Tired of the same old bedtime fairy tale stories every night? Are you a struggling screenwriter desperate for ideas but don’t want to risk a lawsuit? Or are you a producer who doesn’t want to pay for the rights of the source material? If so, then you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a treasure trove of fairy tales that have been recorded hundreds of years ago. But lately haven’t been as well remembered as the ones you often heard of. Sometimes it’s because they’re utterly messed up. Sometimes they don’t age well. Sometimes they’re from certain countries. And sometimes there’s not really a reason. They’re just overlooked. Anyway, in each installment of this series will bring you 10 of these tales for your reading pleasure. Though some take longer to summarize than others.
In this first installment, I’ll bring you the first 10 forgotten fairy tales you can enjoy. First, a Finnish tale spoiled rotten princess who gets her comeuppance after losing a key piece of jewelry. Second, an Armenian story about a king who’s so handsome that a queen starts a war to get him, making Gaston look seemingly rational. Third, is a Grimm tale about a man who dons a bearskin and not do anything to his hair for 7 years so the Devil doesn’t get his soul. Next, is an Irish yarn about a 3 brothers and a black knight known for his tall stories. After that, is a French story about a prince who gets turned into a bluebird when he refuses to get married when the wrong girl shows up at the altar. Then we come to a British tale about an Irishman who ventures to the Blue Mountains after meeting a princess while spending a night in a castle. Next, it’s on to a Grimm tale about a tailor who goes from killing flies to killing trolls followed by another Grimm tale about a group of geriatric animals who start a band. Then, we have an Italian story about a boy turned into a deer and a girl who falls victim to attempted murder. And finally, a story about a young man who meets a talking bear, giants, and a sleeping woman he eventually knocks up.
1. Adalmina’s Pearl
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Sakari Topelius.
Best Known Version: The one by Topelius, obviously.
Synopsis: As the only child of a king and queen, Adalmina receives gifts from 2 fairy godmothers. One gives her a pearl that will make her prettier, smarter, and richer every day. The other promises should she lose pearl and all it gives her, she will gain a pure, loving heart in its place. Naturally, the princess grows up to be smarter, prettier, and richer than everyone else. But she is unbelievably proud, vain, selfish, and cold-hearted spoiled brat. And is generally a pain in the ass to everyone but her doting parents. As her pearl is permanently set into a crown that magically grows to always fit her permanently.
One day, Adalmina sneaks out of the castle and comes across a clear forest pond where she loses her crown while admiring her reflection. Instantly, the princess turns into a plain peasant girl in rags and forgets everything about herself. As she aimlessly wanders in the forest, and old lady finds her. Out of pity, she lets her live with her and tend goats. Now possessing a kind and loving heart, Adalmina is grateful for what little the old lady can offer her and is happy to live with her in a humble cottage.
Terrified of their daughter’s disappearance, the king and queen, they send out a message that should a prince or noble successfully find her, he will receive her hand in marriage and half of her dad’s kingdom as a reward. One prince who has heard of Adalmina’s unparalleled beauty and brains, has fallen in love with her from afar and is determined to find her. However, once he travels far and wide and finds that everyone he meets thinks she’s such a brat who should stay lost, he loses interest in the princess after finding her crown in the woods. Tired and lost, he stumbles upon an old woman’s cottage where he stays for a few days before returning to the king and queen with the crown.
Overjoyed to learn about the crown, the king and queen summon every appropriately aged girl in the kingdom to the castle in order to try it on. As expected, the crown passes from head to head but fits no one. Having enough of this, the prince decides to stay until sunset if the princess isn’t found by then. Yet, just as the sun is disappearing on the horizon, a goat herder girl from the cottage shows up on the road to town. Happy to see her, the prince promises to marry her whether Adalmina is found or not. In the end, the crown fits the girl and she transforms back into the Adalmina everyone knew with all beauty, intelligence, and riches restored. But now that her heart is permanently thawed, she falls to her knees begging forgiveness for every bad thing she’s done. The people rejoice. While the prince and princess are married and live happily ever after.
Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Adapted into a Russian opera.
Why Forgotten: It’s well known in Finland, Russia, and Scandinavia, but nowhere else.
