpile to avoid spankings? Did he turn into firewood on the playground when embarrassed? This is rich story territory, people!

“Ay, they will pay the penalty!” Suyettar repeated. “I shall have my revenge on them! A fine supper Suyettar shall soon have, yum, yum!

I’ll fall on them with a thud!

I’ll pick their bones and drink their blood!

Fools, fools, to think they can escape Suyettar’s anger!”

Hey, that didn’t rhyme…

“But sister, sister,” the two old hags asked, “how will you get them?”

Suyettar looked this way and that to make sure that no one was listening.

Nobody suspects…the firewood!

Then she whispered, “This is how I shall get them: As they come through this forest, the three men with their brides, I. shall send on them a terrible hunger. Then they shall come suddenly on a table spread with tempting food. One bite of that food and they are in my power, he-he! Ay, sisters, tonight Suyettar will have a fine supper! Nothing can save them unless, before they touch the food, someone make the sign of the moss three times over the table. Then table and food would disappear and also the ravening hunger. But even if that happens, Suyettar shall still get them!”

“How, sister, how?” the other two asked.

“Then I should send on them consuming thirst, and then put in their pathway a spring of cold sparkling water. One drop of that water and they are in my power, he-he! Nothing can save them from me unless, before their lips touch the water, someone make the sign of the bark three times over the spring. At that the spring would disappear and also their thirst.

But even if they escape the spring, I shall still get them. I shall send great heaviness on them and a longing for sleep, then let them come on a row of soft inviting feather beds. If they cast themselves on the beds, they are mine, he-he! to feast on as I will! Nothing can save them but that someone make the sign of the tree-top three times over the beds before they touch them.

Oh, sisters, I shall get them one way or another for there is no one to warn them. If there was anyone to warn them, he wouldn’t dare tell them what he knows, for he would also know that if he told them he would himself be turned into a blue cross and have to stand forever in the cemetery.”

There is a lot to digest here.

What are the sign of the moss, bark, and tree? And what a novel punishment that last is. Suyettar is certainly novel.

As Log knew now all the dangers that threatened, he slipped away from the woodpile and, when he was outside, took his own shape and hurried back to his comrades.

…this seems to imply that he can move as firewood.

The mind boggles. Are little barky bits wiggling along like millipede legs? Is he hopping? Is he rolling down stairs and over the neighbor’s dog?

“Away!” he cried. “We are in great danger!” They all spurred their horses and rode swiftly on until Three Bottles suddenly cried, “Hold, comrades, hold! I am faint with hunger!”

“Me, too!” cried Six Bottles.

At that instant a great table, laden with delicious food, appeared before them.

“Look!” cried the one of them.

“Food!” cried the other.

They flung themselves from their horses and ran towards the table; But quick as they were, Log was quicker. He reached the table first and, raising his hand, made the sign of the moss three times. The table disappeared as suddenly as it had come and with it the strange hunger that had but now consumed them.

Sign of the moss. Still baffled. I am wavering between crossing oneself and shining the Moss-signal over Gotham. “He’ll be here as soon as he can, Commissioner! Which is about an inch a season, unless we treat the Joker with buttermilk!”

“Strange!” Three Bottles exclaimed. “I thought I was hungry, but I’m not!”

“I thought I saw food just now,” Six Bottles said. “I must have been dreaming.”

So they mounted again and pushed on.

“Danger threatens us,” said Log. “We must hurry and not dismount no matter what the temptation.”

They agreed, but then one of them cried out, and then the other, “Water! Water! We shall soon perish unless we have water!”

At once by the wayside appeared a spring of cool sparkling water and it was all Log could do to reach it before his fellows. He did get there first and made the sign of the bark three times, so that the spring disappeared and with it the thirst which had but now consumed them all.

“I thought I was thirsty,” Three Bottles said, “but I’m not!”

“Why did we dismount?” Six Bottles asked. “There’s no water here.”

So again they mounted and went forward, and Log, warning them again that danger threatened, begged them not to dismount a third time no matter what the temptation.

They promised they would not, but soon, complaining of fatigue, they wanted to. Their brides, too, swayed in the saddle, overcome with weariness and sleep.

“Dear Log,” they said, “let us rest for an hour. See, our brides are drooping with fatigue! One hour’s sleep and we shall all be refreshed!”

At once beside them on the forest floor they saw three soft white feather beds. Log leaped to the ground, but before he was able to make the sign of the tree-top over more than one of the beds, his comrades and their brides had fallen headlong on the other two.

And that was the end of poor Three Bottles and Six Bottles and their two lovely brides. There was no way now of saving them from Suyettar. She had them in her power and nothing would induce her to give them up.

Well, that was abrupt and depressing.

I hope they slept peacefully and dreamed of head scratches.

As Log and his bride sadly mounted their horse and rode on they heard an evil voice chanting out in triumph, “I’ll fall on them with a thud, he-he! I’ll pick their bones and drink their blood, he-he!”

…doesn’t bode well. I note that he doesn’t even try to fix it, though—nope, not happening, very sad, time to go home, I guess. Clearly Suyettar was a tough customer.

“Poor fellows! Poor fellows!” Log said, and the princess wept to think of the awful fate that had overtaken her two sisters.

Well, Log and his bride reached home without further adventure and were received by the king with great honors.

“I knew my heroes were succeeding,” the king said, “when first the dawn appeared again, and then the moon, and last the mighty sun. All hail to you, Log, and to your two comrades! But, by the way, where are Three Bottles and Six Bottles?”

“Your Majesty,” Log said, “Three Bottles and Six Bottles were brave men both. By their prowess they released the one the dawn, the other the moon. Then in an evil adventure on the way home they perished. I can tell you no more.”

“You can tell me no more?” the king said. “Why can you tell me no more? What was the evil adventure in which they perished?”

“If I told you, king, then I, too, should perish, for I should be turned into a blue cross and stood forever in the cemetery!”

“What nonsense!” the king exclaimed. “Who would turn you into a blue cross and stand you forever in the cemetery?”

“That is what I cannot tell you,” Log said.

The king laughed and pressed Log no further,

Ha ha, everybody else is dead and the god-like heroic kind gentle beautiful strong sexy hunk of were-firewood is depressed and appears sworn to silence! I’m so amused!

but the people of the kingdom, scenting a mystery, insisted on knowing in detail what had happened the other two heroes. So the rumor began to spread that Log himself had done away with them in order that he might gather to himself all the glory of the undertaking.

I guess maybe everybody didn’t love Log.

The king was forced at last to send for him again and to demand a full account of everything.

Log realized that his end was near. He met it bravely. Commending to the king’s protection his lovely princess, Log related how the three mighty serpents whom they had killed were sons of Suyettar, and how in revenge Suyettar had succeeded in destroying Three Bottles and Six Bottles together with their brides. Then he told the fate about to overtake himself.

Oh god, it really is Old Yeller!

“He’s my log, ma. I’ll do it.”

He finished speaking and as the king and the court looked at him, to their amazement he disappeared.

Log, nooo!

“To the cemetery!” someone cried.

They all went to the cemetery where at once they found a fresh blue cross that had come there nobody knew how. There it stands to this day, a reminder of the life and deeds of the mighty hero Log.

*sniffle* I hope they put up a nice plaque, the jerks.

The king was overcome with sorrow at losing such a hero. He took Log’s bride under his protection and he found her so beautiful and so gentle that soon he fell in love with her and married her.

Ah…huh. How nice for her. I’m sure that wasn’t awkward at all.

Well. It was no twenty-four-headed otter tale, perhaps, but if you had told me that the most sympathetic hero we’d find in a long time was a piece of sentient firewood, I…would probably have believed you, actually. But still. Nooo! Log! We hardly knew ye!

Clearly Log needs to be resurrected in fan-fic. Dr. Who crossover, maybe. My Little Log. Team Log! LOGS DO NOT SPARKLE. THEY ARE TOO MANLY TO SPARKLE AND ALSO THEY ARE LOGS.

…still kinda weirded out by the head-scratching thing, though.

