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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif S211

Child sold (promised) to devil (ogre). See also references to S220 – S259, practically all of which apply here. *Types 314, 400, 502, 756B, 810; BP II 329, III 463, 531; *Cosquin Études 365, 542ff.; *Wesselski Märchen 242 No. 52; *Andrejev FFC LXIX 46; Sébillot France III 446, IV 127; Gaster Exempla 248 No. 352. – Lappish: Qvigstad FFC LX 42 No. 29AB; Swiss: Jegerlehner Oberwallis 293 No. 1, 300 No. 2; Breton: Sébillot Incidents s.v. “enfant”, “diable”; French Canadian: Barbeau JAFL XXIX 17; Missouri French: Carrière; Spanish: Espinosa II Nos. 99 – 103, Espinosa Jr. No. 66; India: *Thompson-Balys; Indonesia: DeVries‘s list No. 147; Philippine: Fansler MAFLS XII 210, 212; Africa: Werner African 214.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

II – The Complex Tale

8. Good and bad relatives

C. Banished Wife or Maiden

The same hostile forces which frequently bring about the replacement of the true bride by the false are often responsible for the invention of slanders or for other machinations which result in the banishment of an innocent wife or maiden. Four popular and widely distributed tales have this central motivation, and still others have developed in particular areas. [158] This theme of the banished wife was popular in the literature of the Middle Ages, and sometimes appeared in forms very close to those found in oral tradition today. [159]

Most closely related to the tragic story of Constance, as Chaucer has made it known to the literary world, are The Maiden Without Hands (Type 706) and The Three Golden Sons (Type 707). These two tales have in common the motif of the wife who is accused of giving birth to animals or monsters. The Maiden Without Hands always begins by telling how the heroine has her hands cut off and is abandoned to her fate. The reasons for this cruel punishment differ widely as the tale is followed from one area to another. It may be because she refuses to marry her father, [160] or because her father has sold her to the devil (S211), or because, in spite of his commands, she has persisted in praying, or because of the jealousies and slanders of her mother-in-law or sister-in-law. Whether she is abandoned in the woods or on the sea, she is observed by a king [161] who takes her home and marries her in spite of her mutilation. For the second time, she is cast forth with her newborn children [p. 121] because one of her relatives has changed a letter announcing their birth, so as to make the message announce the birth of monsters. This central incident will be familiar to all readers of The Man of Law's Tale. The way in which the heroine has her hands restored and is eventually reunited to her husband is handled with considerable variety, both in written and oral versions. Sometimes also, as in Chaucer, there is reduplication of the banishment.

The literary treatment of this general theme begins as early as the year 1200 in southern England. Between that time and the seventeenth century it received not fewer than seventeen distinct literary handlings, [162] including those in Chaucer and Gower and in the romance of Emare. With slight variations, it appears in the Thousand and One Nights from which it has entered the Arabic oral tradition. Basile tells the story in his Pentamerone and it forms the subject of a special group of south Slavic folksongs. [163] Whatever may be the relation of the oral tale to the well-known literary treatments, there can be no doubt as to the popularity of the theme among unlettered story tellers. Few collections of any extent in all of Europe from Ireland to eastern Russia fail to have this story. It is known in the Near East and in central Africa, but has not been noted in the tales of India or lands beyond. In America it has not only been taken over by the Micmac and Wyandot Indians but has been carried by the French to Missouri and by Cape Verde Islanders to Massachusetts. It has reached Brazil and Chile in South America. The oral tale is so popular and so widely distributed that it deserves more study than it has yet received.

Even more popular is the other tale of the calumniated wife, The Three Golden Sons (Type 707) . Though no adequate investigation has been given to this story, it is clear that it is one of the eight or ten best known plots in the world. A cursory examination of easily available reference works shows 414 versions, an indication that a thorough search might bring to light several hundred more. These are found in practically every European tale collection. In Asia they have been reported from almost every quarter of Siberia, from the Near East, and from India. It is well established in all parts of Africa. In America three traditions are represented: the French among the French Canadians and the Thompson River Indians, the Portuguese in Brazil and among the Cape Verde Islanders in Massachusetts, and the Spanish among the Tepecano Indians of Mexico and in the white tradition of Chile. [164] It does not seem to have a long literary history, since the oldest version appeared in the sixteenth [p. 122] century in Straparola's Nights. In the early eighteenth, Madame d'Aulnoy and Galland both published it, the former using a tale based upon Straparola and the latter reporting one which he had heard in Arabic. The story would seem to belong almost entirely to folklore rather than to literature. Its distribution would suggest European origin, though a thorough study might conceivably show that the dissemination was in the other direction.

