A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 17- The Bear to The Tale of Tsar Saltan


Although fairy tales often reflect the human condition, these were more or less meant to teach lessons in life. For instance, Beauty and the Beast and its many variants is supposed to help women adjust to arranged marriages. Little Red Riding Hood is meant to teach children about stranger danger, though you probably knew that. While Puss and Boots teaches kids how to be the ultimate wingman through any means necessary. Anyway, in this installment, I bring you another 10 forgotten fairy tales. First, is a tale about a bear which doesn’t have an exact origin. Second, is a French story of a dirty shepherdess followed by a Grimm one about a goose girl at a well. Third, are 2 Italian tales about a princess who gets banished over a comment pertaining to water and salt and a slave mother. Then we come to a Norwegian yarn of a girl who befriends and runs off with a dun bull. After that, is a Scottish tale about an enchanted crow. Next is a Japanese story of an old man who takes in a wounded sparrow followed by a Greek tale of an ill-fated princess and a Russian story of a prince and his mom stranded on a remote island.

161. The Bear
From: Unknown
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Andrew Lang in his The Green Fairy Book.
Best Known Version: The Lang version, naturally.
Synopsis: A king loves his daughter so much that he keeps her in rooms for fear harm would come to her. She complains to her nurse. But unbeknownst to her, the nurse is a witch. She tells her to get a wheelbarrow and a bearskin for the king. The king gives them to her. The nurse enchants them. When the princess puts on the skin, it disguises her. And when she gets in a wheelbarrow, it takes her wherever she wants to go. She has it take her to the forest. A prince hunts her. But when she calls out to him to call off his dogs, the prince is so astounded that he asks her to come home with him. She agrees and goes in the wheelbarrow. His mom’s surprised, and more when the bear starts doing housework as well as any servant (well, wouldn’t you?). One day, the prince has to go to a ball given by a neighboring prince. The bear wants to go and he kicks it. When he goes, she implores his mom for leave to just go and watch. With it, she goes to her wheelbarrow and uses her wand to turn her bearskin into a ballgown of moonbeams. At the ball, the prince falls in love with her, but she so she’d be back in time to hide herself. She’s pleased when he tells his mom of her because she had fooled them and laughs under the table. The princess attends the second ball in a sunlight gown and his attempts to follow her carriage don’t succeed.

The third time, the prince succeeds in getting a ring on her finger. When he comes home, he declares he’ll search for her. First, he wants some soup and for the bear to have nothing to do with it. Since every time he mentions his love, the bear mutters and laughs. The bear puts the ring in the soup. The prince asks her to take off her skin and she becomes a beautiful young woman. She tells the prince and his mom how her dad kept her imprisoned. The prince marries her.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Not sure why.
Trivia: N/A

162. The Dirty Shepherdess


The French fairy tale, The Dirty Shepherdess is about a princess driven out of her castle by her dad and takes on work looking after sheep. Though she does dress in fine dresses by night.


From: France
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Paul Sebillot.
Best Known Version: Guess the one in Andrew Lang’s The Green Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A king asks his 2 daughters how much they love him (and if King Lear is anything to go by, this won’t go well). His older says he’s the apple of her eye. His younger says as much as the salt on her food. Not understanding the metaphor, the king orders her out of the kingdom. She goes with her dresses and jewels. The princess then makes herself ugly so a farmwife won’t be unready to lease her and wears beggar’s clothing. As a result, she’s leased as a shepherdess. One day, she dresses herself in her fine gowns just to remember her princess life. While hunting, the prince sees her and asks who the beautiful woman tending the sheep, attracting much ridicule. The prince falls ill with longing, saying only a loaf of bread the shepherdess bakes could cure him. She makes it and a ring falls into the dough. When the prince eats it, he finds the ring and declares he’d only marry the woman whose fingers it fits. When every other woman tries it, the prince insists the shepherdess try it as well and the ring fits her. The princess dresses herself in fine gowns and the king agrees to the wedding. She insists that they ask her dad’s permission and invite him to the wedding. She has his food cooked without salt and her dad realizes he misinterpreted the words.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Not sure why.
Trivia: N/A

163. The Goose Girl at the Well


In the Grimm fairy tale, the Goose Girl at the Well, a count stumbles upon an old goose herder and a girl who turns out to be a princess. While she is ugly by day, she’s pretty once she washes her face at the well.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, obviously.
Synopsis: An old woman raises geese in the mountains. Speaking of her heavy burden one day, she persuades a count to carry it for her up the mountain. He finds it taxing, but she doesn’t let him rest. Arriving at the hut, there’s an ugly girl tending the old woman’s geese. But the old woman doesn’t let them stay together, lest “he may fall in love with her.” Before the old woman sends the count away, she gives him an emerald box as a thank you gift. The count wanders the woods for 3 days until stumbling upon a town reigned by a king and queen. He shows them the box. When the queen sees it, she collapses like she’s dead, leading the count to an indefinite dungeon stay. When the queen wakes up, she insists on speaking to him, telling him about her youngest daughter being a beautiful girl weeping pearls and jewels. But one day, when the king asked his 3 daughters how much they love him, the youngest said she loved him like salt. While the king divides his kingdom between the 2 older girls, and drives the youngest one out with only a sack of salt. The king regretted his decision afterwards, but the girl couldn’t be found again. When the queen opens the box, she finds a pearl just like her daughter’s jewel tears in it. The count tells them where he got the box. The king and queen resolve to speak with the old woman.

