Category Archives: fairy tales

Red Stone, Black Crow

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“Red stone, blood stone,

Round and smooth and cold stone,

Make it stop, make it stand,

Take me over to the strand.”

That’s the rhyme the purple weasel tells the little girl to use when she gets to the raging river, on her way to the other side of the woods to give to bring the sorcerer his medicine…

That’s right – another story of mine got published on Enchanted Conversations! This is in the April edition of the magazine, which is all about Animal Tales. Mine has a purple weasel and a blue rabbit and, most of all, a black crow. And, of course, a little girl, whose name is Margie.

Unlike the previous stories I had published on EC, which were re-tellings of traditional tales, this one is an original. I was trying to go for the classic formula and tone – but of course, I’m no Wilhelm Grimm (or Dortchen Wild, as it were), so it’s not quite as classic as it, perhaps, might be…

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

 

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Hitting the Wall: Not Your Standard Frog Prince Story

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What happens when you stake everything on one particular version of a fairy tale? Find out in “Hitting the Wall”, my interpretation of “The Frog Prince”, posted on Enchanted Conversations:

“Become a frog,” they said. “You’ll have pretty girls lining up to kiss you. Sure way to get that girlfriend.” …

But what nobody had told me was that the folklore about frogs is different in Europe. Girls read fairy tales from books there, and the way the old Grimms tell the story isn’t what I’d always heard.

It was a nasty surprise…

To keep reading, go on over here...

 

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The Seven Ravens: a Tale for International Women’s #FolkloreThursday

It’s International Women’s Day today. It’s also Thursday, which invariably generates a flurry of Twitter posts under the hashtag #FolkloreThursday. So, of course, today a fairy tale nerd’s Twitter feed is awash in tweets about women in folklore.

“Ah, women in fairy tales,” you say, “damsels in distress, passively waiting for a prince to come rescue them – right?” Bwhahahahah! Excuse me while I laugh loud and long (not to mention a little scornfully). Yes, sure, they exist, the Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites in their glass coffins or rose-covered castles (and we love ’em). But just as common are the wide-awake Beauties who are the ones that do the rescuing – of Beasts or Frogs, for example, to mention just two of the best-known tales. And not all of those tales’ happy endings are weddings, either – there are people other than lovers or boyfriends to rescue, you know.

Here is one such story, one that’s always been one of my favourites, featuring a very heroic little girl indeed. It’s well-known in German-speaking countries, but not so much hereabouts. So, in honour of International Women’s Folklore Thursday, let me tell it to you. It’s Grimms’ fairy tale #25, and if you want to read the original without silly side comments, you can find it here. So here goes:

THE SEVEN RAVENS

Once there was a man and his wife who had seven sons. (No, this isn’t an advertisement for my book, Seventh Son. Although – hmm, there’s possibilities. What if that youngest son went on to have seven sons himself… Sorry, I digress.) So after a lot of years of wishing, the wife finally gave birth again, and this time it was the longed-for girl. However, the poor little mite was sickly, so the parents decided to do an emergency baptism. They sent the boys to the well to fetch some water.

The seven boys were so excited to have a baby sister, they fought over who would get to dip the jug in the well, and as was inevitable, the jug fell into the well. Now, the kids feared their dad’s temper (with good reason, as you’ll see in a minute) and they didn’t dare go home (I guess the fate of their sister’s soul wasn’t as important as the possibility of getting a smack around the head).

Sure enough, when the boys didn’t come back with the water, Dad got really ticked off (to be fair to him, he was a little stressed at the moment, with the possibility of his baby girl dying without baptism). “They’re probably just fooling around again!” he said. “I wish they’d all turn into black ravens!”

And what do you know – they did.

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Dad was very, very sorry, but by then it was too late. The raven boys were gone, and all they had left was one tiny, sick little baby girl.

However, fortunately for them, she survived. Not only that, she grew up beautiful, kind, smart, and, as you shall see, quite determined.

Mom and Dad, feeling rather guilty about the boys, carefully never mentioned their existence to the girl (and I suppose she never thought to ask why her bedroom was full of Lego and GI Joe action figures and the family car was a 12-seater van). But one day, she overheard a couple of gossippy neighbours talking, and she pricked up her ears.

“Mom,” she said, “Mrs Schlipfengruber from next door says it’s because of me that my brothers got lost! What brothers?”

So the parents had to own up, but, being rather decent parents, they assured her that it really wasn’t her fault and there was nothing she could do about it.

