One classic fairytale is "Le Petit Poucet" by Charles Perrault - often translated in English as Hop o' My Thumb. A poor woodcutter and his wife, starving in poverty, decide to lighten their burden by abandoning their seven children in the woods. The youngest child, Hop o' my Thumb, attempts to mark the way home with a trail of breadcrumbs, but it's eaten by birds. The lost boys make their way to an ogre's house where they sleep for the night. The ogre prepares to kill them in their sleep; however, an alert Hop o' my Thumb switches the boys' nightcaps for the golden crowns worn by the ogre's seven daughters. While the ogre mistakenly slaughters his own children in the dark, the boys escape. Hop also manages to steal the ogre's seven league boots and treasure, ensuring his family will never starve again.
This tale is Aarne Thompson type 327B, "The Dwarf and the Giant" or "The Small Boy Defeats the Ogre." However, this title ignores the fact that there are stories where a girl fights the ogre, and that these stories are just as widespread and enduring.
One ogre-fighting girl is the Scottish "Molly Whuppie." Three abandoned girls wind up at the home of a giant and his wife, who take them in for the night. The giant, plotting to eat the lost girls, places straw ropes around their necks and gold chains around the necks of his own daughters. Molly swaps the necklaces and, while the giant kills his own children, she and her sisters escape. Then, to win princely husbands for her sisters and herself, Molly sneaks back into the giant's house three times. Each time she steals marvelous treasures (much like Jack and the Beanstalk). At one point the giant captures her in a sack, but she tricks his wife into taking her place. She makes her final escape by running across a bridge of one hair, where the giant can't follow her.
This tale was published by Joseph Jacobs; his source was the Aberdeenshire tale "Mally Whuppy." He rendered the story in standard English text and changed Mally to Molly. In Scottish, Whuppie or Whippy could be a contemptuous name for a disrespectful girl, but it was also an adjective for active, agile, or clever.
This story probably originated with a near-identical tale from the isle of Islay: Maol a Chliobain or Maol a Mhoibean. J. F. Campbell, the collector, says that the spelling is phonetic but doesn't provide many clues to the meaning. Maol means, literally, bare or bald. Hannah Aitken pointed out that it could mean a devotee, a follower or servant who would have shaved their head in a tonsure. This word begins many Irish surnames, like Malcolm, meaning "devotee of St. Columba." When the story reached Aberdeenshire, the unfamiliar "Maol" became Mally or Molly, a nickname for Mary.
According to Norman Macleod's Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, "moibean" is a mop. "Clib" is any dangling thing or the act of stumbling - leading to "clibein" or "cliobain," a hanging fold of loose skin, and "cliobaire," a clumsy person or a simpleton. Perhaps Maol a Chliobain means something like "Servant Simpleton" - a likely name for a despised youngest child in a fairytale. Maol a Mhoibean could mean something like "Servant Mop."
There are a wealth of similar heroines. The Scottish Kitty Ill-Pretts is named for her cleverness, ill pretts being "nasty tricks." The Irish Hairy Rouchy and Hairy Rucky have rough appearances, and Máirín Rua is named for her red hair and beard (!). Another Irish tale with similar elements is Smallhead and the King's Sons, although this is more a confusion of different tales.
The bridge of one hair which Molly/Mally crosses is a striking image. This perhaps emphasizes the heroine's smallness and lightness, in contrast to the giant's size. In "Maol a Chliobain," the hair comes from her own head. In "Smallhead and the King's Sons," it's the "Bridge of Blood," over which murderers cannot walk.
Based on examples like these, Joseph Jacobs theorized that this tale was Celtic in origin. However, female variants of 327B span far beyond Celtic countries.
Finette Cendron is a French literary tale by Madame d'Aulnoy, published in 1697, which blends into Cinderella. The heroine has multiple names - Fine-Oreille (Sharp-Ear), Finette (Cunning) and Cendron (Cinders).
Zsuzska and the Devil is a Hungarian version. Zsuzska (whose name translates basically to "Susie") steals ocean-striding shoes from the devil, echoing Hop o' My Thumb's seven-league boots. According to Linda Dégh, female-led versions of AT 327B are quite popular in Hungary.
Fatma the Beautiful is a fairly long tale from Sudan. In the central section, Fatma the Beautiful and her six companions are captured by an ogress. Fatma stays awake all night, preventing the ogress from eating them, and the group is able to escape and feed the ogress to a crocodile. In the ending section, the girls find husbands; Fatma wears the skin of an old man, only removing it to bathe, and her would-be husband must uncover her true identity. (This last motif seems to be common in tales from the African continent.) Christine Goldberg counted twelve versions of this tale in Africa and the Middle East.
The Algerian tale of "Histoire de Moche et des sept petites filles," or The Story of Moche and the Seven Little Girls, features a youngest-daughter-hero named Aïcha. She combines traits of Hop o' my Thumb and Cinderella, and defends her older sisters from a monstrous cat. This is only one of many African and Middle Eastern tales of a girl named Aicha who fights monsters.
And the tale has made its way to the Americas. Mutsmag and Muncimeg, in the Appalachians, are identical to Molly Whuppie. Meg is a typical girl's name, and I've seen theories that the "muts" in Mutsmag means "dirty" (making the name a similar construction to Cinderella). It could also be "muns," small, or from the Scottish "munsie," an "odd-looking or ridiculously-dressed person" (see McCarthy). German "mut" is bravery. (See a rundown of name theories here.)
In the 1930s, "Belle Finette" was recorded in Missouri. Peg Bearskin is a variant from Newfoundland.
In Old-Fashioned Fairy Tales (1882) by Juliana Horatia Ewing, we have "The Little Darner," where a young girl uses her darning skills to charm and manipulate an ogre.
One of the largest differences between the male and female variants of 327B is the naming pattern. Male heroes of 327B are likely to be stunted in growth - a dwarf, a half-man, or a precocious newborn infant.
Le Petit Poucet is "when born no bigger than one's thumb" - earning him his name. In English, he has been called Thumbling, Little Tom Thumb, or Hop o' My Thumb. The last name is my favorite, since it helps to distinguish him. Note that despite the confusion of names, he is not really a thumbling character. His size is only remarked upon at his birth. He is thumb-sized at birth, but in the story proper, he is apparently an unusually small but still perfectly normal child.
Look at other similar heroes' names:
The names of girls who fight ogres focus on the heroine's intelligence or beauty (or lack of beauty). The heroine is often a youngest child, but I have never encountered a version where she's tiny, as Hop o' My Thumb is. The girl's appearance can play a role in the tale, but if so, the focus is usually on her being dirty, wild or hairy. Where the hero of 327B is shrunken and shrimpy, the heroine has a masculine appearance. Máirín Rua has a beard; Fatma the Beautiful disguises herself as an old man.
Outside Type 327B, there are still other female characters who face trials similar to Hop o' my Thumb and Molly Whuppie. Aarne-Thompson 327A, "The Children and the Witch," includes "Hansel and Gretel" (German) and "Nennello and Nennella" (Italian). Nennello and Nennella mean something like "little dwarf boy and little dwarf girl." Nennella, with her name and her adventure being swallowed by a large fish, is the closest to a Thumbling character. Bâpkhâdi, in a tale from India, is born from a blister on her father's thumb - a birth similar to many thumbling stories. In the opening to the tale, her parents abandon her and her six older sisters in the woods. However, after this episode, the tale turns into Cinderella.
In Aarne-Thompson type 711, the beautiful and the ugly twin, an ugly sister protects a more beautiful sister, fights otherworldly forces, and wins a husband. This encompasses the Norwegian "Tatterhood," Scottish "Katie Crackernuts," and French Canadian "La Poiluse." It overlaps with previously mentioned tales like Mairin Rua and Peg Bearskin.
One central motif to 327B is the trick where the hero swaps clothes, beds, or another identifying object, so that the villain kills their own offspring by mistake. This motif appears in in many other tales, even ones with completely different plots. A girl plays this trick in a Lyela tale from Africa mentioned by Christine Goldberg. In fact, one of the oldest appearances of this motif appears in Greek myth. There, two women - Ino and Themisto - play the roles of trickster heroine and villain.
Madame D’Aulnoy’s “The Bee and the Orange Tree” and the Grimms’ "Sweetheart Roland" and "Okerlo" are very similar to 327B. However, they are their own tale type, ATU 313 or “The Magic Flight.” In these tales, a young woman is always the one fighting off the witch or ogre. She’s the one who switches hats, steals magic tools, and rescues others. The main difference is that while the heroes of ATU 327 are lost children, the heroes of ATU 313 are young lovers.
