Ah, yes, the Frog Prince. My first encounter with this story was the 1971 Muppet version and it was absolutely adorable.
The versions I read when I was little emphasized the princess being an ungrateful, shallow person who needed to learn to see past appearances. However, the Grimms' early versions (they revised it multiple times) cast a different light on her actions. A slimy, disgusting male wants to sleep with her, and her father's forcing her to agree. It's especially creepy in the versions where she's implied to be very young, crying over a lost toy and so on. She's much more understandable here.
However, it's after disobeying and fighting back that she's rewarded with a prince. In this version she throws him at the wall, but in others she burns his skin or cuts his head off.
Violence, not kissing, seems to be the answer to many fairy tale spells. The fox in "The Golden Bird" and the cat in "The White Cat" must have their heads cut off to regain human form, and the lion in "The Wounded Lion" has to be sliced, diced, and set on fire. Doll i' the Grass is accidentally hurled into the river and it seems certain she'll drown. In the Japanese Mamesuke, the titular character's wife tries to drown him.
In other versions, the princess just has to share a bed with the frog, a cure that also appears in "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon." This is a softer and more passive version that paves the way for the now-popular kissing cure. Still, that's a huge step from the transformations that require blood and pain to the transformations via a gentle kiss of true love.
There’s also the ending scene with Iron Henry telling the prince that the iron bands around his heart are breaking for joy. I remember that when I read this, despite the explanation, the scene still felt oddly sad to me. Iron Henry also shows up apropos of nothing, despite providing one of the names for the fairytale. Why does such a small character role get so much emphasis?
Apparently, Bettelheim said Iron Henry was just there to contrast to the disloyal and promise-breaking princess. However, I think the source material has a better explanation. the Grimms also collected a variant of the tale from Paderborn, where Iron Henry is, well . . . the princess. After the frog prince is cured, the story turns into "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon," with him wandering off and marrying someone else. The first princess follows after him disguised as a soldier, and the snapping behind the carriage is the sound of her breaking heart, causing him to finally remember her. This makes it seem more like Iron Henry's existence was a garbled version of the original, which can easily happen with oral tales.
I've talked a little about Tom Thumb wedding pageants before, and about the characters involved. There were two popular names that popped up for brides, Lilly Putian and Jennie June, and both had apparently pretty different backgrounds.
I found about 19 promotions featuring the name “Miss Midget” or references to parents with the surname Midget. Miss Midget’s full name is Lillian Putian Midget, which comes with all sorts of variations. There's Lillie Putian, Lily Midget, and on two occasions in Minnesota, simply Lilliputian. These variations put Lillie in the lead with over 40 promotions.
A promotional pamphlet for C.A. Rose's production brags that “this entertainment has been given twenty-two times in Kansas City; eight times in Joplin, Mo., five times of which were with the First Christian Church; ten times in Des Moines, Iowa; seven times in Independence, Kansas; six times in Springfield, Ill.; and it has been repeated in four hundred towns.”
The C. A. Rose Midget Wedding was spearheaded by May Burnworth, who copyrighted the play and personally oversaw productions in Kansas and Iowa in 1903, Illinois in 1911, California in 1926 and 1929, and probably many more.
It was published by the Baxter Printing Company in Missouri, and there are frequent mentions of their company sending women out to oversee the production.
The address given was 2920 Olive St. Kansas City. I found another advertisement from C.A. Rose in 1921, with this address, saying “an experienced and well-known entertainment business desires to employ three young ladies as traveling directors of Juvenile entertainments.” No experience necessary.
I’ve never been able to find out exactly who C. A. Rose was. All I know is that May Burnworth wrote this play and had it copyrighted under her name. And the company threatened to SUE anyone who performed the play without their personal direction!
Although this would apparently earn them animosity with the owners of the Jennie June copyright, this business tactic seems to have worked pretty well. Lily/Miss Midget shows up in the most states. Her most common appearances seem to be in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Jennie June shows up mostly in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and otherwise in the most northern states. I found about ten with no name given in promotional material.
However, although Lillie shows up into the 1950s, I have never seen any inkling of a surviving script. (Maybe they should have been freer about sharing it.) Everything I know is from old articles. Jennie June was published first, she is the one with a surviving script that is available today, and there are newspaper articles on Jennie June weddings up to the 1970's and 80's.
People clearly worked their own thing sometimes. The cast might be full of celebrities, or cartoon and nursery rhyme characters.
There seems to have been some confusion; a fictional bride might show up alongside Minnie Warren and Commodore Nutt, real people from the real wedding. On at least one occasion, in 1957, the bride was called Lavinia Warren.