2. Ara the Handsome
Earliest Appearance: Earliest written records were by the early Christians. Though it’s possible that the pagan Armenians worshipped Ara as a god of war and rebirth. It’s also possible that Ara might’ve been based on King Aramu, first king of Uratu, an empire from the 800-500 BCE that comprised of Turkey and Armenia. While Semiramis might’ve been based on the real life Assyrian Queen Shammuramat, his contemporary.
Best Known Version: The Christian version is the best known.
Synopsis: Hearing of King Ara’s legendary hotness, Assyrian Queen Semiramis is so obsessed with him that she’ll stop at nothing to have him. Hell, she even drove her husband away because of her infatuation. But when she asked to marry the guy, Ara turns her down. Mostly because he already had a wife named Nvard. As a result, Semiramis declares war on Armenia and orders her army to attack the country and bring back Ara alive. Except they don’t since he was killed during the war.
So in order to calm down the Armenian armies who want to avenge their king’s death and to satisfy her lust, Semiramis tries to use black magic to resurrect Ara. Placing his body upon her castle, she calls on hound spirits to lick his wounds clean and heal him but to no avail. Grief-stricken, Semramis instead had him buried at the mountain’s foot and dressed up one of her lovers as Ara to convince the Armenians that she resurrected him. Thus, the war ended. Aferwards, Semiramis has all but one of her sons killed for mocking her lust for the dead king. Eventually the son grows up to kill her.
Other Versions: Earlier versions have Seramis successfully resurrecting Ara.
Adaptations: Not that I know of.
Why Forgotten: Well, outside Armenia, he mostly is.
Trivia: Armenians see Ara as one of their country’s forefathers.
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, naturally.
Synopsis: After leaving the army, a soldier can’t return home or find work. Desperation drives him to make a deal with the Devil who makes a bet with him. For the next 7 years, he’ll carry a purse of gold that’s always full. But he must wear a bearskin and neither pray nor wash or cut his hair within that time. If he survives, he can keep the purse. If he dies, then the Devil has his soul.
The soldier spends several years walking the earth, giving to the poor, and asking them to pray for him. One night he rescues an old man from debtors’ prison. In exchange, the man promises the hand of one of his daughters in gratitude. The older 2 reject him, while the youngest accepts knowing that only a good guy would’ve rescued her dad. The soldier gives her half a ring and tells her to wait 3 years for his return. If he doesn’t show up by then, she’s free to marry somebody else.
The soldier survives to the end of his term, gains the gold purse, and cleans himself up before visiting the old man again. Everyone but the youngest daughter takes a keen interest in him, especially when he says he’s come to seek a bride. As the older girls pretty themselves up, the soldier shows the younger girl the other half of the ring. They marry and live happily ever after. But the older sisters are eaten alive with envy and kill themselves pleasing the Devil who got a 2-for-1 deal.
Other Versions: Included in Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book. Some versions have the father about to kill himself before the Bearskin guy saves him. Italian variants include Italo Calvino’s “The Devil’s Breeches” and “Don Giovanni de la Fortuna” in Laura Gonzenbach’s Sicilianische Märchen. Other variants consist of “Hell’s Gatekeeper” and “The Reward for Kindness.”
Adaptations: Adapted into an Americanized version set around the Civil War by Tom Davenport, a Russian cartoon, two operas, and a musical.
Why Forgotten: I’m not sure why it’s not made into a Disney movie. Then again, it takes place over some years.
Trivia: Said to have much in common with Beauty and the Beast.
4. The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen
Earliest Appearance: Collected in Hiberian Tales.
Best Known Version: The one in Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A king promises his dying wife that their 3 sons will never be under another woman’s power. When he remarries, he hides the boys from their stepmother. But she discovers them, and with a pack of cards she got from a henwife, wins a game with the 2 older ones that puts them in her power. However, she doesn’t succeed with defeating the youngest. Yet, when she orders the older ones to return with the Knight of the Glen’s wild Steed of Bells or else lose their heads, he goes with them.
Enter the Black Thief who decides to accompany them. They try to steal a horse, but it neighs and rings its bells. So the knight catches them. He decides to boil them all. First, the boys by age and then the thief. Each time a prince is up, the Black Thief spins a yarn about how he narrowly escaped death from a greater danger. And with each tale he tells, the knight spares each prince one by one.