But back to the the basic 327B tale. Both "The Dwarf and the Giant" and "Small Boy Defeats the Ogre" are flawed names, given that stories where a girl defeats the ogre are so widespread. These ogre-slaying girls pop up in Ireland, Scotland, Hungary, France, Egypt, and Persia, and have thrived in the Americas. I fully expect to find more out there.
You might think I was out of things to say about pillywiggins, but you would be wrong! I've begun keeping a list of any books I can find that mention them. This is an opportunity to see how new folklore develops in the era of the Internet. There are far too many works to list here, but here are a few:
Haunts & taunts: a book for Halloweén and all the nights of the year by Jean Chapman (1983)
At this point, the second book ever that I know features pillywiggins. Here, "Pillywiggins" is the given name of a baby fairy in a retelling of the fairytale "Katie Crackernuts." The name also appears in a list of fairies later on.
Fairies & Elves, the "Enchanted World" series (1985)
The Enchanted World was a twenty-one-book series released by Time Life Books. The books were edited by Ellen Phillips, with Tristram Potter Coffin as primary consultant. The series was available through mail order. TV commercials struck a creepy, mysterious tone and featured horror actor Vincent Price. Fairies & Elves was book three. It primarily recounts folktales from around the world, with one very brief description of pillywiggins, mentioning that they hide inside flowers and are about the size of bees.
The illustration shows long-haired, butterfly-winged nymphs peeking out of the tops of wildflowers. This is the earliest picture of pillywiggins I have found, unless you count the unidentified dancing gnomes in Haunts & Taunts.
Various books by Pierre Dubois, 1991-onwards
Dubois has mentioned pillywiggins in many of his works, but I am unsure what the first one was. I know he was including them at least by 1991, namedropping them in his graphic novel Pixies.
The thing about Dubois is that he is a creative writer, not a folklore scholar. He regularly alters folklore creatures to suit his purposes. Parisette (a plant) and Tisanière (an herbal tea infusion) show up as fae creatures in his books. “Freddy” – Freddy Krueger! - gets an entry in a list of bogeymen. And then there are the many creatures which appear nowhere before Dubois's writings: Danthienne, H'awouahoua, Lorialet, Scarille, Tiddyfollicoles, etc. Many of these have since made their way into other fantasy works.
In La grande encyclopédie des lutins (1992), Dubois claims to have found a mention of pillywiggins among other fae in an 11th-century manuscript titled Aelfsidem, translated by "W.T. Dodgsons Luchtat, 1334, Meinster, p. 526." Dubois and people quoting him are the only ones ever to mention this manuscript. In addition, the "quotes" from Aelfsidem read exactly like everything else Dubois writes, and the fairies, pixies, and undines it lists are highly anachronistic. (If you look for fairylike beings in medieval manuscripts, you’re more likely to find incubi, neptuni, fauni, and dryades.) Dubois frequently makes up fictional quotes in the playful way of a fantasy writer building a world. One example is his famous scholar “Petrus Barbygère” - who is, in fact, a fictional character and the lead of one of Dubois's comic series. This has not stopped a few confused authors from quoting Dubois's in-universe books and people as sources.
His Encyclopédie des Fées gives a longer description of pillywiggins, explaining that they have insectoid characteristics and can take the form of bees or dragonflies. The text is rife with errors. Francis James Childe becomes "Frances Jammes," and the artist Cicely Mary Barker is "Cecily Mary Broker." Nevertheless, Dubois' work ushered pillywiggins into French fairylore.
A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy (1994)
Okay, so first off, McCoy has been a figure of some controversy among Wiccans, being particularly infamous for claiming that the potato was sacred to the ancient Irish Celts. (The potato was introduced to Ireland around the 16th century.)
She bases this book in folklore, but then runs in her own direction with it, creating fanciful and detailed descriptions for various “faery” races. She introduces the "saleerandee," a Welsh lizard faery whose name resembles the salamander, and the “attorcroppe,” a serpent-like faery. She is the only source for these creatures. She also transforms the Yucatec deity Sip into teensy, shy Mayan fairies called Zips and the German moss-covered dwarves, Mooseleute, into the pretty butterfly-winged Moss People.
She makes the pillywiggins friendly, cute and sweet, concerned only with blossoms and springtime. They ride upon bees. She names their sexy, scantily-clad blonde queen "Ariel." Everything about this Ariel corresponds to the Ariel of Shakespeare's Tempest.
In fact, in art and costuming, Ariel is frequently a feminine figure with golden hair and gauzy white clothing.
McCoy may have been inspired by Fairies & Elves’ mention of cowslips and honeybees, combined with Ariel’s speech in The Tempest. There would have been plenty of available artwork featuring Ariel that increased the similarities.
McCoy’s guide to fairies has been copied and circulated online in its entirety since at least 2001.
A Basket of Wishes, by Rebecca Paisley (1995)
A romance. Splendor, princess of the Pillywiggins, who has vast magic powers and weeps diamonds, has to bear some human guy's child.
Here, Pillywiggin is a realm of Faery. Its inhabitants are referred to as Pillywiggins, Pillywiggin fairies, pixies, sprites, elves or imps. Their natural form is tiny humanoids the size of "the span of a large butterfly's wings." They can grant wishes as well as fly with or without the aid of wings (which are apparently detachable). Physically, they are identical to humans except that they are incredibly beautiful and exude stardust, not unlike Tinker Bell. Overall, they serve as an amalgam of fairy traditions old and new. Their queen is the Tooth Fairy.
Buttercup Baby by Karen Fox (October 2001)
A romance. Ariel, queen of the Pillywiggins, who has vast magic powers and weeps opals, has to bear some human guy's child.
Karen Fox wrote four books for Jove Books' "Magical Love" series, and she used pillywiggins as a race of garden fairies. They apparently make up the majority of the fae and serve King Oberon. They seem uniformly female and very beautiful, and they are distinct from pixies (mischievous miniature trolls who serve Queen Titania). Fox's use of Queen Ariel points to Edain McCoy's work.
Pillywiggins and the Tree Witch, by Julia Jarman (2011)
A chapter book for younger readers, in which Pillywiggins is the personal name of one fairy.
Jarman's Pillywiggins is a refreshing departure from the twee miniature flower goddesses seen elsewhere on this list. She's a tough, tomboyish loner, repeatedly contrasted with the other sparkly pink fairies. Although she looks eerie, she's a heroic figure. There is a scene where she senses plants coming alive on Midsummer’s Eve, but otherwise she doesn’t seem to be associated with flowers that much.
I contacted Ms. Jarman and learned that this Pillywiggins was based on a doll found at a craft fair. Ms. Jarman turned to the Internet in order to find out what the name meant, which is the case for many authors and researchers these days, including me.
Atlantide: La naissance by T. A. Barron (2016)
This is a weird example. In the original English version, Atlantis Rising, the characters encounter tiny forest fairies with wings and antennae. These fairies are called "Quiggleypottles." In the French translation, their name is mysteriously replaced with "pillywiggins."
I’m not sure why it was necessary to substitute anything for Barron’s original creation. Does Quiggleypottle sound bad in French? This does indicate, however, that the translators were familiar with pillywiggin as a word for tiny flower fairies.
Pillywiggins have inspired songs (at least three; the ones I've found are either French or attribute pillywiggins to French tradition). They are monster-insects in the video game Final Fantasy XI. Quite a few small businesses are named after them. You can buy pillywiggin dolls on Etsy. A book of cat names suggests Pillywiggin as a charming name for a kitten. And, as of April 2019, a pillywiggin has appeared in the anime "Fairy Gone" (though it doesn't look much like a traditional fairy).
I still can't trace pillywiggins any farther back than 1977, and I have yet to find a single scholarly collection that mentions them. It’s entirely possible that they originated in the 70s, and over the next 42 years, took root in the modern imagination and spread across the globe.
I wrote to English folklorist Jeremy Harte as part of my continuing research. He could find no evidence of pillywiggins as part of folklore - which has been typical for me and everyone I've contacted. There are, of course, similar words like Pigwiggen, and he pointed out another similar fairy name, Skillywiddens. Pillywiggin is actually a perfect combo of those two.
He also pointed out a very interesting possibility: "from the way that [the 1977 source] mentions them, it’s possible that she may mean, not ‘there is a Dorset tradition about Pillywiggins’ but ‘there are traditions about tiny flower spirits, just like the (sc. literary) Pillywiggins from Dorset’. In that case we’re back to searching children’s literature."
