A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 7 – The Six Swans to The Three Aunts

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We all know the Grimm brothers collected fairy tales that the compiled in books during the 1800s. But they weren’t the only fairy tale collectors. Nor were they the first. The first notable European fairy tale collector was an Italian named Gianfrancesco Straparola who lived during the 1500s. The first sole fairy tale collection, Il Pentamerone, was by another Italian named Giambattista Basile who wrote it during the 1630s. Though he’s better known for his date rape Sleeping Beauty story. In the late 1600s, we have Charles Perrault for his Tales of Mother Goose which include early versions of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Another is Madame d’Aulnoy who coined the term “fairy tale” in her Les Contes des Fées. Anyway, in this installment, I give you another 10 forgotten fairy tales. First, we look into Grimm stories about swan princes, two sisters, and a young man who spends the night in a haunted house. Second, we have Italian variants of Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Third, we have some tales from Norway about a castle resided by trolls with multiple heads, an unconventional princess, and 3 “aunts.” Next, is a story from Iceland about a Viking king with a mysterious past. And finally, a Scottish legend about a young man who’s kidnapped by fairies.

61. The Six Swans

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The Six Swans is a Grimm fairy tale about 6 princes turned into swans by an evil stepmother. But the heroine is a princess who must make nettle shirts without speaking.

From: Germany and Denmark
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: Hans Christen Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” might be the best known version.
Synopsis: A witch forces her way into a king’s life with help by her evil mother and a fellow witch. Targeting 6 brothers from her new husband’s first marriage by transforming them into swans who can only assume their human form for 15 minutes a night. Fortunately, there’s still hope for them for their little sister hasn’t been enchanted. So they tell her that she must make 6 nettle shirts and can’t make a sound for 7 years or the spell won’t be broken. The girl accepts this and hides in a hunter’s hut, focusing only on her mission.

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Here the queen has just completed the shirts for her brothers and she’s about to put them on. Yet, she’s tied and about to be burned at the stake.

Sometime later a young foreign king meets the girl in the forest, is quite taken by her beauty, and marries her despite his mother’s objections over her son marrying a non-noble Queen Consort or how her new daughter-in-law keeps working on the shirts in her spare time. When the now queen gives birth to her first child, her wicked mother-in-law takes the kid away and accuses her of killing and eating him. Due to her vow of silence, the new queen can’t properly defend herself. The evil Dowager Queen does this 2 subsequent times. Her husband defends his wife as much as he can but the third time’s the limit. And the girl won’t stop knitting and sewing. On execution day, the queen has finished making the shirts for her brothers. Well, almost since the last one’s missing a left arm. When she’s brought to the stake, she takes the shirts with her. When she’s about to be burned, the 7 years are up and the 6 swans come flying through the air. She throws the shirts over her brothers and they regain their human for (though the last guy will have to deal with a left wing for the rest of his life). Now free to speak, the queen can freely defend herself against the fraudulent accusations. She and her brothers then tell the king and everyone else what’s going on. The evil mother-in-law returns the 3 babies she stole and is burned at the stake. From then on, he royal family and the brothers live their lives in happiness and peace.

Other Versions: Has variants by Hans Christen Andersen as “The Wild Swans” and one by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe called “The Wild Ducks.” There’s even a North African version called “Udea and Her Brothers.” Some versions raise the number of siblings from 7 to 12. Sometimes the princess could be the oldest.
Adaptations: Retold as Daughter of the Forest and Anne Hunter’s Moonlight. Featured in the Japanese Grimm’s Fairytale Classics and animated film The Wild Swans: Princess of the Swans.
Why Forgotten: Despite it being adapted several times, much of the original Grimm story is adapted out for various reasons.
Trivia: N/A

62. Snow-White and Rose-Red

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The Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red is about 2 sisters who go on various adventures. One of them includes a bear who turns into a handsome prince.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Written by Caroline Stahl as “The Ungrateful Dwarf.”
Best Known Version: The Grimm Brothers’ version is the best known.
Synopsis: A poor peasant woman lives in a cabin in the woods. She grows 2 rose trees in front of her house, one with white roses and one with red. When the flowers bloom, she has 2 daughters who she names after the trees: Snow-White and Rose-Red. They have an adventure involving an evil dwarf, a bear that turns out to be an enchanted prince, the enchanted prince’s enchanted brother, and of course, live happily ever after.

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Snow White and Rose Red are sisters who are as different as night and day. One likes being in the house. The other prefers the outdoors.

