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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif D1971

Three-fold magic sleep. Husband (lover) put to sleep by false bride. Only on the third night (the last chance) he wakes. *Types 303, 313; BP II 51, 273; Cox Cinderella 481. – Spanish: Boggs FFC XC 61 No 445A.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

II – The Complex Tale

8. Good and bad relatives

B. Substituted Bride

Though the story of the substituted bride [149] sometimes concerns the treachery of a servant girl [150] or some other rival of the heroine, its most characteristic form is that in which a sister or stepsister, usually aided by her mother, takes a wife's place without the knowledge of the husband and banishes the wife. This substitution by the sister occurs in two of the most widely known of folktales, The Black and the White Bride (Type 403) and Little Brother and Little Sister (Type 450). Because of their similarity the tales have influenced each other so that although the plot is clear enough for the most characteristic forms of each, many versions lie on the border line between the two.

A very common opening for The Black and the White Bride is the Kind and Unkind motif (Q2). The stepdaughter, hated by her stepmother, is sent to perform an impossible task, usually the gathering of strawberries in the middle of winter. She is kind to the dwarfs [151] she meets and in gratitude they bestow on her the gift of great beauty and the power of dropping gold or jewels from her mouth. The woman's own daughter is unkind under these conditions and is cursed with hideousness and made to drop toads from her mouth. In some versions the help does not come from dwarfs but from a witch, or even from the Lord. The heroine is seen in all her beauty by a king (prince), who marries her. After the marriage the stepmother plots against her and, on the birth of her child, throws her and the child into the water. The woman's own ugly daughter is substituted for the bride without detection. The heroine is transformed to a goose (or other animal). The child is cared for by animals or sometimes is kept in the court. [152] The mother, in her form as fowl or animal, comes to the king's court three times, frequently in order to suckle her child. On the third appearance the king awakes [153] and succeeds in disenchanting her by cutting her finger and drawing [p. 118] blood, or by holding her while she changes form. At the end always occurs the reinstatement of the true bride and the punishment of the villains.

In a considerable number of the variants, a brother takes a prominent part in the story. He is in the service of the king, who sees a picture of his beautiful sister. Sometimes the girl is summoned to the court and a substitution takes place on the way, where the girl is thrown overboard from a ship. The tale with this introduction (Type 403A) would seem to be influenced by the story of Little Brother and Little Sister, and the episode of the picture is at least similar to the introduction to Faithful John (Type 516). In a form of the tale very popular in Estonia (Type 403C), but apparently not known elsewhere, the husband recognizes the deception and throws the false bride under a bridge. From the girl's navel grows a reed in which her mother recognizes her own daughter.

Much more frequently the tale appears without the brother, with the quest for strawberries, the helpful dwarfs, the substituted bride, and the eventual recovery and reinstatement (Type 403B, or simply Type 403) . It is this form that is known over a large part of the world. Not only are several hundred versions found in all parts of Europe, but it has gone to almost every part of central and southern Africa, and to widely scattered tribes of North American Indians. It is told in India and the Philippines and has been carried by the French to Canada, by the Spanish to Mexico, by Cape Verde Islanders to Massachusetts, and by Negroes to Jamaica. Among both the Africans and the American Indians there exist tales with somewhat similar plots, so that some confusion has arisen by those who have discussed these borrowed stories. [154] In spite of many points in common, the most reasonable explanation of these primitive tales is an independent development from particular centers on the two continents.

In some ways the story of Little Brother and Little Sister (Type 450) may be thought of as a mere variant of the tale just discussed. The brother and sister are turned out into the woods by their stepmother, who is a witch. The experience of the children in the woods is vaguely reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel (Type 327). The boy is overcome with thirst and, in spite of the warning of his sister, drinks from a small pool of water. This pool has been enchanted by the stepmother, so that the boy is turned into a roe. The sister remains with the enchanted boy in the forest. She is eventually seen by a king, who marries her. [155] The tale now proceeds with the substitution of the stepsister in the young wife's place, the disenchantment of the wife, punishment of the impostor, and eventual disenchantment of the brother.