The source might also be TV or radio rather than a book.
The only thing that can truly settle the issue is to find a source for pillywiggins that predates Field Guide to the Little People. If an older source is found, it will probably be a piece of media from the 60’s or 70’s, possibly connected to Dorset and intended for children.
Again - if you have any information to add, please let me know!
In 1697, Charles Perrault published the story of "Cendrillon: ou la Petite Pantoufle de verre" (Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper). This is probably the most widespread version of Cinderella, thanks in large part to its adaptation by Walt Disney. I often see people on the Internet insist that "the original Cinderella wore gold slippers and had the stepsisters cut off their toes and get their eyes pecked out by birds!" But that was "Aschenputtel," the version from the Brothers Grimm. Perrault published his work 115 years before the Grimms did. It's impossible to identify an "original" version of Cinderella, but at least in terms of publication, the glass slipper came first.
But was it really a glass slipper? There is a persistent theory that the shoes were originally made of fur - which is about as far from glass as you can get!
This theory may have originated with Honore de Balzac, in La Comédie humaine: Sur Catherine de Médicis, published between 1830 and 1842 and finalized in 1846. The word for glass, "verre," sounds the same as "vair" or squirrel fur. This fur was a luxury item which only the upper class was allowed to wear. Therefore, claimed Balzac, Cinderella's slipper was "no doubt" made of fur.
Since then, quite a few authors have relied on this alternate origin for Cinderella's origins, usually in order to fit the story into a more "realistic" mold. It has also produced a persistent legend in the English-speaking world that Perrault used fur slippers and was mistranslated.
Yes, glass shoes raise questions. How did she dance in them? How did she run in them? Wouldn't they have shattered? Wouldn't they have been super noisy? Fur slippers erase those questions entirely.
But Cinderella stories regularly include things like dresses made of sunlight, moonlight and starlight. Forests grow of silver, gold and diamonds. Prisoners are confined atop glass mountains. In Perrault's version alone, mice are transformed into horses and pumpkins into carriages.
Glass slippers should not be an issue.
In fact, they fit perfectly well with the internal logic of the fairytale. As has been pointed out by others, the whole point of the slippers is that only Cinderella can wear them. Fur slippers are soft and yielding. Glass slippers are rigid and you can see clearly whether they fit a certain foot. Moving into symbolism: they are expensive, delicate, unique, magical. Cinderella must be light and delicate, too, in order to dance in them. They are a contradiction in terms (of course it would be impossible for a woman to dance in glass shoes! That's the whole point!) and that's why they have captured so many imaginations.
The fact is that Perrault wrote about "pantoufles de verre," glass slippers. He used those words multiple times. There is no question that he was talking about glass. No one mistranslated Perrault.
However, did he misunderstand an oral tale which mentioned slippers of vair?
It's important to note that "vair" was popular in the Middle Ages. By Perrault's time, this medieval word was long out of use!
It is still possible that Perrault could have heard a version with vair slippers - but is it probable? What stories might Perrault have heard?
In her extensive work on Cinderella, Marian Roalfe Cox found only six versions with glass shoes. She found many that were not described, many that were small or tiny, and many that were silver, silk, covered in jewels or pearls, or embroidered with gold. A Venetian story had diamond shoes, and an Irish tale had blue glass shoes. Cox believed that other versions with glass slippers were based on Perrault's Cendrillon. Paul Delarue, on the other hand, thought these versions were too far away in origin, which would make them independent sources - which means Perrault could have drawn on an older tradition of Cinderella in glass shoes.
Gold shoes are perhaps significant. Ye Xian or Yeh-hsien, a Chinese tale, was first published about 850, and its heroine's shoes are gold. Centuries later, the Grimms' Aschenputtel takes off her heavy wooden clogs to wear slippers “embroidered with silk and silver,” but her final slippers - the ones which identify her - are simply “pure gold.” It’s not clear whether this means gold fabric or solid metal.
As for other early Cinderellas: Madame D'Aulnoy published her story "Finette Cendron" (Cunning Cinders) in 1697, the same year as Perrault's Cendrillon. Her heroine wears red velvet slippers braided with pearls. Realistic enough.
The Pentamerone (1634) has "La Gatta Cenerenterola" (Cat Cinderella). It's not said what the heroine's shoes are made of, but she does ride in a golden coach.
Note that shoes are not always the object that identifies the heroine. In many tales, it's a ring - something likely to be made of gold or studded with gems. What if, at some pivotal point, far back in history, a storyteller combined the tiny shoe and the golden ring into a single object?
On the other hand, I have never found a Cinderella who wears fur slippers to a ball. Fur clothing appears in Cinderella stories such as "All-Kinds-of-Fur," but it's used as a hideous disguise. Rebecca-Anne do Rozario points out that "Finette Cendron" (which, again, came out the same year as Perrault's "Cendrillon") has Finette instruct an ogress to cast off her unfashionable bear-pelts. Fur clothing was not a symbol of wealth or status, but of wildness and ugliness.
Glass slippers were most likely Perrault's own invention dating from when he retold his folktales in literary format. No translation error, no misheard "vair" - just a really good idea and his own storytelling touch. If anything, he probably heard stories where the slippers were made of gold, or where their material was not mentioned.
It was only later writers like Honore de Balzac who added the confusion of the squirrel-fur slippers, and folklorists and linguists have been arguing against it ever since. James Planché wrote in 1858, "I thank the stars that I have not been able to discover any foundation for this alarming report." That was twelve years after Balzac's book was officially completed.
Heidi Anne Heiner at SurLaLune points out that the vair slipper theory dismisses Perrault's "adept literacy," and "negates [his] interest in the fantastic and magical, discounting his brilliant creativity."
Unfortunately, as shown by Alan Dundes, the vair/verre theory made it into influential sources such as the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and thus has been fed as fact to successive generations of readers. Who's going to question the Encyclopaedia Brittanica? And so this rumor remains persistent.
As a final bit of trivia: there is one mention of glass shoes in the Brothers Grimm's tales. “Okerlo” appeared only in their 1812 manuscript and was quickly removed. (This is perhaps because it is clearly a retelling of a French literary tale, “The Bee and the Orange Tree.” Not unusual for the Grimms, but in this case it may have been just too blatant.) In the final lines, the narrator is asked what they wore to a wedding. They describe ridiculous clothes, with hair made of butter that melts, a dress of cobwebs that tears, and finally: “My slippers were made of glass, and as I stepped on a stone, they broke in two.” Here, the destruction of the fairytale clothing points out how impossible the magical tale is, and signals the end of the story and a return to reality.
Where did the tiny flower fairy come from? A lot of people blame Victorian authors, but the idea's older than that. The finger's also been pointed at William Shakespeare, but although he codified them and made them famous, he was not the one to introduce tiny fairies either.
Going back into medieval legend and earlier, human-scale fairies seem to be the rule. Nymphs and fauns were the nature fairies of Greek mythology, although they were of human stature. In medieval literature, fairies usually seemed to be human-sized. At their smallest, they were the size of children, like Oberon in "Huon of Bordeaux." In John Lyly's play "Endymion" (1588), the fairies are "fair babies," probably played by children.
However, occasional appearances by very tiny fairies have survived. In Gervase of Tilbury's Otia Imperialia ("Recreation for an Emperor") c.1210-1214, we get the first truly miniature fairies: “portunes,” little old men half an inch tall. There's been some debate over whether this was a textual error, and whether it should be read as closer to half a foot tall. However, I don't see any reason why they couldn't be half an inch tall. In fact, people were probably familiar with the idea of tiny otherworldly beings. In the Middle Ages, both demons and human souls were often portrayed as very tiny. In one medieval story, a priest celebrating a Mass for the dead suddenly sees the church filled with souls. They appear as people no bigger than a finger ("homuncionibus ad mensuram digiti").
In an Irish tale transcribed around 1517, King Fergus mac Leti meets Iubhdan and Bebo, rulers of the Luchra. One of them can stand upon a human man's palm or drown in a pot of porridge. These beings are clearly fairies. Iubhdan's hare-sized horse is golden with a crimson mane and green legs (red and green being traditionally associated with the fae). They bestow Fergus with magical gifts, like shoes which allow him to walk underwater. The story is an expansion of previously known tales where Fergus encounters "lúchorpáin," or "little bodies," evidently some type of water-dwelling creature and possibly the predecessors of the modern leprechaun.
Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) gives a list of bogeymen and fairies. Included in the list is "Tom thombe" - a character no bigger than a finger. There are other clues that might connect the supernatural to the miniature: the fairies turn hemp stalks into horses, and witches sail in eggshells or cockleshells.
Then came Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1595), we finally find tiny nature fairies. Oberon and Titania are nature gods. Their servants have plant names like Peaseblossom and their tasks include dewing the cowslips and making clothing from bats' pelts. Queen Mab appears in Romeo and Juliet (1597) and is a diminutive force to be reckoned with. In The Tempest (c. 1610), the fairylike Ariel is not exactly a fairy, but he does share their size and affinity with flowers: "In a cowslip's bell I lie."
This began an obsession. Another play, "The Maid's Metamorphosis," was published around 1600. Fairies named Penny, Cricket and Little Pricke "trip . . . lightly as the little Bee" and sing:
‘I do come about the coppes
Leaping upon flowers toppes;
Then I get upon a Flie,
Shee carries me abouve the skie."
In the first known version of Tom Thumb, printed in 1621, Tom's fairy-made wardrobe consists of plants and found objects. His hat is an oak leaf. In one scene, he sleeps “upon the top of a Red Rose new blowne.”
Michael Drayton's "Nymphidia" came out in 1627. This long narrative poem shrinks Shakespeare's fairies even further to the point where Mab and all of her servants can comfortably house themselves inside a nutshell. Tom Thumb, appropriately, appears among them, and a fairy knight wears armor fashioned out of insect parts. Drayton also wrote "A Fairy Wedding" (1630) with a bride robed entirely in petals.
In William Browne of Tavistocke's third book of Britania's Pastorales, Oberon is "clad in a suit of speckled gilliflow'r." His hat is a lily and his ruff a daisy. A servant wears a monkshood flower for a hat. Elsewhere, Browne’s fairies guard the flowers: "water'd the root and kiss'd her pretty shade."
Robert Herrick, writing in the 1620s and 1630s, brought us "The beggar to Mab, the Fairy Queen," "The Fairy Temple, or Oberon's Chapel," and "Oberon’s Feast." "Oberon's Clothing" is a poem of similar fare. The author is unknown but has been attributed to Simon Steward or possibly Robert Herrick.
Lady Margaret Newcastle's "The Pastime, and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairy-land, the Center of the Earth" (1653) is much the same thing.
These works deal with the food, clothing, housing, transportation, and hobbies of flower fairies in exquisite detail. These were smaller, cuter forms of the folklore fairy, and this whimsical form of escapism had captured the popular imagination. However, some of these works may also have served to critique the excesses of royalty. Marjorie Swann suggested that William Browne was subtly mocking King James and other rulers by parodying their lavish banquets and hunting parties.
This interest in the supernatural was not just literary. There were witch hunts actively going on at this time. A Pleasant Treatise of Witches (1673) purports to be a collection of factual accounts of supernatural phenomena. In Chapter 6, a woman sees a tiny man - only a foot tall on horseback - emerge from behind a flowerbed. He introduces himself as "a Prince amongst the Pharies." Later, his army appears at dinner to "[prance] on their horses round the brims of a large dish of white-broth." One soldier slips and falls into the dish! Despite the connection with flowers and the inherent comedy of the fairies' size, there was still a great danger to anyone involved with them. In this particular tale, the woman quickly wastes away and dies after her otherworldly encounter.
All the same, the cute fairy continued strong into the 18th century with Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock (1717) and Thomas Tickell's Kensington Garden (1722). Plays like "The Fairy Favour" by Thomas Hull, produced in 1766, used fairy imagery and Shakespearean allusions to flatter royalty, continuing a theme popular with Queen Elizabeth. However, Elizabethan fairy literature included works like The Faerie Queene with heroic human-sized fae. Now, the sprites of "The Fairy Favour" slept in the shade of a primrose and wore robes made from butterfly wings.
The Rape of the Lock, a parodic work very much in the tradition of Nymphidia, is particularly significant. Drawing on the work of Paracelsus and the esoteric Comte de Gabalis, it presents a pantheon of elemental spirits. There are sylphs, gnomes, nymphs and salamanders, which Pope makes the reincarnated souls of the dead. They are tiny enough to hide in a woman's hair and dangle from her earrings. (As with other fairy literature, their size is a source of comedy.) Most importantly, they have "insect-wings." A 1798 edition, illustrated by Thomas Stothard, gives the sylphs butterfly wings. This is the earliest known appearance of the modern winged fairy.
In the 19th century, the movement of folklore collecting became a significant force. In the folklore that was collected, and the writings inspired by it, we meet wave upon wave of miniature flower fairies. In Teutonic Mythology volume 2 (1835), Jacob Grimm described elves and wights ranging from "the stature of a four years' child" to "measured by the span or thumb." Thomas Crofton Croker, in Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), explained that the foxglove is known as the Fairy Cap "from the supposed resemblance of its bells to this part of fairy dress." This inspired Hartley Coleridge to write of "Fays sweetly nestled in the foxglove bells." In British Goblins by Wirt Sikes (1880), we learn that foxgloves serve the Welsh ellyllon for gloves. Anna Eliza Bray's pixies use tulips as cradles (1879). And the "greenies" in James Bowker's Goblin Tales of Lancashire (1878) perhaps show the influence of Nymphidia, with a "dainty dwarf in a burnished suit of beetles' wing cases."
At the same time, new fairy tales and fantasy literature were being produced. In 1835, Hans Christian Andersen published the story of Thumbelina. The thumb-sized heroine is born from a flower and eventually becomes queen of the winged flower fairies. The first of these people is introduced as "the angel of the flower" (Blomstens Engel), and we learn that such a being dwells inside every blossom. In 1839, Andersen produced "The Rose Elf" (Rosen-alfen) with a main character "so tiny that no mortal eye could see him" who lived in a rose.
These fairies for children, however, took on a strong educational bent. The Heroes of Asgard, by Annie Keary (1856) turned the Norse Ljósálfar into tiny elves who tended flowers under the tutelage of their "schoolmaster," the god Frey. This story was frequently reprinted in publications like A phonic reading book (1876). Other fairy-centric books included The Novel Adventures of Tom Thumb the Great, Showing How He Visited the Insect World by Louisa Mary Barwell (1838); Fairy Know-a-bit; or, a Nutshell of Knowledge (1866) by Charlotte Tucker; and Old Farm Fairies: A Summer Campaign in Brownieland Against King Cobweaver's Pixies by Henry Christopher McCook (1895). These used a fantasy framework to teach children about the natural world, encouraging them to examine insect and plant life.
But there was a stark divide between fairies for children and fairies for adults. In George Macdonald's Phantastes (1858), the fairies are explicitly flower fairies - hiding in "every bell-shaped flower" - but they are grotesque and not at all benevolent. This was also the era of Victorian fairy paintings like those of Richard Dadd, Richard Doyle, and John Anster Fitzgerald. Victorian fairy painting was a movement in and of itself, hitting its high point from 1840 to 1870. These paintings often featured obsessive levels of minute detail, but could have an eerie, ominous, even violent atmosphere. In Dadd's intricate "Contradiction: Oberon and Titania" (c. 1854), the fairy queen inadvertently crushes a mini-fairy under one foot. Fitzgerald's work sometimes held references to drugs and hallucinations, as in his painting "The Nightmare." And a lot of Victorian fairy art was sensual. In a society otherwise bound by the rules of propriety, fairies were allowed to be barely-clothed, undeniably erotic beings.
J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, transformed the fairy genre again at the turn of the century. He published his first Peter Pan book, The Little White Bird, in 1902; there, his fairies disguise themselves as flowers to avoid attention. Barrie's most famous fairy is, of course, Tinker Bell. She first appeared (as a light projected by a mirror) in Barrie's 1904 play, and quickly came to dominate the modern perception of fairies. According to Laura Forsberg:
"[Barrie] changed the terms of the discussion around fairies from observation and imagination to nostalgia and belief. While the Victorian fairy was always accompanied by the adult’s urging the child to look closer at the natural world, Tinkerbell was a trick of mechanical lighting that would be revealed as a fraud if the child approached. Tinkerbell so captured the public imagination that she overshadowed the Victorian fairies who preceded her." (p. 662)
According to author Diane Purkiss, the cult of the flower fairy faltered with the advent of the First World War. A jaded world was no longer interested in cutesy twee pixies. The human-sized elves of J. R. R. Tolkien set a new standard for fantasy literature.
