A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 2 – Cap O’ Rushes to Donkeyskin

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Well, we’re off to a good start. Nonetheless, we often associate fairy tales with children’s stories. While we often cater fairy tales to children. However, at another time, this hasn’t necessarily been the case. After all, many of these fairy tales contain content much more suitable for Game of Thrones like sex, rape, incest, nudity, and graphic violence. Hell, even some of the classic fairy tales we know and love contain stuff that’s really not suitable for children. In this installment, we’ll look at 10 more forgotten fairy tales. First, we look at 3 tales of young women who get turned out of their homes and have to resort to unconventional clothing choices. Second, is an Italian story of Catherine and her series of unfortunate events. Third, is Norwegian tale about a man and his “cat.” Next, is a Scottish story about a boy’s adventures in Elfland to save his sister. After that is an Italian fairy tale about three magical triplets followed by a legend of an Armenian war hero and a future Lord Mayor of London. And finally, we get to a French fairy tale about a princess who’s a lot smarter than she initially seems.

11. Cap O’ Rushes

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Cap o’ Rushes revolves around a princess who gets kicked out of the castle by her dad by spouting a metaphor he doesn’t understand. So she lives in the wilderness under a coat of rushes over her finery.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales.
Best Known Version: The Jacobs version obviously.
Synopsis: A rich guy asks his 3 daughters how much they love him (you can see where this is going). The oldest says more than her life. The second says like the whole world. The youngest says like meat loves salt. Not understanding what the youngest daughter meant by her use of strange metaphors, the rich guy flies into a rage and throws the girl out. Wandering the wilderness, the girl makes a hooded cloak out of rushes to conceal her fine clothing.

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Cap o’ Rushes earns her nickname since she wore clothing made out of marsh plants. Thankfully, she never had to deal with a forest fire.

Eventually, the girl finds a job scrubbing dishes at a great house. Because she didn’t give her bosses a name, she’s called “Cap O’ Rushes” due to her cloak. One night, the house holds a ball and Cap O’ Rushes sneaks into the party by removing her cloak so her full fine clothes are on display. The master’s son sees her and falls in love with her, but he couldn’t go up to her to know who she is. After meeting at 2 more balls, he gives her a ring. When he couldn’t find her, he fell ill. The sick son receives her at his bed. After Cap O’ Rushes persuades the cook to have her make the gruel for him, she puts the ring in the bowl, allowing the son to find and marry her. At the wedding party, Cap O’Rushes tells the cook to make a meal without any salt. This left all the dishes without flavor and her father starts crying since he realized what his daughter meant, fearing she’s dead. Cap O’ Rushes reveals herself as his daughter and forgives him. And they all lived happily ever after.

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Cap o’Rushes seeks employment at a great house. Though she gets a job as a scullery maid, she’s game on anything.

Other Versions: Also included in Andrew Lang’s journals.
Adaptations: Read on a BBC series.
Why Forgotten: I’m not exactly sure. Too much like Cinderella but far removed from civilization I guess.
Trivia: N/A

12. Catherine and Her Fate
From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Thomas Crane in Italian Popular Tales.
Best Known Version: Probably the Crane version.
Synopsis: Catherine is a merchant’s beautiful daughter. One day, a woman visits and asks her whether she’d be happy when young or old. Catherine says she’d rather get it over with and be happy in old age. Called Fate, the woman vanishes. Soon, her dad loses all his money and dies. Realizing this was the unhappy part, Catherine tries getting a job but Fate ruins it for her for 7 years until she gets a servant job and keeps it. One of her tasks is bringing bread for her mistress’ Fate.

Catherine’s mistress finds out why she’s always crying and told the girl to ask her Fate whether she could be freed. She does. That Fate brought her to her own, who gives her a hank of thread. Think it useless, Catherine considers throwing it away. But her mistress convinces her to keep it. One day, a young king was to marry. But his wedding garment needed a hank of thread, and none in the kingdom had the proper color. Except the thread Catherine’s Fate had given her. And the king declared she’d be rewarded with an equal weight in gold.

But when it was put to scale, the thread always outweighed however much gold they put on the other side. After putting the entire treasury and the king’s crown, the king demands how Catherine came by this thread, she tells her story. Then a wise old court lady declared it was time for her happiness to begin and the crown showed that it was her fate to be queen. So the king declared Catherine will be his, marrying her instead of his original bride.