Yet, his third story pertains to him saving a mom and baby in the forest from a giant, which the old woman confirms as true. She then goes on to say that she was the woman and the knight was the baby. Grateful, the knight pardons the thief and gives him the horse. When they return to the kingdom, the queen is so enraged that she throws herself from a tower and dies.
Other Versions: There’s a variant by Seumas MacManus in The Donegal Wonder Book called “The Steed O’ Bells.”
Why Forgotten: I’m not sure why exactly.
5. The Blue Bird
Earliest Appearance: Originally published in 1697 by Madame d’Aulnoy.
Best Known Version: Andrew Lang’s English translation in The Green Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A queen dies, leaving her husband and a daughter named Florine behind. The king remarries a single mom with a daughter little older than the princess named Truitonne. Florine grows up to be kind and beautiful. While Truitonne becomes an ugly and selfish bitch. This causes the Queen to become jealous of her stepdaughter and goes out of her way to make the girl miserable. One day Prince (or King) Charming of a neighboring kingdom pays a visit. Despite the Queen and Truitonne’s best efforts, it’s love at first sight between him and Florine. Enraged, the Queen and her daughter persuade the king to lock the princess up in a tower for the rest of Charming’s visit, insisting Florine is ill and needs rest. However, the Queen concedes and has Florine and Charming meet one night where he proposes to her. Or so he thinks because it’s too dark and he can’t see who the hell he’s talking to. And in reality, he’s actually proposed to Truitonne.
Luckily, Charming realizes he’s been had at the altar. As a result, he and Truitonne get in an argument, with her insisting he say, “I do.” When he refuses, her fairy godmother Soussio curses Charming for the next 7 years as a bluebird. In his new form, Charming flies to the tower where Florine’s kept prisoner. Now reunited, the lovers spend the next 2 years bonding and keeping each other company through their respective misfortunes. While Charming often flew in with some sort of treasure he’d pass to Florine as a gift. Meanwhile, the Queen tries to find another husband for Truitonne, but to no avail. Frustrated by the task’s futility, she decides to let off steam at Florine in the tower, only to burst in on her and Charming singing together. She also discovers Charming’s gifts to the princess and realizes that her stepdaughter is receiving aid. The Queen recruits a servant girl to keep Florine company, but actually to spy on her and recruit back to her and Truitonne. Fearing Florine’s step-family discovering their secret, she and Charming decide not to see each other for awhile. Only to meet again when they’re sure the spy is asleep. But she isn’t and tells the Queen and her daughter about everything.
When Charming isn’t visiting Florine, he’s built a nest for himself in a nearby cypress tree, which the Queen had covered with knives and razors. When Charming flies over, he cuts his wings and falls to the ground. Fortunately, his old sorcerer friend finds him and helps him recover. He even finds Soussio and convinces her to transform Charming back into a man. But on the condition that he’ll only get to be himself again for a few months and he must marry Truitonne during this time. Or else he’ll be transformed back into a bird forever. Oh, and unbeknownst to him, Florine has no way of communicating with anyone outside her tower and doesn’t know of this. So she fears something bad must’ve happened to Charming. One day, the king dies, causing the people to rise against the Queen and eventually kill her. Truitonne seeks refuge with her godmother. While Florine is released from her tower and becomes the new Queen. After appointing a council to run the kingdom, she embarks on a quest to find out what happened to Charming.
Disguised as a peasant, Florine meets an old woman. Impressed by her goodness and devotion, she reveals herself as a fairy. She tells the new queen that Charming has regained true form and has returned to his kingdom. She also gives Florine 4 magical eggs on her journey. When she has to scale a steep ivory mountain, she cracks open the first egg containing good grappling irons. So Florine makes it over the mountain in no time. She then finds a village in a valley with an enormous mirror that shows you only what you want to see about yourself. To avoid giving into the same temptation and the villagers’ wrath if she harms the mirror, she uses the second egg with a dove-pulled chariot. And she uses the chariot to fly to Charming’s castle.