But as far as I can see, the tiny fairy continued to conquer media. The first of Cicely Mary Barker's wildly popular "Flower Fairies" picture books appeared in 1923. Enid Blyton, a classic children's author, described fairies painting the colors of nature. "To Spring," a 1936 cartoon, shows microscopic gnomes laboring to bring the colors of spring. In the 21st century, the Disney Fairies franchise is a marketing behemoth and "fairy gardens" have taken over Pinterest.
This reaches into modern belief in fairies. The Cottingley Fairies were a famous hoax in the 1910s which even took in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His book The Coming of the Fairies, released in 1922, included many testimonials from fairy-believers. Similarly, in 1955, Marjorie Johnson began the work that would eventually become Seeing Fairies, released in English in 2014. It's a collection of "fairy sightings" from many different people who believed they had genuinely seen otherworldly beings. In many of these cases, the fairies they reported were small winged creatures living in nature.
It is true that today the tiny flower fairy is frequently viewed with disdain as something only for children. Works on fairies for older readers usually take pains to specify that these are not the same-old-same-old cute fairies, but the ancient, bloodier, sexier versions. A typical example: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (2010) dismissively references Tinker Bell as the usual human concept of fairies, calling her "some kind of pixie with glitter dust and butterfly wings," while introducing a darker and crueller Fairyland. There is no longer the same adult fascination with miniature fae that flourished in the 17th and 19th centuries.
It's still unclear where flower fairies originally came from. Shakespeare undoubtedly popularized them, but he apparently expected his audience to take his incredibly miniature nature spirits in stride. There are surviving hints of tiny fairies in literature predating him. And that brings me back to the ghosts of medieval art.
Fairies and ghosts overlap. The further you go back, the more intertwined they are. Anna Eliza Bray's pixies (the ones sleeping in tulips) are "the souls of infants" who died unbaptized. The elementals in The Rape of the Lock are the spirits of the dead. In The Canterbury Tales (c. 1400), Geoffrey Chaucer calls Pluto (Roman god of the underworld) the king of the fairies. And it's not just in Europe; in the lore of West and Central Africa, ancestral spirits can be diminutive figures who behave a lot like European fairies. This makes that medieval story about finger-sized souls, particularly fascinating.
There are two famous accounts of how King Arthur won his sword.
This has led to some confusion. Different sources may use one sword or the other or both. In many works, such as the 1981 film Excalibur and the 1998 miniseries Merlin, the two swords are one and the same.
This has caused a reactionary response: these should properly be two different weapons, wielded by Arthur at different times. On a DeviantArt submission in 2006, multiple users bobbed in to remark that Excalibur, the sword from the lake, was not the same as the Sword in the Stone. A 2014 post on StackExchange said much the same thing. The sword in the stone, according to sources like these, is actually called Clarent.
Going back to the earliest sources: Arthur's sword in Welsh was named Caledfwlch. This could have developed into Excalibur. That's another debate. Throughout the history of Arthurian legend, Excalibur (or Caliburn, Caliburnus, Escalibor, Chalabrum, etc.) has always been The Arthurian Sword. King Arthur bears it, or one of his champions like Gawaine wields it for him.
The Sword in the Stone appears in Robert de Boron's Merlin, but doesn't get a name.
In the Vulgate Merlin Continuation, Escalibor is the sword pulled from the stone, which Arthur eventually passes down to Gawain.
In the post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin, they are separate swords. The sword from the stone is broken, and Arthur receives Escalibor from the lake as a replacement. The Suite also introduces Excalibur's magical scabbard.
In Thomas Malory's Morte d' Arthur, drawing from many Arthurian sources, Arthur draws the sword from the stone. It is not named until Chapter IX, where it's called "Excalibur," shining with "light like thirty torches." This sword eventually breaks, and the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur . . . another sword named Excalibur. Malory's pretty inconsistent throughout this work. It may be that he included Excalibur's name early on by mistake. All the same, here it seems that Arthur had two separate swords and both were named Excalibur.
Now for Clarent.
Clarent appears in one source: the Alliterative Morte Arthur. It is Arthur's beloved, sacred sword used only in ceremonies and knightings. Arthur views it with reverence and uses his other sword, Caliburn, for battle. Mordred gains Clarent through his treachery and, eventually, slays Arthur with it.
There are a few possible sources for the name. In the Estoire de Merlin, Arthur uses the battlecry "Clarent." There was also a city of Clarent in Sorgalles that was part of Arthur's dominion. An interesting similarity exists in the romance The history of the valiant knight Arthur of Little Britain, where a knight named Arthur wins a sword called Clarence.
But nowhere else does Clarent appear, and it is never identified as the sword in the stone. It has generally survived as a footnote. In 1895, Selections from Tennyson described it rather dismissively as Arthur's "second-best sword"!
However, some Arthurian scholars have taken note of it.
In 1960, William Matthews theorized that the Alliterative Morte's two swords were an attempt to reconcile confusing accounts of what swords Arthur used and when.
"[I]t seems likely that [Clarent] may be the sword-in-the-stone . . . and that Caliburn is, as usual (though not always), the sword of the Lady of the Lake."
Similarly, Kathleen Toohey reviews Arthur's reverential treatment of the sword: "from what we learn of Clarent no better role could have been found for the sword in the stone than the one assigned to Clarent."
Note those phrases, though: "It seems likely." "Not always." "From what we learn." "Could have been."
Anyone who ties the obscure name Clarent to the sword in the stone is theorizing. It's a valid theory, but still a theory. There's no solid evidence for it. Unhelpfully, for some time there was a Wikipedia article identifying Clarent as the Sword in the Stone. It was nominated for deletion in September 2012.
Clarent has gotten a popularity boost in recent years. It's shown as Mordred's sword in the Japanese light novel Fate/Apocrypha (2012-2014). Its origin is very close to that of the canonical Clarent, but I can't find any mention of it being the Sword in the Stone.
There are alternate options. Nightbringer, an extensive online Arthurian dictionary, suggests that the sword in the stone could be identified with Sequence, another sword belonging to Arthur, which was borrowed by Lancelot. Alternately, based on romances where Gawaine inherits Arthur's first sword, maybe the sword he wields in Malory - "Galatine" - is the original sword in the stone. (I don't quite follow this, since in those romances the original sword is Escalibor.) These guesses hit the same issues as the Clarent theory: namely, they're guesses.
We have a confusion of sources where Excalibur is sometimes the Sword in the Stone and sometimes its replacement. Or, as in Malory, both!
Ultimately, the Sword in the Stone cannot be definitively linked to Clarent, Sequence, Galatine, or any of the swords belonging to Arthur . . . except for Excalibur.
Hey guys! Be sure to check out this short documentary by Molly Likovich, analyzing the story of Red Riding Hood. Molly very kindly invited me to interview, so I am in there at a few points (look for Sarah Allison).
This is one of the most omnipresent fairytales in our culture and the video provides a really interesting look at its origins. Molly has other similar video essays on her channel.
The story of "Prince Lindworm" or "Kong Lindorm" is ATU 433B, related to the Animal Bridegroom tale family. Many variants of the Animal Bridegroom story feature serpents, but this one is rather unique. And upon researching it, I soon learned that pretty much everything I knew about this story was wrong.
A lindworm is a dragon usually shown with just two legs, often seen on coats of arms. Although the stories are very different, "Prince Lindworm" begins with a scene almost identical to the start of "Tatterhood." In both, a queen who wants a child encounters an old woman who gives her instructions on getting one. Tatterhood's mother pours water beneath her bed, and the next morning finds a lovely flower and an ugly flower there. Lindworm's mother places a cup upside-down in her garden, and the next morning finds a white rose and a red rose underneath.
In both cases, there's a warning. Tatterhood's mother is instructed not to eat the ugly flower, while Lindworm's mother is told to pick only one (red for a boy, white for a girl). But both are overcome by temptation, because the first flower "tasted so sweet" - the same reason in both versions.
This hunger and greed symbolizes sexual temptation. It also hearkens to myths that blamed women for birth defects - like "maternal impression," the idea that the mother's thoughts or surroundings could influence her unborn child.
