Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Lassie and Her Godmother

As part of the countdown to the release of my next book ICE, I am sharing old Norse tales collected by Asbjornsen and Moe. The most famous of these tales ("East of the Sun and West of the Moon") was the inspiration for ICE. This is NOT that story...

The Lassie and Her Godmother (from Asbjornsen and Moe)

Once upon a time... a poor couple has a baby girl but can't afford to christen her. The man begs for someone to pay the fees, but the only person who offers is a well-dressed lady who wants to keep the child for her own.

Talk about an offer that comes with strings. Sheesh! At least Rumplestiltskin led up to his ultimatum.

The mother refuses, and the man continues to beg. But he has no luck, so he agrees to the lady's terms: the baby is christened and then taken away to live with her new foster-mother.

Sucks to be fairy-tale parents. They either die or never see their kids again. I think the survivors need a support group -- PARFTB (Parents Against Ridiculous Fairy Tale Bargains).

One day, years later, the foster-mother has to go on a journey. She shows the girl three doors and tells her she must not open them.

How has the girl never noticed the three doors before? I mean, she lives there, right? Unobservant much?

While the lady is away, the girl is overwhelmed with curiosity. She opens the first of the three forbidden doors. The Star flies out.

Here's an idea: if you have a forbidden room, lock the door.

When the lady returns, she's so upset that she wants to send the girl away. But the girl cries and begs, and so the lady allows her to stay.

Umm... any explanation about the star? Why was a star in the room? How did a star get into the room? Just how big is this house?

Eventually, the lady needs to go on a second journey. She warns the girl not to open the two remaining forbidden doors. This time, the girl opens the second door. The Moon flies out.

Seriously, I don't meant to be all un-poetic, but why is this woman kidnapping celestial objects? And isn't this causing a few minor gravitational issues? What about the tides?

When the lady returns this time, she is even more upset, but again, the girl cries, and the lady allows her to stay.

Lady, lock the door.

Before her third journey, the lady warns the girl not to open the final door. Of course, the girl opens the final door. The Sun flies out.

Got to admit: that's kind of a cool image.

This time, the lady tells her she must leave. She gives the girl a choice: "You can be the loveliest woman in the world but unable to speak, or you can be the ugliest woman in the world but keep your voice."

This lady has odd superpowers. Granted, Wonder Woman's invisible jet and lasso-of-truth are odd too, but still...

The girl chooses to be lovely and mute.

Ooh, ooh, we must be leading up to a moral! Pretty is as pretty does.

Leaving her foster-mother, the girl walks and walks through a great forest. At night, she climbs a tree. In the morning, she's found by a prince who thinks she's so beautiful that he decides to marry her.

Another deep meaningful relationship based on mutual interests and compatible worldviews.

At the birth of the girl's first child, the girl's foster-mother appears, cuts the baby's little finger, smears the blood on the girl's mouth, and says, "Now you will be as sad as I was when you let out the Star." She leaves with the baby.

Ouch, that's harsh.

Everyone assumes the girl ate her baby. The prince's mother wants to burn the girl at the stake, but the prince argues to save her life.

Perhaps the girl could learn sign language. Or charades.

At the birth of her second child, the prince doubles the guard around the girl, but the foster-mother still appears, smears blood on the girl's mouth, takes the child, and says, "Now you will be as sad as I was when you let out the Moon."

At least the prince is sensible enough to set guards. Two points for princey.

Again, everyone assumes the girl ate her baby, and the prince has to argue even harder to keep her alive.

Another idea: the girl could learn to write. A nice letter explaining that she's not a cannibal might help the prince out. Even a cryptic note: "Kidnapped. No eat."

At the birth of her third child, the foster-mother appears again, takes the baby, and says, "Now you will be as sad as I was when you let out the Sun."

Did the girl not see this coming?

This time, the prince is forced to agree to burn his wife. As the girl is led out to the stake, her foster-mother appears with three children. The foster-mother says, "You have been punished enough." She returns the children and restores the girl's voice.

Wait, wait, where's my moral? She chose pretty! Shouldn't she be learning some relevant lesson? You can't be leaving me with just "don't disobey"! What about the imprisonment of celestial objects? Are the kids really okay? Does the prince still like his wife? What about the girl's biological parents? Did they join PARFTB?

And everyone lives happily ever after. The end.