Still, the girl wasn’t buying it. She realised quite clearly that even if what happened wasn’t precisely her fault, it still was her birth that had precipitated her brothers’ bad fortune. And besides, she wanted somebody to play Lego with (her pink girlfriends’ Barbie games bored her to tears), so she decided she would go and rescue her brothers. All seven of them.

As she knew her parents well, she didn’t bother telling them what she was up to (they would only have thrown their hands in the air and said “No! You can’t do that! You’re a girl!”). She packed her provisions, which consisted of a loaf of bread and a jug of water (possibly even the same one that had fallen in the well on that fateful day – I’m sure somebody fished it back out), and a little chair to sit on when she got tired (it always seemed tedious to me that she’d carry a chair around with her, but maybe it was one of those collapsible lawn chairs with a carry strap). She also took along a golden ring to remember her parents by.

So she set out, and she walked on, and on, and on, and on, and… (you get the picture). Finally, she reached the end of the world (which is right past the white parts on the map where it says “Here be dragons”), and what’s beyond the end of the world is, of course, the sun.

But the sun really isn’t very nice – quite apart from being a giant flaming ball of gas, it’s also fond of eating children. (Who knew, right?) So the girl grabbed her lawn chair and jug of water, the last drops of which had evaporated when she got close to the sun, and she skedaddled.

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Next she got to the moon, but it was no better. It was freezing cold, and it was also fond of children – for breakfast. When it got a whiff of her, it started going “Fee fi fo furl, I smell a little human girl” (or something equally ogrish), and the girl beat it out of there as fast as she could.

But then she got to the stars, and they were actually quite nice. They each had their own chair to sit on (some of them saying “Director” on the back), and they all gave her their autographs, but the morning star, who was the nicest of the lot, gave her something much more useful: he handed her a chicken bone. “This bone,” he said, “is the key to the glass mountain, which is where you’ll find your brothers.”

The little girl, although she wondered what seven ravens were doing inside a glass mountain, thanked the morning star profusely, wrapped up the chicken bone, which was just the size of her pinkie finger, in her hankie (which she, like any well-brought-up child, carried in her pocket) and went on her way.

When she got to the glass mountain, she couldn’t see inside it, so she had no way of verifying if, in fact, her brothers were there, but then that glass mountain wasn’t really the sort of giant paperweight that I always pictured it to be, because it had a door. And that door was locked and had a chicken-bone-shaped keyhole.

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So the girl pulled out her hankie, but when she unwrapped it, to her great shock, it was – empty. (The bone had probably dropped out of her pocket somewhere on the edge of Star Land among the crowds of fans pushing and shoving to get autographs from the stars.) So there she was, standing in front of a great glass mountain without a key.

However, as I mentioned, she was determined. She was also good at problem-solving (probably due to all the Lego-building she’d done; it trains the logic brain). You know where this is going, don’t you? That’s right. She pulled out her Swiss Army knife (another legacy of her brothers), and she chopped off her pinkie finger (I know – Ouch!). Being stoic, as well as smart and determined, she didn’t even blink, but took the gruesome relic, inserted it into the keyhole and unlocked the door (although I could never figure out why she had to chop the finger off first).

She walked into the glass mountain and met a dwarf with a great big tray full of food plates. He was by way of being the ravens’ gentlemen’s gentleman, and having been trained in the best butler schools, he politely ignored the fact that she was dripping blood on his freshly polished parquet floors, and asked, “How can I be of assistance, little miss?”

“I’m looking for my brothers, the ravens,” the girl said.

“Ah, yes. Their Lordships Raven will be back momentarily, if you would be so kind as to step this way.” He led the way into the dining room, where he unloaded his tray and set the table with plates and cups and silverware. (Then he probably got the girl a good-sized bandaid, although the Grimms don’t mention the fact. Well, they were linguists, so not the most practical-minded. But I’m sure the dwarf had it covered.)

The dwarf left to do whatever gentlemen’s gentlemen do while waiting for their masters, and the girl (who was acquainted with Snow White and knew how things are done) made the round of the table, taking a bite of food from each plate and a sip of drink from every cup. But when she got to the last place setting, she pulled her parents’ gold ring from her finger and dropped it into the cup.

All of a sudden there was a great rushing of feathers and whirring of wings. The girl quickly scuttled behind the door, hiding. In came seven large coal-black ravens, and they hopped on the table, each in front of one of the plates.

