So, About Celtic Fairies (part 1)

So! IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT THERE IS MISINFORMATION ON THE INTERNET. Like, seriously. Some of those little infographics about fairies that I’ve seen on Pinterest get over half their information wrong. It’s just…if you’re going to make a worldbuilding post, make a worldbuilding post! Don’t say that this is what whatever century Irish peasants believed! For heaven’s sake. So I am here, set to clear up misinformation about fairies and possibly accidentally spread it anyway! But let’s hope for the best.

Disclaimer: This post deals with Celtic fairies, and, more specifically, Irish fairies; much of this information applies to British folklore too, I think, but Irish fairies are what I studied obsessively during my teen years. Also, it’s certainly possible that I may be a massive hypocrite and get over half my information wrong, but if I do, please correct me. I try to fact-check as carefully as I can, but I’m only human (or am I ooh)

So! Let’s have a little Q & A! We’ll call this imaginary questioner ‘Person 1’, P1 for short. ‘M’ is for ‘Mothling’.

P1: Oh! Fairies! Those cute little winged things in gardens, right? Tinkerbell!!!

M: …No. That’s a Victorian trope. I’m honestly not sure if there are any fairies of the sort I speak of that have wings, and not all fairies are little. Some are. Definitely not all. Some have very…changeable size; in their true form they’re probably smallish, but try getting them to tell you that. Let’s not generalize here!

And we do not talk about Tinkerbell. She has her merits, but she’s not the topic of this conversation.

You know, I’ve somehow lived my life without reading Peter Pan? I’ve read Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. Pinocchio was a bizarre book, frankly speaking, although I still liked it. But I’m not letting this turn into a review of Pinocchio.

P1: Alright, so by fairies you mean those wicked and dark creatures in YA, treating mortals as their playthings and without a care in the world for any creature but themselves. They’re so scary and immoral, aren’t they?

M: …

Sort of? I guess? Not really? I’m talking about folklore fairies. They’re…kind of like that? (Not in the same way, though.)

OKAY, FINE, I’VE HAD ENOUGH. THE WORD IS AMORAL. NOT IMMORAL. I’ve just always interpreted the fey morality structure as being outside of a human construct, and I mean, I guess you can just make them like especially wicked humans if you want to, with the same motivations and the same impulses?? But I mean, why would you want to. (This has been a callout post to The Cruel Prince. Sorry not sorry. It’s just not how I like my fairies.)

Also, fairies do good things as well. They do. Sometimes they help humans. Sometimes they don’t. They aren’t all bad all the time, and it’s a little ridiculous to write them that way.

So no, we’re not really talking about those, either. As a side note, I’d prefer it if YA would stop talking about how their darker takes on fairies are closer to how original fairies were portrayed. No you’re not closer. You are certainly not.

P1: [grabs my arms (wings?)] TELL ME ABOUT CHANGELINGS.

M: Okay! Ease up there! That’s when a fairy steals a human child from the cradle and leaves a fairy child in its place, which is called a changeling. The fairy child is usually ill-tempered, cries a lot, and remains scrawny despite guzzling much more milk than a normal child. The fairy child is not always an actual child! There is one fairy tale where the changeling admitted to being thousands of years old. Why you’d be thousands of years old and masquerade as a baby, which is one of the most boring creatures in existence, God only knows. Some of them really are fairy children, though! Like a lot of things in folklore, it seems to vary.

Oh. And also, the fairy child usually met a horrific death at the hands of their human parents. And the ‘fairy child’ was probably a sick baby, a disabled child, or simply an abuse victim with unloving parents (look, you can’t tell me awful parents didn’t take advantage of that superstition). Man, I’ve just made myself depressed. I remember searching and searching for a story about a changeling with a happy ending for the fairy, and I found maybe a couple? A couple in a whole sea of stories about murdered babies. People really believed this stuff. They really murdered their children because of a superstition.

As for why the fairies were supposed to do this? I honestly don’t know if there was much of an explanation. I remember reading something about ‘human babies are prettier and they like that better’, but first of all, let’s be real. That makes literally no sense. Can we all just agree that newborn babies are ugly? And also, I’m sure humans feel that their children are worth exchanging the literal world for, but…that seems like quite a bit of inconvenience to go through for one baby. Yeah! I just don’t get it! If you do know of an in-folklore explanation, please do tell me, because I have been wondering about this for quite a while. It seems to be one of those things that just happens, with no reasonable explanation.

P1: So, is anyone else at risk of getting kidnapped?

M: Oh, yeah. Women get kidnapped as brides or nursemaids all the time. I’m also pretty sure that Lady Wilde spoke of human men getting kidnapped and forced into marriage, too, but I can’t find the link right now. Darn it.

Also, from what I can tell, children usually get replaced with an actual fairy; adults usually get replaced with a stick or other small object that has been enchanted to look like them, or else they’ll just disappear suddenly. That’s what I remember, anyway. Allow me to go off and read through all those changeling stories before I commit to this, though. I know I have never read a story where a fairy lives in the place of an adult human, but that certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Honestly, that sounds like it’d make a cool YA book.

Oh, and the illusion ‘dies’ shortly after it’s left there. Changelings get killed or forcibly removed, or else they’ll just stay with the family.

I certainly have read tales of male and female artisans getting captured. There was one cute one about how the fairies kidnapped a woman who was an especially good baker (unsure how old it is though, sorry), and I’ve read another about the fairies kidnapping a blacksmith. Also, apparently, some of the kidnapped people end up as enchanted slaves. How decent of fairies. I am disgusted. (This has also been a fairy callout post and I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the end of this oh no)

Anyway, kidnapping seems to be kind of their thing.

Basically, if this blog ever goes defunct for no apparent reason, you know what got me!

College. College got me.

Oh! And there are also stories about how the fairies teach the kidnapped girls magic before they send them home. Which is nice, I guess! Not sure if it really makes up for the kidnapping, though. But thanks for trying!

There are also stories about human men kidnapping fairy brides and forcing them into marriage, as you do. (For instance, selkie brides.) Those stories tend to end horribly. As they should! Don’t be a terrible person.

Oh, and by the way, my source for a lot of this section is this. If you’re interested.

P1: There aren’t any stories about human sacrifice, are there?