The Glass Mountain And The Sensible Child

…and then one day she realized that her life was not wonderful. That she was miserable. That people were being cruel to her, and when she said something, she was told to be grateful that she had friends that cared about her enough to treat her so cruelly for her own good.

It probably won’t surprise you, my dear, to learn that she got angry.

Yes, indeed, she did. And the person that she got angry with was herself—


But this happens a great deal, you know.

Ah. You are a sensible child, I see.  Well, perhaps she was not so sensible. And it is not so unreasonable, you know. If you get angry at other people, there is often a great deal of yelling and fighting. Our heroine hated yelling, and she cried when she was angry.

(Though I do hear that goes away with menopause—


Oh. Ask your mother. I am sure that she will be happy to explain it to such a sensible child.)

At any rate, it is a great deal easier to be angry with yourself. There is less yelling. And you do not have any of the excuses that you can invent for other people—that maybe they didn’t know, or had bad childhoods, or were badly frightened by spiders when they were small.

I am afraid you will simply have to trust me on this one.

Well. I could tell you a great many stories that fit inside this one, but it would take a long time. There are stories we tell ourselves, you know, about how lucky we are and how much worse off other people are. There are people dying right now in camps strung with barbed wire, and how can anyone feel sorry for themselves by comparison? At least you’re not dead and everything mostly works and nobody makes you eat maggots on toast.

Yes, it is a great deal like eating your vegetables because children are starving somewhere. Other people’s misery is supposed to be some kind of garnish to improve the taste, I suppose. I was never entirely clear on how that worked.

Seems a bit ghoulish, doesn’t it?


There were days when our heroine stood on street corners and thought “Someday, I will leave,” and felt nothing at all. And there were days when she curled into a ball on the couch and ached, and there were days she went along with everything because she was so afraid that this was the best it could be and no one else would ever want her again.

Am I talking about her job or her husband?

Well, yes.

When you love something, it has its fingers wrapped around your heart, whatever it may be. You’ll learn that soon, if you haven’t already.

I am afraid that being sensible will not help you much with that.

At any rate. Eventually things move on. All the brave knights ride at the glass mountain until they get to the top or get tired of sliding down the sides and go home to their mothers or lovers or cats.

I would like to tell you that the heroine got fed up and got angry with people who deserved it. It’s a better story that way, certainly. Would you like her to have a silver sword and cut the heads off her enemies?

I would, too. Let’s pretend that’s what happened.

But you cannot cut your own head off with a silver sword—no, you can’t. I see you trying to work out the mechanics. Trust me on this one—oh, fine. But it requires pulleys, all right?

At any rate, you are still left alone, at the end, with the person that you are in the habit of being mad at.

I know, I know.

Perhaps it will please you to know that in time, she got tired of sliding down that glass mountain, too. She stopped thinking of all the times when she should have stood up and said “Enough! No more!” and walked away—from her job, from her lover, from people who claimed to be friends—and getting angry at herself for not standing up.

And she stopped thinking “At least it’s not maggots on toast.”

Instead she thought “That was horrible, and that poor girl didn’t deserve it. Even if it was me.”

And a long time later, when she could hardly see the glass mountain in the distance any more, she thought “Goodness, if I lived through all that, I must be very stubborn and tough as nails to boot.”

And she stopped worrying about all the times she curled up on the couch and cried and started thinking about all the times she got up afterwards and splashed water on her face and went on, because work still had to do be done and art still had to be made and somebody always has to feed the cat and count out the till and turn off the lights at the end of the day.

She thought “At least I always got up again.” And she began to think rather tenderly of her younger self, as someone who was not terribly bright, perhaps, but who kept getting up again, and who had eventually turned her back on glass mountains.

Her silver sword? Well, she hung it up over the doorway. If you’ve got a silver sword, after all, it’s no good if you don’t know where it is so that you can get to it.

She met quite a few people who knew about glass mountains, too. She loved some of them very much, and she was mostly patient with the ones who kept throwing themselves at the sides of their own glass mountains, although not that patient, because some memories still made her tired.

An end? Well, I don’t know the end yet. She hasn’t died, you know. And hardly anyone lives happily ever after, unless they have one of those wires in their brains—on second thought, let’s not talk about that.



I could make one up, I suppose. We don’t really have a convenient villain to dance in red-hot iron boots….

No. We are not taking nominations.

Let’s have pie. I think pie would be a good end to this story, don’t you?

See, I knew you were a sensible child.

Annotated Fairy Tales: Two Cinderellas

Hey, gang!

Time for yet another installment of Ursula Comments On Peculiar Fairy Tales. This time, since they’re both short, we’re doing two versions of Cinderella. One is Greek and one is from Georgia (Not the one with Atlanta.) They both have some very odd moments, but since neither is very long, it’d be a short commentary of either one on their own.


Little Saddleslut

And hey, let’s just stop right here for “Is that a helluva title or what?” Good heavens.


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

I will hand it to the Greek storytellers here that they did not mess around getting to the weird plot point. No “Once upon a time in a land far far away…” no marital history of some poor woodcutter, just bam! Cannibalism right out of the gate. I can only assume that very easily distracted children were involved, and if you didn’t have a hook in under two seconds, they’d go tie explosives to the cow.

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

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

You’d think Mom would be a little more careful, given the context, or, I dunno, excuse herself to go visit relatives that were less…predatory.

“Ah, well!” said they, “let us eat her now!”

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

Mom is still curiously silent during this whole exchange.

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

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

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

This has got to be some kind of translation thing, or else it was normal among the Greek peasantry to have a saddle laying around the house being crapped on by the chickens. Lacking any context, I’m picturing a big Western one, but I suspect something like a sawhorse might be more accurate.

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

Well, that was delicious. Time to go to the mall!

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

Apparently it’s hereditary. If my sisters were cannibals and had left town for the moment, I would grab the money and run like hell. Raiment like unto the heavens and the stars will buy a pretty good horse, and hey, you’ve already got a saddle!

Yes, yes, I know, it’s like “Why didn’t the Eagles take the Ring to Mt. Doom?” Because then there wouldn’t be a story. Moving on.

Afterwards her sisters came and found her sitting on the saddle, and jeered at her. On Sunday her sisters went to church;

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I killed and ate my mother following a rash of spindle-dropping. How many Our Fathers is that, exactly?

then she, too, arose; she washed and attired herself, putting on the garment that was as the heavens with the stars, and went to church, taking with her a few gold pieces in her purse. When she went into the church all the people were amazed, and could not gaze upon her by reason of the brightness of her garments. When she left the church, the people followed her to see whither she went. Then she filled her hand with money from her bag and cast it in the way, and so she kept throwing it down all the way she went, so that they might not get near her. Then the crowd scrambled for the coins, and left her alone.

This trick also works in Assassin’s Creed.

And straightway she went into her house, and changed her clothes, and put on her old things, and sat down upon the saddle.

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

“You are welcome to what you picked up; I don’t want it,” said she.

Next Sunday they went to church again, and she did the same. Then they went another Sunday, and just as she was flinging the money, she lost her shoe among the crowd, and left it behind her.

Now the king’s son was following her, but could not catch her, and only found her shoe. Then said he to himself, “Whose ever foot this shoe exactly fits, without being either too large or too small, I will take her for my wife.”

The shoe definitely comes up a lot.

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

I’m…torn. On the one hand, they’re cannibals and did stick her with that nickname. On the other hand, this is possibly the only Cinderella story I’ve ever read where the sisters try to get the heroine to try on the shoe, apparently without any malice.

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

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

“Do not make fun of me,” she says.

However she went down, and when the prince saw her, he knew the shoe was hers, and said to her, “Do you try on the shoe.”

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

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

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

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

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

Danae? Is that you?

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

So the princess was left alone, and heard the wolves howling, and the swine and the lions–

I will admit that wild swine can be rather dangerous, but I have to think that if you have wolves and lions, the swine are maybe just as nervous as you are.

–and she sat and wept and prayed to God, “Oh God, give me a little hole in the ground that I may hide my head in it, and not hear the wild beasts,” and he gave her one.