In a Jennie June production in the 1920's, Minnie Warren was be the maid of honor and Commodore Nutt the groomsman; Reverend Tie-em-up officiated; Bo Peep and Miss Muffet were bridesmaids, and guests had names like Mr. and Mrs. Barney Google or the Katzenjammer Kids (from comic strips) or Mr. and Mrs. Simon Says. Another had some of the same guests, but featured the Fairy Queen and President Coolidge in attendance, and a “rejected suitor” named Percival Doolittle (rather than Commodore Nutt). One promotion in Chillicothe, Missouri in 1926 mentioned Jennie June Midget’s sister, Mrs. Sam Little.
Lillie Putian weddings do not have cast lists quite as elaborate, as far as I could see, but seemed to feature an awful lot of cousins who sang solos. A 1914 Lillie wedding had a much more simplistic cast list, with the newspaper article merely mentioning the maid of honor, best man, flower girls, various family members, three old maids, and in its one confused nod to real life, Colonel Nutt as a rejected suitor.
In both Lily productions and Jennie productions, there were some common popular songs that showed up: “Oh, Promise Me,” “I Love You Truly,” “You are the Ideal of My Dreams,” “I'd Love to Live in Loveland With a Girl Like You,” “When You and I Were Young, Maggie,” “I Cannot Sing the Old Songs” and “Silver Threads Among the Gold” (these two usually by Grandma and Grandpa Thumb), “When You and I were Young,” and “When You Look in the Heart of a Rose.”
I'm still hoping maybe someone somewhere has a copy of the May Burnworth script, or more history on her. That story, about the woman traveling around America directing pageants, sounds amazing.
Who was C. A. Rose, anyway? Was it her? ... Well, probably not.
Fairy Tale: A True Story is available on Netflix now. It’s based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies, which I’m fascinated by, so I gave it a watch, skipping through some scenes because it was late. I enjoyed it more than I expected.
It is indeed based on a true story. Starting in 1917, two cousins in Cottingley, England, named Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, produced photographs of themselves with what appeared to be real, live fairies.
It’s strange to think that these photographs convinced so many. Even with the camera quality, their gnomes and sprites look flat and sharp-edged, like paper cutouts . . . which, of course, they were. Elsie’s father picked up on this, but somehow the “proof” of real fairies became huge news. This was mainly thanks to one of their most prominent champions, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes was totally on board with it.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Frances and Elsie admitted that it had all been faked. The delicate, dancing figures were copied from picture books onto cardboard and supported with hatpins. They still maintained, however, that they had really seen fairies.
The film, which came out in 1997, wholly embraces the idea of the real live fairies. They are constantly flittering around. However, this makes the film somewhat disturbing on another note, because so much of it is about faith and belief in things unseen, in a higher power. It opens with a performance of Peter Pan, with the lead character crying, "Clap if you believe in fairies!" The audience of children applauds and cheers. One character is having a crisis of faith and searching for hope after her son's death; characters talk about belief again and again. And then it all turns out to be real. Yay!! But the “true story” it’s based on was a hoax. The filmmakers most definitely knew that it was a hoax. The end result is that the film feels like a mockery.
That said, we never actually see the girls take a photo. And in one of the final scenes of the movie, juxtaposed with two other cases revealing hoaxes, a reporter discovers the paper fairies on their hatpins, in exactly the poses from the photo. However, the scene then turns around, and the supernatural takes back over. A ghost appears and frightens him away. The movie later ends with fairies filling the family's house and even the skeptical father finally being convinced.
Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to portray the girls in the most positive light. Frances and Elsie always said, even after confessing to the hoax, that they really had seen fairies. Still, I don’t think it’s right to market this to children as "A True Story," with taglines like "Believe!" because it cheapens the truth. It's like saying "You can believe in this thing! Well, in this case, the proof turned out to be a bald-faced lie, but you should still believe in the thing because it's a happy thing that brings you joy!"
And the fairies feel like a marketing ploy.
That's right - there were books and a doll line. "Fairies of Cottingley Glen." But at least it was well-researched.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist who by all accounts wanted to believe. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an alcoholic who suffered from epilepsy and depression, and spent the latter part of his life in a mental institution. While there, he filled sketchbooks with elaborate, fantastical artwork of elves and fairies. The movie touches briefly on this and it makes Doyle's motivations much more understandable.
There was one scene that I actually stopped and rewound because the girls are walking through the woods calling the names of the fairies, and they’re all names from real folklore. A cast list reveals the names of even more fairies.
I've read about the Cottingley Fairies before, on the Internet and in The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World, by Mary Losure. This book is written for children, but is a great read and incredibly well-researched. However, like the movie, it still clings to the idea that the girls really did see fairies, and they faked the photos because . . . um . . . they saw fairies.
