Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Obscure Fairy Tale: Molly Whuppie

If you've ever picked up a fairy tale collection with the word "complete" in the title, you'll know that there are a LOT of obscure fairy tales out there. And when I was researching my novel INTO THE WILD, I read a LOT of obscure fairy tales. Some of them were absolutely fabulous; some of them were absolutely bizarre. So when I started this blog, I decided I wanted to include a recurring segment where I tell you about some of the tales that I found. You know, kind of give them a day in the sun.

Today's wonderfully warped Obscure Fairy Tale is "Molly Whuppie." I first learned about this tale from a fabulous collection called FEARLESS GIRLS, WISE WOMEN, & BELOVED SISTERS, edited by Kathleen Ragan. If you like tales with strong heroines, be sure to check it out. Anyway, without further ado, I give you:

Molly Whuppie (an English tale)

OK, I know I haven't even said "once upon a time" yet, but we already have the First Thing I Love About This Story: the name. Molly Whuppie. Doesn't she just sound like that girl you knew in high school who looked totally demure in front of teachers but had this wild glint in her eye, the one you always wanted to hang out with on the weekend even though you seemed to get in trouble every time?

Once upon a time, a man and a woman have too many children so they take their three youngest and leave them in the woods.

First Thing I Hate About This Story: lousy family planning. I guess if the kids had had a nice home life, then there wouldn't be a fairy tale about them. But still... not kosher.

The three girls wander and wander until they find a house. When they knock, a woman answers and says she can't help them because her husband's a giant and will kill them if he finds them. The girls beg, and the women relents.

Naturally, the giant finds them and utters the traditional "fee, fi, fo, fum." At which point, the woman tells her husband, "Ye won't touch 'em, man."

Thing I Love #2: the giant's wife. She stands up to her cannibalistic husband, and she has a fabulous accent.

The giant invites them to stay the night and to sleep in the same bed as his three daughters. The youngest girl (whose name is Molly Whuppie) notices that before they all went to bed, the giant put straw ropes around her and her sisters' necks and gold chains around his daughters' necks.

In most versions of the story, Molly is described as "very clever" for noticing the straw ropes. How unobservant would you have to be not to notice a giant putting a straw rope around your neck? Seriously, was this a common thing? You visit a house, someone puts a rope around your neck, and off you go to la-la land. Apparently, Molly's sisters took it in stride, which makes them Thing I Love #3: super-laid-back siblings.

Once everyone falls asleep, Molly switches the straw ropes for the gold chains. During the night, the giant sneaks into the room, feels for the necks with straw, and then beats to death the three girls (his own daughters) with the gold chains. When the giant goes back to bed, Molly wakes her sisters, and they flee.

Did I mention that the siblings were super laid-back? How could they sleep through that? Also, here is Thing I Hate #2: the giant's wife, who did nothing wrong, loses her three daughters. Not fair.

The sisters run until they reach a king's house. Molly tells the king her story, and the king says, "Great job, but if you outwit the giant a second time by stealing the sword that hangs on the back of his bed, I'll give your eldest sister to my eldest son in marriage." So Molly goes back to the giant's house, sneaks in, waits for the giant to fall asleep, and steals the sword. He wakes and chases her. They run until they reach the "Bridge of One Hair," which she can cross and he can't. She yells to him, "Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain."

Thing I Love #4: "twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain." What the heck does that mean? No idea. But I love it. Think I'll start saying that. Next time a car cuts me off, I'm shaking my fist at the driver and shouting, "Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain." And the driver will yell back, "Who's Carl?"

Next, the king tells her, "Great job, but if you outwit the giant again and steal the purse under the giant's pillow, your second sister will marry my second son." So Molly sneaks in, waits for the giant to fall asleep, and steals the purse. He wakes and chases her. They run to the bridge and she yells, "Once yet, carle, I'll come to Spain."

Forgot to mention Thing I Love #5: Bridge of One Hair. What sort of engineer makes a bridge of one hair? And how is she able to cross it? And why doesn't the giant petition the town to have a sturdier bridge built? It can't be good for trade.

Finally, the king says that Molly can marry his youngest son if she steals the giant's ring from his finger. So she sneaks in again... but this time, the giant wakes before she runs. He says, "Now I have you, mwah-ha-ha-ha! If you were me and I were you, what would you do to punish me?" To which Molly says, "I would put you in a sack with a cat, a dog, a needle, a thread, and a shears, and then I'd find the thickest stick I could and beat you to death."