Is it just me, or is this essentially “Oh god, make me an ostrich!”

Again she said, “Oh God, give me one a little larger, that I may get in up to my waist.”

And he gave her one. And she besought him again a third time, and he gave her a cabin with all that she wanted in it; and there she dwelt, and whatever she said, her bidding was done forthwith.

Hole…slightly bigger hole…enchanted cabin that responds to voice commands! Either holes were much nicer back then, or this escalated REALLY quickly. Then again, maybe God was just annoyed by all that beating around the bush.

GOD: Stop asking! Just tell me what you want the first time! I AM A BUSY DEITY!

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

Useful if you worry that you’ve swallowed a fork.

One day the prince came into the wilderness to hunt, and seeing the cabin he went to find out who was inside; and when he got there he knocked at the door.

And she saw him and knew him from afar, and said, “Who is knocking at the door?”

“It is I, let me in,” said he.

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

“Good day to you,” said he.

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

Nothin’ creepy about that at all. I’m sure the prince wasn’t unsettled in the slightest.

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

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

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

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

Were I somewhat younger, I might picture the singing table service in Beauty and the Beast, but being me, I just went straight to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

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

“Yes I have.” “Spoons, are you all there?”

“All,” they said, except one which said “I am in the prince’s shoe.”

When confronted with singing silverware, I know my first instinct is always to cram it into my boots.

Then she cried again, as though she had not heard, “Are you all there, spoons and forks?”

And as soon as the prince heard her he got rid of it on the sly and blushed.

And she said to him “Why did you blush? Don’t be afraid. I am your wife.”

I have learned to accept your minor bouts of kleptomania as normal.

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

 Short and to the point, although I do like that ending vs. ‘happily ever after.’
Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl


There was and there was not, there was a miserable peasant.

Now that’s a marvelous opening. Okay, not as rapid as the cannibalism, but still elegantly phrased.

He had a wife and a little daughter. So poor was this peasant that his daughter was called Conkiajgharuna (Little Rag Girl).

Some time passed, and his wife died. He was unhappy before, but now a greater misfortune had befallen him. He grieved and grieved, and at last he said to himself, “I will go and take another wife; she will mind the house, and tend my orphan child.” So he arose and took a second wife, but this wife brought with her a daughter of her own. When this woman came into her husband’s house and saw his child, she was angry in heart.

She treated Little Rag Girl badly. She petted her own daughter, but scolded her stepdaughter, and tried to get rid of her. Every day she gave her a piece of badly cooked bread, and sent her out to watch the cow, saying, “Here is a loaf; eat of it, give to every wayfarer, and bring the loaf home whole.” The girl went, and felt very miserable.

That’s awesome. I am much impressed with some of the phrasing in this one.

Once she was sitting sadly in the field, and began to weep bitterly. The cow listened, and then opened its mouth, and said, “Why are you weeping? What troubles you?” The girl told her sad tale. The cow said, “In one of my horns is honey, and in the other is butter, which you can take if you want to, so why be unhappy?”

…sort of wondering about the mechanics of this. Do the horns unscrew? Are they hinged? Do you squeeze them out like ketchup bottles?

The girl took the butter and the honey, and in a short time she grew plump. When the stepmother noticed this she did not know what to do for rage. She rose, and after that every day she gave her a basket of wool with her; this wool was to be spun and brought home in the evening finished. The stepmother wished to tire the girl out with toil, so that she should grow thin and ugly.

Once when Little Rag Girl was tending the cow, it ran away onto a roof. [In some parts of the Caucasus the houses of the peasantry are built in the ground, and it is quite possible to walk onto a roof unwittingly. (Note by Wardrop)]

(Thank you, translator note! If I haven’t mentioned, these are both from the marvelous Folktales collection at University of Pittsburgh, and this particular one is attributed to Marjory Wardrop, collected in 1894.)

She pursued it, and wished to drive it back to the road, but she dropped her spindle on the roof. Looking inside she saw an old woman seated, and said to her, “Good mother, will you give me my spindle?”

The old dame replied, “I am not able, my child, come and take it yourself.” The old woman was a devi.

Checking around on-line, the best comparison I can find of ‘devi’ in this context is “ogress.” They’re generally portrayed as evil, but I’m gonna guess that this one is somewhat like Baba Yaga—not exactly GOOD, but rewarding quick thinkers. If any native speakers or people with knowledge of Georgian mythology have a more nuanced explanation, please comment!

The girl went in and was lifting up her spindle, when the old dame called out, “Daughter, daughter, come and look at my head a moment. I am almost eaten up.”

The girl came and looked at her head. She was filled with horror; all the worms in the earth seemed to be crawling there.

Eww, eww, eww!

The little girl stroked her head and removed some, and then said, “You have a clean head. Why should I look at it?”

This is possibly the only Cinderella that has done anything pretty darn awesome. Most of them are awfully passive and just cry on their parent’s bones a lot. This one gets right in there and starts pulling out head worms. You go, Little Rag Girl!

This conduct pleased the old woman very much, and she said, “When you leave here, go along such and such a road, and in a certain place you will see three springs — one white, one black, and one yellow. Pass by the white and black, and put your head in the yellow and rinse it with your hands.”

The girl did this. She went on her way, and came to the three springs. She passed by the white and black, and bathed her head with her hands in the yellow fountain. When she looked up she saw that her hair was quite golden, and her hands, too, shone like gold.

I’m sure the devi meant well, but I don’t know if I’d want to go around with gold hands. At best it’d be odd, at worst you might get somebody with an axe and a mercenary streak. (God knows, it won’t be the first time in these stories…)

In the evening, when she went home, her stepmother was filled with fury. After this she sent her own daughter with the cow. Perhaps the same good fortune would visit her!

So Little Rag Girl stayed at home while her stepsister drove out the cow. Once more the cow ran onto the roof. The girl pursued it, and her spindle fell down. She looked in, and seeing the devi woman, called out, “Dog of an old woman! Here! Come and give me my spindle!”

The old woman replied, “I am not able, child, come and take it yourself.” When the girl came near, the old woman said, “Come, child, and look at my head.”

The girl came and looked at her head, and cried out, “Ugh! What a horrid head you have! You are a disgusting old woman!”

The old woman said, “I thank you, my child; when you go on your way you will see a yellow, a white, and a black spring. Pass by the yellow and the white springs, and rinse your head with your hands in the black one.”

The girl did this. She passed by the yellow and white springs, and bathed her head in the black once. When she looked at herself she was black as an African, and on her head there was a horn. She cut it off again and again, but it grew larger and larger.

We will pause now to gaze out the window and think dark thoughts about the racism of fairy tales, and of Georgians in the 1890s. Seriously, people, that’s practically modern-day. Get with the enlightenment, Georgia!

Horn’s kinda neat, though. I wonder if there’s honey and butter in it?

She went home and complained to her mother, who was almost frenzied, but there was no help for it. Her mother said to herself, “This is all the cow’s fault, so it shall be killed.”

I am not sure how she made the logical jump here. Wouldn’t you go yell at the worm-woman?

This cow knew the future.

Oh, for god’s sake, seriously? You had a talking prognosticating cow and you wasted all this story on an evil stepsister and a woman with poor scalp hygiene? How does the cow tell the future? Why didn’t it mosey off before this happened? Why didn’t it and Little Rag Girl hit the carnival circuit as Miss Ragolinda And Her Amazing Bovine Oracle?

When it learned that it was to be killed, it went to Little Rag Girl and said, “When I am dead, gather my bones together and bury them in the earth. When you are in trouble come to my grave, and cry aloud, ‘Bring my steed and my royal robes!'” Little Rag Girl did exactly as the cow had told her. When it was dead she took its bones and buried them in the earth.

I would just like to point out that a cow skeleton is a big thing. And I have a hard time digging a big enough hole to plant a rosebush. Little Rag Girl did some serious shovel work to get that cow in the ground.

