As you can see, most of the forgotten fairy tales you see will come from Europe. Indeed, Eurocentrism is part of it since there are plenty of fairy tales around the world that you never hear about. However, we have to keep in mind that fairy tales have always originated through oral tradition that’s passed on to generations. And it takes a long time for someone to write these stories down. In this installment in my blog series, I bring you another 10 forgotten fairy tales. First, are two Norwegian tales with monstrous beasts and amazing supernatural elements. Second, we have an Italian story about a merchant’s son who’s too generous for his own good. Third, is an English tale of a woman who becomes a royal servant in drag. After that we have two Russian stories with magical creatures and mystical lands. Next, are 3 Grimm tales about a man who tries cheating death, a golden goose, and a golden mountain. Lastly, is a Scottish version of Snow White that ends with a threesome and contains no dwarves whatsoever.
21. East of Sun and West of Moon
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe. Though this might be the Norwegian version of Eros and Psyche from Greek mythology.
Best Known Version: Obviously, the Asbjørnsen and Moe version.
Synopsis: A white bear offers to take a poor family’s youngest child to fix their situation. The parents accept and the bear takes the young girl to a castle where a man slept in the same room as her at night in the dark. As such, she can’t see who it was. When she’s homesick, he lets her go home on the condition that she can’t stay with her mom alone. Of course, the girl doesn’t listen and takes a magic candle from her mom. When she returned to the castle, she’s able to see the face of the man who’s been visiting her bed at night who was actually the bear. After he yells at her and is revealed to be a handsome prince the whole time, his troll stepmother takes him away to marry a troll princess. But before leaving, he tells her that he’ll be at a land East of Sun and West of Moon.
So the girl sets off to find him, meeting a woman and her daughter along the way. The woman gives her a golden apple and lets her borrow a horse. She meets another woman who gives her a golden carding comb. While a third woman gives her a golden spinning will and tells her that she should find the east wind who might take her to her destination. But the east wind couldn’t help her as he never blew that far and suggest she visit the west wind. After the west wind gives her the same answer, she goes to the south and finally, north wind. The girl then gives up all her golden items to a princess in exchange for a night with the prince. But she couldn’t wake him the first 2 nights.
Eventually the servants tell him about the girl and he tosses away a drink (actually a sleeping potion) from the princess that night. In the end, the girl defeats the trolls by washing out the tallow from one of the prince’s shirts because the prince refused to marry a girl who couldn’t do something so simple. The trolls explode and everyone lives happily ever after.
Other Versions: Some versions have her knowing that she’s trying to break a curse. Sometimes she’s even told not to look at him for a few more nights and is given a cure by a wise woman who turns out to be the troll stepmother. Swedish version is “Prince Hat under the Ground.” Included in Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book.
Adaptations: Novels East by Edith Pattou and Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis L. McKiernan. Also, ICE by Sarah Beth Durst which inserts some Inuit imagery. There’s even an adaptation by Mercer Mayer.
Why Forgotten: It’s popular in Norway. But it’s hardly mainstream. Perhaps the weird sleeping situation has something to do with it.
22. Fair Brow
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Frederick Thomas Crane in Italian Popular Tales.
Best Known Version: Probably the Crane translation.
Synopsis: A merchant sends out his son, Fair Brow with some money to trade. He blows that on paying off a dead man’s debts so he can be buried. The merchant gives him another sum, which he spends on a kidnapped slave whom he marries. Thus, since Fair Brow’s too altruistic for his dad’s bottom line, the merchant throws him out and he can’t work. Luckily his wife’s an artist who has him sell her paintings but warns him not to tell anyone who paints them. Unfortunately, some Turks recognize them as the Sultan’s daughter work, trick Fair Brow into revealing his wife’s identity, and abduct her once more. He goes east and meets an old man who asks him to go fishing with him. A storm carries them off to Turkey where they’re enslaved as the Sultan’s gardeners. His wife recognizes him and they run off with her maids and much treasure. The old man demands half share for both the gold and the wife. But Fair Brow insists he takes the larger share of the treasure instead. The old man reveals he’s the ghost of the man he buried and leaves him with all the treasure before vanishing. They return home. Fair Brow’s dad comes to live with them and dies shortly afterward after making him his heir.
Other Versions: Italo Calvino has a variant in his Italian Folk Tales.
Why Forgotten: It’s kind of specific to the region while it also involves bad Middle Eastern stereotypes.