For Tatterhood, a connection seems clear: Tatterhood's pretty twin is created by the beautiful flower, and the outwardly repellent Tatterhood by the foul-looking plant. The twins are fundamentally opposite, yet love each other deeply. The same motif drives "Biancabella and the Snake," an Italian tale by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, where a woman gives birth to a baby girl with a snake around her neck. The snake, Samaritana, serves as a supernatural helper to her human sister, Biancabella. She eventually doffs her serpent skin and becomes a woman without explanation. (Italo Calvino collected a folktale, "The Snake," with the same story - except that the snake is merely a helpful animal, not an enchanted sibling.)
In the opposite of these tales with diametrically opposed siblings, there are stories where two women eat of the same food and bear identical children. You find this in the Italian "Pome and Peel" and the Russian tale of "Storm-Bogatyr, Ivan the Cow's Son." In "Ivan the Cow's Son," rather than a woman giving birth to an animal, a cow gives birth to a human.
But Prince Lindworm apparently follows a different internal logic. The queen is hoping to have both a son and a daughter when she eats both roses; this makes sense, even though it's incredibly stupid to disobey instructions in a fairytale. In fact, she eats the white rose first, so you would think she would have a daughter first. However, what she gets is a male lindworm and a baby boy - twins, as in "Tatterhood" or "Biancabella," one perfect, the other monstrous.
The lindworm baby escapes and is not seen again until, years later, the second prince prepares to marry. The lindworm returns; as he is firstborn, he says he should get married first. The royal family obtains a bride for him, but the lindworm eats her on their wedding night. Before you know it, we're on Bride #3, and she quickly deduces that this isn't going to end well for her. However, an old woman gives her advice. Bride #3 is savvier than the queen and follows the instructions exactly. On her wedding night she wears ten white shifts and tells the lindworm to shed one skin every time she takes off a layer of clothing. Once he's removed nine skins, there's nothing left of him but a mass of bloody flesh. She beats him with whips dipped in lye, then bathes him in milk, and finally takes him in her arms. When people come to check on them the next morning, they find her sleeping beside a handsome human prince.
Marie-Luise von Franz interpreted the lindworm as a "hermaphrodite": “a masculine being . . . wrapped up in the feminine or the dragon skin. . . . Prince Lindworm is also a man surrounded by the woman, but he is in the form of a lump of bleeding flesh surrounded by a dragon skin, a regressive form of the union of the opposites.” In alchemy, according to von Franz, hermaphrodites are closely connected to dragons and serpents.
This explanation fails for me. The white rose was eaten first. Surely the feminine element should be at the center of the lindworm's being? What makes scales feminine and blood masculine? The biggest stumbling block is the existence of the twin brother. Why wasn't he affected? Going by the opening scene, it seems to me, the lindworm should either be a princess or have an older sister.
Taking a step back: the motif of the enchanted prince removing his animal skin is familiar. In "Hans My Hedgehog," a couple wishes desperately for a child, but their son is born as (wait for it) a hedgehog. He tries several times to take a bride, but the first girl is unwilling and he stabs her with his prickles. The second is willing, and on their wedding night he removes his hedgehog skin to become a handsome man. The same thing happens in the Italian "The Pig King." Both stories are Aarne Thompson type 441, the hog bridegroom. Very often this tale includes a number of false starts to marriage, where the enchanted bridegroom turns horrifyingly violent towards the maidens who reject him.
The removable skin seems more appropriate for serpents, which really do shed their skin, and which in many cultures are symbols of rebirth and transformation. And there is a widespread tale type of snake and serpent husbands, type 433C. Prince Lindworm is unusual in that he must remove multiple skins. His transformation is more involved than these other examples. He must also be whipped and bathed.
The act of bathing suggests baptism, and thus forgiveness of sins and rebirth. (And he needs that forgiveness of sins after all that snacking on maidens.) It's a little more odd that he is bathed in milk. However, there's a widespread tradition of offering milk to snakes. In Hinduism, milk is offered to snake idols, for instance on the feast of Nag Panchmi. So you get Indian folktales like "The Snake Prince," where in order to restore her husband from his serpent form, the heroine must put out bowls of milk and sugar to attract all the snakes and gain an audience with their queen. According to Arthur Evans, a similar tradition of milk offerings for "household snakes" existed in Greece, Dalmatia and Germany. Marija Gimbutas said that this practice persisted in Lithuania up into the 20th century. Snakes actually can't digest dairy products and do not drink milk unless suffering from dehydration.
In the Turkish tale of "The Stepdaughter and the Black Serpent," the heroine serves as a nursemaid for the serpent prince. When he's an infant, she keeps him contained in a box of milk. When he leaves the box, she beats him with rose and holly branches to deter him from hurting her. He eventually wants to take a wife, but kills forty (!) brides one after another. The heroine, chosen as his bride, wears forty hedgehog skins and asks the snake to remove one skin every time she does. After removing forty snake skins, he is left as a human and they burn the snake skins.It's the same tale as Prince Lindworm, except that the order of events is different. There's also no twin brother to complicate things.
"The Stepdaughter and the Black Serpent" was recorded long after Prince Lindworm, but what if it's closer to the original form of the story? I began to wonder if the opening scene and the twin brother were foreign to the essential tale. They certainly do not appear in most variants of the tale type. The Animal Bridegroom, which often begins with the desire for a child, could easily have been combined with similar stories like Tatterhood or Biancabella. The twin brother/missing sister problem would then exist because that element was added later.
Soon after, I learned Prince Lindworm's true origins. Most modern sources call it Norwegian, but it's actually Danish. It was collected in 1854, and the original version is very different.
D. L. Ashliman did an English translation. In the oldest version of "Kong Lindorm," the queen eats both roses, but has only one child - the lindworm. There is no twin brother. Marie-Luise von Franz's premise finally begins to make sense!
The story otherwise proceeds roughly as I knew it, but there is a second half that was completely new to me. Now happily married to the former lindworm, the heroine gives birth to twin boys, but an enemy at court gets her exiled. She uses her own breast milk to disenchant two more cursed men (King Swan and King Crane), before her husband finds out what happened and retrieves her.
"Kong Lindorm" was first published by Svend Grundtvig in Gamle danske Minder i Folkemunde (1854).
A Swedish version, "Prins Lindorm," was published in 1880. This was a very close retelling of the first version, with one important difference: the opening. This time, the queen is given instructions for bearing twins, no mention of whether they will be male or female. She is supposed to carefully peel the two red onions she grows, but she forgets to peel the first one. Storytellers might have added the twin brother because they confused this story with Tatterhood, which - as previously mentioned - has a strikingly similar beginning.
Then a variant appeared in Axel Olrik's Danske Sagn og Æventyr fra Folkemunde (1913). This was almost identical to the first Kong Lindorm, except that it included the twin brother. However, the storyteller did not otherwise alter the opening, so the birth of twins made no sense. The second half was hacked off, perhaps because the writer didn't want to talk about breast milk, and also because that's where the story starts to drag. This short version was translated into English in 1922, in a book titled East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North. There, it was thrown in alongside Norwegian stories collected by the famous Asbjornsen and Moe, leading to the confusion around its origins.
So there you have it. The version I knew had been simplified and altered.
Ultimately, the story's sense of confusion stems from careless editing and a misunderstanding of the tale's logic. Adding in a second child obscures the idea of the older tale. In fact, the white rose leads to a daughter, a red rose leads to a son, and both roses together make a giant dragon monster. Simple, right?
Okay, I think it's really about 19th-century sexual mores for women. The queen's intemperance leads to a curse which affects her unborn child and generations to come. She hungered for extra roses (read: she was lustful), so her child is neither man nor woman and can't have a normal marriage. Echoing his mother's method of conception by eating, the only way he can engage with a woman is by devouring her. And his wives die because they are not behaving correctly on the wedding night. When Bride #3 follows proper instructions, she redeems her husband and can look forward to a happy and fruitful marriage. Note that she is still wearing one shift by the end of the cursebreaking ritual, indicating modesty and chastity. This is different from the Indian version, where the girl and the serpent shed the same number of skins. There's also an Oedipal note to it; she must bathe him in milk in order for him to be reborn. That original maternal sin has to be corrected. The longer version even doubles down on the milk motif.
You can read a translation of the original version here, and the popular English version here.
Hi guys! Check out this podcast episode on "Thumbling as Journeyman" at https://grimmreading.podbean.com. The series goes through the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and in this episode they mention Writing in Margins.
In a motif popular across many cultures, a man or woman of exceptional beauty is described as "white as snow and red as blood." Black is often thrown into the mix as well. The stark, exaggerated colors illustrate just how striking is the person's loveliness. (See my previous blog post: Three White Qualities, Three Black, Three Red.)