After this, some time passed. One holiday the stepmother took her daughter, and they went to church. She placed a trough in front of Little Rag Girl, spread a large measure of millet in the courtyard, and said, “Before we come home from church fill this trough with tears, and gather up this millet, so that not one grain is left.” Then they went to church.

Little Rag Girl sat down and began to weep. While she was crying a neighbor came in a said, “Why are you in tears? What is the matter?” The little girl told her tale. The woman brought all the brood hens and chicken, and they picked up every grain of millet, then she put a lump of salt in the trough and poured water over it. “There, child,” said she, “there are your tears! Now go and enjoy yourself.”

I love this neighbor. Most heroines require having saved ants or sparrows or something to get this kind of effect.

Little Rag Girl then thought of the cow. She went to its grave and called out, “Bring me my steed and my royal robes!” There appeared at once a horse and beautiful clothes. Little Rag Girl put on the garments, mounted the horse, and went to the church.

There all the folk began to stare at her. They were amazed at her grandeur. Her stepsister whispered to her mother when she saw her, “This girl is very much like our Little Rag Girl!”

Her mother smiled scornfully and said, “Who would give that sun darkener such robes?”

Point one for the stepsister. I wonder if she’s still got horns?

Little Rag Girl left the church before anyone else; she changed her clothes in time to appear before her stepmother in rags. On the way home, as she was leaping over a stream, in her haste she let her slipper fall in.

A long time passed. Once when the king’s horses were drinking water in this stream, they saw the shining slipper and were so afraid that they would drink no more water. The king was told that there was something shining in the stream, and that the horses were afraid.

…okay, “the fairest lady in the world dropped this shoe” is one thing, but, “and the horses are petrified!” is something else again.

The king commanded his divers to find out what it was.

Naturally he had divers! Part of any good royal household. You’ve got the butler, the food taster, the ladies-in-waiting, and the royal divers.

They found the golden slipper, and presented it to the king. When he saw it, he commanded his viziers, saying, “Go and seek the owner of this slipper, for I will wed none but her.” His viziers sought the maiden, but they could find no one whom the slipper would fit.

Little Rag Girl’s mother heard this, adorned her daughter, and placed her on a throne.

You know, one of the thrones you keep in the cupboard for a special occasion.

Then she went and told the king that she had a daughter whose foot he might look at. It was exactly the model for the shoe. She put Little Rag Girl in a corner, with a big basket over her. When the king came into the house he sat down on the basket, in order to try on the slipper.

Little Rag Girl took a needle and pricked the king from under the basket. He jumped up, stinging with pain, and asked the stepmother what she had under the basket. The stepmother replied, “It is only a turkey I have there.”

You know, one of those new-fangled needle turkeys. We crossed them with porcupines so they could eat tree bark. Tasty, but you have to be really careful plucking them.

The king sat down on the basket again, and Little Rag Girl again stuck the needle into him. The king jumped up, and cried out, “Lift the basket. I will see underneath!”

The stepmother pleaded with him, saying, “Do not blame me, your majesty, it is only a turkey, and it will run away.”

It’ll kill us all! You wouldn’t believe the range of a needle-turkey’s quills! And the gobbling! The horrible buck-toothed gobbling!

But the king would not listen to her pleas. He lifted the basket up, and Little Rag Girl came forth, and said, “This slipper is mine, and fits me well.” She sat down, and the king found that it was indeed a perfect fit. Little Rag Girl became the king’s wife, and her shameless stepmother was left with a dry throat.

While it lacks the oomph of “And they exploded into pebbles!” I have to say that that last is a kind of nice touch. Nobody gets killed or hacked to pieces or pushed off cliffs in barrels full of unpleasantness, but ‘left with a dry throat’ definitely leaves you with a sense of chagrin.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Deer Prince

We could probably all use a laugh today, and hopefully y’all aren’t sick of these yet…

Big thanks to reader Persephone_Kore for sending a link to this one (and a couple others I still need to check out, too!)

This one is short and sweet, and has a nice twist on some of the standard themes. It’s apparently from something called “The Danish Fairy Book.”


The Deer Prince

THERE was once a widower and a widow, who married each other. Now each of them had a daughter; but the daughter of the widower was lovely to look on, while the daughter of the widow was very homely. And the wife was jealous of her husband’s daughter because she was so much fairer than her own. Early and late her thoughts turned on how she might harm her, and she treated her very harshly.

Now her husband was away from home nearly every day, from morning till evening, and since he was never at home he did not notice how his daughter was treated.

Wicked stepmother, check. Ugly stepsister, check. Oblivious father, check.

One evening, after the door was locked and all had gone to bed, there was a knock at the door. The woman told her daughter to go and open the door, and see who was outside. This the daughter had no mind to do, but the woman insisted, and then the husband’s daughter offered to go to the door; but this did not suit the woman at all, and she insisted that her daughter go. So the girl went and drew the bolt, and there at the door stood a great antlered deer, or something of the sort.

I begin to suspect that the storyteller is not taking this entirely seriously. “It was a giant deer, or something. Might’ve been a dragon. Or a chicken. No, probably a deer. Something like that, anyway. I might remember specifics if someone gave me a beer.”

She picked up a broomstick and was about to beat the animal, but it at once disappeared. Then she went in again and told her mother what it had been. At night of the following day, after the door had been bolted, there was another knock, and this time the woman’s daughter did not dare to go down and draw the bolt, so the husband’s daughter had to do it. When she had unbolted the door she saw the deer standing outside, and she said to him: “Where do you come from, you poor fellow?”

“Little girl, mount on my back!”

Nothing sketchy about this, no sir!

No, that she would not do, said the girl, for it would be a shame, since the poor fellow had enough to do to carry himself. Well, she could not go along with him in any other way, replied the deer. So she climbed on his back, since she did not want to stay at home, and he ran off with her.

…walking next to him was right out?

They came to a meadow, and the deer said to her: “How would it be for us to enjoy this pretty spot together some time?” But the girl could not imagine how that could possibly come to pass or what it would be like.

I smell a euphemism!

Then they reached a wood, and here, too, the deer said, “How would it be for us to take a pleasant walk together in this beautiful wood some time?” But she could not imagine such a thing.

Two! Two euphemisms! Seriously, imagining a walk in the woods is very easy unless you’re imagining a “walk” in the “woods” with a “giant antlered deer or something of the sort” if you catch my drift. (Feel free to add nudges and winks as appropriate.)

At last they came to an enormous castle. The deer led her into it, and told her that she was to live there all alone; but that her every wish would be granted, and she could make her own plans for passing the time in whatever way she preferred. He would return to visit her before long. Yet there was one place in the castle which she must avoid: a place where there were three doors, one of wood, one of copper and one of iron. Under no consideration was she to unlock them but he thought to himself, that at the very first chance she would be quite certain to do what he had forbidden.

Oh my god, I love this deer. Seriously, in the history of fairy tales, how did it take until a Danish megaceros to understand human nature?

So she killed time all that day, quite alone as she was, until nightfall, and the following morning she began to look around. And she felt a great desire to open the iron door, and could not resist it and opened it.

I am shocked. Simply shocked.

There stood two men who were stirring a kettle of tar with bare hands and arms. She asked them why they were stirring with bare hands and arms, and they replied that they had no choice, but must do so until a Christian soul gave them something else with which to stir their tar. So the girl took a hatchet, chopped out a couple of flat wooden paddles, and gave them to the men to stir with.

The day passed, and night came, and the following morning she heard a great noise in the courtyard of the castle. Men were running about everywhere, grooms feeding the horses, and servants polishing the silver, all of them very busy, and they filled the entire courtyard And now she felt a desire to open the second door, and so she opened it. There stood two girls who were raking a glowing fire with their bare hands. She asked them why they raked the fire with their bare hands. The girls replied that they had no choice, until some Christian soul gave them something with which they could rake. Then the maiden gave them a pole, and the girls thanked her most gratefully.

On the following morning the castle was full of girls, sweeping and washing and polishing everything.

Waaaaait a minute….this is an entirely logical progression and outcome! And a grasp of human nature! And…well, there were the euphemisms. Still! How do you expect to say anything significant about the human condition if you are logical and understand how people think?