For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.



At 6:24 PM, Blogger Greg R. Fishbone said...

The Grimm's had a version of this. So which came first?

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Janni said...

Okay, now this totally sounded like a Western European fairy tale, until the part about "okay, guess you've learned your lesson." Because that last part> So Norse, at least judging by my reading of the sagas. (Which sometimes go all cataclysmic, and sometimes say things like, "And he accepted the money for his slain kinsman, and they both kept this settlement, the end." It just depends.)

Did I not know "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" was Norse?

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Greg: No idea which came first in the oral tradition, but as I understand it, the Grimms were aware of the Norwegian version when they recorded the German version.

Anyone know more about its history?

Janni: I need to read more Norse sagas. Sounds highly entertaining.

Yep, East of the Sun is from Asbjornsen and Moe's collection (

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Anne Leigh said...

LADY LOCKS THEY WERE INVENTED THEN. And didn't they think of maybe.....not having anymore kids? Couldn't she communicate by writting stuff down in paper?

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Q said...

This sounds an awful lot like some versions of The Six Swans.

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

SavyLeartist: Even if she wasn't literate, I still think she could have drawn stick figures. Or done charades. Or something.

Q: Yeah, the "mute woman falsely accused then nearly burned" seems to be a common trope. Rather odd that it is so common. I can't imagine this sort of situation popping up all that often in real life.

At 2:58 AM, Anonymous Meagan said...

See, this is actually what I love about old school faerie tales: they are completely nonsensical and the "morals" are either afterthoughts, or missing entirely.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Q said...

Oh, and I forgot to say: It's not as disturbing as the Juniper Tree. (Are there any more disturbing than The Juniper Tree?)

At 8:52 AM, Blogger tanita✿davis said...

...and it's the Godmother's fault if the girl forever has an inhuman craving for baby blood...

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Meagan: Totally. The morals always feel like afterthoughts (which I like).

Q: I think Juniper Tree is the most disturbing one out there.

Tanita: Ooh, that could make for an interesting sequel...

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Sherry said...

There are always questions, aren't there? Couldn't she have washed the blood off before anyone saw it? Or like you said written a note? Yelled? Screamed when the kidnapper/nasty stepmom came to call? Moved to another castle? Another country?

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Sherry: Washing the blood off would have been an excellent idea. Perhaps the first time she was too stunned to realize what was going on, but the second time and the third time?

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Antonietta May said...

they DO need a support group. maybe that should be your next project, after Ivy.
i liked the tale, in a strange way... it's like a combination of Italo Calvino's Silver Nose and the Six Swans...
i agree though, that was a lame ending. and the Lady needs a nice deadbolt. if the lass is so dense as to not listen to lady twice,or find the doors before hand, maybe she wouldn't know how to open a simple bar latch..
she and snow white and little red need a play date while their respective parents have counseling!

At 6:49 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

PS. This story's a lot like the one "Mary's Child".

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Erin said...

HAHA. This is so great. My favorite lines:

"Here's an idea: if you have a forbidden room, lock the door."
"Another deep meaningful relationship based on mutual interests and compatible worldviews."

At 7:23 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Hedgi: Love the image of a playdate with young fairy-tale characters!

Lucas: Yep, very close variants of the same tale.

Erin: Thanks! Glad you liked it.

At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so, I am wondering if you might have heard of a fairytale; I can't think of the name of it, but I do have a description. I may be missing a few details.

There was a girl trapped in a tower. She had a curse on her that she could not look East; if she looked East, she would die. She had a window that looked out East and a mirror that was placed opposite the window so she could look out via the mirror. She saw a handsome prince walking by. She got out of the tower and set out to find him. She was looked at the sunrise and died.

If you anyone figures it out can they post it in a comment?

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

(about the above comment from Anonymous) I know that one. Except it wasn't a prince, it was Lancelot (at least in the version I read. I think it was the original since it was in ballad-form. Must trust ballads)

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Lady of Shalott."

At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes look up a site called erstwhile and their version of the bird, the mouse, and the hotdog. Or the death of the hen for that matter.

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

Can someone explain why everyone just assumed that she ate her children?! Is that, like, does that happen enough that when a child gets abducted everyone else is like: “oop. another missing child! their mother is totally a cannibal. BURN THEM!” this worries me.


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