Kate Crackernuts

I drew Anne instead of the heroine because a.) I wanted to draw someone with a sheep’s head, b.) I’m horrible at drawing faces, and c.) I never understood what a ‘plain’ girl was supposed to look like, anyway.

This fairy tale from the Orkney Islands is an old favorite of mine that I somehow forgot about until I stumbled across it today and decided to post about it here. I just…Shame on me. I love this fairy tale!

The story opens with the familiar fairy tale family structure–mom is dead, there’s a stepmother and a stepsister, dad is…weirdly absent–but then it proceeds to turn that all on its head. The plain stepsister, Kate, is not at all jealous of her beautiful sister Anne. The fairy tale describes them as loving each other like real sisters. This is so rare in a fairy tale, and I am here for it.

Guess who is insanely jealous that Anne is more beautiful than Kate? If you guessed the stepmother, then have a cookie. You are correct. The queen decides to find some means of ruining Anne’s beauty, and talks to her friend the hen-wife about this. The hen-wife tells the queen to send Anne to her, and tells her not to let Anne eat anything before she comes.

Kate did not ask for this. Kate is perfectly fine with Anne. Just…why.

The queen tells Anne the next morning to go ask the hen-wife for some eggs. Anne goes, but she sees a piece of bread left out on the counter and takes it as she leaves, eating it along the way. When Anne gets to the hen-wife’s house, she asks for eggs, and the hen-wife tells her to lift the lid off the pot. There is nothing in there. “Go home to your mother and tell her to keep the larder door better locked,” the hen-wife says. Anne leaves, presumably very confused, and tells her mother what happened. The queen realizes that Anne must have had something to eat before she left, and watches her the next morning to make sure she doesn’t eat anything before she goes away.

However, Anne, being very nice and very hungry, stops along the way to talk to some people she sees picking peas, and leaves with a handful of peas that she eats on the way. The same thing happens at the hen-wife as yesterday, except the hen-wife is…much angrier than before. I’m kind of surprised that no warning bells go off in Anne’s head at this point? This is weird? Or maybe she does find it strange, the fairy tale doesn’t give much insight into Anne’s reactions either way.

The next day (because more time has not given her the opportunity to wonder if enchanting her daughter is a bad idea), the queen decides to accompany Anne to the hen-wife in order to make sure she doesn’t eat anything. I will assume for the sake of my own sanity that Anne really does not want to go at this point and the queen is forcing her, but as I said, the fairy tale doesn’t really say. Anne asks the hen-wife for some eggs, and the hen-wife tells her to lift the lid off the pot. Only this time when Anne lifts the lid, the enchantment works, and her head is turned into a sheep’s head.

The queen returns home, satisfied. She forgot to account for Kate in her plans, though. Kate takes one look at her newly-transformed sister and is done with the whole family. She veils her sister and leaves the place.

They wander until they come to a castle. Kate knocks at the door and asks if they can sleep there tonight. They are allowed inside, and they find out that a king lives there, with two sons. One of the sons is sick and about to die, and no one can figure out what is wrong with him. The sisters are informed that everyone who watches the prince at night goes missing, and the king is offering a peck of silver to everyone who stays up with him. You would have to offer me so much more money before I would go for that, but Kate is braver and clearly even more desperate for money than I am, so she agrees.

Everything seems normal with the prince until midnight. When the clock tolls midnight, the prince rises, dresses himself, and goes downstairs. Kate follows him, but he is out of it and doesn’t seem to notice her at all. He goes down to the stables, calls out to his hound, and mounts his horse. Kate, being the intrepid girl that she is, is not going to let this pass by without getting to the bottom of it. She jumps up behind him. The prince doesn’t react to her. See, I only get this unaware of my surroundings when I have headphones in. Nowadays, anyway. Ahem.

The prince rides off through the wood, and Kate plucks some nuts off the trees as they pass and puts them in her apron. (I don’t know if that has some cultural significance–is it some sort of protection, does it symbolize something, etc.–or if it’s just one of the weird, random things fairy tale heroines do.) They come to a green hill, and the prince stops his horse and calls out, “Open, open, green hill, and let the young prince in with his horse and his hound.”

“And his lady behind him,” Kate adds. Heh. I love her. She’s not taking any chances, which you really shouldn’t do in a fairy tale.

The green hill opens, and they go in. They are in a magnificent, brightly lit hall, and the hall is filled with fairies. Kate dismounts and hides herself behind the door, watching the prince. The fairies go to him and lead him over to dance…and he doesn’t stop. He dances and dances, until he falls onto a couch in exhaustion, and the fairies fan him until he can get back up and keep dancing.

…That sounds like a scarily accurate depiction of me whenever I go to a dance. Minus the fairies.