Other Versions: Included in Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Not exactly sure.
Trivia: N/A

13. The Cat on the Dovretell

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Originating from Norway, The Cat of Dovretell is actually not about a cat but a bear. Sure it’s scary, but provides great protection against trolls.

From: Norway
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe. Contrary to the title, it’s actually about a bear, not a cat.
Best Known Version: The Asbjørnsen and Moe version.
Synopsis: A man was bringing a trained bear to the king, but had to stop at Dovretell. Yet, because of the trolls driving visitors out during the Christmas season, the people couldn’t offer him a place to stay. But the guy says he’d stay anyway. So they let him and all sorts of food for the trolls’ feast. The trolls come. Calling the bear, “pussy,” one of them tries baiting the bear with a sausage. But the bear turned on the trolls and chased them off. The next year, a troll asked townspeople if they still had the “cat.” The man said he did and that she had 6 “kittens” all fiercer than she was. The trolls never came back again.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Retold by Kaja Foglio in comic book form and Jan Brett as Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve.
Why Forgotten: The title is very misleading. Since it’s actually about a bear not a cat.
Trivia: N/A

14. Catskin

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An English fairy tale, Catskin tells of a lord’s daughter who runs away because her dad wanted her to marry a guy she didn’t like. In the wilderness , she wears the skin of cats over her finery.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Joseph Jacobs in More English Fairy Tales.
Best Known Version: The Jacobs version obviously.
Synopsis: A lord has a daughter when he’d rather have a son to inherit the estate. Naturally, he orders her married off as soon as she’s old enough. But she hates the groom and demands 3 fancy dresses and a catskin coat. With it, she runs off, bringing the dresses with her.

She gets a job as a scullery maid and sneaks off to a ball, winning a young lord’s heart. He manages to track her down and marry her by the 3rd ball. Later the cook jeers at the girl for being poor. After having a son, she tells her husband about her dad. The lord tracks him down to find him all alone and wishing he could see his daughter again. He brings him home and he lives with them.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: I’m not exactly sure.
Trivia: N/A

15. Childe Rowland

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Based on a Scottish ballad, Childe Rowland focuses on a boy trying to rescue his sister from the King of Elfland. Inspired Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

From: Scotland and England
Earliest Appearance: Said to be based on a Scottish ballad.
Best Known Version: The one in Joseph Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales.
Synopsis: Four of the queen’s children consisting of 3 boys and a girl play ball near a church. When the youngest boy, Rowland kicks the ball over the church, their sister Burd Ellen goes to retrieve it. Yet, she inadvertently circles the church’s “widershins” or opposite the sun’s way, and disappears. Rowland goes to Merlin asking what happened to her. According to the wizard, the King of Elfland took her to the Dark Tower and only the boldest knight in Christendom can save her. Yet, should he venture, Merlin instructs the boy not to eat anything in Elfland and lop off every elf he meets there. Rowland’s brothers try to save their sister in Elfland but the Elf King puts them in a magical coma. Rowland goes in, decapitates 3 elves, saves his sister, evades evil elf magic with brute force and a good sword, and grants mercy to the Elf King.

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Childe Rowland confronting the Elf King in Elfland. Still, you have to like the gothic design.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, the title isn’t forgotten. But most people aren’t familiar with the story.
Trivia: Was referenced in King Lear and served as an inspiration for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

16. The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird

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In The Italian tale, The Dancing Water, 3 babies are abandoned in the forest and taken in by a deer. They then grow up with very special talents.

From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Giuseppe Pitrè.
Best Known Version: The one in Joseph Jacobs’ European Folk and Fairy Tales.
Synopsis: Wandering the streets, a king overhears 3 sisters chatting. The oldest one said: “If I were the wife of the royal butler, I would give the whole court to drink out of one glass of water, and there would be some left.” The second one said: “If I were the wife of the keeper of the royal wardrobe, with one piece of cloth I would clothe all the attendants, and have some left.” While the youngest said: “Were I the king’s wife, I would bear him three children: two sons with apples in their hands, and a daughter with a star on her brow.”