“Hey, dudes,” said the first raven, “somebody’s been at my grub.” (Okay, he probably worded it a bit more elegantly, but that’s the gist of it.)

“Yeah, mine too,” said the next one, “and it was a human!”

One after the other, the raven brothers agreed, until they got to the youngest one, who’d been so hungry he just gulped the food down in one go, and now stuck his yellow beak in the cup for a long drink.

“Whoa!” he cried, “Get a load of this, dudes!” In the end of his beak he held a ring, which he dropped on his plate. “That’s Mom and Dad’s ring,” he said. “Oh man, I wish our little sister were here – then this ‘being ravens’ gig would be over and done with!”

When the girl heard this, she didn’t bother waiting any longer. “Surprise!” she yelled and jumped out from behind the door.

And just like that – WHOOSH! – the ravens’ feathers dropped from them, and her brothers stood in front of her, fully human again. (The Grimms don’t mention whether they had clothes on or not – that’s always an interesting question in these animal-to-human transformations. But kind of beside the point here.)

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So of course, everyone was extremely happy, and they packed up their gear (the oldest brother carrying the girl’s lawn chair) and went home to Mom and Dad, who were beside themselves with joy.

Dad never again lost his temper with his children, even when they left their Lego lying on the living room rug and he stepped on it in the middle of the night in bare feet, which proves beyond all doubt that he was a reformed character.

And that is a happy ending indeed.

There are a couple of other tales in Grimms’ that are quite similar and sometimes get mashed up with “The Seven Ravens” – Grimms #49, “The Six Swans“, and #9, “The Twelve Brothers” – they’re even more dramatic, with wicked mother-in-laws and a very narrow escape from being burned at the stake; definitely worth a read, too. But this one always was my favourite (even though my childhood version had no Lego in it).

Life, the Universe, and “The Seven Ravens”. Happy International Women’s Folklore Thursday!

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Enchanted Conversations: Give Peas a Chance

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All about Peas: fairy tales, experimentation, and a recipe, by Yours Truly on Enchanted Conversations. I tested the weight bearing strength of a pea, found more pea stories than “The Princess on the…”, and, of course, did some cooking with them. Go check it out!

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#TellAFairyTaleDay: Snow White and Rose Red

Apparently today, February 26th, is Tell-a-Fairy-Tale-Day. Can’t pass up that opportunity, can I? So when I thought about what fairy tale to tell you, the first one that sprang to mind is one of my favourites, “Snow White and Rose Red”. I already told it once on my old blog, almost five years ago now, when I was studying the regular, dwarfy “Snow White” for a grad school paper, so I thought maybe it was time to find another favourite to tell. But when I looked up that particular telling, I found it quite amusing still, and as it’s not terribly well known in English-speaking countries, I might as well re-post it. So here it is, “Snow White and Rose Red”, with bonus snarky parenthetical comments. (If you want to read the proper Grimms’ version, #161 in the Children’s and Household Tales, you can find it here.)

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Illustration by Alexander Zick (1845-1907). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Snow White and Rose Red

There once was a poor widow who lived in a little cottage in the woods. In the garden in front there were two rose trees, one white, one red. Inside the cottage, there were two little girls, one called Snow White, the other Rose Red. (Creative, eh? You gotta wonder if the kids were named after the trees, or the trees planted for the kids.) Those two little girls were the poor widow’s daughters, and they were so good and sweet, it’s downright nauseating. (The Grimms go on for more than a page about just how good these kids were. I’ll spare you the recital.)

So one bitterly cold winter’s night, they were snugly sitting by the fireside, mother reading out of a fat old book while the girls were spinning (yup, with a spinning wheel), when a heavy knock fell on the door. “Go open the door, girls,” says Mama, “it’ll be a poor woodsman needing shelter from the cold!” (Apparently they hadn’t heard of not letting strangers in the house.) So the girls opened the door, and outside stood – a big, black bear. Now, it seems they had heard that black bears are dangerous, so they let out a shriek and tried to slam the door, but the bear got his foot in the crack first (well, okay, that’s not what the Grimms say, but it’s the gist of it), and said, “Kind ladies, don’t be afraid! I only seek to warm myself by your fire.”