23. The Famous Flower of Serving Men
Earliest Appearance: Child Ballad #106. Collected by Francis Child.
Best Known Version: Probably Child’s version.
Synopsis: A woman’s husband and child are murdered by her mother’s knights. After the funeral, she dresses herself as a man and works for the king, where she eventually becomes his chamberlain (essentially the masculine equivalent of a chambermaid). One day, the king goes hunting where a white hind leads him into the forest. The king reaches a clearing, the deer vanishes and a bird appears (the personification of the woman’s dead husband) lamenting what’s happened to his love. The king asks why and the bird tells his story. Realizing he no longer had to question his sexuality when his favorite “chamberlain” was in the room, he kisses the still dressed as a man servant in front of the assembled court to their shock. The woman’s mother is put to death and the two marry.
Other Versions: Child’s version has the woman lament her fate during the king’s hunting trip and a servant overhears it. Some have the woman’s mother her stepmother.
Adaptations: Well, it’s been covered a lot.
Why Forgotten: Though the protagonist is a woman disguised as a man, the title might drive off some who may not be comfortable with the LGBT community. Also, contains a grisly murder scene.
24. The Feather of Finist the Falcon
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki.
Best Known Version: The Afanasyev version obviously.
Synopsis: Before going to the fair, a merchant asks his three daughters what they want him to bring back. The two plain, nasty, and vain older sisters asked for rich gifts. The pretty and nice youngest daughter asks for a red flower to put at her window. Twice he remembered to bring the expensive gifts but forgot about the flower. He remembered the third time but couldn’t find one anywhere at the fair. On the way home, he meets an old man who had one for the future bride of his son, Finist the Falcon. The merchant gets it only on the condition his daughter marry his son.
After her dad explains the whole situation, the daughter agrees to marry if he wooed her. That night, a falcon flew into her room and transformed into a handsome prince. He gave her a feather which would conjure whatever she wished. As her sisters went to Mass the next day in all their finery, she waited until they were gone before summoning a coach and fine attire and herself. Even her own family didn’t recognize her. But when she returned home early and sent away her treasures, she forgot to remove a diamond ornament from her hair. Her envious sisters tell their dad that she must’ve taken a secret sugar daddy. When he didn’t listen, they roofie their sister with sleeping potion and put knives in the window so the falcon is badly injured. Thinking his fiancee caused this, the falcon curses the girl, “My beautiful dearest, hast thou ceased so soon to love me? Never shalt thou see me again unless thou searchest through three times nine countries, to the thirtieth Tsardom, and thou shalt first wear through three pairs of iron shoes, and break in pieces three iron staves, and gnaw away three holy church-loaves of stone. Only then shalt thou find thy lover, Finist the Falcon!”
The girl sees the blood the next morning and remembers hearing the words in her sleep. She has the shoes, staves, and bread made out and sets out to look for him. Along the way, he meets 3 of Finist’s elderly relatives, telling her he was due to marry and give her magic trinkets as a wedding gifts. Reaching the Tsardom of Finist’s new bride, the daughter finds a servant unable to wash the blood out of Finist’s shirt. But her own tears of sorrow washed it clean, attracting his bride’s attention. The daughter gets a job as a scullery maid, but even then, she couldn’t catch Finist’s eye. The cruel and greedy bride offered to trade her 3 nights to sit up by him, each bought with one of the 3 trinkets. Each night, the daughter weeps and begs over Finist’s bedside. But the bride had put an enchanted pin in Finist’s hair so he wouldn’t wake up. Despairing on the third night, she leaned over to kiss him removing the pin for fear it might him. He wakes up and is joyfully reunited with his beloved. The next day, Finist summoned all to court and asked whether he should marry the woman who bought him or the one who sold him. All agree he should be with the former so he marries the daughter.
Other Versions: In some versions, the girl goes to her dad, goes to church with Finist in all her finery, and has her sisters talk about seeing a prince and princess there. The girl confesses and marries Finist.
Adaptations: Retold by Josepha Sherman as The Shining Falcon. Also made into a Russian film.
Why Forgotten: Well, it’s popular in Russia. Nonetheless, there’s a scene of violence involving knives at a window.
25. The Fire Bird, the Horse of Power, and the Princess Vasilissa
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki.
Best Known Version: Probably the Afanasyev version.