Other Versions: Many versions include expansions.
Adaptations: Adapted into a comic and was featured in the Japanese Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.
Why Forgotten: If the title includes “Snow White” but doesn’t include 7 dwarves who can’t do housework, a beauty-obsessed homicidal witch queen, a magic mirror causing self-esteem issues, an innocent brunette princess whose singing voice can summon the woodland creatures into spring cleaning, a poisoned apple, and a prince who commits sexual assault, it will not be remembered.
Trivia: N/A

63. Snow-White-Fire-Red
From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Thomas Crane. Bears a better resemblance to Rapunzel than Snow White.
Best Known Version: The Crane version, obviously.
Synopsis: A small prince breaks a pitcher wherein an ogress had carefully caught the last of an oil fountain (built in honor of his birth). She curses him so he can’t marry anyone but Snow-White-Fire-Red. When he grows up, he remembers it and goes looking for her. He finds a tower where an ogress arrives and calls Snow-White-Fire-Red to let down her hair. As soon as the ogress leaves, he does the same and woos the girl. She hides him when the ogress returns, whom she calls her mother. She then asks her how she could escape. Believing the girl’s just curious, the ogress explains. Next, the girl enchants all the furniture to answer for the ogress so she runs off with the prince. The ogress keeps calling up the tower and the furniture answer. Until she figures it out and chases after them. The girl throws down balls of yarn she took, each which transform into an obstacle until the last one drowns the ogress. But not before she curses Snow-White-Fire-Red to have the prince forget her as soon as his mother kisses him. The prince goes to fetch clothes for her to appear in, his mother kisses him. And Snow-White-Fire-Red has to enchant 2 doves to go to the prince to jog his memory loose.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Probably because we don’t think of Snow White as having long red hair or being proactive in any way but staging a home invasion and summoning woodland creatures for housework assistance.
Trivia: N/A

64. Soria Moria Castle

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In the Norwegian Soria Moria Castle, a guy named Halvor stumbles on a castle. Inside, there’s a princess who warns him of multi-headed trolls.

From: Norway
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe.
Best Known Version: The Asbjørnsen and Moe version, obviously.
Synopsis: A couple had a useless son named Halvor who’d just grope about in the ashes. When they bound him out, they think he’d only last a day or two. Then a skipper invites him on board and off he goes. A storm carries them to a faraway land where Halvor goes looking about. Finally, he reaches a castle where a princess warns him of a troll but feeds him, has him try a sword on a wall, and gives him the potion the troll used when he lifted the sword. When the troll comes, Halvor cuts off all 3 of its heads. She asks him to help her sisters and he does so, though they’re prisoners of trolls with 6 and 9 heads. He chooses the youngest of them as his bride. After a time Halvor wants to see his parents.

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Here Halvor slays a multi-headed troll. Still, you’d think he’d quit on the head-slicing thing by now.

The sisters give him a magic ring to wish himself there and back. But they warn him not to mention them. He goes back and brags of them and they appear before them all. So they take the ring and leave without He sets out to find the castle again. He meets with an old woman who keeps the Moon’s house, and unbeknownst to the Moon, trades boots “with which you can take twenty miles at each stride” and sends him off with the West Wind, leading him to the castle where the princess was marrying again. He uses the ring the princess left him to reveal himself. The princess marries him and not the new bridegroom.

Other Versions: Included in Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book.
Adaptations: Has been adapted into a song, poem, and novel.
Why Forgotten: It’s actually one of the best-known Norwegian fairy tales. It’s just that it’s not very well known outside Norway.
Trivia: Inspired a painting by Theodor Kittelsen.

65. The Story of King Odd
From: Iceland
Earliest Appearance: Printed in 1862 by Jón Árnason in Icelandic Folktales and Fairy Tales.
Best Known Version: Probably the one by Arnason.
Synopsis: Despite being popular, an old king is still single and childless (not good). Suddenly, a Viking horde lands in the realm and its leader, Odd challenges the king to battle. King bites the dust and Odd declares himself the new king. Despite his violent takeover, Odd becomes a popular ruler despite that nobody knows where he came from or who his parents are. The fall after Odd’s conquest, a wandering man arrives to the palace and pleads to be taken as a winter guest. The king agrees on the condition that the stranger must disclose as secret of his, Odd’s origins and identity the first day of summer. If he can’t, he’ll be executed. The man agrees. Summer comes and the winter guest has no idea what’s the king’s secret is. He gets the axe. Next autumn another traveler asks for a winter stay. Odd agrees on the same condition as before. Like his predecessor, he can’t unearth a clue about Odd’s past. So on to the executioner he goes. So do more winter guests during the next 4 subsequent years. In the king’s 7th year, yet another wanderer asks he’ll accept if he can sleep in the king’s own bedroom. The king agrees.