Now the mother figured that a talking bear must be less of an issue than the ordinary growly kind, so she let him in and talked the girls into coming out from behind the sofa, where they’d been hiding. He stretched himself out by the fire, got the kids to brush the snow out of his fur, and once they figured out that he was really quite tame (besides being able to talk), they made right pests of themselves, petting and poking and rolling all over him, using him as a sort of live hearth rug or oversized puppy dog. The bear put up with it quite good-humouredly; in fact, they had such a good time that the mother asked him to stay the night. When he left in the morning, he snagged his fur on the door latch, and Rose Red thought she saw a little bit of gold underneath – but she wasn’t quite sure, so she didn’t say anything.

Mama invited him back the following evening, and so all winter long, the bear spent his nights at the cottage, sleeping in front of the fire and being plagued by the little girls. Now, come spring, bear said, “I can no longer spend my nights in your charming company, for I must go and protect my treasure from the wicked dwarfs which come out of their caves now that it is warmer. Farewell, my friends!” (or something equally sonorous; he talked kind of posh) and took himself off into the woods.

So then one day the girls were out picking flowers or something, when they made a new acquaintance. By a log, they saw something hopping up and down, and when they got closer, they noticed it was a dwarf, with the end of his long beard caught in a slit in the log. He’d been trying to split the log for firewood, and got caught. He was an extremely rude and self-absorbed dwarf, yelling at the girls and calling them names, but nevertheless, they helped him out. Snow White had her sewing scissors in her pocket (being that sort of girl), and she cut the end off the dwarf’s beard and set him free. He swore at her for mutilating his beard, collected a bag of jewels he had stashed nearby, and scampered off.

This being a fairy tale, the same thing happened twice more: once they cut the dwarf’s beard free from a fishing line he was caught in (the fish was trying to pull him under), and the other time they pulled him out of the talons of an eagle who wanted to lunch on the crabby little fellow. Even when the dwarf yelled at them for tearing his clothes in the rescue attempt, they didn’t regret what they had done, which shows you just how sweet, good, and slightly dimwitted they were.

But the last time they met the dwarf, the outcome was just a little different. They were coming back from town, and there in a clearing was the dwarf. He’d spread a big bag of jewels all over the ground, and was gloating over his hoard, when he noticed the girls. He started screaming and yelling at them, but then suddenly, with a growl, a big black bear jumped out of the bushes. (You know where this is going, don’t you?) He attacked the dwarf, who started whimpering and whining, begging the bear to spare his life: “Here, eat those two little girls instead, they’ll be much tastier than me!” Of course, wicked ungratefulness of this kind must be punished, and the bear did the honours: one swipe of his paw, and the bad little dwarf was no more.

The girls were running for it – they weren’t sure if the bear wouldn’t take the dwarf’s advice and have them for dessert – when they heard the bear’s voice: “Snow White, Rose Red, do not be afraid! It is I, your friend!” They stopped to wait for him, but when the bear caught up with them his black bearskin fell off him, and there before them stood a most handsome young man, dressed from head to foot in cloth-of-gold. (Being good-looking doesn’t mean he had fashion sense.) “I am a king’s son,” he proclaimed (to the surprise of no one except Snow White and Rose Red), “and the evil dwarf had me under an enchantment, so I had to live as a bear until I was freed by his death.” (Which means that if the girls hadn’t been so polite to the rude dwarf and kept saving his life, the prince would have been freed from his enchantment much sooner. I guess the moral of that is that you really should let rude people get what’s coming to them.)

So Snow White married the prince, and Rose Red married his brother (which sounds like cradle-snatching to me, as the girls are described as quite young for most of the story), and with the dwarf’s treasure, which they divided between them, they all lived quite a cushy life. Mama came to live in the palace with them, of course, and she brought along the two rose trees, which continued to  bloom happily ever after, each summer, one white and one red.

Life, the Universe, Snow White and Rose Red. And if they haven’t died by now, they’re still alive today.

Happy Tell-a-Fairy-Tale-Day!

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Pennies Dropping – A Retelling

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A Fairy Tale Flash Fiction piece of mine is now up on Enchanted Conversations: “Pennies Dropping, a retelling of the Grimms’ “The Star Talers”.

“Pennies Dropping” is double-featured with another Fairy Tale Flash, “Midnight” by Fanni Sütö. Two for the price of one – check it out!

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Fire, Folklore and Family Day

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Art Installation, “third beach”. Melany Nugent and Trent Noble.

The campfire light flickered over the floor as we sat around the circle, sipping hot chocolate, enthralled by the rise and fall of the storyteller’s voice.