The guards don’t recognize Florine and turn her away. Even worse, since she doesn’t know the complete story, she hears that Charming is to marry Truitonne soon. Disguised as a peddler, Florine bribes her stepsister with the same jewels and gifts Charming had given her while he was a bird. In return, the queen is allowed to sleep in the castle, specifically the “echo room” underneath Charming’s bedroom where he can overhear every word a person says in there. Florine takes full advantage of this, crying as loudly as she could every night and asking for some explanation from her ex. Yet, she doesn’t know that Charming had been taking sleeping potions for insomnia over worrying about her.
Florine opens the third egg containing a mice-pulled chariot she sells for another night in the echo room but Charming can’t hear her. Fortunately, one of the servants does. She opens the last egg, containing a pie with singing birds that she gives to the servant so Charming could hear her next time. The servant keeps his promise and Charming doesn’t take the potion, causing him to hear every word. Florine and Charming finally reunite and after explaining everything that went on, affirm their love. Of course, there’s still Sussio to contend with. Luckily, the sorcerer and Florine’s fairy sponsor promise to keep her at bay. Truitonne tries to protest, but the sorcerer turns her into a pig. Free from their enemies, Charming and Florine marry and live happily ever after.
Other Versions: N/A
Why Forgotten: Perhaps it’s because it was first written by a French aristocratic woman. Other than that I’m not sure. Then again, the story’s pretty weird.
Trivia: A favorite of Jean Paul Sarte.
6. The Blue Mountains
From: UK or Ireland
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Andrew Lang in The Yellow Fairy Book but with no bibliographical information.
Best Known Version: The one in Andrew Lang’s The Yellow Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A Scotsman, Englishman, and Irishman, all soldiers, go AWOL together. They’re dying of hunger when the Scotsman sees a castle and goes in without telling the others. An astoundingly beautiful woman feeds him and gives him a bed where he falls asleep. The Englishman follows and gets the same. But when the Irishman comes in, he asks what it all means before eating anything. The woman reveals herself as a princess who can only be saved by a man who stays in a little room from 10:00 till midnight for 3 nights on end. When he does this, he’s severely beaten but the princess revives him.
She disappears. But the Irishman is instructed to stay awake to see her. However, a little boy sticks a pin in his coat, putting him to sleep. He spends 3 years searching for her and is ready to kill himself. Yet, when he draws his sword that she gave him, it tells him that he’d find her in the Blue Mountains. He goes onward. 2 hermits can’t tell him anything while a third commands all the birds in the world. When they arrive, only the eagle knows of the Blue Mountains but is willing to carry the Irishman there. He comes the day she’s forced to marry, gets the hen-wife to bring her to him, and they tie the knot on the spot.
Other Versions: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, its origins are obscure that barely anything is known about this fairy tale.
7. The Brave Little Tailor
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimms’ version is the best known.
Synopsis: Preparing to eat some jam, a tailor kills 7 flies on it with one blow before making a belt describing the deed and setting out in the world to make his fortune. He meets a giant who thinks he’s a badass from the phrase (which is a joke) before challenging him but the tailor defeats him in his wit. The giant then takes him to other giants and makes plans to kill him in his sleep. But the plan fails as the tailor decides to sleep in a corner since he finds the guest bed too large. Discovering the tailor alive, the giants flee in fear.
The tailor joins the royal service but the guards are afraid of him and appeal to the king to remove him. In response, the king sends him on a series of difficult quests, which involves giants, hostile unicorns, and other hazards armed only with his wit. After completion, he receives half the kingdom and the king’s daughter in marriage. Later, his wife hears him mutter in his sleep that he’s a simple tailor. Though a squire later warns him, he decides to speak of his legendary deeds.
Other Versions: An Italian version has him smacking 500-1000 flies instead of 7. Included in Joseph Jacobs’ European Fairy Tales as “Seven in One Blow,” Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, and in Ruth Manning-Sanders’ A Book of Giants.
Adaptations: Made into a Mickey Mouse cartoon and musical suite.
Why Forgotten: Well, it’s not quite forgotten but it’s hardly well-remembered.
Trivia: Said to inspire “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
8. The Bremen Town Musicians
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The one by the Grimms.