All winter, the guest keeps a close watch on the king but nothing happens until Christmas night when Odd, believing the guest is asleep, sneaks out of the bedroom. But the guest is wide awake and follows him stealthily to a lake in a bog. When Odd dives in, the guest follows him and finds himself on a beautiful meadow. It’s the Netherworld. It turns out that Odd is actually an elf queen who’s been banished to the Upper World with a curse. And the only way to lift it was to discover Odd’s true identity without any help. Now that the curse is lifted, Odd leaves to the Netherworld and makes the guest her successor.

Other Versions: Can’t think of any.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: I tried doing a Google search for this tale but I couldn’t find any entries in English.
Trivia: N/A

66. The Story of Youth Who Went Forth to Know What Fear Was

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The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was is a Grimm fairy tale about a young man who spends a few nights in a haunted house to get scared to death. It fails spectacularly.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm’s second version.
Synopsis: A young man is unaware what fear is. A sexton tries helping him by having the guy ring the church bell at midnight, while he scares him dressed as a ghost. The youngster isn’t scared at all and pushes the sexton down the stairs, breaking his leg. Ashamed and horrified, his father sends him out into the wide world. The young man takes this as an opportunity to try and learn what fear is (though he would’ve accomplished that quick if he just attended a Trump rally). A stranger advises him to spend a night beneath the gallows where 7 dead men hung. He follows that advice, sets a fire for the night, and even cuts down the bodies to sit them next to him around the camp blaze. When the corpses’ clothes catch fire, the youngster gets annoyed at their carelessness and hangs them back up.

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Here the young man spends a night beneath the gallows. But the guy just uses the corpses as company near a campfire.

When arriving at an inn one day, the innkeeper tells the young man that if wants to know how to shudder, he should visit a nearby haunted castle. Nobody ever survived spending one night there, because they all died of fear. But if he managed to stay there, he’ll earn all the castle’s rich treasures and marry the king’s daughter. The young man decides to take on the challenge and goes to the king who tells him that he can carry 3 things to the castle. The young man chooses a fire, a lathe, and a cutting board with a knife. The first night, 2 black cats confront him complaining about the cold. The young man invites them to join him near the fire. The cats then propose a card game, but the young man cuts their nails with the cutting board knife. A huge fight breaks loose with all kinds of cats and dogs trying to attack him. Then, a bed appears out of nowhere. The young man hops in but the bed moves and drives him around the entire castle. Still unafraid, he urges it to go faster. The bed turns upside down on him. But he just tosses the bed aside and sleeps next to the fire until morning.

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During the first night, the young man has to contend with demon cats. He cuts their nails with a knife.

During the second night, a half of a man falls down the chimney. Again unafraid, the young man shouts at the chimney that he needs the other half. Hearing him, the other half falls from the chimney and reunites with the rest. More men followed with human skulls and dead men’s legs with which to play 9-pins. The amused young man sharpened the skulls into better balls with his lathe and joined them men until midnight, when they vanish into thin air. On his third and final night in the castle, the young man hears a strange noise. 6 men enter his room, carrying a coffin. Unafraid but distraught, the boy believed the body to be his own cousin. Trying to warm the body, it reanimates. Confused, it threatens to strangle him. Angry at his ingratitude, the young man closed the coffin on top of the man again. An old man then appears bragging he could knock an anvil straight to the ground. He brings the young man to the basement, while showing the young man his trick, the youngster splits the anvil and traps the old man, beating him with an iron rod afterwards. Desperate for mercy, the man shows him all the castle’s treasures. The next morning, the king tells the young man that he could win his lovely daughter. He agrees despite not still not having learned how to shudder. One night, his wife tosses freezing water with gudgeons onto her husband while he’s sleeping. He wakes up shuddering, exclaiming while he finally learned how to do that, he still doesn’t know what true fear is.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Has numerous literary and TV adaptations.
Why Forgotten: Well, it’s hardly forgotten but it’s not nearly as mainstream as Cinderella. Still, this fairy tale needs its own Tim Burton movie adaptation since it’s humorous macabre just suits him.
Trivia: Frequently compiled into books featuring the “best” fairy tales of all time.