Meanwhile, in the mountains, the ugly girl washes in a well by night. She becomes a beautiful girl but sad. When the moonlight’s blocked, she returns to her usual form. When she returns to the hut, the old woman cleans despite it being late. She tells the girl that it’s been 3 years so they can’t stay together anymore. The girl’s upset and asks what’s going to happen to her. But the old woman replies that she’s disrupting her work and sends her to wait in her room. The count goes with the king and queen but becomes separated. He sees the ugly girl beautify herself and is entranced by her beauty. He follows her and meets with the king and queen in the hut. The old woman says to the them that they could spare themselves a walk if they hadn’t been so unjust to their daughter. She leads them in and tells their daughter to come out of the room and the family weeps to see each other again. The old woman disappears and the hut becomes a castle. The count marries the youngest princess and live there afterwards.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into a musical in Germany.
Why Forgotten: Not sure why.
Trivia: N/A

164. Water and Salt
From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Thomas Crane in Italian Popular Tales.
Best Known Version: The Crane version, naturally.
Synopsis: A king with 3 beautiful daughters asks them how much they love their dad. The oldest daughter says, “I love you as bright as the sunshine.” The second daughter says, “I love you as wide as the ocean.” While the youngest daughter says, “Oh father, I love you as much as water and salt.” Not satisfied with his youngest daughter’s reply, the king sentences her to death (even King Lear wouldn’t do that). Her sisters instead give a small dog and one of their little sister’s garments to the executioners who cut out the dog’s tongue and show the king, claiming it’s the youngest princess. In reality, the executioners leave her in a cave.

A wizard finds her and takes her into his castle across from a palace. The prince from across the street falls in love with the princess and a match is soon agreed upon. But the day before the wedding, they kill and quarter the wizard, and the blood turns the castle into a palace. During the wedding day, the princess passes salt and water to everyone except the king. When asked why he’s not eating, the king explains he’s not feeling well. After the reception feast, everyone tells stories. The king tells of the daughter he executed. He’s devastated, but the princess puts on the same dress she wore when she told him she loved him as much as water and salt. She explains to him how it is to eat without either so they embrace.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Sentencing your daughter to death due to not understanding a metaphor will not make you parent of the year. Also, cruelty to animals and a wizard gets killed and torn apart.
Trivia: N/A

165. Katie Woodencloak


The Norwegian tale, Katie Woodencloak revolves around a princess befriending a dun bull who later decide to run away together. That is, until they go to a castle where she must get a job, wear a woodencloak, and slaughter the bull.

From: Norway
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in Norske Folkeeventyr.
Best Known Version: The Andrew Lang version in The Red Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A king with a daughter marries a widowed queen who also has a daughter. Unfortunately, the king has to go to war and the stepmother abuses and starves her stepdaughter. A dun bull helps the girl, telling her that she’d find cloth in his left ear. When she pulls out the cloth and spreads it out, she magically has all the food she needs. When the queen discovers this, and when the king returns, she fakes sick and bribes a doctor to say she needs the dun bull’s flesh to recover. Fearful for the bull’s life, the princess tells him of her stepmother’s plan. The bull decides they must flee together. They pass through a copper tree forest. Although the bull tells her not to break any branches, she breaks a leaf. Seeing this, the bull tells the princess not to lose it under any circumstances.

The bull and the princess come upon a troll roaring about them touching his wood. The troll picks a fight with the bull. The bull wins but sustains grave injuries. The princess has to cure him with a horn of ointment the troll carried. The same thing happens in the silver and gold forests. Soon the princess has a silver leaf and a golden apple, along with the copper leaf. The princess and the bull resume traveling until they come upon a castle. The bull gives the princess a wooden cloak and tells her to ask for work there as “Katie Woodencloak.” However, she must cut off the bull’s head, flay him, and put the hide away in a rock, along with the leaves and apple. Should she need anything, the bull tells the princess to knock on the stone. Though she initially refuses to kill the bull, she’s eventually persuaded.


Here Katie Woodencloak in her getup as a castle scullery maid. Whenever the prince summons her, he treats her like crap. So she goes to church in her nice dresses and he’s instantly smitten.