So that day passed; but she could not help herself, she had to open the remaining door, the wooden one. And there lay the deer on a pile of straw, and she asked him why he lay there. He said he had to lie there until some Christian soul took pity on him, and wiped the mud from his back. She took a handful of straw and wiped off the mud. And as she was doing it, he was changed into as handsome a prince as one would wish to see.

Well played, enchanted deer. Well played, indeed.

He explained to her that he and the whole castle had been enchanted; but that now all was well and they would celebrate their wedding. And a fine wedding it was, lasting several days.

Before we go any farther, I would like to take a minute to speculate on what might have happened if this girl had a little more imagination. I mean, the deer talks, so I’m not entirely sure if it’s bestiality at that point, or just…err…xenophilia. And he apparently propositioned her twice in the woods (leaving aside the “mount on my back, little girl” bit, ahem ahem.)

Is this the standard fairy tale wait-for-door-number-three thing? If she’d had a freaky talking deer fetish, would he have brought her home and married her? Would he have gone “Goddamnit, she’ll like me better as a deer, so we’re having none of that!” Did he not want to buy the cow when the euphemisms were free?

Hell, maybe he liked being a deer, and was checking to see if she was into it before deciding that reverting to human was the only option.

This just strikes me as a peculiar sequence of events, as if he went “Basic human curiosity about doors, not a problem. But if she loves me for my mind, I’m outta here.”

Now when some time had passed, the prince asked his wife whether she would not like to invite her stepmother and stepsister to visit her. She said she would like to do so very much.

Wait, what? Why? Are you crazy? Those people were horrible to you!

…unless this is one of those “By the way, I married an enchanted prince and check out my bitchin’ castle” visit, in which case you are probably allowed a certain degree of gloating, although given that it’s a fairy tale, I don’t necessarily recommend it.

So the prince told her, that when they came, he himself would not be with them at first, but that when she offered them wine, she was to spill a drop on her shoe. Then he would appear and dry it for her. And she must take care not to give her stepmother any one thing or three different things, but only a quantity of something, such as corn.

Okay, I retract my previous objections. This is the sort of stuff that screams “Element that might have made sense when first added but five generations later is completely nonsensical.”

So when the stepmother and stepsister arrived, the princess for of course she was a princess now—

Marrying into royalty turns one into a paragon of virtue. Well-known fact.

—was very kind to them. And when she poured the wine for them, she let fall a drop on her golden shoe, and that very moment the prince appeared and dried the spot with his handkerchief; and if the others had not already had eyes and mouth wide open, you may be sure they had when they saw the prince come in.

Then they went out into the garden, and the stepmother insisted on having an apple, though the princess would give her none. The stepmother, however, kept on insisting that she must have some apples, even though she had no more than three. But no, the princess merely said that when the apples were ripe her stepmother could have any number of them. Thereupon the stepmother grew furiously angry—

I will bet you a nickel that there was something that used to go here–maybe something like the “Spit in the sheath of my knife” thing from the one Russian Cinderella story—where some cultural element fit here and this made a lot more sense. Perhaps giving single items laid one open to witchcraft in some fashion, whereas giving a bushel basket didn’t.

If that WAS it (and without a Danish folklorist in the audience, I’m not sure if we’ll ever know) then boy, clever way to ward off the stingies, huh? “Sorry, you have to give me at least four or the Evil Eye gets you. Hey, I don’t make the rules.”

—and as she went off with her daughter, she was filled with envy to think that such good fortune had not come the latter’s way. And she could not resist telling her it was her own fault.

The daughter gave a saucy answer, and as usually happens, one word leading to another, they were soon quarreling violently, and in the end both of them burst into pebbles. And that is the reason that there are so many pebbles underfoot.

Okay, that is a far better closer than “Happily Ever After.” I don’t know if you could work it into a modern fantasy novel, but that’s pretty marvelous nonetheless.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Golden Apple Tree And The Nine Peahens

A red-eyed vireo is lurking in the backyard, beating larvae to death on branches. In celebration of yard-bird number #54 (not bad for not being on a body of water!) I give you a bird-themed annotated fairy tale! This one’s from Serbia, bears strong resemblances to the Firebird story from Russia, and while much of it is standard fairy tale fare, it includes at least one interesting reversal of the usual course of events.

This one doesn’t delight me as much as the last, and the language is nowhere near as elegant, but it does have one or two moments worth visiting.


The Golden Apple Tree And The Nine Peahens

Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons. Now, before the king’s palace grew a golden apple tree, which in one and the same night blossomed, bore fruit, and lost all its fruit, though no one could tell who took the apples.

As a gardener, let me just say that this is not how it works, and I always wondered where they’re getting these apple trees. And what’s pollinating them? There are bat-pollinated fruit trees—in fact, the ancestor of all peach trees is believed to have been bat-pollinated—but they tend to be in Asia and occasionally the American Southwest. I assume that somewhere there’s a magical mayfly that hatches on the night the apples blossom, pollinate, have an orgy, lay eggs under the bark and then die.

One day the king, speaking to his eldest son, said, “I should like to know who takes the fruit from our apple tree!”

And the son said, “I will keep guard tonight, and will see who gathers the apples.”

So when the evening came he went and laid himself down, under the apple tree, upon the ground to watch. Just, however, as the apples ripened, he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning, there was not a single one left on the tree. Whereupon he went and told his father what had happened.

Then the second son offered to keep watch by the tree, but he had no better success than his eldest brother.

So the turn came to the king’s youngest son to keep guard. He made his preparations, brought his bed under the tree, and immediately went to sleep. Before midnight he awoke and looked up at the tree, and saw how the apples ripened, and how the whole palace was lit up by their shining.

At least this story makes no bones about the fact that he succeeds because he’s a third son and not because he’s cleverer than anyone else. He just woke up because narrative demands it. Occasionally you get third sons who are nicer or kinder or smarter or whatever, but this time, he doesn’t even get a name, let alone useful skills.

At that minute nine peahens flew towards the tree, and eight of them settled on its branches—

In case you’re curious, peafowl don’t fly if they can help it. They prefer to escape on foot whenever possible. They certainly can get airborne, and will fly into trees to roost, but think turkeys rather than swans. Either the peaheans live on the grounds or they walked most of the way from Fairyland.

—but the ninth alighted near him and turned instantly into a beautiful girl — so beautiful, indeed, that the whole kingdom could not produce one who could in any way compare with her.

She stayed, conversing kindly with him, till after midnight, then thanking him for the golden apples, she prepared to depart. But, as he begged she would leave him one, she gave him two, one for himself and one for the king his father. Then the girl turned again into a peahen, and flew away with the other eight.

There’s a whole branch of—well, porn isn’t quite the term, but I’m drawing a blank on another one—devoted to people who are really into transformations into animals. You go to a furry convention as an artist, and sometimes you’ll get people asking for transformation drawings, and usually the more agonizing and painful and freaky it is, the happier they are. Tearing off your own skin to reveal the animal underneath is a common one (and has some precedent in Aztec mythology, if my memory isn’t failing me.)

I am not saying this to judge anyone’s fetish, and as these things go, this one’s pretty harmless, but it does bring up the point that transformation probably either goes one of two ways—either you get the glowy transporter effect thing and wham! Peahen! or you get the horrible bone-cracking internal organs on the outside oh god oh god it hurts and where did I put my pancreas I swear it was here a moment ago and then at the end of it, you’ve gone from a 150lb woman to a 10lb bird and the prince watching you is vomiting into the bushes in horror.

Gonna guess this was a glowy transporter effect one. Just a feeling.

Next morning, the king’s son took the two apples to his father, and the king was much pleased, and praised his son.

When the evening came, the king’s youngest son took his place again under the apple tree to keep guard over it. He again conversed as he had done the night before with the beautiful girl, and brought to his father, the next morning, two apples as before.

But, after he had succeeded so well several nights, his two elder brothers grew envious because he had been able to do what they could not. At length they found an old woman, who promised to discover how the youngest brother had succeeded in saving the two apples.

