Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Orange, and Surplus Fairy Maidens

Say what, men of the world? We have an ACTUAL COLOR this time? Why yes, indeed we do.

The color orange is named after the fruit orange (surprise!) and its main claim to fame is the fact that no other English word rhymes with it. It is a warm, cheerful color, and a fruit full of vitamin.

The folktale most often associated with orange comes from Italy, and it is aptly titled "The Love for Three Oranges." In this story, a prince sets out to find the perfect wife for himself, a woman who is "white and red" (I always assumed he meant a redhead, but it's up for interpretation). After many adventures an ogress hands him three oranges, warning him to only open them near a source of water. When he arrives to a fountain, he cuts the first orange open, and out pops a fairy maiden, crying for water. He is, however, not quick enough on the uptake, and the fairy maiden dies (oops). So does the second one, which brings the prince's mental facilities into question, but he does manage to give a drink to the third orange fairy on time, and she survives.
At this point I always wondered: What would have happened if all three lived? Would he end up with three wives? Or was he supplied with a surplus of instant maidens because of the assumption that he would botch the job?...
Anyhow, the third orange maiden lives, and the prince promises to marry her... then he promptly abandons her outside town, telling her to wait until he is finished with the proper preparations. In the meantime an ugly servant woman comes across the maiden, attempts to kill her (the maiden turns into a bird and flies away) and takes her place, claiming to the baffled prince that the sun and the waiting turned her old and ugly.
(Side note: The original version of this tale is one of the most racist folktales anyone can ever read. The servant woman is not ugly, she is black. Storytellers with any shred of sentiment change it to ugly and evil.)
When the bird attempts to reclaim her prince (of questionable mental qualities), the new bride has her cooked. But when they throw the cooking water out into the garden, a new orange tree sprouts up, reminding the prince of the original bride. He cuts the oranges open, looses two maidens as usual (but... whatever), reclaims his true bride, and has the servant executed.
Happy Ending.

This folktale exists in many versions, and with a number of different kinds of fruit. I have read it with apples, pomegranates, figs, citrons, and walnuts. I am sure there is some important meaning behind all of them. This particular version is featured in Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone.


  1. What an interesting tale - I agree the prince really had questionable mental faculties! I am enjoying this series tremendously and your creative story-telling :)

    Beauty Interprets, Expresses, Manifests the Eternal

  2. Loved this story!! The prince is such a dimwit...haha...thank god the story tellers had sense to change the servant woman's description!! Oh n I love the orange fruit!!

  3. Wow, a racist story with a less than intelligent hero. I can see why some storytellers would modify bits and pieces of this story. Still interesting all the same though.

    LittleCely's Blog

  4. Maybe it's because I do not like the color orange, never really have. But that sounds like the worst fairy tale ever (even leaving out the racism part). Why was the prince such an idiot?
    Nana Prah

  5. You are doing an amazing and creative job digging out colors and stories. The imagery of color really drives home how much stories add texture, color and form to our lives.

  6. Why is it every time an Ogress hands me 3 oranges and I open them and fairies fly out and drown people say I 'm a man of "questionable mental qualities?"

  7. He's a bit of an idiot, that prince! ;P
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX - A to Z Drabblerotic

  8. Crazy! I've never heard tale before today. Thanks for sharing it.

    AJ's wHooligan in the A-Z Challenge

  9. This prince is something of an idiot . . .

  10. I have always walked away from these types of tales knowing that I would never tell them but I enjoyed your questioning and thoughts as you wrote this post. You make me want to take a 2nd look through my fairytale and folktale books to do the same. Thank you,


  11. I've never read this one. Oh the modifications I could make...starting with the idiot prince.

  12. Love that tale. I can't believe the lady cooked the princess bird.

  13. I've always imagined, that of all the different story types that exist, folktales are definitely the ones devoid of any racial overtones.
    So it's a surprise to read that the original version of this tale is one of the most racist folktales anyone can ever read.

    It's very interesting that this tale exists in different versions, with different kinds of fruit. Wow.