Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for the Cat-eyed Princess

Today's princess is brought to you by famous folktale collector and teller Benedek Elek, from Hungary.

I remember reading this story as a child and being thoroughly creeped out by it. You are welcome.

This princess starts out with very princess-like supernatural qualities: roses fall from her mouth when she laughs, pearls fall from her eyes when she cries, and if she walks barefoot golden coins appear from every step. Naturally she makes her father's kingdom quite rich, and everyone wants to marry her. Except for the neighboring kingdom's heir, that is, because he is too busy fighting a war. But fear not, the queen goes behind his back and mail-orders the magical bride to be delivered upon victory.

As usual, there is a hitch in the plan, no pun intended: the woman who is escorting the princess to her new home, while her grace is cheerfully dancing out gold for the poor along the way, decides her ugly daughter would make a much better queen, so she calls up a storm (witch alert!), carves the princess' eyes out, and tosses her in a ditch. Ouch.

It doesn't get better from heir either. First the princess is found by poor men who help her up, but as soon as they see the gold coins under her feet they just lead her around in circles until she drops from exhaustion. Next a gardener picks her up and takes her home, but his wife complains that they can't keep a blind chick around. Fortunately for said blind chick, there is a witch in town who deals in eyes (we are getting into Minority Report here). The first pair the gardener takes home and applies to the princess' eyes is not quite right, because the moment they are in the princess curls up in a corner and stares into a hole for hours until the gardener starts to suspect that he got cat eyes for his money instead of human eyes. Fortunately once again, the witch has a return and exchange policy, and she swaps the cat eyes for a pair of brand new human ones that she happened to find in a ditch (!).
Now at this point princess has had her eyes carved out twice, and moonlighted as a cat for a while, so naturally when she gets her own eyes back she cries a ton of pearls, laughs a garden of roses, and then moves on to marry the prince who was too dumb to tell a princess from a kitchen maid in a dress. But before she does, she has to work as a maid to said wench in order to get close to the prince. It is not long before the wench slaps her for being clumsy with the hairbrush, and out come the pearl tears again, revealing who is the real deal, and who is the fraud. Happy ending, at last.

Being a princess is not always sunshine and cupcakes, people. I don't usually tell this story to children, because even though they find the eye swap hilarious, it never fails to creep the hell out of parents and teachers, and then all hell breaks loose backstage. It is very successful for adult female audiences, though. Go figure.

This folktale is another very popular type called AT 403 - The White Bride and the Black One (from the times when white was considered beauty and black was... not). It usually includes a true bride and then an ugly/mean girl who tries to get rid of her and take her place. Stories get very creative with ways of killing or almost killing a princess, but the eye thing is still the most graphic I have encountered. Yuck.

Also, one can't help but wonder what would have happened if the princess kept the cat eyes. Now there is food for thought.


  1. It rarely bodes well for poor princesses :(

  2. You have an amazing theme. The miseries of the princesses resonate with feminist audiences, I guess.

    Damyanti @Daily(w)rite
    Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  3. I am loving your posts for the challenge!

  4. Just happened to find the eyes in a ditch...I guess that's a good place to find them because what are the alternatives? Pity the poor cat stumbling around with no eyes now.

    I have heard another version of this story, minus the eyes and the pearls etc. but the mean maid switching out her daughter with the princess.

    I am so enjoying this series!

  5. Wow that was like a soap opera with a bit of creepy eyeball swapping ickiness thrown in.
    Don't blame you for being creeped out by this one!

  6. That's so awesome. It's giving me tons of princess story ideas. Love you a-z theme.

    Happy A through Z blogging!

  7. I love folktales and had no idea there are so many princesses! Looking forward to learning more :)

    Happy A to Z!