Never send a post-adolescent male to do an old woman’s job! Also, am I the only one picturing Jessica Fletcher from “Murder She Wrote?

So, as the evening came, the old woman stole softly under the bed which stood under the apple tree, and hid herself. And after a while, came also the king’s son, and laid himself down as usual to sleep. When it was near midnight the nine peahens flew up as before, and eight of them settled on the branches, and the ninth stood by his bed, and turned into a most beautiful girl.

The old woman, being under the bed and all, could only tell that she had really sexy ankles.

Then the old woman slowly took hold of one of the girl’s curls, and cut it off, and the girl immediately rose up, changed again into a peahen and flew away, and the other peahens followed her, and so they all disappeared.

…I guess her hair hung down to the ground? Otherwise Jessica Fletcher is a ninja.

Then the king’s son jumped up, and cried out, “What is that?” and, looking under the bed, he saw the old woman, and drew her out. Next morning he order her to be tied to a horse’s tail, and so torn to pieces.

Nooooo! Jessica! Who will solve Cabot Cove’s murders now? (or possibly secretly commit them?)

Seriously, though, this is way overkill. Your brothers hired the woman! If they didn’t step in and say “Whoops, sorry, told her to do that!” then they are scum and deserve whatever happens to them. And I do not think highly of your kingdom, when you are allowed to draw-and-quarter people the morning without a trial.

But the peahens never came back, so the king’s son was very sad for a long time, and wept at his loss.

Oh, you’re crying? That old woman had six grandkids. She was beloved in the community. Her gingersnap baking skills were hailed far and wide. You monster. The peahens probably aren’t coming back because YOU TIE LITTLE OLD LADIES TO HORSES, did you think of that?

At length he resolved to go and look after his peahen; resolving never to come back again unless he should find her. When he told the king his father of his intention, the king begged him not do go away, and told him that he would find him another beautiful girl, and that he might choose out of the whole kingdom.

But all the king’s persuasions were useless, so his son went into the world — taking only one servant to serve him — to search everywhere for his peahen.

I like to think that there were posters up with a picture of a peahen and “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” written underneath.

After many travels he came one day to a lake. Now by the lake stood a large and beautiful palace. In the palace lived an old woman as queen, and with the queen lived a girl, her daughter. He said to the old woman, “For heaven’s sake, grandmother, do you know anything about nine golden peahens?”

And the old woman answered, “Oh, my son, I know all about them. They come every midday to bathe in the lake. But what do you want with them? Let them be. Think nothing about them. Here is my daughter. Such a beautiful girl! And such an heiress! All my wealth will remain to you if you marry her.”

I frequently try to marry my daughter to random vagrants who show up babbling about being in love with fowl. It’s a thing.

But he, burning with desire to see the peahens, would not listen to what the old woman spoke about her daughter.

Next morning, when day dawned, the prince prepared to go down to the lake to wait for the peahens. Then the old queen bribed the servant and gave him a little pair of bellows, and said, “Do you see these bellows? When you come to the lake you must blow secretly with them behind his neck, and then he will fall asleep, and not be able to speak to the peahens.”

The mischievous servant did as the old woman told him. When he went with his master down to the lake, he took occasion to blow with the bellows behind his neck, and the poor prince fell asleep just as though he were dead.

Drugged bellows are a new one. Generally they just go with poisoned drinks. I kind of wonder if small children were helping flesh out the details at this point.

Shortly after, the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the lake, but the ninth flew towards him as he sat on horseback, and caressed him, and tried to awaken him. “Awake my darling! Awake, my heart! Awake, my soul!”

On the strength of three short conversations and an unjust draw-and-quartering, I am madly in love with you!

But for all that he knew nothing, just as if he were dead.

After they had bathed, all the peahens flew away together, and after they were gone the prince woke up, and said to his servant, “What has happened? Did they not come?”

The servant told him they had been there, and that eight of them had bathed, but the ninth had sat by him on his horse, and caressed and tried to awaken him. Then the king’s son was so angry that he almost killed himself in his rage.

Next morning he went down again to the shore to wait for the peahens, and rode about a long time till the servant again found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, so that he again fell asleep as though dead. Hardly had he fallen asleep before the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the water, but the ninth settled down by the side of his horse and caressed him, and cried out to awaken him, “Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise my soul!”

But it was of no use. The prince slept on as if he were dead. Then she said to the servant, “Tell your master, tomorrow he can see us here again, but nevermore.”

With these words the peahens flew away. Immediately after, the king’s son woke up and asked his servant, “Have they not been here?”

And the man answered, “Yes, they have been, and say that you can see them again tomorrow, at this place, but after that they will not return again.”

When the unhappy prince heard that, he knew not what to do with himself, and in his great trouble and misery tore the hair from his head.

I’ve actually heard a firsthand account of someone tearing their own hair out before. Apparently it’s not as impressive as you’d think. Hair doesn’t fling very well, so once you have a few strands torn out, the only thing you can do is watch it sort of float down, which lacks a certain drama.

The person in question, apparently frustrated by the slow drift of hair on the breeze, turned and began to jog away down the middle of the street. He had some issues. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that you should never yell “You’re going to make me tear my hair out!” and then try to move beyond the realm of metaphor. It’s like trying to slam one of those safety doors that stop two inches from the threshold. Plan ahead.

The third day he went down again to the shore, but, fearing to fall asleep, instead of riding slowly, galloped along the shore. His servant, however, found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, and again the prince fell asleep.

At this point we should stop to notice at the servant is an amazing rider. He’s keeping up at a gallop and managing to work the bellows at the same time.

A moment after came the nine peahens, and the eight alighted on the lake and the ninth by him on his horse, and sought to awaken him, caressing him. “Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise, my soul!”

But it was of no use. He slept on as if dead. Then the peahen said to the servant, “When your master awakens tell him he ought to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then he will find me.”

Thereupon all the peahens fled away. Immediately the king’s son awoke and said to his servant, “Have they been here?”

And the servant answered, “They have been, and the one which alighted on your horse, ordered me to tell you to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then you will find her.”

When the prince heard that, he drew his sword and cut off his servant’s head.

Somewhat more justified than the murder of Jessica Fletcher.

After that he traveled alone about the world, and, after long traveling, came to a mountain and remained all night there with a hermit, whom he asked if he knew anything about nine golden peahens.

The hermit said, “Eh! My son, you are lucky. God has led you in the right path. From this place it is only a half a day’s walk. But you must go straight on, then you will come to a large gate, which you must pass through. And, after that, you must keep always to the right hand, and so you will come to the peahens’ city, and there find their palace.”

So next morning the king’s son arose, and prepared to go. He thanked the hermit, and went as he had told him. After a while he came to the great gate, and, having passed it, turned to the right, so that at midday he saw the city, and beholding how white it shone, rejoiced very much.

When he came into the city he found the palace where lived the nine golden peahens. But at the gate he was stopped by the guard, who demanded who he was, and whence he came. After he had answered these questions, the guards went to announce him to the queen.

Since this is the peahen’s city, I admit, I kinda hope that everyone in the city is a peacock. I just see this heavily armored peacock with a spear looking up at the prince and demanding his name and business.

When the queen heard who he was, she came running out to the gate and took him by the hand to lead him into the palace. She was a young and beautiful maiden, and so there was a great rejoicing when, after a few days, he married her and remained there with her.

One day, some time after their marriage, the queen went out to walk, and the king’s son remained in the palace. Before going out, however, the queen gave him the keys of twelve cellars, telling him, “You may go down into all the cellars except the twelfth — that must on no account open, or it will cost you your head.”

Oh please god, let this be a Bluebeard story. “Honey, you’re not my first prince…”

She then went away. The king’s son whilst remaining in the palace began to wonder what there could be in the twelfth cellar, and soon commenced opening one cellar after the other.

Corpses! It’s always corpses! I’m telling you, her last six husbands are eviscerated and lying around in the cellar!

Oooh, or they’re the husbands of the other eight peahens…maybe it’s a weird peahen murder cult. “We’re tired of the males getting the good tailfeathers. Screw it! THERE SHALL BE BLOOD!”