Is it just me or does Molly have a few psychological issues?

The giant put Molly in a sack with all the items she mentioned and wanders off to find a nice stick. Molly says, "Oh, if ye saw what I see." And the giant's wife begs to be taken up into the sack so that she can see what Molly sees. Molly uses the shears to cut a hole in the sack, helps the giant's wife into the sack, and then sews the sack back up with the needle and thread. Molly then hides and waits.

Serious psychological issues. If she has shears and can escape, why not just escape? Why torture the giant's wife? Think I Hate #3: Molly Whuppie is NOT a nice girl.

The giant returns and begins to beat the sack. The giant's wife cries out, "It's me, man!" But the giant can't hear her over the cat and the dog.

Molly then runs, and the giant chases her to the Bridge of One Hair. Molly escapes and shouts, "Never more, carle, will I come again to Spain." And then she marries the king's youngest son and never sees the giant again. And they all live happily ever after.

Except the giant's wife, who hopefully will be filing for divorce sometime soon...

For more Obscure Fairy Tales, check out:

The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Donkey, and the Cudgel-in-a-Sack

Jack My Hedgehog



At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a moment there I was worried the youngest sister would wind up unmarried and dead as her reward for obtaining spouses for her older siblings. :-)

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for sharing....that was, ah, interesting. :-D As are most fairy tales. That would be a really cool one to retell, I think.

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found your blog through metafilter - love it, will be reading regularly.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Janni: Nah, not Molly. Girl can RUN.

Erin: Definitely are a lot of "interesting" tales out there. Have you ever read the Juniper Tree? Now that's a seriously warped story.

Anonymous: Welcome! Glad you found me, and very glad you've decided to stay!

At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never heard of the Juniper Tree . . . maybe I can find it online somewhere. . .

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Sara said...

Have you seen the picture book of Molly Whuppie?


It was one of my favorites when I was little (and the illustrations are gorgeous).

And by the way, I'm really loving these obscure fairy tales (got to this one from the link on your newest post).

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Sara: So happy you're enjoying my obscure fairy tale posts! They're a lot of fun to write. I hadn't seen that picture book. Thanks for sharing the link! Looks really cool.

At 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Twice more Carle I'll come to Spain"

"Carl" is an old word (probably Scandinavian in oriigin) that simply means "Man".

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Arilou: Good to know. Thanks! So we're talking about the archaic version of "hey, dude"...

At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty much. The context is pretty much "Hey dude! I'll be back!"

At 8:00 AM, Blogger patti flynn said...

OMG i LOVE this story!
when iw as a little girl, growing up in new zealand, the highlight of the week was the sunday morning children's requests on the radio.
they always played "molly whuppie" and she was definitely one of our favourites.

there were a few variations and i can hear the marvellous female narrator's husky voice like it was yesterday (instead of 35 years ago):
the giant awoke and chased molly.
and he ran and she ran and he ran and she ran....til they came to the bridge of the single hair (this sounds much better when spoken than this one hair business).
molly was light and she ran straight over....but the giant was heavy and he could not follow her.

and then the WEIRD line: carle, once again, i'll come to spain....

thank you for clearing up what the hell that means!
it has plagued me for decades! DECADES!

i am going to my mother's place tomorrow to tell her too!

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Soapmaker: Glad you liked it! That "carle" line totally had me baffled for decades too. :)

At 5:29 PM, Blogger AnnaDee said...

there's a folk tale much like this in italo calvinos colection. i recall a rooser that spoke and a very fast mare, but thats it...i'll go look it up now.
love the comentary!

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

AnnaDee: Please let me know if you find it. I have Calvino's collection, but I'm blanking on the tale...

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly's name sort-of sounds like

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Carl" is from the same root as "churl."

I've always imagined the "bridge of one hair" to be something like this:


At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9:51 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Lucas: I imagine she always has to spell it when she goes into restaurants.

Anonymous: Great bridge! Thanks for sharing the link. Very cool.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger MusicaChick said...

Carle is Scottish, and and means something like big tough guy, and Spain is used to refer to any exotic land. So to modernize the dialog, "I'll be coming back to this strange place, big guy."