M: Yes! There are indeed one or two. The most famous one is Tam Lin, of course, where the fairy queen has to pay a teind to hell once every seven years. Lady Wilde also briefly mentions a tradition about human sacrifice. I’m not sure who else talks about it, but do tell me if you know of anything.

P1: …

TELL ME HOW I MAY BE SAFE FROM THEM.

M: Salt! Lots of salt. Salt is good for more than just flavoring. In fact, it’s excellent.

People talk about iron as protection, but one person in a forum somewhere asked where, exactly, people were getting that, and that made me realize that…they’re right? I don’t remember a lot of 19th century collectors of folktales talking about that? Definitely one 17th century guy did. Something something iron is bad because…something something hellfire?! I don’t get it either. I’m sure it makes sense if you’re from the 17th century. (And if you can actually understand the words; I never claimed to be educated) Anyway, if you know of anyone else who speaks about cold iron in relation to fairies, again, do tell me!

Church bells are also excellent, and bread is one we nowadays wouldn’t think of, but Wikipedia says it works! I feel like I might have also read about fire being a source of protection? Idk, man. I’ll try and find it for you. I’m sure there’s other stuff you can do. But, as always, the best protection you can have is being the main character of a fairy tale. Particularly if you’re a bright, clever maiden with a good sense of humor. Those seem to do the best in these types of tales. More seriously, civility and cleverness are the best protection you can have in any situation, and that holds true with fairies, too.

Oh, hey, look at that! I was right about the fire. From Lady Wilde:

Fire is a great preventative against fairy magic, for fire is the most sacred of all created things, and man alone has power over it. No animal has ever yet attained the knowledge of how to draw out the spirit of fire from the stone or the wood, where it has found a dwelling-place. If a ring of fire is made round cattle or a child’s cradle, or if fire is placed under the churn, the fairies have no power to harm. And the spirit of the fire is certain to destroy all fairy magic, if it exist.

I love it when I’m right. Also, quite a few of the changeling stories involve burning the changeling, so maybe I don’t love it when I’m right.

P1: Okay, so where do fairies live?

M: Most of them live in caves and in raths! OH ALSO. I almost forgot to tell you. Do not do not do not mess with fairy ground. Do not build something on it. Do not cut shrubbery on it. Do not even do something seemingly small like plucking a few blades of grass. YOU WILL DIE AND YOUR FARMS WILL BE CURSED. Just don’t do it. I don’t care what you want to do, it’s not worth it. Build somewhere else.

Also, why are you thinking about building on ancient sites anyway? My history-loving heart is angry. Leave the raths alone.

Although, where fairies live depends on the type of fairy, of course! It’s variable. Some live underwater. Some even live in your house!

They’re there. You just can’t see them. >:-)

P1: Dancing?

M: WHY YES INDEED.

Dancing and music is very important. In fact, fairy rings are left there when the fairies dance! And sometimes humans try and join in the dance, which can end badly for the human. Sometimes you’ll be alright. Sometimes you dance to your death. 😉

Not fairy music, but certainly Irish! Also why won’t WordPress center my captions
This has been bothering me

P1: Can they go to heaven?

M: That would depend on who you ask! Usually, the story goes that a group of fairies come up to a traveling priest and ask him if it is possible for them to achieve salvation. The priest always answers no. In some stories, that’s the end of it, and the fairies let out a great cry and sometimes burn down their home.

But there’s also another version, although I’m not sure where I found it. A priest says that the chances of a fairy getting into heaven is as likely as his staff going into bloom. As soon as he leaves, his staff immediately sprouts flowers, and he has to go back and apologize. I don’t remember where I read that, though, so take it with a grain of salt I guess >_<

Okay! I finally found it. It was Swedish, but I’ll leave it here because it’s a cool story.

But my favorite answer from a priest is this: “I will give you a favorable answer, if you can make me a hopeful one. Do you adore and love the Son of God?”

They have no answer.

You can find the stories mentioned here, by the way.

Uh…There’s definitely more to say, but I have realized that this is getting really, really long. I might split this up into two parts? Also, most of my information is from Lady Wilde’s Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, and if it’s not from there than it’s probably either from Wikipedia or else I found it once upon a researching session. If you have any more questions, ask them in the comments!

Also, I’m sorry if there are any weird typos. It’s a long article and WordPress kept having bugs. I hope I caught everything. >_<

So, in conclusion, fairies are our amazing problematic faves, and I hope you learned something new! I love fairies. A lot. (So please don’t kill me for any of the rude things I said about you, any fairies who might be reading this blog. I don’t mean it, much.)

The Well ‘O The World’s End

So, The Well ‘O The World’s End, the only version of Princess and the Frog that I can stand! I didn’t expect to find a version of this I liked either. But I’m kind of thrilled that I did! It even features a sympathetic parental figure, which yes!

An old widow lives alone with her daughter in a small cottage, and one day the woman decides she would like to make some cakes. The only problem is, right after she has gotten most of the ingredients together, she realizes there is no water in the house.

Oh, I HATE it when this happens. You get started on a recipe and you realize you’re missing a key ingredient. God, I’m having flashbacks.

The mother goes outside to her daughter and hand her the jug and asks her to go to the Well o’ the World’s End, because the water is supposed to produce the best cakes or something. It is a long way from their house to the well, leaving me wondering why they don’t just try a closer water source just this once, and the girl is tired out by the time she reaches it. She finds out that the well is dried up, and she sits down and begins to cry, being both extremely tired and extremely annoyed. The story says that she didn’t know where to get more water, so maybe that explains things; there actually isn’t another water source in the area. Maybe a drought?

Anyway, the frog takes her crying as his cue to show up. He offers to help her if she’ll marry him, and she agrees, because fairy tale logic!

The frog jumps down to the bottom of the well, and the well becomes full to the brim. She fills the jug and goes back home without worrying about it much. That changes, however, when she and her mother are about to go to bed and she hears a knock on the door. She hears a voice sing:

“Open the door, my hinnie, my heart, Open the door, my own true love, And remember the promise that you and I made, down in the meadow, where we two met.”

Hinnie, is apparently, a Scottish/northern English word for sweetheart? I think?

The girl, feeling rather frightened, assures her mother that it’s just a frog. The mother, apparently very chill with the concept of talking animals, feels sorry for the frog and tells the daughter to let the frog in.

This. This is why I love the story better than its other variants. The mother doesn’t force her to invite the frog in because she made a promise, even though the promise was made under very shady circumstances. It’s not because she hates her daughter, either. It’s just because she feels sorry for the frog.

