Thursday, September 1, 2016

Folklore Thursday: The Slightly Less Handless Maiden

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Since two of my storyteller friends are working on an awesome book about the female hero's journey, including variations of Grimm's Handless Maiden, I am doing my small contribution to their research by translating this fairy tale from Hungarian to English. Enjoy!

Queen Julika

Original title: Julika királyné
Folktale type: ATU 706, Handless Maiden
Lizanec, P. - Tordon, Á. (1973). Három arany nyílvessző [Three golden arrows]. Budapest: Móra Ferenc Ifjúsági Könyvkiadó. Pp. 100-105.
(The book contains Hungarian folktales from Transcarpathia, collected by a team from the Uzhhorod National University)

Note: Translation might be clunky, because I am doing it word for word.

Once upon a time there was a greedy and evil woman. That greedy and evil woman had a beautiful daughter. The beautiful daughter was called Julika. That heartless woman even kept her daily food from Julika, and dressed her in rags. One day, she tied her hands behind her back, and threw her out into the forest. She left her there as prey for the forest beasts, and went back home alone.
The poor girl wandere up and down the great dark forest. She cried so pitifully even the rocks felt sorry for her, but they couldn't help. No beast, bear or wolf, harmed her, so she made her way through the forest to a meadow with silver grass, collapsed, and fell asleep there. She only woke up late in the moonlit night. The Moon was harvesting the silken grass with a silver scythe.
"A good evening to you, grandfather" she greeted him politely.
"To you too, Julika" the Moon squinted at her, for he had left his glasses at home. He did recognize her, and even patted her on the head, but he didn't notice that her arms were tied behind her back. She was too ashamed to say so.
The Moon was just about finished with the harvest, so he walked with her for a stretch; at the king's orchard he said goodbye, and jumped back into the sky.
In the king's orchard grew golden apples, shining and glowing from far away. The king had two old soldiers serving as guards to the orchard. One guarded it during the day, and the other one at night. They both had been given guns by the king too, to shoot whoever dared to steal his apples.
Julika waited until the night guard nodded off, then she sneaked into the garden. Because her hands were tied behind her back, she could only reach the lowest golden branches with her mouth. She jumped - hop! - and bit into a golden apple. And then she jumped again - hop! - and bit into another. And so on, one hop, one bite, one hop, one bite.
In the morning the king went into the orchard, and got furious at the sight of all the bite marks in the apples. The night guard swore up and down that he had not seen anyone, it had to be witchcraft, but the king still fired  him, and decided to guard his apples himself the following night. When night fell, he hid himself in the garden, and waited for the apple thief.
During the day, Julika slept in a pile of silver hay. When night fell, she woke up hungry, and hopped to the garden; since she did not see anyone around, she began biting the apples. But suddenly the king appeared and grabbed her.
"I have caught you, apple thief! You are done now!" he yelled angrily. But when he took a closer look at the person in his arms, he was stunned by Julika's beauty. His anger dissolved, and he asked her kindly who she was, and how she ended up in his orchard.
Julika was scared, and she wept as she told the king her story and her troubles. The king untied her hands, and invited her to live with him in the palace. She was treated well, bathed in milk and butter [a Hungarian expression meaning she was treated like royalty]. The king sent her gifts, and one day he asked her to marry him. A year later Queen Julika gave birth to beautiful, golden-skinned twins. The king was happy with his children, and treated his wife with even more care than before.
Meanwhile the greedy and evil woman, Julika's mother, wanted to find out what happened to her daughter in the forest. She knew about a magic fountain, so she went there and looked into the water. And by God, what did she see! She saw Julika in a golden dress, with a diamond crown on her head, playing with two golden-skinned boy in the garden of the royal palace. She decided immediately to steal the boys and enchant them. Because she, Julika's mother, was the evilest witch of them all. She turned into an eagle, and flew in circles over the palace. But the queen never left her children alone even for a moment, so finally the witch had to fly home angry, and empty-handed.
That evening the Moonlight leaned in Julika's window, and told her what her evil mother was planning. Julika was scared, and she would have run to her husband straight away, except he was visiting a neighboring king. So she wrote a letter instead, asking him what to do. She sent the letter with a messenger to the neighboring king's palace.
The horse of the messenger became lame, and as night fell, he looked for a place to stay. He knocked on the door of the first house he came across, which just happened to be the witch's house. She cooked him a good dinner, and set a pitcher of sleep-wine in front of him. When he fell asleep, she took the letter from him, read it, and then blew on it. The written words disappeared, and a different message replaced them, in the queen's own handwriting: "My dear husband, I hope my letter finds you in good health, as we are all on good health here as well. There is no trouble here at home, so you can stay as long as you want." Then she replaced the letter in the messenger's bag, and went to sleep herself.