When the cock crows, the prince gets on his horse, Kate jumps up behind, and they both go home. In the morning, the prince’s family comes in and finds her sitting by the fire cracking nuts. Kate says the prince had a good night, which…Okay, Kate, if that’s your definition of a good night, I just…That is a brazen lie and you know it, Kate. She says that she won’t sit up with him again unless they give her a peck of gold, and the king agrees.

The same thing happens the next night, with the prince going to the hall under the hill. This night, Kate doesn’t watch the prince. She watches the fairies instead, and she sees a fairy baby playing with a wand. She overhears one of the fairies say, “three strokes of that wand would make Kate’s sister as well as she ever was.” Kate is not throwing that opportunity away, whatever the danger. She goes over to the baby and starts to play with it, rolling the nuts and letting it chase after them. Like…like a cat. Oh my goodness. The child drops the wand to pick up the nuts, and Kate grabs the wand and puts it in her apron. The prince goes home when he hears the cock crow, and this time, as soon as he gets to his room, Kate runs to her sister and touches Anne three times with the wand. Her sheep’s head turns back into her own head, and Anne is finally cured.

The next night, Kate refuses to watch the prince unless she can have his hand in marriage. I…Okay, I’ll admit I do indeed ship this, but seeing as she’s only known him for three days, she might want to slow down. But this is a fairy tale, what do I expect. I feel like I say that a lot, but there’s a reason why. Insta-love runs rampant through these stories. But you know what? I ship it anyway, and I honestly don’t care that they’ve only known each other for three days.

The king agrees, and she stays up with the prince another night. The prince goes to the hall again, and this time, the fairy child is playing with a bird. “Three bites of that birdie would make the prince as well as he ever was,” the fairy says. There is a fairy in almost every folktale who will loudly state exactly how to solve all the main character’s problems within the character’s earshot, and I’ve always been kind of interested in the deus ex machina fairies in folklore. Is it genuinely an accident, is the fairy sick of everyone else treating humans as disposable, etc. It’s a weird convention. Most fairy tale conventions are.

Kate rolls the nuts toward the child, the same as last night, and grabs the bird. After she and the prince get home, she kills the bird and cooks it. A savoury smell fills the room. The prince asks her for some of the bird, which is the first time in the fairy tale he is mentioned speaking to her. With each bite the prince takes, he gets a little better, until finally he is healed. He sits by the fireplace with Kate, and when his family comes in, they are talking and eating nuts together. Can we just agree that this relationship is goals? In fact, can we agree that everything about Kate is goals?

While Kate has been breaking the prince’s curse, Anne has fallen in love with the prince’s brother, and so they all get married. My shipping heart is happy.

This is one fairy tale that should have way more retellings than it does. I can only find one, and it was written all the way back in the sixties. YA! Stop sleeping on this one! Maybe I’ll just break down and write a retelling of it one of these days. I genuinely want to. Sisterly relationships? A weird curse to break? A clever, brave heroine who doesn’t back down from an adventure? Give me some story ideas and all the retellings! Also, I can’t exactly remember the last novel I’ve read set in Scotland, which is obviously very bad and needs to change.

Maybe I’ll make a post one of these days about all the fairy tales that should have retellings and don’t, because it is a crying shame. There are so many.

7 thoughts on “Kate Crackernuts

  1. Woahhh Becky! This post was amazing!! You made me fall in love with this story, especially because of your retelling. 💙 OMG I have an idea- we should do a collab where we both write out versions of this fairy tale!!! You can tell I’m excited XD 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      Ooh, that is a great idea! You mean like writing short stories related to this fairy tale, or do you mean something else? I would be worried about not getting mine up in time, though…XD But I would be interested in doing it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like, a retelling that’s pretty short and we both do it and post with a link to each other’s- hey, don’t stress! We’ll come up with a day that works for you and me 😊 Could you shoot me an email from my contact section in my blog?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of this one! Which… I mean, I haven’t heard of all the fairy tales by a long shot, but I’m pretty familiar with a large number of them. I like it! Kind of a gender-bent 12 Dancing Princesses vibe to it, actually, but with an actual subplot!

    I would LOVE a post about fairy tales you think deserve retellings! I love retelling fairy tales, and creating my own fairy tales, apparently, and writing stories that aren’t retellings but take inspiration from certain fairy tales and then making them unrecognizable…. LOL

    Also, I don’t know if you do tags, but I tagged you for a Behind the Blogger Book tag! No pressure to actually do it! http://jenelleschmidt.com/behind-the-blogger-book-tag/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s pretty obsure! And yes I love the Twelve Dancing Princesses vibe!! And I can’t think of any other fairy tale told from the point of view of the stepsister?

      I shall clearly have to write it, then. And yes, I love retelling fairy tales, too! Retellings used to be all I wrote, practically. There was a time when I wasn’t really writing any retellings, but now most of my ideas seem to have swung that way again? Oh well, I’m here for it, lol.

      Thank you for tagging me!


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