“Coyote laughed at Crab. ‘Of course I will race you! How can you win, if you can only run backwards?'”

I had never heard these stories before, which is why I went to today’s Family Day event at the local art gallery – the promise of a First Nations storyteller giving Okanagan legends was too good to pass up. The “campfire” is an art installation comprised of rock, charcoal, and clear sheet plastic, with a projection of a digital fire on it. The effect is mesmerising, real and not-real at the same time, the reflections dancing over the walls and the floor of the room reminiscent of both an actual fire and the play of light at the bottom of the lake on a summer’s day.

There were stories of “How Coyote Got His Name”, of “Coyote’s Race”, of “The Boy Who Grew Up With Grizzly Bears”. The one that most tickled my fancy was “Coyote’s Race”. I can’t give it to you in the words of the original storyteller, the way First Nations stories are meant to be told. But when I asked today’s re-teller*, David Florence, if I might share a piece of it here, he thought it could be all right for me to tell  bit of it in my own words. So here goes:

Coyote and the Race of Frog and the Turtles

Frog had won races against many animals, each time for his win taking away their tail. One day, Coyote said to his friends, the turtles, “I will get back your tails for you, don’t worry!” He went to Frog and said, “Will you have a race with me and my friends? The stake is all our tails, mine and the turtles.”

Frog agreed, hoping to add Coyote’s beautiful tail to his collection.

But Coyote said to the turtles, “Here is what you must do. Dig yourselves into the path along the race track, one of you every few hundred meters. The first one of you must jump into the air and come back down hard to raise a big dust cloud. Then the next one digs himself back out of the ground, and also jumps up and makes a dust cloud, and so on.”

And that is what they did. The race began, and the first turtle jumped up and came down and made a big dust cloud. When the dust settled, Frog saw far ahead of him a turtle running along the track. He ran as fast as he could to catch up with him, but the turtle jumped and made another big cloud of dust. When that was gone, there was a turtle again, far ahead of Frog. He ran as fast as he could, but try as he might, he could not catch up with the turtle. Finally he saw a turtle crossing the finish line far ahead of him, and he collapsed on the ground.

“Oh please,” he said to Coyote, “I’m so exhausted, let me rest for a while!”

“Did you let the other animals rest before you took away their tails?” said Coyote. “No, you shall not rest! Give me back the turtles’ tails, and your own too!”

And that is why Frog is such a small, weak creature, who jumps into the water to hide his ugly backside which has no tail on it at all.

What struck me about this tale is how very much it is like the Grimms’ “The Hare and the Hedgehog”, the tale of how the quick, proud hare is being tricked by the slow, humble hedgehog and his wife into exhausting himself running back and forth and thus losing the race. Unlike the similar “Hare and the Tortoise” with its moral of “Slow and steady wins the race”, here the moral is “Simple people working together can beat the proud.” Two tales from almost opposite sides of the globe with nearly the same structure and message. I told David Florence about “The Hare and the Hedgehog”, and he laughed.

Incidentally, in the story of the race of Coyote and Crab, it’s Coyote himself who gets tricked. Crab clicks his pincers and gets hold of Coyote’s tail hairs, hanging on through the whole race. At the finish line, Coyote turns around looking for crab, and crab lets go, flying across the finish and winning the race. I learned today that sometimes, Coyote the Trickster can also be the tricked. I’m still chuckling about the image of Coyote whirling around, calling, “Crab? Where are you, Crab? Hey, Crab!”

In the long, cold, dark Northern winters of the past, David Florence told us, the Okanagan people gathered around the fire in the middle of their big pit house, a space probably about as large as the room we were in today. Their fire was not an art installation with digital projections, and they weren’t sipping hot chocolate from Tim Horton’s paper cups. But the stories are the same, whether they are told in Okanagan or in English.

Life, the Universe, A Fire and Folklore. Together the people are strong.

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*Note: From my understanding, in First Nations storytelling the exact wording of the original teller is important. David Florence collected these tales from local people, and he read them to us from a paper so he would not “put his own words into it”. I appreciate his permission to tell a small part of it in my own words, and apologise for any mistakes I doubtlessly made in the retelling, having only heard the story once. If you want to read a very similar tale in the voice of a real Okanagan storyteller, check out “The Turtles Won the Race” told by Josephine Shuttlesworth (scroll to the bottom of the page past the error messages). In that one, it’s Coyote himself who gets tricked by the turtles, and it’s even more similar to “The Hare and the Hedgehog”.

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