The princess goes into the castle and gets work in the scullery. One day, she’s told to carry water to the prince for bathing. Not wanting to use water from such a filthy creature, the prince throws it on her. Later, the princess goes to the rock and asks to be magnificently dressed in copper. She goes to church where the prince falls in love with her at once. She tells him she hails from Bath and uses a charm to keep him from following her, but he catches one of her gloves. A second time, she brings him a towel to the same treatment and she goes to church dressed in silver. She tells the princess she comes from Towelland and she drops her riding whip. The third time, she brings a comb, to the same treatment, and goes to church dressed in gold. She tells the prince she comes from Combland and he gets her golden shoe. Wanting to find the woman, the king has all the kingdom’s women try on the shoe and it fits Katie’s stepsister. But a bird warns the prince that the stepsister cut her foot to fit into the shoe and sings it’s actually Katie Woodencloak’s. Having disposed of the false bride, the king asks for Katie Woodencloak. Though he’s warned off, he insists. So they marry and live happily ever after.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: For one, there’s bodily mutilation. Also, the prince treats his scullery maid like shit.
Trivia: N/A

166. The Tale of the Hoodie
From: Scotland
Earliest Appearance: Collected by John Francis Campbell in Popular Tales of the West Highlands.
Best Known Version: The Campbell version, obviously.
Synopsis: A hoodie crow woos a farmer’s 3 daughters. The older 2 are repulsed since it’s ugly. But the youngest daughter says it’s pretty and accepts it. After they marry, the crow asks whether she’d have it be a crow by day and a man by night, or the other way around. She chooses a man by day. And during the day, he becomes a handsome man. The wife has a son. One night, after music puts everyone to sleep, the baby’s stolen. The next 2 years it happens again, with 2 more babies. The hoodie crow takes her, with her sisters, to another house. He asks if she’s forgetting anything. She forgot her coarse comb. The coach becomes a bundle of faggots (not my word choice, and no, they don’t mean gay men). While her husband becomes a crow again. He flies off but his wife chases him. Every night, she finds a house to stay in, in which a woman and little boy live. The third night, the woman advises that if the crow flies into her room before sunrise, she should catch him. The crow drops a ring on her hand. It wakes her, but she can only grab one feather.

The woman tells her crow flew over the hill of poison and she’ll need horseshoes to follow him. But if the wife cross dresses and goes to a smithy, she’ll learn how to make them. She does and she crosses the hill with the shoes. She arrives at a town to find that her husband’s engaged to a great gentleman’s daughter. A cook asks her to make a wedding feast, so he can see a race, and she agrees. The wife puts the ring and the feather in the broth. The wife’s husband finds them and demands to see the cook. He then declares he’ll marry her. They go back and retrieve their 3 sons from the houses where the wife had stayed.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Not sure why. Then again, the heroine agreeing to marry a crow might be pushing it.
Trivia: Has nothing to do with a magical hooded sweatshirt. The hoodie in this story is a crow.

167. The Slave Mother
From: Italy
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Italo Calvino in his Italian Folktales.
Best Known Version: Guess the Calvino version, naturally.
Synopsis: A tenant farmer couple has 5 sons. One day, the woman hears an owl ask her whether she’d rather be rich while young or in old age. After consulting with her husband, the wife tells it in old age. Soon she goes out to get greens for a salad but pirates carry her off. The family mourns her but has to move on. 2 years later, they find treasure in the fields. They smuggle it, give up the farm, and go to the city to live a fine life. One day, the sons want to buy a beautiful young slave girl but the dad refuses, saying they should by an old slave woman who knew how to work. He sees one and buys her. They give her new clothes and put her in charge of the house. Still, she sighs every time she sees her 5 sons. One day, the old man asks her. She explains she once had 5 sons but pirates had kidnapped her while she gathered greens for a salad. The old man realizes she’s his wife and the family’s delighted to have her back. She then lives to an old age in wealth.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: It depicts slavery and human trafficking.
Trivia: N/A

168. Shita-kiri Suzume


Shita-kiri Suzume is a Japanese fairy tale about an old man tending to a wounded sparrow. While his elderly wife has other ideas.

From: Japan
Earliest Appearance: It’s a traditional Japanese fable translated as “Tongue-Cut Sparrow.”
Best Known Version: The Andrew Lang version in his The Pink Fairy Book as “The Sparrow with the Slit Tongue.”
Synopsis: A poor woodcutter and his wife live on woodcutting and fishing. The old man is honest and kind but his wife is greedy and arrogant. One morning, the old man goes to into the mountains to cut wood and sees an injured sparrow crying for help. Feeling sorry for the bird, the old man takes it back into his home and feeds it some rice to try to help it recover. His rude and greedy wife is annoyed her husband would waste precious food on such a small and insignificant little thing as a sparrow. However, the old man keeps caring for the bird. One day, the man has to return to the mountain, leaving the bird in the old woman’s care. But she doesn’t intend to feed it. After her husband leaves, she goes out fishing. While she’s gone, the sparrow gets into some starch left out and eventually eats it all. Angry upon her return, the old woman cuts the bird’s tongue and sends it back to the mountains from where it came.