The girl unwillingly lets the frog in, and it hops across the room to the fireside. It begins to sing again:

“Oh give me my supper, my hinnie, my heart, Oh give me my supper, my own true love; Remember the promise that we both made, Down in the meadow where we two met.”

“Give the poor beast his supper,” says the old woman. “It’s an uncommon paddock that can sing like that.”

Paddock is an archaic word for frog. In case you didn’t know

The daughter is pretty cross and very frightened by this point, though I’m not sure if she’s specifically scared of frogs, magical talking frogs, or magical talking frogs that try to bargain their way into marriage. Either way, no judgement! “I’m not going to be so silly as to feed a wet, sticky paddock,” she snaps.

“Don’t be so ill-natured and cruel,” the mother says. “Who knows how far the little beastie has travelled? And I warrant that it would like a saucerful of milk.”

The daughter gets the frog some milk. The frog starts to sing again:

“Now chop off my head, my hinnie, my heart, Chop off my head, my own true love, And remember the promise that you and I made, Down in the meadow where we two met.”

“Pay no heed, the creature’s daft,” exclaims the old woman as the daughter raises the axe to chop off the frog’s head. Am I wrong for finding this visual hilarious? She didn’t waste any time grabbing that axe, tho

The daughter chops off the head before her mother can stop her. Rather than dying, the frog is transformed into a handsome prince. The mother and daughter begin to kneel, but the prince stops them. “‘Tis I that should kneel to thee, sweetheart,” he says to the girl. Awww. He explains that he was placed under a curse by a fairy who killed his father. The curse could only be broken if a maiden agreed to marry him, let him into the house, and cut off his head. I just love all the strangely specific things people have to do to break these curses.

And of course, the girl and the prince get married. Awww.

This is probably going to be my last post for a little while, because I’ve got my SATs coming up and I need to study. (Pray for meeee, I am so underprepared) I might post intermittently or I might not post at all, it depends on how much time I actually end up having. So goodbye for now! Au revoir!

I would totally post a gif of George Wickham leaning out of his carriage and yelling “Au Revoir” but I can’t find one sorry

The Skeleton Harp–A “The Twa Sisters” short story

I have come to you today with a short story retelling a English/Scottish ballad! There are tons of versions of this, some showing up in places as far away as Sweden or Norway. And it shows up in other places in Northern Europe, too. Basically, it’s an old story that has had time to spread around.

It seems like posting a story once a month has sort of become a bit of a thing for me lately. I haven’t been writing much this month (I’ve begun to get started again, but I’m still sort of trying to find my groove), but I’d written this one last month. So! Here you go.

Variants of the ballad may be found here; a version put into song may be found here; and my Pinterest board (yes, of course I made a Pinterest board) may be found here.

There had been silence in the castle ever since their sister Isobel had fallen into the river by the mill, and right now it hung over the great hall, feeling tangible. Even the knights and servants were quiet as they ate, the only sounds an occasional clink of metal or a murmur as someone whispered something. The silence surrounded them all and cloaked them like a funeral shroud, and Jane felt smothered and choked by it. “The river has flooded,” Jane said softly, just to say something. She leaned into her older sister Ellen and listened to the rain begin to sprinkle down in the courtyard. “William said so when he came in.” William was the only person who would listen to her speak now, the only one who’d listen as she babbled some nothing as she embroidered, the only one who told her the gossip from the town. She was in a sorry state when the only person who would talk to her was a man she despised.

Jane huddled into her cloak, but the cold still bit into her. William was her father’s knight and her sisters’ lover—both her sisters. He had courted Ellen, giving her all kinds of gifts, but that hadn’t stopped him from kissing Isobel when no one else was there. Except Jane. Because she kept walking in on them by accident. Jane had hated them both, and hated the smile on Ellen’s face whenever William walked in the room. She’d kept quiet, until William began to talk to her father of marriage. Then she’d finally broke and told Ellen. Ellen had listened, her lips tight, but her only change was her treatment of Isobel, and she never sent William away. Jane wasn’t sure what she had expected to happen. Isobel had drowned a month later, walking along the river strand. Ellen had cried herself to sleep for months afterwards, and she’d barely had an appetite since it happened. She was too thin.

Jane scraped her chicken onto Ellen’s plate with a smile. The knife scratched loudly against her plate, earning her a look from her father. Ellen looked at it and pushed it away. Jane’s smile faded into a bitter grimace, her hands clutching the cold wood of her chair. There was an emptiness to this castle that could not be chased away, no matter how many nice things she did. It had always been there. But now it tightened around their necks like the noose.

A loud crack of thunder pealed, and the rain began in earnest, pelting the stone. The doors of the hall were thrown open with a crash, and a dead woman walked through them, her skin stretched tight over her body and a skeleton smile on her face. Jane’s father sprang to his feet with a loud curse, the only life this hall had seen in months. Ellen did nothing except watch the woman with a fanatic expression almost as dead as hers.

The only living thing the woman had was her golden hair, bright and gleaming and falling down past her waist. There was something horribly familiar about her hair, but Jane would not think why. “I come bringing a miracle and a curse,” the woman said in a rich, resounding voice. “But this place will no longer hold miracles, and so I deliver only the curse.”

 “What devil dares impersonate my daughter?” her mother whispered. The cold dread that had been coming over Jane washed over her in a flood, nearly bringing her to her knees. So her mother had noticed, too. “Begone from this place.”

“I am no devil,” said Isobel, with a smile that sent a shiver through Jane. “I am nothing but the river.” She waited for a response, but none came. She shrugged and brought out a harp from behind her. Jane did not realize at first what it was made of until it hit her in a horrible realization. She clapped a hand to her mouth, trying to push down the vomit rising in her. This was a nightmare. “A harper found my body and cut my breast-bone for his harp and took my hair for his strings,” Isobel said with a laugh. “He thought he could make a fortune with the magic, but the magic sung him to madness and took his soul. He clawed out his own eyes,” she added happily. Someone had desecrated her sister’s body? Or…She couldn’t process it anymore. “But it was magic, and dark magic, too.” She stepped back, and the harp began to sing, and this was Isobel’s voice, high and clear.