Over the entire area the story appears with considerable uniformity. As in The Maiden Without Hands, the king marries a girl whom he happens to meet. Here, however, we usually have three girls who make their boasts as to what would happen if they should marry the king. The king over hears the youngest of the girls say that if she were the queen she would bear triplets with golden hair, a chain around their necks, and a star on their foreheads. After the king has taken her as wife her sisters plot against her. They substitute a dog for the newborn children and accuse the wife of giving birth to the dog. The children are thrown into a stream, but they are rescued, sometimes by a miller or a fisherman. The wife is imprisoned, [165] or banished. After the children have grown up, the eldest one sets out on a quest. The reason for his undertaking the quest varies much in the different versions. He may go out to try to find his father or to seek the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the water of life. [166] On his quest the eldest brother fails and is transformed into a marble column. The second brother has the same experience, and it remains for the youngest (sometimes a sister) to rescue them. The kindness and consideration of the latter secures the help of an old woman, and eventually the disenchantment of the brothers and the possession of the magic bird and the magic objects. When all have returned from the quest, the king's attention is attracted by means of the magic objects, and the bird of truth reveals to him the whole story. The children and wife are restored and the sisters-in-law punished.

Another tale which has many points in common with The Maiden Without Hands (Type 706) is Our Lady's Child (Type 710). [167] In one way or another the heroine of this story secures the ill will of some powerful person. In some forms of the tale she is under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin, whose enmity she incurs by falsely denying that she has looked into a forbidden room. As a punishment, the girl loses her power of speech. In other variants, instead of Our Lady, the opponent is a witch or some naturally malevolent woman; occasionally even a man appears in this role. In any event, the maiden becomes the wife of the king. But when she gives birth [p. 123] to children, she is punished by having them stolen one by one. Only when she finally acknowledges her guilt are they returned to her.

This tale shows so much variation from the time it appeared in Straparola in the sixteenth century and a hundred years later in Basile that its history might be difficult to work out. It shows frequent contamination with other tales, especially The Maiden Without Hands, and the uncertainty of whether we are dealing with a pious legend of the Blessed Virgin or with a story of a cruel witch has introduced many inconsistencies into the tradition. It is known in all parts of Europe, the Near East, North Africa, and Jamaica, but seems nowhere to have achieved great popularity. On the whole, the witch as the foster mother seems to be better known than the Blessed Virgin. The central incident of the loss of the children, as well as the marriage of the king to a girl who has been mutilated or disabled, makes understandable the confusion of this tale with the two just discussed.

Before leaving the tales of slandered wives, mention should be made of a story which has been reported only from the Scandinavian peninsula, Born from a Fish (Type 705). As in the tale of The Two Brothers (Type 303), a man catches a magic fish which he is to feed to his wife. Instead, he eats it himself and becomes pregnant. A girl child is cut out of his knee. The child is carried off by birds and lives in a bird-nest. The story now proceeds like others of this group: she is seen by the king who marries her; her children are stolen away and she is driven forth. The ending is unusual. The king, realizing his mistake, seeks for his banished wife. She is found by means of a riddle which could apply only to her: a fish was my father, a man was my mother.

The main action of the four tales which we have just examined—the discovery of the persecuted maiden in the woods or a tree, her marriage to the king, the slander concerning the birth of her children, the loss of the children, the abandonment of the queen, the eventual discovery of the truth, and the reunion of the family—is so uniform that there has been much transfer from one tale to the other, if, indeed, they are all essentially different stories. In the brief summary of the plots, a number of widespread motifs, found now in one and now in another, have escaped our notice. Among these are the casting off of the wife and child in an open boat (S431.1) and the accusation of murder supported by the evidence of a bloody knife left in the queen's bed (K2155.1.1). [168]