I got an annotated fairy tale book from the library...I wonder if they'll let me keep it? Donkeyskin was my favorite one, but they had East of the Sun and West of the Moon in there too. It was really cool.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

MusicaChick: That makes a lot more sense. Thanks! Who annotated the book you mentioned? There are some beautiful annotated books that I've found by Maria Tatar...

At 2:53 PM, Blogger MusicaChick said...

That's exactly who it was. It's a wonderful book, and all the stories are intriguing. She does definitely prefer Perrault over the Grimms, although I like the overall goriness the Grimms Brothers' tales possess; makes them feel more authentic, IMO. Perrault tries too hard to impose a moral or a lesson.

There is a wonderful Russian story in it called 'Vasilisa the Fair'. I think I might have to look into some Russian tales now.

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Carle is Scottish, and and means something like big tough guy, and Spain is used to refer to any exotic land. So to modernize the dialog, "I'll be coming back to this strange place, big guy."

I got an annotated fairy tale book from the library...I wonder if they'll let me keep it? Donkeyskin was my favorite one, but they had East of the Sun and West of the Moon in there too. It was really cool.]

Thank you for the clarification. Also, Donkey skin was good, but I liked "The Princess in the Suit of Leather" more. It's of Egyptian or Perssian origin I'm guessing and is very similar to "Donkeyskin".

At 12:54 AM, Blogger clairedelune said...

ha good story. My name is Molly!

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

Twice yet, carle, I'll come to kick your butt in a complete anti-sexist/cultural manner.

At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"twice yet, carle I will come to Spain"
carle means boor, its an insult and Spain meant it was a dangerous place. Shes saying she has two more times to go back before she leaves for good.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous JakobD said...

You forgot the part where the giantess divorces the giant (all his possessions are in her name so she keeps the castle and carriages and such), and hangs HIM up in the sack. And doesnt let him out.
Least that's what shoulda happened, I don't see how the giant got punished at all in the story.

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Ariel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Ariel said...

May I recommend that you read
The Classic Fairy Tales. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. ISBN: 978-0393972771.

It contains many obscure fairytale texts including "Molly Whuppie" (pp.209-211) and "The Juniper Tree" (pp.190-197)as well as some interesting analysis of such tale categories; in these two example's case they fall under the Hansel and Gretel section so are discussed there.

btw, I enjoyed reading your summary and commentary of this text and hope that you do get a hold of the Classic Fairy Tales book (my class website has a pdf version available here but I'm not sure if it will be up for much longer so download it as soon as you get the chance ;) http://2012wri10.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/49996249/Classic%20FairyTales%20by%20Maria.pdf)

At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Veronica Gard said...

I love the line in the version I have "The giant took long strides but Molly was nimble..." I'm going to tell this story at our Tellabration this Saturday in San Antonio, Texas. Do come!
Veronica Gard

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the version of this story that I read when I was younger, the bridge of one hair was made by Molly as she ran away from the giant by plucking a single hair from her head.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger &rew said...

"And they all live happily ever after.

Except the giant's wife, who hopefully will be filing for divorce sometime soon..."

...and the giant's three daughters, who were beaten to death.

Like soapmaker I grew up listening to this story on the Sunday morning children's radio show in New Zealand. I was always upset that the giant's wife seemed like a nice lady who took Molly and her sisters in, fed them, and tried to protect them from her husband. To repay her kindness, her daughters were killed and she was sewn into a sack and beaten.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger &rew said...

By the way, I'd like to add my two cents to the description of "carle" and "spain"...

Carle came into Gaelic languages like Scottish and Irish from old Norse. It is used to describe a strong man, particularly a manual labourer and is related to the English word "churl" which means a peasant or surly man, which we still use today in the form of "churlish" (boorish or rude).

Spain could refer to an exotic or dangerous land, but may be a bit more complicated. Origin stories of the Gaelic people talk of wandering from place to place across what is now Egypt, Tunisia, Crete and eventually to Spain and Portugal, where the Gaelic kingdom of Galacia was established. A great warrior leader of these people was Míl Espáine, who's name means "Hero (or Soldier) of Hispania". From Spain, the Gaelic people migrated to northern Britain and Ireland, and the modern Irish people refer to themselves as Milesians ("Sons of Mil") and the Scottish people take their name from Scotta, Míl's wife who was supposedly Egyptian. Subsequent references to Spain in Gaelic Britain then seem to refer to a "land of the dead", as this is where their ancestors died and were buried.


Post a Comment

<< Home