Farewell, my father and mother dear, and another song intertwined with it to sing of a sister who pushed the younger in as they were walking along the river strand,

By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie,

Farewell to William my sweetheart,

Binnorie, O, Binnorie,

And woe to my sister who drowned me,

By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.

The harp broke with a loud crack that sounded through the room. “Sister?” said Isobel to Ellen, holding out her hand.

“Of course,” Ellen whispered viciously, walking over to her. She took the hand, and Isobel began to lead Ellen out of the room.

“No!” Jane screamed, running toward them. “No, leave her!” Her parents did nothing. She clawed at Isobel’s hand, but both her sisters shoved her to the floor.

“A life for a life,” Ellen said. “That is what you desire, isn’t it, river?”

She tossed a smile over her shoulder at Ellen. “It is possible.” Jane jumped back to her feet, pulling at Ellen and trying to tear her away from this spirit, but she couldn’t break Isobel’s grip. She fell down, feeling as if all the strength were gone from her body. She tried to push herself up, and found she couldn’t.

“Take me,” she pleaded. “Take me instead.”

“No, Jane,” Isobel said. “You have no part in this. Leave this place and find a home.” And she led Ellen out the doors and into the misty rain.

I feel like that was unusually dark even for me. Wow.

The number of sisters varies from version to version. Most of the ballads only have two sisters, but a few have three, and I opted to tell it from the point of view of the third sister because, frankly, she is the only sister who comes out of this ballad looking okay. I don’t know that there are any versions where the ghost (or…whatever she was) of the sister comes to the castle rather than the harper, but hey, artistic license.

Stupid Favorite Fairy Tale Ships

Annd, here it is! My list of my very favorite stupidest fairy tale ships. Along with a couple ones that I hate, just because. I feel like I’ve been needing to write this post for a while now, anyway. I love! Talking about this! I love it much more than you love listening to me! But I will never shut up. Ever.

  • Ivan and the Princess Blue-Eyes

I have not been able to find a copy of this fairy tale anywhere except here, but oh boy is it amazing. “Don’t take my armour off, dear princess, don’t pierce my white flesh with your sword!” he pleads. “Kiss me on the lips instead.” –an actual quote

Yeah, so she was just about to kill him and I’m pretty sure she blinded someone–no, wait, she blinded his dad, but we don’t care about that because his dad is a jerk. HUSH SHE’S PERFECT. She’s very bloodthirsty, but very perfect. It’s an enemies-to-lovers relationship, which is my absolute favourite trope when done right and my absolute most hated trope when done wrong (and it’s SO HARD to find it done right). Does this one deliver for me? Yes it does.

  • The prince and princess from ‘The Prince and the Three Fates’

Ahh an actual healthy relationship on this list what is this

Anyway, the prince is prophesied to die from either a snake, a crocodile, or a dog. The princess hears that and decides she is having none of it, so she decides she will save her husband no matter what. And I’m still waiting on a retelling, Disney. Maybe you could get to work on that rather than remaking all your old stuff for the umpteenth time. Just saying.

It’s an Egyptian fairy tale, too (ancient Egyptian, actually, though I’m fairly sure the ending was added by Andrew Lang). I’m not necessarily against all the live-action remakes, but it does get to me that Disney could be using their time to spotlight lesser known fairy tales, especially non-European ones that have a harder time getting exposure over here, and they’re not. But oh well.

I need to post about this fairy tale. Good heavens.

  • Gareth and Lynet

OKAY SO THIS ONE ISN’T CANON BUT IT SHOULD BE.

Also, is it really a surprise to anyone that I’m talking about Arthuriana again? No. No it is not.

So, Gareth (who is Gawain’s brother) sneaks into Camelot as a kitchen boy for…some reason. Lynet asks the knights to save her sister from a man besieging her castle, but refuses to tell them her name for…some reason. No one decides to help her except our boy Gareth because plot convenience. They argue a lot, and Lynet can be pretty dang classist, but it’s the time period it is and she has a learning curve, so I forgive her. And frankly, she’s depending on a kitchen boy who (for all she knows) has no idea how to fight, and her sister is in danger. I don’t really blame her for reacting badly.

Oh, and also? She’s a enchantress. Although I’m still confused why, if she has magic, she can’t just save her sister herself? Oh well! Plot convenience!

But it was not to be. He ended up with Lyonesse, the sister, instead. And I kind of love Lyonesse, too, but just. WHY WAS IT NOT CANOOONN

(and yeah there’s no Arthurian ‘canon’ really, but my point is it didn’t happen in any medieval stories that I know of.)

  • The couple from ‘My Candlestick’

Another fairy tale I haven’t been able to find anywhere except here! The fairy tale is adorable though. And a little bit sad, but still adorable. The heroine actually reminds me a bit of my own first heroine: cute, a bit of a pathological liar, and sarcastic and fun. And honestly, I haven’t run into a lot of characters like these. We need more. And then there’s the prince; he’s enchanted and he never talks to her directly, but he starts opening up to her more and more and it’s so CUTE, dang it.

  • Mordred and Guinevere–oh look, my Arthurian crack ship

Ahem. Um. So, before you go, ‘Um, she is his father’s (uncle’s?) WIFE? What is wrong with you?’ (Totally acceptable reaction tbh.) Let me just say…It was a thing. Talk to Geoffrey of Monmouth about it.

But I just feel like I’d LOVE SEEING THIS ONSCREEN. Or on page. Whatever. I have a thing for (fictional!) unhealthy relationships, and there is lots of DrAmA potential in unhealthy relationships, and we all know I love stupid drama. These two are pretty much the usurping king and queen of unhealthy relationships and stupid drama. I apologize for nothing.

At first I thought my love for this simply stemmed from my dinosaur brain going, ‘VILLAINOUS GUINEVERE. OH MY GOSH SHE’S TAKING OVER THE THRONE. GO AND SMASH THAT PATRIARCHY, GIRL’. And yeah, that’s a valid reason for why I like it, but also. Drama.

I blame this whole ship on my dinosaur brain.

And it says something about Arthurian legend that I don’t think they’re the unhealthiest relationship in the legends. Especially not if you expand ‘relationship’ to mean romantic and platonic relationships. But I can think of a few unhealthier romantic ones, too.