The banished girl in our European folktales is frequently a young maiden, like Snow White. [169] The motivation in this story (Type 709) [170] is the jealousy of the stepmother who learns from her speaking mirror that Snow White is [p. 124] even more beautiful than she. The hunter who has been ordered to kill her substitutes an animal's heart and lets her go. [171] Or sometimes she is sent directly to the house of dwarfs or robbers where the stepmother expects her to be killed. She is kindly received by the dwarfs, who adopt her as a sister. The stepmother learns Snow White's whereabouts from her magic mirror and succeeds, often after several trials, in poisoning the girl. Sometimes this is by means of poisoned lace and a poisoned comb; finally, after the dwarfs have revived her from her first two poisonings, the stepmother succeeds by means of an apple. The dwarfs lay the maiden out in a glass coffin. A prince sees her and orders his men to carry the coffin. They stumble and thus dis lodge the apple, so that the girl revives. She marries the prince, who sees to it that the stepmother is given a horrible punishment. The version just outlined is essentially that given by Grimm. The tale appears without great variation over a considerable area—from Ireland to Asia Minor and well down into central Africa. Except for one Portuguese version in Brazil, it does not seem to have come to America. The story appears in two variations in Basile's Pentamerone, and it is likely that the oral tradition has been greatly influenced by this literary treatment. Böklen also shows that there has been extraordinary borrowing from other tales with similar motifs. There are also many resemblances to older mythical stories, but how significant these are in the actual history of the tale may be doubted. In spite of Böklen's detailed analysis of the stories, he has made little attempt to reach conclusions about its origin and history.

In the last few years this story has come to the attention of millions of children and adults through the remarkable treatment in the cinema version of Walt Disney. This was based directly upon the Grimm text.

Much less well known than Snow White is the tale of The Wonder Child (Type 708). It seems to be most popular in Scandinavia, though there are scattered versions as far away as Hungary and Brittany. Through the magic power of a witch stepmother, sometimes merely by a curse and sometimes by being fed a magic apple—a princess gives birth to a monster son. She is driven forth into the forest or abandoned in a boat on the sea. The monster son develops miraculous powers. He helps his mother in her work of spinning at a castle. He accompanies a prince in search of a bride, or on a hunt. When they are cast in prison together, the boy promises to rescue the prince if the latter will marry his mother. Though the prince imagines that the mother must be a monster also, he consents. He rejoices to find her like other people. At the wedding, the monster is disenchanted when his mother calls him her son. In some versions the disenchantment occurs when his head is cut off. [p. 125]

A study of this last tale might show some very interesting results. Though its area of distribution is relatively small and though it is nowhere especially popular, the tale seems well enough recognized to constitute a real tradition. No literary versions have been noticed, so that we are apparently dealing with something which is essentially, if not entirely, oral.

[158] The whole subject of the outcast child, including both banished daughters and banished sons, has been discussed in some detail by E. S. Hartland (Folk-Lore Journal, IV, 308). He makes the following divisions: (1) the King Lear type, dealing with the adventures of the king's three daughters; (2) the value of salt type, concerned only with the adventures of the youngest daughter; (3) the Joseph type, in which a boy or girl is banished because of dreams of future greatness. The fourth and fifth types record the career of an only son who has fallen without reasonable cause under his father's anger. Of these types, the third will be discussed in section IX, p. 138, below. The fourth and fifth are represented by Types 671 and 517.

[159] An excellent discussion of this whole cycle of literary tales is found in Margaret Schlauch's Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens (New York, 1927).

[160] An incident which we shall find in Type 510B.

[161] See Motif N711 and all its subdivisions for references to other tales in which this incident appears.

[162] For a listing of these, see Bolte-Polívka, I, 298ff. The whole tale has been studied by Däumling (Studie über den Typus des Mädchens ohne Hände, München, 1912) and the Comte du Puymaigre (Revue d'histoire des religions, Sept.-Oct., 1884; summarized in Mélusine, II, 309).

[163] For these, see Bolte-Polívka, I, 306.

[164] For a study of the Chilean versions of the tale, see Rodolfo Lenz, "Un Grupo de Consejas Chilenas, Estudio de Novelistica comparada" (Santiago, 1912); see also Espinosa, Journal of American Folklore, XXVII, 230.

[165] In some versions the wife may be thrown into a stream and transformed, as in The Black and the White Bride (Type 403).

[166] In connection with the quest, the story frequently shows the influence of The Three Hairs from the Devil's Beard (Type 461).

[167] The oldest known version of this story, that in Straparola's Nights, is a thorough amalgamation of the two tales.

[168] For other motifs belonging here, see cross references assembled at Motifs S400, S410, and S431.

[169] Aside from Snow White and The Maiden Without Hands, we shall find Cap o' Rushes and others of the Cinderella cycle being cast out. See also Motif S301 with all its references.

[170] See Böklen, Sneewittchenstudien.

[171] The compassionate executioner appears in a number of stories from the time of Joseph on down; see Motif K512 with all its subdivisions. We have already met it in the tale of The Three Languages (Type 671).


303, 403, 461, 510B, 517, 671, 705, 706, 707, 708, 709, 710


K512, K2155.1.1, S211, S431.1, N711, S301, S400, S410, S431