A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 9 – Willie’s Lady to The Tale of Norna-Gest

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Apparently, in fairy tales, kings have a tendency to give almost impossible challenges that make almost no sense. Sure, the reward may be a princess and perhaps half the kingdom should the winner be a guy. While the losers usually end up executed. Sometimes I wonder why these kings do this save for creating a fanciful plot. Though in some stories, it’s apparent the king wants the protagonist dead, sort some inheritance issue (though allowing a daughter to rule will basically solve everything on that one), or some curse lifted from their kids. Anyway, in this installment I give you another 10 forgotten fairy tales. First, are 2 English ballads about evil mothers-in-law and men held hostage as well as tales of a happy prince and a king on a golden river. Second, is a Grimm tale of 7 young goats and a big bad wolf. Third, we have a French story about a young woman with golden hair. After that, are some Hans Christen Andersen tales about a match girl, a shadow, and a tin soldier. Finally, we get to a medieval Icelandic saga about a man who just doesn’t seem to die.

81. Willie’s Lady
From: England
Earliest Appearance: Earliest known copy printed in 1783. Child Ballad #6. Collected by Francis Child. Said to be inspired by the birth of Hercules.
Best Known Version: The Child version.
Synopsis: Willie gets married. But his mom doesn’t approve of his bride that she curses her to die in childbirth. He tries bribing her, she refuses. At household sprite Belly Bird’s advice, he tricks her into thinking that the baby has been born. She falls into a rage and demands to know who undid all the things she did to prevent it. Willie undoes them all and a baby is born.

Other Versions: Found in several Scandinavian variants but sometimes the witch curses the woman or her house, the labor is delayed, and/or the woman dies in childbirth.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Cursing one’s daughter-in-law to die in childbirth has to be part of it. Seriously, who does that shit?
Trivia: Has been covered numerous times.

82. The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids

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Based on Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids revolves around a big bad wolf trying to devour a goat family. He gets all the kids but one.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, obviously.
Synopsis: A nanny goat leaves her 7 kids home alone before venturing for food. She warns them not to open the door to anyone, especially not the Big Bad Wolf. Soon enough, after she leaves, the wolf tries getting in. He disguises himself as his mother but his gruff voice betrays him. The wolf leaves and returns a little later, using a sweet, light voice to impersonate their mother. At first the 7 kids really think it really is their mother, but then ask her to stick her paw in front of the window before noticing his big, black feet. They refuse to open the door and the wolf leaves again, this time going to the miller to whiten his paw in flour. He returns and fools the 7 kids because they see his white paw and think it’s their mother. The wolf jumps into the house and devours 6 of the 7 kids since the youngest hides in a large standing clock before he leaves. After his big meal, the wolf realizes he’s very, very tired. So the first thing he does is lie down against the tree and enjoy a good long nap.

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Here the nanny goat leaves he kids at home before going out. Perhaps she should’ve locked the door for once.

When the nanny goat returns home, she finds her house a mess and her youngest kid hiding inside the clock. He tells her what happened and they decide to look for the wolf. They soon find him, still fast asleep, and the mother goat tells her youngest child to fetch a pair of scissors, a needle and some thread, with which they cut the wolf’s belly. The six goat kids jump out alive and well. The goats then fill the wolf’s belly with rocks and the mother sews it back up again. The goats hide and the wolf wakes up, feeling thirsty. He goes to the well but falls in and drowns under the rocks’ weight. The goat family lives happily ever after.

Other Versions: Some accounts have the kids ask the wolf to stick his paw in the crack of the door. Sometimes the wolf goes to the bakery instead of the miller. Also, in some versions, he goes to the river instead of the well.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, goats aren’t considered appealing animals in the US. Also, the wolf devours all but one of the goat kids.
Trivia: Very popular in Japan, Netherlands, Italy, France, and Russia.

83. Young Beichan

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In the English Young Beichan, a guy’s thrown in prison in a faraway country. Don’t worry, his captor’s daughter will save him from the rats.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: Child Ballad #53. Collected by Francis Child.
Best Known Version: The Child version obviously.
Synopsis: A man is thrown into a dungeon in a far country. His captor’s daughter frees him and he pledges to marry her. On returning home, he’s forced to marry. She arrives in time to stop the wedding.
Other Versions: The names, identities, and location where they meet can vary a lot depending on the variant. Variants can be in Spanish, Norse, and Italian.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: I’m not sure why.
Trivia: N/A

84. The Fair One with the Golden Locks

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The Fair One with the Golden Locks is a French fairy tale about a woman with long golden hair who falls for a prince’s servant sent to woo her. He then has to complete a series of impossible tasks.