Synopsis: One of the Tsar’s archers had a horse of power. One day riding through the forest, he saw a marvelous feather which he knew must’ve been shed by the legendary Firebird. Despite the horse’s warnings to not pick it up, he does so anyway, thinking the tsar would reward him. But the tsar demanded that he bring back the whole firebird or lose his head. Terrified, the archer asks the horse what to do. On its advice, he requests that 100 maize sacks be spread over a field at night. The firebird arrives at dawn as he and the horse capture it. But as soon as he arrives with his price, the king sends him on another quest to go to the world’s very edge and bring back Princess Vasilissa as his bride. At the horse’s advice, the archer asks for a silver tent with a golden roof along with food for the journey. He rides to her land, sets up a tent, and spread out the food. When the princess arrives out of curiosity, the archer invites her to eat and drink. She drank and falls asleep, he carries her off on the horse.
Despite such treatment, Vasilissa prefers the handsome young archer to the old and greedy tsar. So she refuses to marry him without her wedding dress which was still in her own country and still hidden in the sea besides. Again, the king dispatches the archer who rode to the world’s edge on his horse. On the shore, the horse waited until it could get between the enormous lobster and the sea before stepping on its tail and not letting it go until it agreed to bring up the wedding dress. After his return, Vasilissa still wouldn’t wed until the archer had been boiled alive as punishment for abducting her. Terrified, he asks to see his horse one last time, but the horse advises him to submit. The princess waves her hand over the boiling cauldron. The archer plunges in and comes out unharmed and even handsomer than before. The tsar jumps in afterwards and boils to death. After the funeral, the archer becomes tsar in his place, marries Vasilissa, and built a nice stable for his horse to show his gratitude.
Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Adapted into a Soviet cartoon called Ivan and His Magic Pony.
Why Forgotten: Let’s just say, the fact the princess requests the archer dive into a boiling cauldron will certainly scare the crap out of you. Luckily, he’s fine. But the Tsar should’ve really taken the Don’t Try This at Home disclaimer very seriously. Then again, that was Princess Vasilissa’s intention. Also, it’s from Russia. Not to mention Princess Vasilissa wouldn’t fit in a Disney movie as she manipulates her way to get the man she wants.
26. The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe.
Best Known Version: Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe’s version, obviously.
Synopsis: A king has 7 sons who he loves very much that he always had to keep one of them with him. One day, he sends the older 6 to find brides and directed to bring back a seventh for their little brother. The brothers met a king with 6 daughters who were so lovely that they forgot about their brother. On the way back, they pass too closely by a giant’s home. And the giant turned them all into stone. Seeing that his brothers didn’t return, the king wanted his youngest to never leave. But the prince finally persuaded him and set out. He gave his food to a raven, helped a salmon back into the river, and gave his horse to a starving wolf on the condition it help him as his steed. The wolf brought him to the giant’s house, showed him his brothers and their brides and told him where to go and do whatever the princess instructed him.
The princess warned him that the giant didn’t keep his heart in his body so he couldn’t be killed the usual way. Rather, she had him hide and begged the giant to tell him where his heart was. He claimed it was under the door sill. But when she and the prince dug there the next day, they find nothing. The princess adorned it with flowers and told the giant it was to honor the place where his heart lay. The giant told her it was in the cupboard, which was the same. And the princess strewed the flowers again. Finally, he tells her: “Far, far away in a lake lies an island; on that island stands a church; in that church is a well; in that well swims a duck; in that duck there is an egg, and in that egg there lies my heart, — you darling!” With the assistance of the wolf, salmon, and raven, the prince gets the heart. He squeezes it and demands that the giant his brothers and brides. The giant refuses. So the prince squeezes the heart in half and kills him. They all return to their dad. While the youngest prince marries the princess the giant held hostage, who was the prettiest one of all.
Other Versions: Included in Ruth Manning Sanders’ A Book of Giants. A harsher version has the prince split and eat the giant’s heart and use its head as a trophy.
Adaptations: Retold by George MacDonald as “The Giant’s Heart.”
Why Forgotten: This basically involves a guy stumbling to a house outside of town where he falls in with some other guy’s wife and they conspire to kill her husband. Granted, the giant really deserves it, but yeah it’s kind of unsettling how similar the plot is to movies like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Trivia: Has a variant in a Mario video game.
27. Godfather Death
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm Brothers’ version is the most famous.