Of course, snow isn't as common in every place where this motif appears. The colors are often compared to various objects, each of which can have different connotations.
Snow denotes purity and untouched perfection.
Cheese, milk, or cream. This is very common in Italian variants of "The Three Citrons." As a dairy product, it may be a feminine symbol. Milk symbolizes life. It can signify prosperity and plenty as in the phrase "the land of milk and honey."
The moon suggests celestial beauty. The moon can be a feminine symbol. In some stories, the evil stepmother consults with the sun or moon instead of a magic mirror. The stepdaughter's beauty outdoes both the stepmother and the moon.
Other variants use marble, a lily, a swan, an egg, sugar cane, or the inside of an orange peel. Most of these, like the lily, are associated with purity.
Blood symbolizes life, passion and desire, or a coming of age for women. Combining it with something white (usually snow) creates a dichotomy of purity and desire. The typical motif of a woman pricking her finger, bleeding, and giving birth to a child suggests a sexual interpretation.
This dichotomy shows up in the Brothers Grimm's Snow White. Although her name indicates clean, sterile innocence, she repeatedly disobeys the dwarves' warnings and gives into temptation, such as accepting the poisoned apple. The apple, too, is half white and half red, and she "dies" when she bites into the red poisoned half.
According to Christine Goldberg, there are two types of the blood motif. In one category, the hero is a hunter, and the blood on the snow belongs to the prey animal he has killed. This indicates “qualities of aloofness, cruelty and dominance." It implies that he wants a wife to “subjugate.”
In the other, the blood is an accident after the hero cuts themselves. It implies that they desire a lover or child like themselves, someone who's the color of their blood. Does this make them sympathetic, as people in pain? Or does it mean they're arrogant and in love with themselves? (Goldberg 122)
Rose: Many characters have Rose as a part of their name, such as Snow-White-and-Rosy-Red, or Blanca Rosa. Maybe because it just sounds more appealing than Snow-White-Blood-Red. The rose has long been a symbol of beauty and love.
Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Wild Swans" was based on stories like "The Twelve Wild Ducks" with its heroine Snow-White-and-Rosy-Red. In Andersen's version, the heroine is named Eliza, but roses and other flowers (both white and red) symbolize her innate goodness.
Fire: Snow-White-Fire-Red is from an Italian tale reminiscent of Rapunzel. Like blood, fire can symbolize passion.
Pomegranate: In stories from Africa and the Middle East, rather than snow and blood, the colors are compared to the red and white of a pomegranate. In Ancient Greece, the pomegranate had connections to death as in the story of Persephone. However, in other countries, it's a symbol of abundance and fertility. The pomegranate features heavily in the Song of Solomon, used to describe the lover's beauty.
Ravit Raufman and others suggest that a heroine named Pomegranate creates more sensual, fertile images than Snow White. In this school of thought, Snow White's conception comes from icy, sterile snow and the brutality and passion of blood. Pomegranates are much more inviting.
Cristina Mazzoni analyzes the uses of different fruits in "The Three Citrons," a story type which often features the snow-white maiden. In his version, Giambattista Basile uses the sour, yellow, grammatically male citron. The girl trapped inside is red, white and sweet, more like the grammatically feminine pomegranate. When a later folktale scholar, Italo Calvino, published a version of the story, he named it "The Love of the Three Pomegranates" - perhaps to solve that problem.
Strawberries and apples are also possible metaphors. Italo Calvino found variants of "The Three Citrons" where the girls emerged from nuts, watermelons, lemons, and almost every fruit you can think of. Comparing the girl's whiteness to the inside of an orange peel is a way to connect the metaphor more completely to fruit.
Raven: Very frequently, the black color comes from the feathers of a raven, a magpie, or another bird. Not only can the color black symbolize death and mortality, but the raven lives on carrion and in many cultures is associated with bad luck, death, or the battleground. The raven in Snow White stories is often seen dying or dead, with its blood providing the red color.
Ebony: This occurs in the Grimms' Snow White and a few other tales, but the raven is far more common. Ebony is a valuable ornamental wood which can be carved into intricate and refined shapes because of how hard it is. In versions like the Grimms', the presence of ebony displays the wealth of Snow White's family.
Gold is a less frequent addition to the color theme. It denotes royalty and wealth. In a Celtic story, the Snow White character is named Gold-Tree (and is more beautiful than her mother Silver-Tree).
Tangerine: In the Catalan "La Tarongeta," a queen wishes for a child as white as snow and as gold as a tangerine. As in variants of The Three Citrons, citrus fruits indicate social status and tropical paradises.
Stars, the sun: In the Spanish "The Sleeping Prince," the prince is as white as snow and red as blood, but also as golden as sunlight.
In an Irish tale collected in the 1930s, the main character is called "the Bright Star of Ireland."
In a Snow White-type story from Mozambique, the girl bears a star on her forehead, harkening to widespread stories where a gold star on someone's forehead is a sign of royalty.
Yes, really. Stanislao Prato, in Quattro novelline popolari Livornesi (1880) mentions an unpublished story from Sinigaglia of a girl as white as ricotta and red as blood, with green hair. (pg. 59)
If you're interested in the stories mentioned here, check out my database of stories on the Snow White Project.
Did King Arthur have any children? Most people would probably think only of Mordred, his traitorous son/nephew. It's part of the essential tragedy of King Arthur: he's the greatest king of all time, yet he has no heir to succeed him. Except that in many versions of the story, he actually does have other children. King Arthur's Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, by Tyler R. Tichelaar, is the most in-depth look at this subject. It's well worth a read.
In the oldest Welsh sources, Arthur frequently has a son who dies young. Through the centuries, sons of Arthur popped up in romances now and again. Daughters of King Arthur are a much rarer subject, but not totally unknown.
The medieval legend of St. Ursula recounts how a British princess led eleven thousand virgins on a pilgrimage, only for them all to meet death as martyrs. There have been many retellings - one of them "De Sancta Ursula: De undecim milibus Virginum martirum," usually attributed to a monk named Hermann Joseph writing in 1183.
This version gives a prodigious list of names for Ursula's companions. One, mentioned in a single line, is Nathalia, "[f]ilia etiam Arthuri regis de Britannia" (daughter of Arthur, king of Britain).
There's very little to go on here. It's hard to say whether this is even the King Arthur we're looking for. The author tosses in a multitude of famous names from many different eras. There are royal names like Canute, Pepin and Cleopatra, and saint names like Columbanus, Balbina and Eulalia. Some of them might be traditionally connected to Ursula, but with others, one feels the author was using whatever names he could think of at the moment.
Anyway, a hypothetical historical Arthur would have lived around the late 5th to early 6th century. Ursula's date of death is usually given as 383, way too early.
Whatever her parentage, Nathalia is presumably martyred with the rest of the virgins at the end of the story.
In the Icelandic Thidrekssaga, composed in the first half of the 13th century, the titular Thidrek seeks a bride: Hild, daughter of King Artus of Bertangaland (Brittany). She falls in love with Thidrek's nephew Herburt instead. This is really only a footnote in the story and Hild isn't mentioned afterwards. There are other versions of the story, but this is the only one to connect the Hild character to King Arthur. The incident echoes the story of Tristan and Isolde.
Artus also has two sons in the Thidrekssaga, named Iron and Apollonius. Iron marries a woman named Isolde and has a daughter of his own, also named Isolde, who would be Arthur's granddaughter.
From the 14th century Icelandic Samsoms Saga Fougra (Saga of Samson the Fair). King Arthur of England and his queen, Silvia, have a son named Samson and a daughter named Grega. Unlike her brother, Grega is mentioned only once, when she's named in the introduction.
This is, however, King Arthur in name only. There's nothing to connect it to Arthurian canon except that it includes the Arthurian motif of the magical chastity-testing mantle.
A 14th-century Breton lai. Emaré is the daughter of a great emperor named Artyus and his late wife Erayne. Artyus is "‘the best manne / In the worlde that lyvede thanne," but he's also temporarily stricken with lust for his daughter, like the king in Donkeyskin. The story is peopled with names from Arthurian legend. Artyus is a form of "Arthur." Tristan and Isolde are mentioned as an example of famous lovers, and other characters have names like Kadore and Segramour. Erayne is reminiscent of Elaine or Igraine.
"Emare" is really not an Arthurian story, though. It takes place in France and Rome. Emare marries the king of Galys, which could be Wales but is more likely Galicia in Spain. There is a distinct lack of England.