  • Prunella and Bensiabel, from ‘Prunella’

Another one that’s weird, but still my fave. It’s basically Rapunzel and the prince, except the prince is the witch’s son instead, because all the best twists to a fairy tale have already been thought of. And he does pressure her into kissing him (by which I mean he TAKES ADVANTAGE OF LIFE-THREATENING SITUATIONS), but he always backs off when she tells him no each time, which…helps. I wouldn’t be able to stand this otherwise. But! He helps save her every time his mom tries to kill her (which happens a lot, incidentally), and Prunella doesn’t consider herself obligated to fall head-over-heels for him just because he saved her a couple times. It’s only after they’ve known each other for a while that she considers him at all, and in a world of love at first sight, that’s kind of refreshing.

They’re amazing. Specifically, Pru is amazing. Read the fairy tale, I’m serious.

~~~

And I feel like this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few ships I want to boot to the curb.

  • King Thrushbeard and the princess, from ‘King Thrushbeard’

Thinking about King Thrushbeard still makes me rage to this day, to be honest. The princess insults King Thrushbeard once when he asks her father for her hand in marriage, so then he does all this weird stuff where he disguises himself as a peasant and marries her, and then proceeds to humiliate her, emotionally abuse her, and treat her terribly. But it’s okay, because he’s the ‘hero’.

The scars I carry from reading this are still here.

  • Cliges and Fenice

Uh. Another lesser-known couple from Arthuriana! And I don’t exactly regret reading this story, because Alexander is truly amazing and I love his friendship with Guinevere, but I do regret Cliges existing.

I may have gotten along with him better before that whole thing with him cutting off the squire’s leg. Hmm.

He’s also another character in Arthurian legend who falls in love with his aunt-in-law! Hmm.

(In case you’re wondering, yes. This was one of the unhealthier relationships in Arthuriana I had in mind. I’d also like to add Tristram and Iseult to the list? Yet another where the hero gets together with his aunt-in-law! Why is that a thing! )

  • Griselda and whoever-his-name-was-wipe-him-from-my-memory, from ‘Griselda’

I can’t even talk about this fairy tale because it makes me so angry. I’m serious, if you want to know what it’s about, look it up yourself.

But WHY DID NO ONE SHOVE THAT HERO OFF A CLIFF. If no one else wants to, I volunteer. Ahem. I don’t usually get passionate enough about bad characters to hope they die, but there are always exceptions. And this man? Was an exception.

Anyway, that was all my very rambly and very stupid thoughts on my favorite ships! There are a few more I could probably think of, for both the ones I love and the ones I hate, but I don’t want this getting any longer than it is. Are there any you’d add or remove from either list? I’m honestly really curious.

Bran and the Bear–a Snow White and Rose Red short story

Once again, Arielle from Fairy Tale Central came through this month with another awesome prompt! I’ve been really enjoying doing them!

The prompt can be found here if you want to come up with a story for it! I tweaked the prompt a little, as I usually do. And the fairy tale (along with truly amazing commentary) can be found here.

I have no idea where this is set and if it’s a fantasy world or if it’s historical fantasy, but you know what? Let’s just call this historical UK. Now, where is it in the UK? Is it in Scotland? England? What time period is it? I don’t know! I’m professional!

I tried to give Snow selective mutism, and I hope everything was accurate. *fingers crossed*

And I made a Pinterest board, of course. I also found this board that I did not make, but that inspired me while coming up with this story.

And as always: No plagiarism, do not steal. I’m sure that I don’t have to say this and that everyone who reads this is a lovely person, but it can happen occasionally, so. 😀

Snow rested atop the boulder, her tattered red cloak covered in snowflakes. She sat very still, as usual. She sat so still that she looked as if she were waiting for someone or something, and she stared intently out into the distance past the cliff’s edge where the thick, roiling grey clouds coated the earth beneath, and if Rose hadn’t known her, she would have thought she were doing something very important. But she was not. She was simply thinking about something, and Rose didn’t know what. Rose was never privy to those particular thoughts.

Rose snuck up behind her, the snow crunching loudly under her feet, and she ruffled Snow’s white-blond hair, accidentally tugging some of it out of her braid. It wouldn’t have worked on anyone but Snow. Rose was horrible at sneaking.

Snow jumped and turned around to see her. Her eyes narrowed, and she turned away. “Don’t do that,” she said, placing a hand to her hair.

“Sorry,” Rose said with a grin, brushing Snow’s cloak off, because she’d never do it herself. She sat down on the boulder with her back to Snow. She bit her lip, a million things she wanted to say and the words for none of them. But she had to tell someone, because the words tightened in her chest until they wanted to burst, and she should have said these things to her family by now anyway. “We’ve been growing older, haven’t we?” Her voice was soft and a bit hollow, but Snow didn’t notice.

“Obviously,” Snow said dryly. “Did you think we would be sixteen forever?” Rose shut her eyes. That hadn’t come out right at all.

“What I meant was…” She licked her lips. “Not physically. But I feel older.” She thought for a moment about leaving the subject there and saying something else. “You’ve made a friend, and I’ve…” And Rose didn’t fit in with her old friends anymore, and she looked at them now and she felt ancient and apart. “And I’ve been feeling positively antiquated,” she said frankly. Snow didn’t say anything.

Snow’s friend was—he was a man enchanted to be a bear, and Rose was never quite certain about the details, or if Snow had ever remembered to tell their mother about him. He’d come in late one winter’s night when their mother was away, covered in snow and soft whispers, and Rose had fled under the table, her hands over her head and waiting for the sharp teeth to pull her out. But Snow stood there in the doorway for a moment, watching him with her serious eyes, and then she stepped aside and let him in. Rose hadn’t been able to believe her eyes for a moment. Snow would probably have shut the door to a person. Rose thought that she must have gone mad.

But the bear hadn’t eaten them, and he began to talk to Snow, softly. Rose could not hear what he said, and she was too out of it to try to listen. Snow said nothing—she never said anything to strangers—but she nodded, shut the door, and began to stoke the fireplace, gesturing at Rose to come out. And he had stayed there for the night, and Snow rested her head against his back and went to sleep.

He’d come to their house a few more times, never when anyone besides them were there, and Snow had even begun to talk to him sometimes. Rose couldn’t begin to say how much of a relief that was to her, despite the fact that he was—well, enchanted to be a bear. Snow never talked to anyone who could talk back, besides her family. Rose had no idea what their prior relationship was, or how he had been enchanted, and sometimes the fact that she was left out of so much in this family rubbed in her throat, but she never said that.