The relation of this story to The Black and the White Bride is obvious, [p. 119] especially to Type 403A, but the tradition seems to be very well recognized in just this form, so that the tale must be considered as more than a mere variant of that story. It was told in Italy as early as the seventeenth century, since it appears in Basile's Pentamerone (1634-36). It is well represented today in Italy, the Balkans, Russia, the Baltic countries, and Germany. It also appears in the Near East, and as far away as India. Several versions have been reported from North Africa and three from central Africa. It does not appear to have been brought to the New World.

Though both of these tales of substituted brides are very popular in oral folklore, neither seems to have entered into the earlier literary collections of tales. Only in Basile are they found, and they have all the appearance of being oral Italian stories which he has reworked. A thorough investigation of these two tales should prove very interesting because of the seeming independence from the literary tradition, the close relation of detail between the two stories, and the wide geographical range of the versions.

The motif of the substituted bride also forms the central action of two stories, closely related to each other, in which the impostor is not a sister, but merely a rival. One of these tales, The Princess Confined in the Mound (Type 870), seems to be essentially Scandinavian, for the versions are plentiful in all the Scandinavian countries, including Iceland. It also occurs, though not frequently, in the folklore of Finland and Germany. [156]

Because of her faithfulness to her betrothed, a princess, along with her maid, is confined by her father in an underground prison or mound. After many years, she escapes and takes service as a maid in the king's castle, where she finds that her lover is about to be married. The woman who is to be the bride forces the heroine to take her place at the wedding. This may be because she wishes to conceal her pregnancy or merely because of her hideousness. The heroine has agreed not to reveal the truth to the prince, but on the way to the church she does reveal it by some subterfuge. Sometimes she talks to her horse, or to the bridge they are crossing, or to the church door, and thus reminds the prince of his first love. That evening when the bride, who has resumed her own clothes, comes to the prince, she is unable to recall the conversation which has taken place on the way to church, and she must always consult with the maid. When the prince asks to see the necklace which he had given her immediately after the wedding, the truth comes to light. He drives her away, and marries his faithful sweetheart.

The Little Goose Girl (Type 870A) [157] is very much like this tale. A little girl who is herding geese accosts a prince who is passing by and tells him that she is going to be married to him. She hears of his approaching wedding and [p. 120] attends. As in the other story, the bride persuades her to act as substitute. But the substitution takes place in the marriage bed, since the prince has a magic stone by his bed that indicates the bride's chastity. The recognition the next day is brought about by means of the ornaments which he has given his bed partner.

This second story as a folktale is confined to the Scandinavian peninsula. But it appears also in ballad form not only in Scandinavia, but also in France and in Scotland. In the latter country, at least eight versions have been recorded.

[149] For the literature of the subject and an analysis of the various forms in which the motif appears, see Motif K1911 and all its subdivisions. The definitive treatment is P. Arfert's Motif von der unterschobenen Brant.

[150] The servant girl as substitute bride we have already met in The Goose Girl (Type 533) and in The Three Oranges (Type 408).

[151] We shall find these same helpful dwarfs taking care of little Snow White (Type 709).

[152] As to the treatment of the child, there is sometimes confusion with the tale of The Three Golden Sons (Type 707).

[153] For the awakening of the husband from a magic sleep on the third appearance of his wife who has sometimes purchased the privilege of sleeping with him, see Motifs D1971 and D1978.4 with all the references there given. In addition, it sometimes appears in Cupid and Psyche (Type 425) and in The Three Oranges (Type 408).

[154] For these North American Indian tales, see Thompson, Tales of the North American Indians, p. 350, notes 262 to 265. Many of these contain the incident of the return by the dead mother to suckle the child. See p. 362, below.

[155] This incident occurs not only in this tale, and The Black and the White Bride, but also in Our Lady's Child (Type 710).

[156] See Liungman, Två Folkminnesundersökningar. The tale seems certainly of Scandinavian origin.

[157] The tale has been studied in great detail and with a very elaborate set of maps by Waldemar Liungman (Prinsessan i Jordkulan). He favors Denmark as the place of origin.


327, 403, 403A, 403B, 403C, 408, 425, 450, 516, 533, 707, 709, 710, 870, 870A


D1971, D1978.4 K1911