When he came to the twelfth he would not at first open it, but again began to wonder very much why he was forbidden to go into it. “What can be in this cellar?” he exclaimed to himself.

I’m telling you, dude, it’s gonna be pure Silent Hill: Poultry Edition in there.

At last he opened it. In the middle of the cellar lay a big barrel with an open bung-hole, but bound fast round with three iron hoops. Out of the barrel came a voice, saying, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying with thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”


Then the king’s son took a cup and filled it with water, and emptied it into the barrel. Immediately he had done so, one of the hoops burst asunder.

Again came the voice from the barrel, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”

The king’s son again filled the cup, and took it, and emptied it into the barrel, and instantly another hoop burst asunder.

The third time the voice came out of the barrel, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”

The king’s son again took the cup and filled it, and poured the water into the barrel, and the third hoop burst. Then the barrel fell to pieces, and a dragon flew out of the cellar, and caught the queen on the road and carried her away.

Now this is unusual.

Not because there’s a dragon in the barrel—although that’s a pretty odd thing to keep in the cellar, I grant you, and the question of how she got him in the barrel in the first place is a tough one–but this is one of the very few cases I can think of in a fairy tale where doing a compassionate deed screws you over. Generally if you give water to the thirsty, you’re rewarded for it. In this case, dragon steals your wife. Hmm. Interesting moral for the young’uns.

Then the servant, who went out with the queen, came back quickly, and told the king’s son what had happened, and the poor prince knew not what to do with himself, so desperate was he, and full of self reproaches. At length, however, he resolved to set out and travel through the world in search of her.

It worked last time. Also, in my head, it’s a small peacock gesticulating wildly to the prince and making that weird peacock noise. “And then—and then—kreeaalp!—he grabbed her in his claws–“

After long journeying, one day he came to a lake, and near it, in a little hole, he saw a little fish jumping about. When the fish saw the king’s son, she began to beg pitifully, “For God’s sake, be my brother, and throw me into the water. Some day I may be of use to you, so take now a little scale from me, and when you need me, rub it gently.”

Then the king’s son lifted the little fish from the hole and threw her into the water, after he had taken one small scale, which he wrapped up carefully in a handkerchief.

See? Good deed! You know it’ll be rewarded! This is the nature of things!

Some time afterwards, as he traveled about the world, he came upon a fox, caught in an iron trap. When the fox saw the prince, he spoke, “In God’s name, be a brother to me, and help me to get out of this trap. One day you will need me, so take just one hair from my tail, and when you want me, rub it gently.”

Then the king’s son took a hair from the tail of the fox, and let him free.

Again, as he crossed a mountain, he found a wolf fast in a trap; and when the wolf saw him, it spoke, “Be a brother to me. In God’s name, set me free, and one day I will help you. Only take a hair from me, and when you need me, rub it gently.”

So he took a hair, and let the wolf free.

After that, the king’s son traveled about a very long time, till one day he met a man, to whom he said, “For God’s sake, brother, have you ever heard anyone say where is the palace of the dragon king?”

The man gave him very particular directions which way to take, and in what length of time he could get there. Then the king’s son thanked him and continued his journey until he came to the city where the dragon lived.

When there, he went into the palace and found therein his wife, and both of them were exceedingly pleased to meet each other, and began to take counsel how they could escape. They resolved to run away, and prepared hastily for the journey. When all was ready they mounted on horseback and galloped away.

Y’know, if she’s that poorly guarded—and a were-peahen to boot—she could probably have escaped on her own.

As soon as they were gone, the dragon came home, also on horseback, and, entering his palace, found that the queen had gone away. Then he said to his horse, “What shall we do now? Shall we eat and drink, or go at once after them?”

“On the one hand, my bride has fled into the night. On the other hand, I could really go for some cheese and crackers about now. Decisions, decisions…”

The horse answered, “Let us eat and drink first. We shall anyway catch them. Do not be anxious.”

After the dragon had dined, he mounted his horse, and in a few moments came up with the runaways. Then he took the queen from the king’s son and said to him, “Go now, in God’s name! This time I forgive you, because you gave me water in the cellar. But if your life is dear to you, do not come back here any more!”

Welllll…I guess that sort of counts. And y’know, I have to say, that is awfully decent of the dragon. Obviously the peahen knew perfectly well that there was a dragon imprisoned in the cellar, which implies some sort of relationship between them. The dragon didn’t lay waste to the city or anything, he just grabbed her and kept going, which argues for a certain focus. I’m not saying you should kidnap enchanted were-peahens—although seriously, if you’re a dragon, at least you’d have something in common on the flight/magic/not-human front—but how DID he wind up in that cellar, anyhow?

And why couldn’t the princess have said “Dude, crazy stalker dragon in the basement, don’t let him out.”?

For my money, the dragon is her ex-husband, and our hero really wasn’t her first prince, but she didn’t want to get into detailed explanations. She could have perfectly good reasons, but she could also be planning a matching barrel for Prince Old-Lady-Killer when the honeymoon is over.

The unhappy young prince went on his way a little, but could not long resist, so he came back next day to the dragon’s palace, and found the queen sitting alone and weeping.

There are no guards in this town at ALL.

Then they began again to consult how they could get away. And the prince said, “When the dragon comes, ask him where he got that horse, and then you will tell me so that I can look for such another one; perhaps in this way we can escape.”

He then went away, lest the dragon should come and find him with the queen.

Oh, come on. The dragon could have walked in and the first servant in the hall said “Prince has been here,” and the dragon said “I have really got to hire some guards. This is getting silly.” This is not a clever dragon. He probably wound in the barrel because the princess said “Hey, I hear barrels are nice,” and stood around with a mallet.

By and by the dragon came home, and the queen began to pet him, and speak lovingly to him about many things, till at last she said, “Ah! what a fine horse you have! Where did you get such a splendid horse?”

I tried to elope with my new boyfriend yesterday, but hey, sexy times!

And he answered, “Eh! Where I got it everyone cannot get one! In such and such a mountain lives an old woman who has twelve horses in her stable, and no one can say which is the finest, they are all so beautiful. But in one corner of the stable stands a horse which looks as if he were leprous, but, in truth, he is the very best horse in the whole world. He is the brother of my horse, and whoever gets him may ride to the sky. But whoever wishes to get a horse from that old woman, must serve her three days and three nights. She has a mare with a foal, and whoever during three nights guards and keeps for her this mare and this foal, has a right to claim the best horse from the old woman’s stable. But whoever engages to keep watch over the mare and does not, must lose his head!”

Leprosy makes horses go faster. Well-known fact.

Next day, when the dragon went out, the king’s son came, and the queen told him all she had learned from the dragon. Then the king’s son went away to the mountain and found the old woman, and entered her house, greeting, “God help you too, my son! What do you wish?”

“I should like to serve you,” said the king’s son. Then the old woman said, “Well, my son, if you keep my mare safe for three days and three nights, I will give you the best horse, and you can choose him yourself. But if you do not keep the mare safe, you shall lose your head.”

Then she led him into the courtyard, where all around stakes were ranged. Each of them had on it a man’s head, except one stake, which had no head on it, and shouted incessantly, “Oh, grandmother, give me a head!”

Won’t lie. Kinda love this. Just try to find this in a modern fantasy.

Hmm, actually that would totally derail any fantasy I was writing. I’d be interviewing the talking stake. It might wind up being the new hero. After all, it has simple, clear-cut goals and hasn’t drawn-and-quartered anybody recently.

The old woman showed all this to the prince, and said, “Look here! All these were heads of those who tried to keep my mare, and they have lost their heads for their pains!”

My sister collects ceramic cats, and Mrs. Worthington down the road collects roosters. It’s just pure country kitsch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but between ou and me, going into her living room gives me hives.

Me, I collect severed heads. Started when I was a kid. I’ve got a Mickey Mantle that still has most of the hair and everything.