Back to the movie. There’s beautiful scenery, the effects have aged surprisingly well, and I found myself enjoying it overall. Still, I was still bothered by that whole faith/fakery complex, and also the feeling that the fairies were real so that the moviemakers could sell toys. I would have much preferred to see the movie simply reveal that yes, the fairies were faked, and leave it at that, with maybe a faint hint at real supernatural events rather than full-blown "FAIRIES ARE REAL AND THEY'RE IN YOUR HOUSE." Even better, it'd be nice to see the girls actually taking the photos.
(I must say, I never expected to see Dame Habetrot or the Shellycoat marketed as cute, big-eyed Barbies with fluorescent hair. The Shellycoat!)
The story of Le Petit Poucet was first published in 1697, in Perrault's Histoires ou contes du temps passe. This story is type 327B, the less popular cousin of Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk.
It's also not exactly a thumbling story. Perrault explains that the hero is no bigger than a thumb when he's born, but we don't know how tall he is as a child when the story starts. He is not truly miniature, since he can carry pebbles in his pocket and switch places with an ogre's daughter, but he's still the smallest of his brothers. In Guy Wetmore Carryl's "How Hop O' My Thumb Got Rid of an Onus" from Grimm Tales Made Gay (1902), "his height was only two foot three." In the original it's left more vague, but there is none of the fantastical hiding in snailshells or wielding a needle for a sword.
His name in the original is Petit Poucet, or Little Thumb. Poucet, pronounced poo-seh, is a diminutive of pouce (thumb). In 1729, the story was translated as Little Poucet, and in 1764 it appeared as Little Thumb. In 1804, it got the new name Hop o' my Thumb. This comes from the phrase "hop on my thumb," a nickname for a small person which first appeared in 1530. The name has also been used occasionally for other thumblings (as in North Indian Notes and Queries).
He is sometimes named Little Tom Thumb - confusingly, since it's not related to Tom Thumb at all except for that one brief line at the beginning. Translators and storytellers have confused the two on more than one occasion. As a rule, if Tom Thumb's mentioned as wearing boots or strewing breadcrumbs, then it's actually this guy.
My favorite name is Hop o' my Thumb, but that's a little long, so for this post, I'm just going to call him Poucet.
A poor couple manages to have seven children in four years. There are three sets of twins, though Perrault only names the oldest (Pierrot, translated Peterkin). Going by culture, twins have been signs of good fortune or bad.
In contrast to thumbling tales where parents desperately desire one child, here there are too many children, too many mouths to feed.
The youngest, Poucet, rarely speaks and is often mistreated. However, he's the only one who overhears their father planning to get rid of them and getting their mother to go along with it. (This is the exact reverse of the good father and cruel mother in Hansel and Gretel.)
It's a dark tale grounded in abject poverty and hunger. Jack Zipes points out that this grounds the tale in 17th-century France, which was ridden by plague and famine, and child abandonment was not unheard of. There was a terrible food shortage specifically in 1693 and 1694, which would have made the story very immediate for its first readers.
However, like Hansel, Poucet is on top of things. He stays quiet even after the boys have realized they're lost and begun to weep, and then speaks up to reveal that he has left a trail of pebbles leading home. He is probably relishing this moment.
They return home, and as it happens, their parents have received ten crowns and they can all eat again. However, the root of the problem still hasn't been solved. When the money runs out, the situation repeats, and this time Poucet is not able to collect any pebbles. He makes do with breadcrumbs, but of course, the birds eat them, leaving the boys stranded in the woods.
They make their way to the home of an ogre. His wife tries to help and hide them, but the ogre discovers them and plans to eat them.
In Hansel and Gretel, the witch is a dark mirror of the evil stepmother. Here, the brutish, ravenous ogre and his sympathetic but enabling wife mirror Poucet's father and mother. They even have the same number of children - seven little ogresses.
Poucet manages to switch his brothers' caps with the ogresses' crowns, so that when the ogre enters in the dark to kill them, he slaughters his own daughters by mistake. It's a gruesome and miserable section, which Perrault may have tried to soften by playing up the daughters' monstrous qualities. The victims' clothing swap is a very old trope going back to Greek mythology (Goldberg).
The last section is the ogre's pursuit of the boys. He dons seven-league boots for this, which Poucet steals while he sleeps. Seven-league boots show up in many fairytales but were originally popularized by Perrault. In the story of Sweetheart Roland, much the same thing happens, from the mistaken murder to the pursuit in magic boots.
The chase scene, where the hero wins with quick thinking and magic rather than speed or strength, is a really distinctive part of this tale type. It shows up in Jack and the Beanstalk with the descent down the beanstalk. In the Scottish tale of Molly Whuppie, she escapes across a bridge made of a single hair and the giant can't follow her. In the story of Fereyel and Debbo Engal the Witch, from Gambia, tiny Fereyel creates mountains and rivers behind him to stop the witch's pursuit.