Because of his kindness, the old man is led to a mountain sparrow village where they give him a small box as a reward. He then goes on his way back home from the mountains.

The old man goes searching for the bird. With other sparrows’ help, he finds his way to a bamboo grove where the sparrow’s inn’s located. A multitude of sparrows greet him and lead him to an old friend, the little sparrow he saved. The others bring him food as well as sing and dance for him. Upon his departure, they present him with a choice of a large basket or small basket as a present. Being an older man, he chooses the smaller basket since he supposes it’ll be the least heavy. When he gets home, he opens the basket and discovers a large amount of treasure inside. Learning of the larger basket’s existence, the wife runs to the sparrow’s inn in hope of getting more of the treasure for herself. She chooses the larger basket but is warned no to open it before she gets home. But the wife is so greedy that she can’t resist the temptation. To her surprise, the basket’s filled with deadly snakes and other monsters that startle her so much she tumbles all the way down the mountain, presumably to her death.


The old man opens his box and gets wonderful things. The old lady tries the same with the larger box and gets monsters startling her so much, she falls to her death.


Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Guess falling down a mountain after opening a basket of snakes and monsters was too much.
Trivia: N/A

169. The Ill-Fated Princess
From: Greece
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Georgios A. Megas in Folktales of Greece.
Best Known Version: The Megas version, naturally.
Synopsis: A queen can’t marry off her 3 daughters. A beggar woman instructs her to mark how they sleep. Since the youngest sleeps with her hands on her lap, she’s cursed and her fate prevents her sisters from getting married. Hearing this, the youngest daughter tells her mom to sew her dowry into her skirt hem, dresses herself as a nun, and leaves despite her mom’s pleas. She stays at a cloth-dealer’s but her fate comes tearing up the cloth that they throw her out. The princess pays for the damage from her dowry and goes on. She stays at a glass merchant’s, but her fate comes and smashes the glass. The princess pays for the damage and goes on. She then takes service with a queen, who realizes she has an evil fate and keeps her on. Yet, finally, the queen tells the princess to change it: she has to go to a mountain where they live and offer her some bread to change her fate. The princess does this and won’t leave until the fate takes the bread. The fate resists a long time even when other fates argue with her. But it finally gives her a silk thread and tells her to only give it away for its weight in gold.

A nearby king is getting married, and some silk’s missing to sew the bride’s dress. The princess brings her silk which is perfect and they set out to give her the gold. But nothing evens out the scale until the king steps on it. He then shows that she should have him and they marry.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Not sure why.
Trivia: N/A

170. The Tale of Tsar Saltan


The Tale of Tsar Saltan is a Russian fairy tale of a tsarista and prince who end up stranded on a remote island. There a prince saves an enchanted swan.

From: Russia
Earliest Appearance: Written by Alexander Pushkin in verse in 1831.
Best Known Version: There’s only one version.
Synopsis: Tsar Saltan chooses the youngest of 3 sisters as his wife and orders her 2 older sisters to be his cook and weaver. Not surprisingly, the older sisters become jealous of their younger sister. When the tsar goes off to war, the tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Prince Gvidon. The older sisters arrange to have the tsaritsa and the child sealed in a barrel and thrown into the sea. Yet, the sea takes pity on them and casts them on a remote island Buyan’s shore. Since the son grew quickly in the barrel, he goes hunting. He ends up saving an enchanted swan from a kite bird.


Though the swan creates a city for the prince to rule, he’s homesick and wants to see his dad. So she brings on the shapeshifting.

The swan creates a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, but he’s homesick. So the swan turns him into a mosquito to help him (think this is a dumb idea). In this guise, he visits Tsar Saltan’s court where he stings his aunt in the eye and escapes. Back in the realm, the swan gives Gvidon a magic squirrel. But he keeps pining for home, so the swan transforms him into a fly. In this guise, Prince Gvidon visits Tsar Saltan’s court again and stings his older aunt in the eye. The third time, the prince is transformed into a bumblebee and stings his grandma in the nose. In the end, the prince expresses his desire for a bride instead of his old home, at which point the swan reveals herself as a beautiful princess, whom he marries. The Tsar visits him and is overjoyed to see his newly married son and his daughter-in-law.


After seeing his dad, the prince returns to the island and asks the swan for a bride. The bride turns into a beautiful princess and they marry.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Made into an opera and 3 Russian films.
Why Forgotten: Not sure why. Though it seems well known in Russia.
Trivia: Full Title: “The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan.”

One response to “A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 17- The Bear to The Tale of Tsar Saltan

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