But the prince was not a bit afraid, so he stayed to serve the old woman. When the evening came he mounted the mare and rode her into the field, and the foal followed. He sat still on her back, having made up his mind not to dismount, that he might be sure of her. But before midnight he slumbered a little, and when he awoke he found himself sitting on a rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

Falling magically asleep at inappropriate moments is seriously the theme of this fairy tale, and you’d think the prince would have noticed by now. This is, by my count, the seventh time it’s happened. (SPOILER: It’ll be nine by the end.) I wonder if by this point, he starts to feel the magic coming over him and thinks “Oh crap, not AGAIN!” or if it’s still a surprise every time.

I wonder if magical sleep has side-effects if you’re repeatedly exposed. For all we know, the prince ends this story with a bad case of narcolepsy.

Then he was greatly alarmed, and went instantly to look about to find the mare, and whilst looking for her, he came to a piece of water. When he saw the water he remembered the little fish, and took the scale from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then immediately the little fish appeared and said, “What is the matter, my half-brother?”

And he replied, “The mare of the old woman ran away whilst under my charge, and now I do not know where she is!”

And the fish answered, “Here she is, turned to a fish, and the foal to a smaller one. But strike once upon the water with the bridle and cry out, ‘Hey! mare of the old woman!'”

“My name is Lady Flicka Ramona Sparkle Rainbow Phantasmagoria, but fine, whatever.”

The prince did as he was told, and immediately the mare came, with the foal, out of the water to the shore. Then he put on her the bridle and mounted and rode away to the old woman’s house, and the foal followed. When he got there the old woman gave him his breakfast. She, however, took the mare into the stable and beat her with a poker, saying, “Why did you not go down among the fishes, you cursed mare?”

Aww, man. And here I was starting to like her. That’s it, back to the talking stake.

And the mare answered, “I have been down to the fishes, but the fish are his friends, and they told him about me.”

Then the old woman said, “Then go among the foxes!”

When evening came the king’s son mounted the mare and rode to the field, and the foal followed the mare. Again he sat on the mare’s back until near midnight, when he fell asleep as before. When he awoke, he found himself riding on the rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

So he was much frightened, and went to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare—

Wait, she said that in front of him? I start to see how the dragon outwitted her.

—and he took from the handkerchief the fox’s hair and rubbed it a little between his fingers. All at once the fox stood before him, and asked, “What is the matter, half-brother?”

And he said, “The old woman’s mare has run away, and I do not know where she can be.”

Then the fox answered, “Here she is with us. She has turned into a fox, and the foal into a cub. But strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, ‘Hey! you old woman’s mare!'”

So the king’s son struck with the bridle on the earth and cried, “Hey! old woman’s mare!” and the mare came and stood, with her foal, near him.

He put on the bridle, and mounted and rode off home, and the foal followed the mare. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but took the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, “To the foxes, cursed one! To the foxes!”

And the mare answered, “I have been with the foxes, but they are his friends, and told him I was there!”

Then the old woman cried, “If that is so, you must go among the wolves!”

When it grew dark again, the king’s son mounted the mare and rode out to the field, and the foal galloped by the side of the mare. Again he sat still on the mare’s back till about midnight, when he grew very sleepy and fell into a slumber, as on the former evenings, and when he awoke he found himself riding on the rail, holding the bridle in his hand, just as before.

Then, as before, he went in a hurry to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare, and took the wolf’s hair from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then the wolf came up to him and asked, “What is the matter, half-brother?”

And he answered, “The old woman’s mare has run away, and I cannot tell where she is.”

The wolf said, “Here she is with us. She has turned herself into a wolf, and the foal into a wolf’s cub. Strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, ‘Hey! old woman’s mare!'”

As as side note, this would totally make more sense with birds or squirrels or something vaguely arboreal than with wolves. I am vaguely bothered by the fact that both the foxes and wolves are in the earth. It doesn’t build in the standard way with the fish and whatnot.

Might just be me.

And the king’s son did so, and instantly the mare came again and stood with the foal beside him. So he bridled her, and galloped home, and the foal followed. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but she led the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, “To the wolves, I said, miserable one!”

And the mare answered, “I have been to the wolves, but they are his friends, and told him all about me!”

Then the old woman came out of the stable, and the king’s son said to her, “Eh! grandmother, I have served you honestly. Now give me what you promised me.”

And the old woman answered, “My son, what is promised must be fulfilled. So look here. Here are the twelve horses. Choose which you like!”

And the prince said, “Why should I be too particular? Give me only that leprous horse in the corner! Fine horses are not fitting for me!”

But the old woman tried to persuade him to choose another horse, saying, “How can you be so foolish as to choose that leprous thing whilst there are such very fine horses here?”

But he remained firm by his first choice, and said to the old woman, “You ought to give me which I choose, for so you promised.”

Open sores are the new racing stripes!

So, when the old woman found she could not make him change his mind, she gave him the scabby horse, and he took leave of her, and went away, leading the horse by the halter.

The talking stake and the mare got very drunk that night and cried on each other’s shoulders. The old woman sulked and polished her heads.

When he came to a forest he curried and rubbed down the horse, when it shone as bright as gold. He then mounted, and the horse flew as quickly as a bird, and in a few seconds brought him to the dragon’s palace.

The king’s son went in and said to the queen, “Get ready as soon as possible!” She was soon ready, when they both mounted the horse, and began their journey home. Soon after, the dragon came home, and when he saw the queen had disappeared, said to his horse, “What shall we do? Shall we eat and drink first, or shall we pursue them at once?”

I won’t lie, I could really go for a little lentil soup.

The horse answered, “Whether we eat and drink or not, it is all one. We shall never reach them.”

When the dragon heard that, he got quickly on his horse and galloped after them. When they saw the dragon following them, they pushed on quicker, but their horse said, “Do not be afraid! There is no need to run away.”

In a very few moments the dragon came very near to them, and his horse said to their horse, “For God’s sake, my brother, wait a moment! I shall kill myself running after you!”

Their horse answered, “Why are you so stupid as to carry that monster? Fling your heels up and throw him off, and come along with me!”

When the dragon’s horse heard that, he shook his head angrily and flung his feet high in the air, so that the dragon fell off and brake in pieces, and his horse came up to them.

Then the queen mounted him and returned with the king’s son happily to her kingdom, where they reigned together in great prosperity until the day of their death.


You know, this feels a bit anti-climactic. You go to all this trouble for the enchanted horse, and then the horse talks the other horse into throwing off the dragon?

There’s a couple of win-the-magic-horse stories out there, and this is the only one I can think of where the horse, rather than epic chases and battles and mountains of glass and fire and whatnot, basically makes a Diplomacy roll and ends the story right there.

It’s not bad, but it’s no twenty-four headed otter, if you know what I mean. Still, the phrase “brake into pieces” does appeal to me, and bonus points for a clear-eyed “AND THEN THEY DIED” ending, rather than trying to disguise the basic mortality of mankind.

But y’know, this one left a lot of loose ends. In the Firebird stories, usually somebody’s enchanted and curse-breaking is involved. In this one, apparently this woman just happens to be a were-peahen. No curses, no enchantment, just lives in the peahen city and occasionally slips out for a snack with her eight…handmaidens? (They never show up again, you notice.) And nowhere does it say they transform.

Maybe they’re regular peahens and the queen just hangs around with them for fun.

Why does a dragon who can fly ride a horse, anyhow? And how did he get in that barrel?

I guess this is how you tell that fairy tales are the real deal and not conventional fiction, since fiction has to make sense, and fairy tales tend to just be jumbles of elements thrown together—the old woman with the horse had some Baba Yaga in her background, I’m betting—that wind up somewhere. While the good ones get at some basic truth, some of them just seem to be a kind of mythological magnetic poetry kit. This is obviously one of the magnetic poetry kit ones.

It’d be a hard one to retell, frankly. Just making sense of the various elements would get tricky, unless you cut some of them. (The barrel. I do not see the barrel working out well.) You could do some fun things with peacock masks and masquerades, maybe, although it does seem criminal to ditch an honest-to-god were-peahen, and you’d HAVE to keep the talking stake in, or what’s the point?

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