Different versions of the tale do not agree on whether Poucet returns and tricks the wife into giving him all of the ogre's treasure. Perrault questions it himself. Whichever way you slice it, the ogre's wife gets the raw end of the deal.
This time, the root problem has been solved. Poucet becomes a royal messenger, bringing in a salary, and the family lives happily ever after.
This is a . . . really dark story, but surprisingly popular, though still not at the Disney-adaptation level of famous fairytales. There was even a Nike advertisement that altered the image at the beginning of this post to include Nike shoes. I think my favorite versions are the ones from other countries, like Molly Whuppie and Fereyel.
I have an old copy of the Arabian Nights written for children, and I read it a few times. I always loved the one with Periezade best. (She's so cool!) However, some stories left me with questions. There is one line in the story of Aladdin that has always mystified me.
So, the original story is much longer and more complicated than the Disney version. It even takes place in China! Well, sort of. It's called China but none of the names or settings seem particularly Chinese. It reads more like a name tacked on to say "oh, this story took place far away." Aladdin is not one of the original Thousand and One Nights, but a story added in the 18th century by French translator Antoine Galland. He claimed to have heard it himself from a monk from Aleppo.
There are two genies. And there are two villains - the sorcerer who's after the lamp in the first place, and then his brother, who comes in to avenge him. The brother is legitimately terrifying. He kills an old lady, dresses up as her, and gains the princess's confidence, filling her with greed for . . . the egg of a roc, so that she can hang it up in her house, as you do. Just as planned, the princess asks Aladdin for one, and he promises to wish one up for her.
Here's where things take an unusual turn - for the first time, the genie refuses a wish. Not just refuses, but screams in Aladdin's face.
Where did this come from? I thought rocs were just giant birds that threw rocks at Sinbad. Now the roc's egg is the genie's master?
Even holding the lamp, we learn, does not make Aladdin the true master of the genie. There is a higher, sacred authority.
So, in the story of Aladdin, the genie's master is apparently a roc's egg. This is something that sorcerers know, but ordinary citizens are ignorant of.
One thing that muddles this for me is that Aladdin was likely, at least in part, invented by Galland. So there's a chance he made up that exchange with the genie and had no idea what he was talking about.
However, after a little bit of thought, I think there is a logical rationale behind it. The reason goes back to the simurgh.
There are giant birds like the roc in many mythologies. One tale of the Arabian Nights, "The Story of Damir and al-‘Anqa,’" features a female djinn named Al-Anqa - that being the name of another Arabic monster-bird, the anqa or anka. The phoenix, a symbol of rebirth, also routinely shows up in these lists, along with the Egyptian bennu, the Jewish ziz, and the Greek gryphon.
The Persian equivalent is the simurgh, which like the roc is described as big enough to carry off elephants. Iranian legends say that the bird is so old that it has seen the world destroyed three times over, and is nearly all-knowing. In some stories, like the Phoenix, it plunges itself voluntarily into flames. The simurgh is a being of healing and purity which purifies things, bestows fertility, in one story taught humans to do Cesarean sections, and represents the union between the Earth and sky. It nests in the Tre of Life, the source of all kinds of plants and healing medicine. A similar bird, the Hōm, is a healer and messenger which represents the divine right of kings. In Sufi mysticism, the Simurgh would later become a metaphor for God; it was the king of the birds in the 12th-century work "The Conference of the Birds."
In the Arabic-speaking world, the Simurgh was combined with other birds of myth like the Ghoghnus, and became the Roc or Rukh. Like the Simurgh, the Roc is a huge bird big enough to carry off elephants.
Eating the fertilized egg of a Roc was said to grant eternal youth - hearkening back to the Simurgh's powers of healing and life. (Sinbad's companions try to eat a Roc's egg in one story.)
So here you have a birdlike creature that heals and purifies; its flesh grants eternal youth; it connects Earth and Sky and has been used as a metaphor for God and royalty. Eggs themselves are symbols of new life.
Djinn are mysterious creatures of flame, more akin to angels and demons than to humans. Many seem to have powers beyond human comprehension. They may be evil or good, but fall under the dominion of Allah. Many served King Solomon.
The name of the female genie Al-Anqa suggest a further connection between djinn and large birds. In Muruj al-dhahab, by Al-Mas'udi (c. 896–956), the first iblises, marids and ghouls are all described as hatching from eggs laid by a jann lady - these all being different types of djinn.
Some writers have taken notice of this scene. One source, somewhat fancifully, describes an embryonic Roc as the "Prince of Djins." Another talks about a Voldemort-style "Lord of the Lamp" that has enslaved these genies. I don't know where the author got that interpretation from. Others have the roc's egg described in feminine terms, as the genie's "Liege Lady" or "mistress." However, I haven't been able to find any real in-depth discourse or adaptations.
This website is based on my research into folklore. Home to the Thumbling Project, collecting different versions of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina from around the world.