“Antiquated how?” Snow asked. Rose jumped. She’d been silent for so long Rose hadn’t expected her to answer.

“I—” She waved her hand. “I…” Because the woods had gotten a little too deep into her and sung her their wild uncanny ways and– “I fell in love,” she said, changing the subject. “I think.”

She did not turn to see Snow roll her eyes, but Rose was fairly certain she was. Or maybe Rose was being paranoid. “With whom?” Snow asked, and her voice was not sarcastic.

“With…With…I met him during a dance.” She felt Snow nod her head against hers. “And I danced with him a lot, and he…” She swallowed. Her voice was a little higher-pitched than usual. “He wanted me to stay there forever with him,” she said slowly. “But I would not, because I still loved this place, and I loved my friends, and I love you and Mother.” Her hands trembled. She had never, ever said this aloud, not to him nor to anyone else. She had never even whispered it, but the thought kept coming to her in the dark of night until she felt certain that it would eat her. “But I don’t want this anymore.” She was whispering. “I want to be there with him—”

“Who—” There was a dangerous edge to Snow’s voice—“Is him?”

“His—his name is Bran,” she said. “You wouldn’t have met him.” Her hands twisted in her lap. They felt frozen, even with gloves on.

“What is he, then.” It was not a question. Rose thought of trying to lie, but there wasn’t much point.

“He’s fey,” she whispered even softer, “and I’ve never seen his true form, but he always appears to me as either a beautiful man or a wild antlered thing from the woods. But he is…” She swallowed. Holy. Sublime. She could not say that without sounding utterly ridiculous.

“Oh, good heavens,” Snow said, and her voice could not have been more dry. Trust Snow to react that way. “Why couldn’t you have fallen in love with a human like an ordinary girl, Sister?”

That stung a bit. “Says the girl who is falling in love with a bear,” she snapped back. Snow did not say anything for a moment, and Rose was not sure if she were hurt or surprised; but when she turned to apologize, Snow was only looking thoughtfully past the cliff’s edge, her lips parted slightly. Rose found she did not know what to say.

Snow shook her head sharply, breaking out of the reverie. “Don’t make our relationship sound stranger than it is,” she said, her voice gentle. “Have you told Mother?”

Rose bit her lip. “No. Have you ever told her about the bear?” It was a question she’d wanted to ask for a while.

Snow paused. “No.” Her voice was a little different. “We had probably…better do that soon, shouldn’t we?”

Rose sighed, her breath turning to mist in the cold air. “Yes, we probably should. So let’s go and do it, because we’ve waited an embarrassingly long time. Poor Mother.” She got up, dusting the snow off her dress, and held her hand out to Snow.

Snow looked at it for a moment and took it with a wry smile. “Poor Mother,” she agreed. “Yes, let’s.” And they walked off together, Rose not entirely sure what she was going to say when she got home.

I like the idea of Bran a lot, and I might reuse that idea for another story, honestly. The same goes for Snow. I’m probably not going to do anything more with this story in particular–at least probably not, though there’s always a possibility with me–but my little sister did give me the idea of doing a Snow White and Rose Red retelling set in Alaska, and just…Excuse me, let me go add that to my queue of stories I want to write. (Has anyone else done Snow White and Rose Red with Eskimo characters yet? And can you rec it to me if they have?) [Edit: I did NOT know back when I wrote this that ‘eskimo’ was very much not the right word to use, I am so sorry. (◞‸ლ) ]

This story’s working title was ‘Awkward boyfriends’ and if that doesn’t sum up this story I don’t know what does. My mom helped me come up with the actual title, and can I just say…Thank you?? That title is perfect??

Also, in case you’re wondering…I most certainly named Bran after the character from one of my very favorite Irish poems.

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.

Prunella

It’s a funny thing with me that I don’t actually like Rapunzel (I mean, I don’t dislike it, it’s just not my favorite fairy tale), but I love reading the variants. There’s so much there, from Parsilette, a fairy tale where the heroine makes up with her stepmother at the end and ditches the prince, to Prunella, an Italian version which is probably my favorite. It’s kind of a nice thing about folktales, that if you aren’t exactly thrilled about one version of a story, there are probably a bunch of other variants that you might like better.

And I LOVE Andrew Lang. I freaking love him. I spent my early teen years thumbing (clicking, actually, I was online) through all the Andrew Lang books, and I want you, too, to experience the joy that is Andrew Lang. So, without further ado, an Andrew Lang story.

A wild plum tree grows in an orchard en route to Prunella’s school, and each day on the way to school, Prunella picks a plum and eats it. Because she’s seven, she doesn’t consider it to be stealing. The witch who owns the orchard does, and one day she catches Prunella doing it. She jumps out from behind the hedge and grabs Prunella’s wrist. “You little thief!” she says. “I have caught you at last. Now you will have to pay for your misdeeds.” ‘Paying for her misdeeds’ is apparently code for ‘take her away from her friends and family and keep her locked in your house, because that’s not disproportionate retribution at all.’ Prunella begs and pleads, telling her that she didn’t know it was wrong and that she won’t do it again, but the witch drags her away to her house ’till the time should come when she could have her revenge.’ Ominous. And also completely overboard for the situation.

It is an interesting thing in Rapunzel stories that the thievery that Rapunzel is punished for is never Rapunzel’s fault. In most versions, the parents do it before Rapunzel is even born, but Rapunzel is the one dragged away from her family and locked in a tower. In this version, she is SEVEN. It’s not her fault at all, she doesn’t even know what she did is wrong. But again. She’s still punished for it.

Anyway, the years pass, and Prunella grows up to be beautiful. Of course. At least she’s not described as being the most beautiful woman in the land or anything like that, but she is beautiful enough to make the witch jealous, which only serves to make the witch hate her more. Also of course. Things come to a head one day when the witch hands her a basket and tells her to go to the well and bring the basket back filled with water, and that if she doesn’t, the witch will kill her. I have questions, number one being, why do witches make life so complicated for themselves? Just grab a knife and stab her or something! Although honestly, this isn’t just witches, it’s also every fairy tale dad you’ll ever come across too. Like, there are other ways of getting rid of your daughter’s unwanted suitor than making him level a forest with a glass axe? But I digress.

Prunella goes to the well and tries to fill the basket with water, but each time she draws up the basket, the water streams out. She finally gives it up and breaks down crying, which is understandable, but isn’t doing much to help the situation.