Synopsis: A poor man has his 13th child. And since he’s already asked every suitable candidate he knows to be godparents to his other 12 kids, finding one for his newborn son is a serious problem that he’s eventually asking random strangers he meets on the road. After meeting God and the Devil and rejecting them as godfathers, the man meets a stranger claiming he’s Death and would like to be his son’s godfather. This time, the man accepts.
When the boy comes of age, Death visits and declares he’s going to make his godson a famous physician. Showing him a magic herb, he tells the young man that whenever he’ll visit a patient, he’ll see Death standing at the sick person’s head or feet. If Death stood on the head, the patient can be cured. But if he stood at the bed’s foot end, well, that one gonna die. Armed with this knowledge, the young man becomes a famous and wealthy doctor. One day, the physician is called to cure the king. But Death stands at the king’s feet. Yet, because the sick man is a king, the doctor turns the bed around so that Death could stand at the head. The trick works and the king gets better.
However, Death is super pissed for his godson tricking him. He lets it slide but only with a warning that if he does it again, he’ll take the doctor’s life. Not long after, the princess falls ill. The king promise his daughter’s hand in marriage and inheritance of the crown to the physician if he could cure her. But when the doctor sees the princess, he sees Death at her feet. Ignoring this and wanting to marry the princess and get her dad’s sweet kingdom so badly, the physician turns the bed so princess can get better. But Death grabs the doctor by the arm and drags him to a cave with millions of candles each burned to different lengths. Death explains that each candle’s length shows how much longer a person has to live. When Death shows the physician his candle, the doctor notices that It’s very short. So he doesn’t have much time left.
The physician pleads with his godfather to light him a new candle so he’d live a long and happy life as a king and husband to a beautiful princess. He then walks to his child’s candle and tries to make it his own. But Death says he can’t for if one must be lit, one must go out. The physician begs that he take out one candle to light a new one. Death obeys. He walks to the physician’s candle and looks at it. But just as he’s about to light a new candle, Death lifts his scythe and the boy’s candle goes out. And the physician falls dead to the ground as Death whispers, “You once looked for the most righteous one to be the godfather of your child, but at the Bed of Death you betrayed that and instead grasped for the life of another. Now sleep my unwise apprentice.”
Other Versions: A later Grimm edition has Death pretending to light the candles and failing on purpose, killing the doctor. Other cultural variants exist in Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, and Mexico.
Adaptations: Adapted into an Anne Sexton poem.
Why Forgotten: You know how many of these fairy tales where the hero marries the princess and inherits the kingdom? Well, the hero in this one doesn’t.
28. The Golden Goose
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: Grimm’s version is the most famous.
Synopsis: A man has 3 sons with the youngest a “fool” who’s continually abused. One day, the older sons go out to cut wood and are rude to a little old man who asked them to their food. Both of them cut themselves so badly they had to return home. The youngest asks to go, too. Yet, unlike his older brothers, he actually shares his food. The old man points to a tree to chop down and found a goose with golden feathers down to its roots when he did. The youngest takes the goose to the inn where he stays for the night. When one of the innkeeper’s daughters tries stealing a feather and got stuck to it. Her 2 sisters tried as well and got stuck to her. The youngest set out the next day and the girls had to run to keep up to him. The parson chides them for their antics, grabbed hold, and he got stuck on it as well along with the sexton. The youngest son went to the city where a princess lived. Now she was so serious that she never laughed. So the king decreed that whoever makes her chuckle. Well, in comes the youngest son with a procession that the princess thinks is hilarious. So he marries her and inherits the kingdom.
Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into a musical.
Why Forgotten: Maybe cause the plot is so absurd.
29. The Gold Mountain
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: Obviously the Grimm version.
Synopsis: A ruined merchant meets a black-haired and bearded dwarf offering 7 years of wealth and prosperity as well as success in all of his endeavors in exchange for his firstborn son. Said son grows up well acquainted with fairies. But when the day comes for the merchant to pay up, the boy draws a circle he can’t cross and spends an entire day arguing with his dad on the deal’s validity. Finally, the dwarf and the boy’s dad reach a compromise that the boy will sail off in a boat so neither will have him. In turn, the boy’s fairy friends send a squall capsizing the boat to fake the kid’s death so the dwarf won’t look for him.