From: France
Earliest Appearance: Written by Madame d’Aulnoy.
Best Known Version: The d’Aulnoy version obviously.
Synopsis: A beautiful daughter of the king called the Fair One with the Golden Locks. A nearby king who’s heard of her beauty begins a series of attempts to woo her, eventually sending his faithful servant Avenant and his dog. In his journey to the kingdom, Avenant saves many creatures promising to aid him if they could. Arriving at the princess’ kingdom, he asks for her hand for his master. She agrees but on the condition he complete a series of impossible tasks. Thanks to the animal assistance, Avenant completes the challenges. Upon returning the princess agreed to go with him. Although she falls in love with Avenant, he rebukes the idea out of loyalty to his king. Though the king and princess marry but he soon becomes jealous over her attachment to Avenant and seals him away in a tower. He then decides to use a vial of water that makes those who wash in it beautiful to better woo his bride. Unfortunately, a maid breaks the vial and has it replaced with a vial of poison, causing the king’s death. The now widowed queen frees Avenant, asks him to be king in his master’s place and he agrees.

Other Versions: Has translations by Andrew Lang under “Pretty Golden Locks” and Dinah M. Mulock Craik.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, the fact the heroine is called “Goldilocks” and the lack of staging a home invasion in a bear home may have something to do with it.
Trivia: Sometimes referred as “Goldilocks” though it’s best not to use the that for obvious reasons.

85. The Happy Prince
From: England.
Earliest Appearance: Written by Oscar Wilde.
Best Known Version: The Wilde version of course.
Synopsis: A swallow falls in love with a reed. After spending a life in luxury, a happy prince grows up knowing nothing of hardship and hardship. But once he sees it, he can’t abide seeing people in misery when he can sacrifice the precious jewels and metals he’s made of to help them out of poverty. Eventually the prince is turned into a statue who watches all misery outside the palace. But he can’t let the swallow go.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into a 2018 film with Rupert Everett.
Why Forgotten: It’s kind of a crazy tale and Wilde’s prose isn’t as well read as his plays.
Trivia: N/A

86. King of the Golden River

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John Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River is about a young boy who tries to undo the damage caused by his brothers. Here he meets with some dwarf.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: Written by John Ruskin in 1841.
Best Known Version: There’s only one version.
Synopsis: A very old and strange man visits 3 brothers during a thunderstorm. Unfortunately, the elder 2 brothers mistreat the guy who’s actually “South-West Wind Esquire.” As revenge, he turns their once fertile valley into red sand. The rest revolves around the youngest undergoing a series of impossible tasks trying to undo the damage, particularly finding the source of the Golden River.
Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, the plot’s pretty complicated. Also, Ruskin wrote this for his future wife who was 12 at the time.
Trivia: N/A

87. The Little Match Girl

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The Little Match Girl is a fairy tale by Hans Christen Andersen about a impoverished girl freezing on the streets who lights matches to escape from her wretched life. It’s basically tragedy porn.

From: Denmark
Earliest Appearance: Written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845.
Best Known Version: There’s only one version.
Synopsis: On a gold New Year’s Eve, a little girl freezes barefoot outside. Since she didn’t sell any matches, she’s afraid to return home. For she’ll just receive a beating from an abusive father. She looks into a house window she’s sitting in front of and imagines how nice it would be to celebrate with a family. Huddling in a corner, she starts striking matches one by one. First, to give her warmth. Then to keep seeing beautiful images of warm fires, roast goose, Christmas trees, and light shows. She looks up and sees a shooting star, recalling what her grandma once told her that whenever a star streaks across the night sky someone goes to heaven. Striking another match, she sees her grandma and lights all her matches at once to keep her there. On New Year’s Day, those passing by find her frozen body huddled against a building and surrounded by dead matches, smiling. They’re filled with pity. But it doesn’t matter because the little match girl is now in heaven (uh, hello, it’s not).

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Freezing to death, the little match girl lights her remaining matches to conjure images of things she may never enjoy. Seriously, this tale is depressing.

Other Versions: Often presented as a Christmas story.
Adaptations: Made into a Disney short and a Made-for-TV movie. Also has numerous retellings and adaptations.
Why Forgotten: It’s considered one of the saddest stories ever written since it’s just basically depressing tragedy porn. But at least she wasn’t among the women making the matches (who had it even worse).
Trivia: Featured in a Dutch theme park attraction (what the fuck?).

88. The Shadow

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Hans Christen Andersen’s story The Shadow is about a man’s shadow coming to life and traveling the world to find his fortune. It doesn’t end well.