“Prunella,” a voice at her side asks. “Prunella, why are you crying?” She turns to see a handsome (of course) man about her age, looking kindly at her, which is probably more than people have done in a while. She asks warily how he knows her name, and who exactly he is.

He tells her that his name is Bensiabel, and he is the son of the witch. (Another question, how has the witch managed to keep them so separated that they never met until this moment even though they’ve been living in the same house?) He offers to fill her basket, on the condition that she give him a kiss. Ahem. YOU CANNOT JUST BLACKMAIL A GIRL INTO KISSING YOU. LEARN ABOUT CONSENT.

Prunella gives him a flat no. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she replies. YES BOUNDARIES. YOU GO GIRL. Also, I totally imagine her flipping her hair as she says that and I don’t know why.

Okay, wild theorizing time, but could the reason the witch suddenly decides to kill Prunella is because she notices Bensiabel falling in love with her? A lot of abusive parents view their child falling in love as them losing control, and that’s a major theme in Rapunzel already, and…Shoot. SHOOT. I am making myself want to get back to that (awful) retelling I did of this when I was fourteen. No. I will not abandon my current story to go chasing after a theme I like.

Who knows, maybe Ben will get the reworking he desperately needs. My plans for what I’ll do after I finish my current story are definitely up in the air.

Anyway, Ben agrees and still fills up the basket, which is the only reason why I am okay with him. Mostly. I will admit he was way cuter to me before I met actual real life guys who didn’t understand consent at all.

Prunella takes the basket back to the witch, who turns white with rage. “Bensiabel must have helped you,” she says. Prunella says nothing and lets her form her own conclusions. “Well,” she finishes, “we shall see who wins in the end.”

The next day, she gives Prunella a sack of wheat and tells her that she is going out, and that if Prunella hasn’t made the wheat into bread by the time she is back, she’ll kill her. It isn’t possible for Prunella to grind the wheat, prepare the dough, and bake the bread in the time the witch will be away. She tries, at first, but not being a magician, she doesn’t get very far, and she gives up and, again, breaks down crying. Bensiabel appears again, tells her that he’ll save her if she agrees to kiss him, and gets rejected again with equal force. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she says. Just like yesterday, he saves her anyway, and when the witch comes home, all the bread is done. Honestly, magical cooking skills sound great. You’d never have to wait for dinner again.

The next day, she calls Prunella and asks her to go and bring back a casket from the witch’s sister in the mountains. Apparently her sister is a crueler person than herself, and she is counting on her sister to imprison her and starve her to death. I find it kind of hilarious that her sister is so predictable she doesn’t even have to send a message or anything. It’s just what her sister does. Also, what is with this lady’s Wile E. Coyote schemes to kill Prunella? Do you want to kill her or do you not?

Prunella sets off, not knowing anything about the sister’s reputation and probably just happy to get out of the house. Bensiabel meets her on the way and asks her where she’s going, though I assume he already knows if he’s meeting her totally prepared. Which he is. She tells him that she is going to get a casket from the witch’s sister. “You are being sent straight to your death,” he says. “But give me a kiss and I will save you.” He’s about as persistent as his mother, and about as ineffective, too.

“I will not kiss the son of a witch,” Prunella says. He proceeds to give her the things she needs anyway: a flagon of oil, a loaf of bread, a piece of rope, and a broom. I do love how seemingly random that is, and I like imagining Prunella’s face as he hands it to her. But Ben knows what he’s on about (in everything except the proper way to relate to your crush), and she uses the oil to polish the hinges of the door, she throws the bread to the mastiff who runs to meet her, she gives the rope to a woman trying to lower a bucket into the well with her plaited hair, and the broom to a woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue. Um. No comment on the last one. She takes the casket from a shelf and leaves, but the witch hears her as the door shuts. “Kill that thief, I tell you!” the witch says to the woman at the hearth.

“I will not kill her,” she says, “for she has given me a broom, whereas you forced me to clean the hearth with my tongue.”

This goes on with the other people, animals, and objects Prunella has helped, and Prunella gets away. I do like this element in fairy tales. Abusing your animals and servants comes back to bite you. Don’t do it. Unless you’re, you know, the hero or something.

Prunella comes back to her house, and the witch’s mood is not improved by seeing her alive. “Did you meet Bensiabel?” she asks. Prunella doesn’t say anything. “There are three cocks in the henhouse,” she continues. “One is yellow, one black, and the third is white. If they crow during the night, you must tell me which one it is. Woe to you if you make a mistake. I will gobble you up in a mouthful.”

She makes kind of a big tactical error here, because apparently Ben’s room is right next to Prunella’s, even though this was never mentioned before and Prunella didn’t even know who he was at the start of this fairy tale, and…Whatever, forget logic. Ben is able to give her the answers–after asking for a kiss and getting rejected, of course–but finally Ben falls silent. “Bensiabel, save me!” Prunella says. “The witch is coming, she is close to me, I hear the gnashing of her teeth!”

Bensiabel, for once, does not try to bargain for a kiss. He throws the door open–because there was a door from his room into hers, did you miss that, I did too–and shoves his mother back, and she falls down the stairs. It could have been an accident. It could not have been. Either way, his mother is dead.

And then Prunella finally decides that, you know, maybe he isn’t that bad. They fall in love, presumably because of traumatic bonding, and live happily ever after.

And yes, I did a retelling of this when I was fourteen that I didn’t finish. I don’t finish most of my stories, but this wasn’t one where I just lost interest. I think I grew up. There are characters I could relate to when I was little, and now when I try to write them again, they’re just…I find it harder to relate to them. I have a lot of trouble seeing Ben through a not-problematic light, and it’s weird, because I write sort of problematic characters all the time? I love writing stories where the magical fairy forces the heroine into marriage and maybe she escapes and finds her way back home or maybe she falls in love with him. Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite story to retell. But…maybe a forced kiss is a little too mundane and just throws it into the real world too much? I know it sounds weird. It’s possible if I went back to this story I’d find my qualms gone, and I do love this fairy tale and its themes and its down-home earthy feel to it. And Prunella. Goodness I love Prunella. You go and enforce those boundaries, girl.

But there’s also the problem that, um…I’ve kind of accidentally stolen Ben’s face. Twice. Apparently I have trouble imagining more than three different types of male faces, and…Well, let’s just say I have given the same face to Ben, Ignatius the cute shadow-demon, and Mordred. Heh. Of course, that’s just a matter of character redesign, but it would still feel kind of weird. Maybe.