The boy travels the world and sometime later stumbles upon a castle by a mountain made of gold. The castle is empty and abandoned save for a white snake claiming to be a princess under a curse that first caused her food to vanish, then her guests to leave, and finally herself transformed into a snake. To the break the curse, someone must spend 3 nights in castle. But there’s a cache. During the first night, men will come at midnight and viciously beat him. The second night will be worse. And the third night they will kill him. Should he cry out, fight back, or escape, the curse won’t be broken. Still, if he endures all 3 nights she’ll become human and resurrect him from a healing spring. He succeeds and the grateful princess marries him, making him King of the Gold Mountain. In time, they have a young son of their own.
But eventually the King’s heart grows heavy as he thinks of his parents who still assume him dead. The princess gives him a wishing ring for him to carry but begs he must never wish his wife or son from their home at Gold Mountain. He agrees and wishes himself home, changing clothes with a beggar at the city gates to get in. His dad is thrilled to find his son alive and they speak long into the night and the following day. Unfortunately, he carelessly wishes his dad could see his wife and son who are immediately brought before them by the wishing ring. The princess is furious but holds her tongue. She then takes her husband for a long walk and picnic. When he falls asleep, she immediately steals the ring and wishes herself and her son home.
When the King of the Gold Mountain wakes up, his wife, son, and wishing ring are gone. He vows to find them. Yet, he doesn’t know the way back to his former kingdom. He quests far and wide until he meets 3 quarreling giants whose dad just died and are squabbling over their inheritance consisting of an invisibility cloak, a pair of boots that can carry someone anywhere in the world, and a sword that could cut a hundred heads or fell a hundred trees with one swing. Seeing him as one of the clever “little people,” the giants ask the king to resolve their dispute. He replies that he must test them, to make sure they work as said, and the giants hand over the goods asking to promise not to use the sword against them. Instead, he flees and tells the boots to take him to the Gold Mountain.
Once home, the king sneaks in under an invisibility cloak and finds a horde of suitors vying for his wife’s hand. He hides by her and starts eating and hiding her supper, reminding her of how the curse first began. When she runs into a private chamber, she asks why this is happening again in despair. He whispers that she betrayed and left her rightful husband. As the princess breaks down crying, the king strides out in the great hall, and kills all the suitors with a magic sword.
Other Versions: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, I think the mass slaughter in the great hall at the end might have something to do with it (despite it being quite similar to the end of Homer’s Odyssey). Also, contains murder, theft, and psychological torture as well as the hero coming off as a jerk once he marries the princess.
30. Gold Tree and Silver Tree
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Joseph Jacobs in his Celtic Fairy Tales. A variation of Snow White but with no dwarves, a magic fish instead of a mirror, and basically ends with a threesome.
Best Known Version: Probably the Jacobs version.
Synopsis: Gold Tree is the daughter of a king and his wife Silver Tree. One fateful day, Silver Tree meets a magical fish telling her Gold Tree is prettier than she is. Offended and not realizing that being the prettiest isn’t everything, Silver Tree vows to kill Gold Tree. One day, she lies to her husband claiming to be very ill and that she needs Gold Tree’s liver and heart to cure her. Fortunately, a faraway prince recently proposed to Gold Tree so the king marries her off and tricks the queen with an animal’s heart and liver instead. The next year, Silver Tree consults the fish again, who informs her that Gold Tree is still alive in her new husband’s country. So the queen persuades the king to let her visit her daughter. Yet, upon learning that her mom’s coming, Gold Tree’s servants lock her away for her own safety. But the queen manages to sneak a poisoned thorn through a keyhole and into Gold Tree’s finger.
When the prince returns, he’s horrified to see his wife dead but he can’t bury her since she’s too pretty. So he keeps Gold Tree’s remains in that room. Times passes and he marries a new woman out of royal obligation but warns her to stay out of that room. However, her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Gold Tree and the thorn in her finger. The new bride removes it, resurrecting Gold Tree and possibly implicating her new husband on bigamy charges. The next year, Silver Tree learns about this from the fish and sets out to kill Gold Tree again. But now the threesome know better and prepare ahead of time (apparently they seemed to work things out and give polyamory a try). When Silver Tree offers her daughter a poisoned drink, the prince’s second wife tells the queen to take the first sip to take the first sip, claiming it the land’s custom. As the queen raises the glass, the second wife forces her to actually swallow the potion. Silver Tree is dies while Gold Tree, the prince, and the second wife live happily ever after.
Other Versions: N/A
Why Forgotten: For God’s sake, it’s basically Snow White ending in a threesome.