The next morning the witch gave breakfast to the messenger, and told him to stop by on his way back. The king took his wife's letter happily, and answered that he planned on staying for six weeks.
On the way back, the messenger knocked on the witch's door again. He ate the dinner, drank the sleep wine, and fell asleep. The witch took the letter, read it, then blew on it, and sent the following message in the king's own handwriting: "My dear Julika, take our sons and move immediately from the palace to our hunting castle. You will be safe there, and I am going there too."
This was the letter that the messenger handed to Julika the next day. She read it, and began packing immediately. By noon she was in a carriage with her sons, and drove to the hunting castle in the woods. But on the way the axis of the silver carriage broke, and they had to spend the night in the woods. This, of course, was the witch's doing, who had turned herself into a black bear, and lurked there in the woods. But all of this was seen by the Moon who was just above the forest; he took Julika by the hand, and led her and her golden-skinned boys out of the forest. No witch would challenge the moonlight, so this evil one had to go home with empty hands again.
The Moon hid Julika and her sons in a cave and then hurried back to the sky, flying over to the palace of the neighboring king. There he knocked on the king's guest room window, and told him about the danger his family was in. But he could not give advice, for the Sun came up, and he had to flee. The king didn't know what to do, since he was seven days' travel from home; he saddled his horse, but then he decided to stay, and he just sat, moping around.
In the morning the other king invited him to a hunt, because people brought news of a deer with golden antlers in the mountains. The two kings ventured deep into the forest, but they did not see a single glint of a golden antler. Night fell. Dark clouds gathered on the sky, separating the Moon from the earth. The kings got lost. The guest king was more worried by the minute, thinking of Julika and his golden-skinned sons. Suddenly thunder clapped, and lightning lit up the forest. At the light of one of them, the two kings noticed the deer with the golden antlers. Taken by the hunt's thrill, they reached for their guns. But before they could fire, the deer spoke:
"Dear kings, please let me live!"
"Don't shoot!" yelled our king, seeing his host take aim. The other king put his gun down with a huff. The deer stepped closer:
"Thank you for not letting me die. I am the King of the Deer; I will fulfill a wish for you. What is your wish?"
"Hear my wish, King of the Deer" said our king "Fly me home to my kingdom, to the cave where my wife and sons are."
"I cannot take you there myself, but I can lend you my magic horse that has twenty-four legs. It will take you home faster than the wind."
With that, the deer rubbed its antler against a fallen log, and the log turned into a magic horse with twenty-four legs. The king jumped on its back, pulled up the other king behind him, and the horse took them flying across the dark, stormy night. When they got to the palace of the host king, the horse landed, they said their goodbyes, and then it rose into the air again, carrying Julika's husband back to his kingdom.
The witch was happy for the stormy night. Nights with no moon are the true nights of witches. She turned into a she-wolf, and searched for the hiding family from one cave to the next. There was only one left, and the she-wolf was headed towards it at a lope. But the moment she reached the cave's mouth, the magic horse descended, breathing fire, carrying the king. The witch fled into the bushes, terrified, but the king noticed the great wolf and fired his gun. The witch screamed and died. When they went to look for the wolf, they only found two torn slippers.
"You can come out now!" the king called into the cave to Julika and the boys. They ran outside happily and embraced him.
The king thanked the magic horse, and sent it back to the King of the Deer. But the horse insisted on flying them home to their palace first. The rain stopped, the wind cleared up the clouds, and it was a clear, moonlit night. As they flew over the silver meadow, they saw the Moon taking a break from its harvest, sitting on top of a pile of hay.
"You will live happily from now on!" he yelled after them. And he was right. The king and Julika raised the boys without a problem. They grew up to be handsome young princes, and they married two beautiful princesses. One inherited the king's lands, and the other ruled his father-in-law's kingdom. They still live somewhere if they have not died yet.

Note: Hungarian language doesn't have gendered pronouns. It is only my translation that made the Moon a "he"


  1. Thanks for translating this charming folktale! It certainly has a number of familiar elements.

  2. Wow, that was... good. Recently I've read a fair share of poorly constructed fairy tales, but this one is spot on. Even the problem that many fairy tales forget about it, namely that believably forging a letter is really hard, was explained away. I think it shows that the tale is more "modern". (I assume the tales were ctually cllected in the 70s?)

    I didn't like that Julika doesn't really do much on her own, but that's a problem many fairy tale protagonists have and it's hardly gender exclusive.

    By the way has the moon a certain significance in Ukranian folklore? I think I saw him pop up on your blog before. In most tales I'm familiar with he/she only shows up if the Sun also gets an equally big role.

  3. so much gentler than the macabre handless maiden

  4. What a cool version of this story! Thanks for translating!

  5. I've never heard this tale. I have always loved fairy tales. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank goodness they all got away and lived happily ever after.