Synopsis: Since their owners want to kill them for being too old, a group of animals decide to run away and form a band. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, their singing is atrocious. While their first “concert” scares away its audience: a group of robbers stationed at a cottage. The animals settle into the cottage and when the robbers return by night, they accidentally repel them because of the thieves’ superstitious fears. The animals decide to stay there and live happily ever after.
Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: There’s a Soviet animated musical called The Town Musicians of Bremen, Jim Henson’s The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, the German cartoon movie The Fearless Four, the Spanish animated film and TV series Los Trotamusicos, and the Cartoon Network short The Bremen Avenue Experience. There’s even a Richard Scarry version.
Why Forgotten: It’s well-known, especially in regards to cartoons. But it’s still nowhere near mainstream. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have much of a plot.
9. Brother and Sister
From: Italy and Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Giambattista Basile in Pentamerone around the 17th century.
Best Known Version: The one collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Synopsis: After their mother’s death, a boy and a girl are mistreated by a wicked witch stepmother that they decide to run away from home and into the forest. In turn, the stepmother enchants the forest streams so that drinking from them will turn the siblings into animals. The girl sees through the trap and talks her brother out of drinking from 2 streams that would’ve turned him into a tiger or a wolf. But when they come to the stream that turns people into deer, he’s too thirsty to care anymore. So he drinks and is turned into a roe fawn. Later, the two find a deserted cottage and decide to live there, fending for themselves in the wilderness. Years have passed when a king and court come hunting in the forest. The brother makes a game for the hunters to chase him before hiding in the cottage that evening. But he’s wounded the second time and leads the hunters to the cottage.
On seeing the sister, the king falls in love with her asks her to marry him. She agrees but only if her deer brother can come, too. She’s made queen while her brother resides in the royal gardens. After a while, the sister and the king have a child. But by now, the stepmother has learned that the siblings are still alive. So driven by hate and envy, she plots to destroy their happiness. She has the sister suffocated in a bath house and replaced with her own ugly one-eyed daughter, magically made to resemble her stepsister. But the sister returns as a ghost to look after her baby. This works for awhile until the king recognizes the spirit as his true wife before she’s restored by God. The king executes the witch and the brother turns back into a man. As they all live happily ever after.
Other Versions: A Hungarian version has a much younger sister turn into a deer instead of a brother. Some versions have the brother marry the king’s sister after he turns back into a man. The Grimm version refers the brother as Rudolph and the sister as Rose (and no, I don’t think Rudolph is a red-nosed reindeer). Known as Sister “Alionushka, Brother Ivanushka,” in Alexander Afanasyev’s Narodnye russkie skazki.
Why Forgotten: Overshadowed by Hansel and Gretel. I guess the candy house beats boy turned to deer any day of the week. Also, the sister gets suffocated.
Trivia: Often confused with Hansel and Gretel.
10. The Brown Bear of the Green Glen
Earliest Appearance: Collected by John Francis Campbell in Popular Tales of the West Highlands.
Best Known Version: Campbell’s version, obviously.
Synopsis: An Erin king sends his 2 older sons to find a cure for his blindness and lameness. Later his youngest son, John goes with them, despite being a fool. He found his brothers in the first town and went on. He meets a talking bear who tells him to stay with giants for 3 nights. While the last giant tells him how to get an eagle to carry him to the land with healing waters. When John gets there, he takes 3 bottles of water along with a bottle of brandy, a loaf of bread, and a wheel of cheese that are always the same no matter how much you ate from them. Oh, and he kisses a sleeping woman (or date rapes her if you want to interpret it). On the way back, John leaves the brandy, cheese, and bread with the giants, but on the condition they give them to his sweetheart if she came. He meets up with his brothers. They try to kill him and leave him loaded onto a rusty iron cart, making him rough skinned and bald.
Meanwhile, the woman gives birth to a baby boy. The henwife gives her a bird that would hop onto the man who’s the kid’s father. She tracks him down and gets the brandy, cheese, and bread back. Reaching the king’s court, all the men line up, but the bird doesn’t jump on them. Asking whether there are others, she’s told that a rough-skinned gillie who worked as a smith. The bird hops on his head, proving that he got the water his brothers had stolen. John marries the woman as his brothers are punished.
Other Versions: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, it contains date rape, for one. Though whoever wrote this down didn’t seem to know much on how human reproduction works.