67. Sun, Moon, and Talia
From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Giambattista Basile in Il Pentamerone in 1636. It’s basically Sleeping Beauty with date rape and Game of Thrones. Thought to have influenced Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty.”
Best Known Version: Basile’s of course.
Synopsis: On his daughter’s birth, a king asks all the wise men and seers to tell her future. They determine that she’ll be exposed to great danger from a flax splinter. So to prevent any such accident, the king orders that no flax or hemp should ever come to the castle. But one day when Talia had grown up, she sees an old woman spinning pass by her window. Since she had never seen anything like that before, Talia “was therefore delighted with the dancing of the spindle.” Curious, she takes the distaff and begins drawing out the thread. A hemp splinter, “got under her fingernail and she immediately fell dead upon the ground.” The king leaves his lifeless daughter seated on a velvet chair in the palace, locks the door, and departs forever to obliterate his memory of sorrow. Instead of like, you know, maybe trying to break the curse.

Sometime later, another king goes out hunting. His falcon flies into an empty castle window and doesn’t return. Trying to find the falcon, the king wanders through the castle. He finds Talia as if asleep but nothing could rouse her. Falling in love with her beauty, you’d think he’d kiss her at this point, which would still be sexual assault but far less disturbing. But, no, he rapes her before leaving and forgetting the whole thing. 9 months later, Talia gives birth to twins, all this time still in a magical coma. They nurse from her breast. Until one day, one of the babies wanted to suck but couldn’t find the teat. So instead it sucks on the finger that had been pricked. The baby sucks so hard on the splinter that it drew the piece out so hard that Talia rouses from her deep sleep, finding out that she’s been raped and is now a mother of 2. You can guess she has a lot of questions at this point.

One day, the king remembers his adventure and goes to see Talia again, presumably to rape her once more. He finds her awake and after confessing his paternity to the children, they go off to have a long weekend sex marathon in the hay. Despite that she has almost absolutely no idea who he is. Then he brings her and the kids to his castle but is careful to hide them from his wife (Oh, did I forget to mention King Creepypants is married? What an adulterous charmer). Once the queen discovers his secret and on sends for the 2 babies in the king’s name on the sly. She orders them cooked and served to her husband. The cook hides the children in his home and prepares 2 goat kids instead, which the queen serves the king. Later the queen sends for Talia, planning to have her thrown into the fire for causing the king’s infidelity (despite that the king, you know, raped her). The king arrives at the last minute, has his wife thrown into the fire, marries Talia, and is happy to find his kids whom the cook had saved.

Other Versions: One English translation tried sanitizing the story by changing the queen to be the king’s stepmother, rather than wife, and stupidly kept the line about him blaming her for not having children. Another translation removed the children by rape element. Instead, 2 kids randomly walk into the castle (with the narrator stating not to know where they came from) and try to wake Talia. The little girl puts Talia’s finger into her mouth and tries biting her awake, but instead accidentally sucks out the object keeping her comatose.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: For Christ’s sake, it involves date rape and the princess is willing to get together with him afterwards (creepy as fuck, I know, especially since she woke up finding herself as a mother of 2). And the king is married, by the way. But it’s okay, his wife’s totally evil and crazy (all right that’s very sexist but that’s how the story put it).
Trivia: N/A

68. Tam Lin

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Based on a Scottish ballad from the 16th century, Tam Lin involves a one-night stand between the title character and Janet. After she’s knocked up, Janet finds out that Tam Lin is held hostage by the Queen of the Fairies.

From: Scotland
Earliest Appearance: Oldest known version was printed in 1549.
Best Known Version: Child Ballad #39 that’s collected by Francis Child.
Synopsis: Headstrong young Janet hears that the mysterious Tam Lin has forbidden all maidens to go into the forest called Carterhaugh (a real place in Scotland near Selkirk) on pain of uh, not really being maidens. Still, against her better judgement, she declares that she’ll check out Carterhaugh to see what all the fuss is about. But she no sooner picks a rose that Tam Lin himself shows up. Whether he rapes or they engage in consensual sex depends on the version. Anyway, sometime later, one of the knights for Janet’s dad remarks that his boss’ daughter looks knocked up. Janet agrees but says that she wasn’t messing around with any of her dad’s knights. So she returns to Carterhaugh to speak with Tam Lin.

Once there, Tam Lin tells Janet that he was once mortal, but the Queen of the Fairies captured him. And since the fairies make a sacrifice to Hell every 7 years, he’s afraid he’ll be the next offer. Yet, Janet can save him if she waits by Miles Cross on Halloween until midnight. Since that’s when the fairies will ride by and Tam Lin will be on a white horse. She must pull him down from the horse and hold onto him throughout his transformations. Janet does this. The Queen of the Fairies is obliged to let Tam Lin go. Later, Tam Lin and Janet marry.

