Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Unexpected pregnancies

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

This billboard kicked up
quite a bit of debate in 2011.
Today I want to diverge a little from positive representations, and talk about the touchy and often dark subject of unwanted pregnancies in traditional tales. And by "unwanted" I mean not condoned by the families / societies in general. Teen pregnancy especially is still a very common occurrence and a very complex issue, even in highly developed countries (*cough* USA *cough*) and it has a lot to do with how children and adolescents are educated about sexuality (I'll post about sex-positive stories later this week). Traditionally, many cultures believed that women's main purpose in life was to pop out children - but only under highly regulated circumstances. Therefore, today I collected a couple of tales that present the issue of underage / unexpected / out-of-wedlock pregnancies in interesting ways.

I was surprised how many commenters said under my Pregnancy post that they didn't know about this part of the story. I especially love the pregnancy plot inf Rapunzel because it portrays a girl who is literally locked in a tower, kept innocent and hidden, and somehow she still manages to get pregnant - and even worse, she doesn't even know what is happening to her until the witch tells her. "Abstinence only" education doesn't work, people. Not even in fairy tales.
(Again, read the story in this edition)

Daughter of the Sun
A variation on the Rapunzel trope, in this Italina folktale a princess' fortune says she'll give birth to a child by the Sun before she turns twenty. In order to prevent this (the Sun won't marry her, after all), her father locks her in a tower. GUESS WHAT: It doesn't work. The scared princess sends the baby to be put out into the woods, where she gets found and adopted by a neighboring king.
(The rest of the story is pretty spectacular too. I love telling it)
(Read the tale in Italo Calvino's collection. I also included a version in my book.)

Little Eve and the Dwarves
One of my favorite stories from the famous "500 New Fairytales Discovered in Germany" Schönwerth collection. A mysterious maidservant gets hired by a strict stewardess to keep a castle clean. She makes friends with the Dwarves that live in the castle, and they not only help her hide her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but also serve as midwives and care for the baby every day while she goes about her chores. In the end, they even go and find the baby's father so they can marry, and move with Eve to her new home to continue their babysitting work.
(Read it in English in Original Bavarian Folktales)

The three spindles
Another tale from the Schönwerth collection. In this one a pregnant girl who is kicked out by her parents saves the life of a forest sprite (fairy), and in exchange the fairies take her in and take care of her until her baby is born. They ask her if they can keep the child, and the girl agrees, knowing it will be a good place for the baby. They also give her gifts to start her life over, and she returns to her parents, and goes on to marry and have a happy family. There is a lot to say about this story in relation to the adoption stories I started the Challenge with.
(Read this story in The Turnip Princess)

Soslan's birth
Okay, so in most versions of this Nart legend, a baby is born from a stone after a man ejaculates on it, watching Satana, the wise and beautiful matriarch of the Narts take a bath in the river. The boulder grows big, and when a blacksmith splits it open, a baby is found inside - very mythical birth, similar to the birth of Erichthonius. In one variation, however, Satana is actually violated by the man by the river, and she asks the blacksmith's help to fake a magical birth, and cover up the origin of the baby. It is interesting to ponder which version could have existed first.
(Read multiple versions in the Nart sagas)

Aso and Ananse
While Ananse is most often known as the happy-go-lucky West African trickster figure, he also has quite an interesting history with his wife. Aso, a beautiful young woman, is married to a barren/impotent man, who hides her away from the world in jealousy. Ananse comes up with a plan to catch a glimpse of her - and once he does, he also finds a way to sleep with her, repeatedly. Aso soon becomes pregnant, and her enraged husband returns her to her family in disgrace. When she walks into the village, and points out Ananse as the child's father, he falls off a roof in surprise... Aso later marries Ananse, but in a very dark turn reflecting the values of the era the tale comes from, the out-of-wedlock child is killed by the family.
(Read the story in Akan-Ashanti Folk-tales)

Fair Janet
One of my favorite - sad and beautiful - English ballads. Fair Janet gets pregnant out of wedlock, from Sweet William (don't you love ballad names), even though she is promised to someone else. She hides her pregnancy, and William's three sisters help her deliver the baby in secret, and take it home to his mother. The next day, Janet has to go to her own wedding; during the celebration, she asks William to a dance, and dies in his arms. He dies too, and they are buried together, with the obligatory ballad ending of intertwined plants growing on their graves.
(Read about the ballad here)

Angoli Borbála
A Hungarian ballad, similar to the previous one. Echoing the Rapunzel story, it begins with a girls' skirt not fitting right - it is short in the front and long in the back (meaning she is pregnant). She first blames the seamstress, but when she is found out, she is condemned to death. She sends off a letter to the noble boy who got her pregnant, and he shows up, but too late, and kills himself from sorrow (because ballads). There are several versions of this ballad, and they portray very well the desperation of the young girl trying to hide her condition.
(Listen to an old lady singing this ballad, with lyrics in English and Hungarian, here)

Any other stories I should add to the list?


  1. Yes it was you who removed the curtain of uncertainty of the story of Rapunzel being pregnant.. And that too unwanted ... on top of that tower.. will read the whole story now..

  2. Loved this collection. One of you rbest in this challenge, in my opinion :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

    1. Wow, thanks! :) I almost did not have an idea for U, and then I started working on this...

  3. I love the story with the Dwarves, it sounds like a happy tale, at least in that respect.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    1. It is a cute tale, with a happy ending. I love the part where six Dwarves have to carry the baby around the room to keep it from crying. :D

  4. I'm really enjoying your theme. It seems like every post sprouts an idea for a story in my head.

  5. Ballads like a totally tragic ending, don't they! Personally, I like the story with the dwarves being midwives and then matchmakers and then babysitters - yay for the dwarves! :)
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

  6. That's a wonderful interpretation of Rapunzel. When I was a kid that was my favorite fairy tale. Now I wonder if I picked up on something!

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  7. Interesting to see that getting pregnant before the marriage has occurred is something pretty common in most cultures.

  8. I watched 'Call the Midwife' yesterday (two latest episodes) one unmarried woman got pregnant and was treated very badly - this is in 1961 - and another young man got his girlfriend pregnant and tried to kill himself rather than marry her. Unwed mothers have a very long and sad history. Both of my mother's sisters had to get married - one was only 13.

  9. My favorite of them all was Aso and Ananse even though the ending was sad.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  10. Ooo! I knew Rapunzel had babies! Yay!

    These are fascinating stories.

  11. there is one about a Korean woodsman who had babies with a nymph -- very unexpected and sad because the nymph took the babies to heaven with her leaving the man behind.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  12. There's a story in The Decameron where a young girl named Violante becomes pregnant by her lover Pietro/Teodoro. Her father is incensed when he comes by one of the family's country estates and finds her in labor, and she's compelled into naming the father. Pietro is condemned to death, but on his way to being hanged, his long-lost birth father recognizes a birthmark on his chest and speaks to him in Armenian. Since it turns out Pietro isn't lower-class after all, and has such an important father, Violante's father forgives him and lets him marry Violante.

  13. I was a little surprised you didn't include Tam Lin, but then again you already mentioned Janet in the "Pregnant Heroines" Section and two Janets might have been confusing. In some versions of the ballad Janet is even forced/pressured into an abortion by her angry sister, butluckily she can rescue Tam Lin and they marry.

    There is also a German folksong called "Ja, ja, ja, oh ja" (it's ot a good title) in which a girl is pregnant out of wedlock, her mother gives her the advice to keep the pregancy a secret and bring the baby to the father as soon as it is born, but after doin that the girl dies. It is not certain whether she commited suicide or was killed by the father of the child.