The names are probably intentional references which set the stage and put readers in mind of Arthurian settings. This was common in many lais. The connections are interesting, but I would consider this the wrong Arthur.
Archfedd, Archvedd, Archwedd
In the Welsh genealogical tract Bonedd y Saint we get this line:
"Efadier a Gwrial plant Llawvrodedd varchoc o Archvedd verch Arthur i mam" (Efadier and Gwrial, children of Llawfrodedd the knight and Archfedd daughter of Arthur, their mother)
This is the only appearance of Archfedd, and it’s unclear if her father is the Arthur. On the other hand, Llawfrodedd is one of Arthur’s warriors in Culhwch and Olwen and The Dream of Rhonabwy. Also apparently he had a really nice cow.
The “Bonedd y Saint” genealogy was compiled in the 12th century and the earliest example survives from the 13th. However, Archfedd is a later addition from manuscripts written from 1565 to 1713. Many of these manuscripts were copied from each other.
The Portuguese novel Memorial das Proezas da Segunda Távola Redonda (Memorial of the Deeds of the Second Round Table), by Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos, was first printed in 1567. Here, Sagramor Constantino (a combination of Sir Sagramore and Arthur's canonical successor Constantine) takes the throne after Arthur's death. He marries "infante Seleucia que el rey Artur ouve em Liscanor filha do conde Sevauo sua primeyra molher" - the princess Seleucia who King Arthur [begat?] on Liscanor daughter of Count Sevauo, his first wife. It seems Liscanor died in childbirth.
The author didn't pull those names out of nowhere. In the Vulgate cycle, Lisanor is the daughter of Count Sevain and the mother of Arthur's illegitimate son Loholt. Similarly, in Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Lionors, daughter of Sanam, is the mother of Arthur's illegitimate son Borre. This would make Seleucia the full sister of Loholt and/or Borre. However, she was born in wedlock and is Arthur's legitimate heir.
Guinevere (or Genebra in this version) is conveniently removed from the scene when she dies in childbirth with Sir Lancelot's twins, Florismarte and Andronia. Many other second-generation knights appear around Sagramor Constantino's resurrected Round Table.
It's rare enough for stories to include Arthur's daughters. Seleucia is particularly rare in that she succeeds Arthur's throne. Sagramor and Seleucia may even have their own child - near the end, they appear accompanied by a Princess Licorida who is eight years old. Unfortunately, I do not know of any English translations.
Baedo (Badda, Baddo, Bado, Bauda, Badona)
Baddo was the wife of the Visigothic Spanish king Reccared. She was present at the Third Council of Toledo, 589. She was not Reccared’s first wife. Their son was Suintila or Swinthila (ca. 588-633). Little else is known about her.
Almost a thousand years later, in 1571, Esteban de Garibay y Zamalloa’s Compendio Historial described her thus: "Badda, dizen, auer sido hija de Arturo Rey de Inglaterra" (Badda, they say, was the daughter of Arthur, King of England).
Other Spanish and Portuguese manuscripts followed suit, many of them quoting Garibay. Differing sources call her father Fontus (Annals of the Queens of Spain).
The link to Arthur may have been drawn because of the similarity of her name to the Battle of Badon, one of the battles historically associated with Arthur. If nothing else, Queen Baedo could have lived in the same century as an Arthur who fought at Badon, if a bit late to be his daughter.
Sir Thomas Urquhart's Pantochronachanon (1652) says Arthur had a daughter named Tortolina, who married a man named Nicharcos and begot a son named Marsidalio born in 540. This work traces Urquhart's family tree back to Adam and Eve and is probably intended as a parody.
Sir Laurence Gardner in Bloodline of the Holy Grail (1996) says with no sources that Tortolina was actually Mordred’s daughter.
The Irish “Mhelóra agus Orlando” has survived in three manuscripts dated between the 17th and 18th centuries (one manuscript is dated 1679).
Melora is Arthur and Guinevere's daughter who falls in love with Orlando, the prince of Thessaly. When he is enchanted by his rival, Melora disguises herself as the Knight of the Blue Surcoat and travels the world to save him. This romance includes strong fairy-tale elements. It might have been influenced by Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso (which also features a maiden knight) or by another Irish romance, The Tragedy of the Sons of Tuireann (with its globe-trotting quest for magical objects).
Melora is one of the more well-known daughters of Arthur, but still deserves much more attention.
Arthur and Queen Dollalolla's daughter in Henry Fielding's "Tom Thumb" (1730). This satirical play features nonsense names and comically tragic deaths.
The warrior daughter of Arthur with the fairy queen Guendolen, in Sir Walter Scott's The Bridal of Triermain (1813). Merlin casts her into a magic sleep until her true love awakens her centuries later. (Incidentally, Geneth is also a Welsh name meaning "girl.")
In the fairytale Childe Rowland, first published in 1814, King Arthur has four children including Rowland and a daughter named Ellen. I've written about Childe Rowland and its dubious ties to Arthurian canon here. Basically, the collector of the tale heard a version that included Merlin, and added in Arthur, Guinevere and Excalibur himself.
The daughter of Arthur and Ginevra (Guinevere) in “Edgar,” a dramatic poem in five acts by Dr. Adolph Schütt, published in German in 1839.
The play evidently takes place during the time of the Heptarchy, the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England from the 5th to 10th centuries. Arthur is king of the Silures (an ancient British tribe settled in southeast Wales.) Edgar is an English prince, unjustly banished, who becomes a knight of the Round Table and falls in love with Princess Iduna. Although she returns his affections, her father has promised her to whichever knight accomplishes the mightiest task. Iduna is apparently an only child, as the aged Arthur is anxious for her to marry a man who will make a good king. Edgar marries her by the end of the play, of course.
A rather scathing review (from what I can tell via Google Translate) calls the five acts "building blocks to a temple for the god of boredom."
Apparently, a daughter of Arthur named Poppet appeared in the 1853 pantomime "Harlequin and Tom Thumb; or, Gog and Magog and Mother Goose's Golden Goslings." Like Huncamunca before her, she fell for Tom Thumb.
Saint Tryphine is the subject of a Breton legend with similarities to the story of Bluebeard. Usually, her husband's name is Conomor, and Tryphine and her son Tremeur are venerated as martyrs. In 1863, folklorist François-Marie Luzel collected a mystery play with eight acts, in which Tryphine is merged with Guinevere as the wife of King Arthur. This is not the Bluebeard-style legend. The villain of the story is Tryphine's brother Kervoura, who sets out to remove Arthur’s legitimate heirs so that he can inherit the kingdom. First he kidnaps Tryphine’s newborn son and accuses her of infanticide. Arthur is about to have her executed, but she survives in hiding for six years, until Arthur accepts her innocence and takes her back. She gives birth to his daughter. Kervoura’s still at it, though, and frames Tryphine for adultery. Fortunately, her son has survived and exposes the truth just before she can be executed.
The boy might be named Tremeur, but that name isn’t used. When he returns to the narrative, he is referred to only as “the Malouin,” or inhabitant of Saint Malo, where he was secretly raised.
Arthur and Tryphine’s daughter is mentioned in the sixth act and disappears for the rest of the play. I don’t think she gets a name. Her birth enforces that Arthur is still in need of a male heir, and gives Kervoura a chance to gain Arthur’s confidence moving into the final act.
It ends with the villains punished and the royal family of Arthur, Tryphine and the Malouin reunited. In this scene of family unity, it’s strange that the youngest child isn’t mentioned. One wonders whether she died or whether, since the crown prince has returned, she’s simply not important. There’s also the possibility that the daughter appeared in some productions despite not being mentioned in Luzel's transcript.
In Jean Cocteau's 1937 play, Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, Guinevere has a son and daughter named Segramor and Blandine. Arthur believes they are his. Segramor is actually Guinevere's son with Lancelot. Blandine, the fiancee of Gauvain (Gawaine), is evidently Arthur's biological daughter.
When searching for daughters of Arthur, it can be easy to stumble across daughters of the wrong King Arthur. In some of these examples (e.g. Emare or Grega), the authors are simply borrowing names and motifs from Arthurian tradition to craft original stories. On the other hand, there are stories like Melora's or Seleucia's.
There could be other works which give Arthur a daughter, but which haven't come to light yet. That may be because they're too obscure or because they're written in other languages. I hope to see translations of such works in the future. And with modern retellings, daughters of Arthur have made more frequent appearances than ever before.
Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.