Other Versions: Joseph Jacobs rewrote the ballad into a prose fairy tale, “Tamlane” in his 1894 More English Fairy Tales. In this version Burd Janet and Tamlane are lovers and engaged to begin with. But Tamlane gets kidnapped by elves before the wedding (thus, getting rid of the whole knocking-up business).
Adaptations: Has numerous adaptations, most famously a 1970 movie starring Roddy McDowall and Ava Gardner.
Why Forgotten: Well, the fact Tam Lin knocks up Burd Janet at some point might have something to with it.
Trivia: It’s one of the most popular ballads, both as a song and as a source of literature. Covered numerous times. Also, the name “Tomlin” comes from the title.

69. Tatterhood

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The Norwegian fairy tale, Tatterhood is about an unconventional princess who dresses in rags, rides on a goat, and uses a ladle as a weapon. But goblins, trolls, and witches must not mess with her or her sister.

From: Norway
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe.
Best Known Version: The Asbjørnsen and Moe version, obviously.
Synopsis: A beggar woman tells a queen that she will have children if she eats one of these 2 flowers (though the king and queen adopt a girl who’s friends with the beggar woman’s girl to begin with). But she warns her that since one is ugly and the other is pretty, only eat the pretty one. The queen eats both. Later, she gives birth to fraternal twin girls. One is beautiful and good (but is kind of a ditz). The other is, well, different. Of course, the girl earns the nickname Tatterhood for her tattered clothes. She also carries a wooden ladle and rides on a goat. But while she’s no beauty, she’s got her redeeming qualities as a stone-cold badass who takes the law in her own hands where goblins, trolls, and witches are concerned, even running outside during their terrifying celebration and bopping them on the head with her ladle. Unfortunately, her maids aren’t nearly as brave and a witch turns the beautiful princess into a calf. Tatterhood decides that this won’t do, takes her sister on a long sea voyage, eventually breaking into the witch’s castle and fighting all the goblins, trolls, and witches off in order to turn her sister back into a human. Afterwards, the sisters travel at sea until they come across a faraway kingdom where the beautiful princess marries the 40+ year-old king while Tatterhood marries the son (as part of pact that if the Tatterhood doesn’t get hitched, she won’t either). But on the wedding day, Tatterhood turns herself beautiful for the occasion to get back at her fiancé who’s really not looking forward to it. Confused the prince asks why, Tatterhood states that she can pretty herself but she just prefers to remain ugly for the sheer hell of it.

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One sister dresses in rags and seems like she belongs in an insane asylum. But she’s a stone cold badass. The other is a perfect princess in every way but dumb.

Other Versions: Some versions just simply give the king 2 sons instead of having the pretty sister marry the king and Tatterhold marry his adult son. Also, some versions either make the princesses’ adopted older sister their cousin or don’t include her at all.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: I guess Disney doesn’t care much for ugly princesses, no matter how badass. Nonetheless, Tatterhood is the princess Disney needs since she bucks the trend on what we conventionally expect from princesses, fairytale heroines, or women in general. Tatterhood doesn’t need to be beautiful and doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s her own person. Then again, we do have Arya Stark who comes close with being a vengeful assassin.
Trivia: N/A

70. The Three Aunts

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The Norwegian tale The Three Aunts is about a young woman who boasts of her nonexistent clothmaking skills. So 3 old ladies help her in exchange they pose as her relatives at her wedding.

From: Norway
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe. A more benign version of Rumplestiltskin since all these women want are offical recognition for their efforts.
Best Known Version: The Asbjørnsen and Moe version, I guess.
Synopsis: A girl has to go into service, where the queen likes her so much that the envious other servants claim the girl bragged about spinning a pound of flax per day. The queen insists she actually do it despite that the girl can’t even spin. An old woman comes in and does it for her in exchange for being an honorary aunt on her wedding. The servants claim the girl could weave linen in a day with the queen insisting. So another woman helps her. The servants claim the girl could sew in a day with the queen insisting again. Another old woman helps. Pleased with the girl’s skill, the queen has her marry the prince because she wouldn’t need to hire women to do such work. The 3 old ladies come to the wedding feast and are hideously ugly during the day. But the girl called each of them Auntie and they got to sit at the feast. The prince asks why such a pretty girl has such ugly aunts. They reply that they had been pretty once but endless spinning, weaving, and sewing had ruined their looks. The prince promptly forbids his new wife from doing any of that ever again.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into a 1921 film in Germany.
Why Forgotten: Well, doing favors and asking for one’s firstborn child from the recipient is much more terrifying and memorable than doing favors and asking for some official recognition and a good time.
Trivia: N/A

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