From: Denmark
Earliest Appearance: Written by Hans Christen Andersen in 1847.
Best Known Version: There’s only one version.
Synopsis: A Learned Man makes a voyage south from northern Europe. While sitting by the fire one evening, he amusedly observes his shadow dancing and imitating his movements in the flames’ light, thinking it would be funny as a creature with a will and mind of its own. To his surprise, the next morning, he wakes up to find his shadow disappeared overnight. But as new shadow slowly grows back from the tip of his toes, the Learned Man doesn’t give the incident a second thought and soon returns to his northern European home. Several years later, he hears a knock on the door one evening. It’s the shadow he lost years before during his journey now standing upon his doorstep in an almost completely human appearance. Intrigued, the Learned Man invites the Shadow inside before sitting down and discussing the latter’s experiences during his travels and how it came to human form. But during the conversation, the subject turns to the Learned Man’s unsuccessful writing career. The Learned Man values the good, true, and beautiful in the world as well as writes about it often. But public doesn’t give his work much interest. The Shadow declares that the Learned Man is too much of an idealist and that his view of humanity is flawed. While the Shadow claims that unlike his master, he understands the world and sees what it truly is and knows how evil some men really can be. They soon part ways once again.

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As the Learned Man barely manages to survive, the Shadow prospers while traveling the world. And the Learned Man’s prospects will only get worse.

As the Learned Man barely manages to survive, the Shadow becomes quite rich. When the former becomes ill, the latter suggests they visit a health resort. And as long as the Learned Man pretends to be the Shadow’s shadow, he’ll pay for the trip. Absurd as it sounds, the Learned Man agrees and they set sail with the Shadow as his master. During the trip, the Shadow meets and woos a princess. When they get engaged, the Shadow asks the Learned Man to remain his shadow forever in exchange with a good life with them. The Learned Man refuses and threatens to reveal the truth to the princess. The Shadow has him arrested and ultimately executed as he and the princess live happily ever after.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into a ballet.
Why Forgotten: This tale’s message is that goodness doesn’t always triumph alone, especially when it’s not paired with common sense which the Learned Man doesn’t have.
Trivia: Was one of the first long texts to be translated into Esperanto.

89. The Steadfast Tin Soldier

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In Hans Christen Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a one-legged soldier falls for a paper ballerina. Of course, he has to go through a lot of shit for her.

From: Denmark
Earliest Appearance: Written by Hans Christen Andersen in 1838.
Best Known Version: There’s only one version.
Synopsis: A one-legged tin soldier falls in love for a paper ballerina. After several perilous adventures like a love triangle involving a goblin jack-in-the box, a paper boat, a rat, and a fish, he and his love perish in a fire.

Other Versions: While the original ending has the tin soldier and paper ballerina perish in a fire, the 1845 edition lets them live.
Adaptations: Had a Fantasia 2000 sequence. Also adapted into a ballet by George Balanchine and a 1995 made for TV movie.
Why Forgotten: The ending involves incineration.
Trivia: Said to be based on Andersen’s childhood toys.

90.  The Tale of Norna-Gest

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The Tale of Norna-Gest is an Icelandic saga of a man who’s cursed to live until the candle burns out. He lives to a very ripe old age.

From: Iceland
Earliest Appearance: Appeared as early as 1300.
Best Known Version: Probably the modern translation.
Synopsis: In Trondheim, Norway around 988, a stranger named Gest appears at King Olaf Tryggvason. He’s old yet surprisingly strong and astounds the king’s retainers by his harp-playing and storytelling skills. Asked how he can know so much about times long ago, he reveals he knew Sigurd Fafnisbane personally, as well as the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok (the guys on The Vikings series), Harald Finehair of Norway and King Ludwig of Germany. All this amazes the king and his court since these guys are long dead, some for centuries. Gest then reveals that he’s actually Norna-Gest and tells his story.

When he was born, his dad invites 3 norns (seer ladies) to foretell his future. 2 of them make good prophecies. But the last one is in a bad mood when some rude guests enrage her. So she curses Gest to live no longer than the candle burning beside his cradle. So the other norns extinguish the candle and tell the boy’s parents to keep it. Thus, he gains immortality so he can’t die before the candle is used up.

On King Olaf’s wish, Norna-Gest agrees to convert to Christianity. After a time, the king asks how long he plans to live. Norna-Gest admits he wants to die since he’s already 300 years old. In King Olaf’s presence, he lays on a bed and lights a candle. A priest gives him last rites and Norna-Gest dies.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Other than the one in TV Tropes, I couldn’t find many Google results for it in English.
Trivia: N/A

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