The king takes the youngest as queen and arranges the marriages for the older sisters who do as they say. But the older sisters resent the queen. When she gives birth to the magical triplets she promised she would, they kidnap the babies for exposure to the elements and put puppies in their place. Furious and ignorant on human reproduction, the king orders his wife put on a treadmill as a slave. 3 fairies see the kids and give them a deer to raise them, a purse full of money, and a ring that changes color when one of them is in danger.

When the children were grown, the fairies tell them to go into the city. As soon as they get a house, the sisters realize these are the wonder children who could reveal what they’ve done. They try to dispose of them with impossible tasks. The older brother fetches the Dancing Water and the Singing Apple. But when sent to get the Speaking Bird, it reveals its past and startles him into speaking, turning him into stone. The next brother did the same. But the sister managed to do it and save her brothers. The king comes to see these marvelous young men and woman. The Speaking Bird reveals the truth and then, at the king’s orders, describes how their aunts and the nurse who aided them are to be executed. While the king, queen, and their kids are all reconciled.

Other Versions: Thomas Crane’s translation as “The Herb Gatherer’s Daughters” in Popular Italian Folk Tales.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, putting one’s wife on a treadmill as a slave might do it.
Trivia: N/A

17. David of Sasun

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The Armenian tale David of Sasun is about a legendary king and his epic adventures. Based on an epic poem.

From: Armenia
Earliest Appearance: From oral tradition dating from as early as the 8th century. Part 3 of a 4-cycle epic poem called Daredevils of Sassoun. Though scholars point out the pagan elements which might make it even older. It’s said that the Egyptians are an expy of the Arab conquerors
Best Known Version: The first written version by Garegin Srvantdziantz in 1873.
Synopsis: Sasun King Lion-Mher and his wife regret they are unable to conceive a child in their old age. An angel visits and informs the king that his wife will bear a son, but in exchange they will both die. Lion-Mher agrees and 9 months later, David is born. But his parents die just in time for Egypt to invade Sasun and force its citizens to pay tribute. David is to live with Sasun ruler and his paternal uncle Big-Voiced Ohan who surrendered to Egypt. Wary that her nephew might take the throne from his uncle, Ohan’s wife ensures that nobody tell David about his past. For most of his childhood, David is sent outside where he befriends the animals and terrorizes the town by bringing them home with him. One day in the woods, he meets an old hag who tells him about his father. With this knowledge, David decides to become a warrior, take back his throne, and challenge Egypt for Sasun’s independence.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into an Armenian cartoon.
Why Forgotten: This is primarily from Armenia and seldom remembered anywhere else.
Trivia: N/A

18. Dick Whittington and His Cat

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Unlike most of the fairy tales on this list, the story of Dick Whittington and His Cat is based on a real person. Whittington really did rise from humble origins to become Lord Mayor of London. But his cat was just totally made up.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: This tale is based on a real Lord Mayor of London who was elected 4 times as well as served as its sheriff and Member of Parliament. During his reign, he made many beneficial changes to the city like building an unmarried mother ward at St. Thomas Hospital and prohibiting apprentices from washing animal skins in the Thames River. Started as a play, The History of Richard Whittington, of his lowe byrth, his great fortune.
Best Known Version: An 1861 play by H. J. Byron.
Synopsis: Hearing tales of the streets paved with gold, Dick Whittington leaves his home in Gloucestshire for London. When that quickly proved to be horseshit, he’s so disheartened that he’s ready to leave. But suddenly, he hears London’s bells call out, “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London!” So he decides to stick it through. After some Tonga adventures where his cat killed all the rats in the country, he’s given 3 chests of gold and realizes his destiny.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Has been presented on TV many times.
Why Forgotten: This is kind of a specific myth about a real guy which doesn’t have much basis in fact.
Trivia: Often performed around Christmas as a pantomime.

19. The Discreet Princess

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The French tale The Discreet Princess is about a bad prince trying to get into 3 princesses pants. When he gets to the third, she pushes him down a sewer.