But I might get back to this story one day. Who knows?

Tam Lin

Yes, I drew this, and I hope you admire those Celtic knots because THEY TOOK ME HOURS TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THEM.

A bunch of different versions of this ballad can be found here. My favorite is this one.

I first came across this story when I was eleven, when I read a retelling called The Perilous Gard. It was a great book, although I probably appreciate it more now that I’m older. I realized it was based off of an actual ballad when I was about fourteen, so of course I had to look it up. And wow is it a strange story. Tam Lin is…Well. I’ll admit I mostly love this poem for Janet, who is very lovable. But anyway. The story.

Tam Lin is some loser fairy who is just living in Carterhaugh woods and creepily hitting on all the maidens who pass through there, because it’s not like fairies have anything better to do with their time. Whenever a woman passes through there, he demands they either leave him a gold ring, a green mantle, or their maidenhead.

…OKAY, YOU CREEP.

Janet, our heroine, just happens to own Carterhaugh, and decides to give this loser fairy a talk. Or perhaps she’s looking for an easy way to get a one-night stand. The story isn’t really clear, and knowing Janet, it really could be either one. But either way, she goes there and come to a well, where she sees his horse standing there, but Tam Lin is nowhere to be seen. She plucks a rose for…some reason, whereupon Tam Lin shows up and asks her why she has come to Carterhaugh without asking leave of him. She points out that she owns the place, which is reasonable enough.

There are kind of Beauty and the Beast parallels in that moment.

And then they start making out and end up sleeping together (there is also a version where he rapes her but WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT ONE). I am still not exactly sure how they got from having a property dispute to hardcore making out. That is worse than some YA.

The poem shifts scenes to Janet at home, wan and pale, who has just realized she is pregnant. One of her father’s knights accuses her of this, telling her she has shamed them, and Janet replies,

Now hand your tongue, ye auld grey knight,
And an ill deid may ye die !
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I’ll father nane on thee.’

Can we all take a moment to admire Janet’s awesomeness.

Her father also asks her about it, much more politely, and she tells him that she didn’t sleep with any of his knights, but a fairy, and she calls Tam Lin her true love, which aww. I’m not sure how exactly she knew him long enough to make that statement, but whatever.

I do love this scene. Janet isn’t demonized for premarital sex, and the knight who tries to call her out is in fact criticized. Her father is understandably upset, considering the social repercussions of the time period, but he doesn’t blame Janet for it. Janet and her father obviously both love each other a lot. And good parental relationships can be hard to find in fairy tales, especially when they’re about topics like this.

Janet is considering aborting the baby, and she goes back to Carterhaugh to talk to Tam Lin about it. She picks another rose–Is that her way of summoning him or something?–and Tam Lin asks her not to kill the baby. He then regales her with his life story, telling her about how he was some random nobleman’s son, and he went out riding, and the fairy queen kidnapped him when he fell off his horse. So…I guess he’s human? But he literally says in the next stanza, ‘I am a fairy, lyth and limb.’ I am confused.

He tells her that he has been living there for seven years, and that he basically loves it. He wouldn’t mind staying there his whole life, except for the human sacrifice bit.

Yes, there’s a human sacrifice bit. Every seven years, the fairies have to pay a teind to hell on All Hallow’s Eve, and Tam Lin tells Janet he thinks he will be the sacrifice this year. Honestly, I kind of wonder if Tam Lin would want to leave if it had been some other poor bloke getting sacrificed. He doesn’t really seem to have as much a problem with the human sacrifice except insofar as it affects him. My impression of Tam Lin is that, whether he’s a fairy or not, he’s definitely operating on their same sense of ethics?

He tells her to be there at Miles Cross, and Janet asks how she will recognize him. He says that two companies will pass by, and he will be in the third one; and that she is to let the black horse and the brown horse pass by, and he will be on the milk-white steed. Because he is a christened knight, they will give him the honor of riding on the side nearest to town, which…Does this make sense in context of the time period, or…

Anyway, he tells her that she has to pull him down from the horse and warns her that the fairies will change him into various different dangerous animals and objects, but that she has to hold onto him if she wants to save him.

The scene shifts again, to Miles Cross. It is a gloomy and eerie night, basically a Gothic romance’s paradise. Janet is there, late at night, and she hears the horses’ bridles ringing. She waits until she sees Tam Lin, and she pulls him off his horse. He turns into a snake, a lump of red-hot coal (OW), and an eel, until finally he turns back into a man, and the fairies’ power over him is broken. The fairy queen threatens him, telling him that she would have turned his eyes into wood and his heart into stone if she’d known what he’d do. There is also a version where the fairy queen tells Janet, ‘ O wae worth ye ill woman & an ill dead may ye die, For ye had plenty of lovers at hame & I had nane but he.’ Interesting.

I am sorry the lighting on this photo is kind of bad. I swear some pictures are just cursed where you cannot take good photos of them. But I love the antlered fairy queen, though, so I couldn’t not post this.

And that’s the end of the poem, and presumably they both got married and lived happily ever after. I think their life after the story would be kind of interesting to explore. Does Janet regret jumping into a relationship that quickly? Is Tam Lin happy in the human world, or can he not get used to the change? As a side note, I would love that plot line for a retelling in general, where the changeling is ‘rescued’ and they want nothing more than to go back to Fairyland. Fairyland is often portrayed in YA as being a horrible, dark place, but HELLO HAVE YOU SEEN THE HUMAN WORLD LATELY. In folktales, I’ve never interpreted Fairyland as being inherently awful, just different. Probably inherently an unfriendly place for humans to live in, yes, but see my above point about the human world. And frankly, Fairyland sounds kind of fun? Just my opinion?

I love Janet. She’s an active heroine who stands up for herself and saves her own boyfriend. A lot of times people think fairy tale heroines are all weak, and I’m just…Well, we clearly haven’t been reading the same fairy tales. Janet is amazing. Tam Lin is…Well, Tam Lin is a little strange, but I can see how he could be written so I like him.

This is such a bizarre story. I love it.

Do you love Scottish Ballads as much as I do? Does Tam Lin strike you as weird or do you like him? Is Janet the most amazing heroine of ever? (hint: the answer is yes.)