From: France
Earliest Appearance: In 1696 in a compilation written by Charles Perrault’s niece Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villandon as L’Adroite Princesse ou les Aventures de Finette.
Best Known Version: N/A
Synopsis: A king goes on a crusade and leaves his 3 daughters locked in a tower. They’re called Nonchalante (Dronilla; the lazy one), Babillarde (The Babbler; or Pratilla), and Finette. Each receives a glass distaff designed to break apart as soon as the princess misbehaves. Oh, and an evil prince from a neighboring country with a grudge against the royal family called Riche-Cautèle (Rich-Craft) decides to make a visit. Dressed as a female beggar, he sneaks into the tower where he tricks the two older sisters into letting him and seduces them. Consequently, their distaffs break. Rich-Craft tries to do the same to Finette, but she waves with a hammer and makes a bed for “them” which is on top a sink with a large drain leading to a sewer. Rich-Craft gets on the bed and well, he goes down and ends up with shit all over him. He then has his servants kidnap her and tries to roll her down a mountain in a barrel full of blades. But she puts him in the barrel instead. She later seals her little nephews in boxes and sneaks them in Rich-Craft’s placed as “medicine” while disguised as a doctor. Now dying from being stabbed through a bunch of blades in a barrel, Rich-Craft asks his brother Bel-à-Voir marry Finette, which he does. But at consummation time, Finette uses a sheep’s bladder dummy which Bel-à-Voir stabs before having a moral meltdown. But don’t worry, he and Finette live happily ever after, anyway. Meanwhile, her two older sisters end up dead by having to toil in a garden.

Other Versions: There’s a bowlderized where the evil prince just beats up the 2 older princesses instead of seducing them.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Given that Finette pushed a guy in a barrel filled with blades and sent him down a mountain which resulted in his death, I don’t expect her becoming a Disney Princess anytime soon. Also contains extra-marital sex and smuggling babies.
Trivia: N/A

20. Donkeyskin

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To escape her incestuous father, a princess flees the castle donning a donkeyskin. By the way, when this donkey was alive it could shit gold.

From: France and Italy
Earliest Appearance: Recorded by Charles Perrault in 1697. Though Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s Doralice might even be older, which is basically Cinderella meets Game of Thrones.
Best Known Version: The Perrault version is the best known.
Synopsis: A king loses his wife on her deathbed where she demands to promise her not to remarry except to a woman more beautiful than she is. But the king finds it impossible to find such a woman until he realizes that his daughter is the only one who surpasses her mom’s beauty. Thus, not letting the incest taboo stand in his way and being to sexist to perhaps let his daughter inherit the throne, the king decides to marry her. The despairing princess begs for her Fairy Godmother’s help who advises her to declare she won’t marry unless she’s brought 3 impossible dresses: one as blue as the sky, one that shines like the moon, and one like the sun. When the king succeeds anyway, the fairy godmother advises the princess to ask for the king’s magic donkeyskin that literally shits gold. But despite the potential money you can make from it, the king has the donkey slaughtered and presents the skin to the princess. She then decides to run away clothing herself in a donkey’s skin so no one would recognize her.

Next, she travels to a far-away kingdom, takes a menial farm job, and calls herself “Donkeyskin.” While entertaining herself by dressing in her sun golden dress in her hut, a prince passes by and is quite taken with her. In an effort to prove her identity, he requests she bake him a cake, in which he finds the princess’s ring. Then consulting the Cinderella Prince playbook, he announces that he’ll only marry the girl whose finger fits this ring and tries it on every woman in the kingdom. When the ring fits Donkeyskin’s finger, her identity is revealed and the two get married.

Other Versions: The Grimm Brothers had one called “All-Kind-of-Furs.” Some versions have the princess have 3 golden items that she hides in the prince’s soup each morning after a ball. And sometimes she doesn’t see the prince before baking the cake for him. While bowlderized versions have the king wanting his daughter to marry a guy she doesn’t like. One version from the Victorian era just has the donkey drop gold from the ears and makes the princess the king’s adopted or stepddaughter to soften the creepy incest vibe. Sometimes the king is easily forgiven and marries a hot dowager queen (who could be the prince’s widowed mom). Then there’s the primitive version called Doralice by Giovanni Francesco Straparola where the king doesn’t take his daughter’s new marriage to a foreign prince very well at all. In fact, he hides in the castle, kills his grandchildren, and blames Doralice for the crime so she’d be condemned to execution. But the nurse’s testimony exonerates her and the king gets dismembered.
Adaptations: Adapted as “Sapsorrow” in The Storyteller, Deerskin by Robin McGinley, and as a 1970 musical by Jacques Demy. Wikipedia also lists plenty of others.
Why Forgotten: For one, it bears some similarities to Cinderella. Second, a king wanting to marry is daughter is clearly incestuous.
Trivia: N/A

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