Thursday, July 2, 2015

Folklore Thursday: The princess who slapped a dragon

If you are a storyteller or a story-lover, chances are you are every familiar with Aarne-Thompson folktale type 301, commonly known as "The three kidnapped princesses." It is the story where three princesses are stolen by a dragon/giant/evil person, and a hero sets out to find them, usually with his brothers or companions. He rescues all three, but on the way home he is betrayed by the others and left behind (in the Underworld, inside a well, etc.). Eventually he makes his way out of there with the help of a giant bird, or some other magical creature, and arrives home just in time to save the youngest princess from her wedding. The traitors are then properly executed or exiled, and the hero becomes king.

I have never really had a close relationship with this story, even though it's Hungarian version, Son of the White Horse, is THE textbook Hungarian folktale.


I was reading Rusyn folktales this week - stories collected in Transcarpathia more than a hundred years ago - and I finally found the version that I can get behind.
Here is what made it work for me:

1. The three heroes are brothers, and each has a superpower: One can fly, one has a sharp sense of smell, and the youngest is a master of sword fighting. If you have missed the memo, I do love folktales with superpowers.

2. The youngest hero is NOT betrayed by his brothers. The soul of the third dragon he kills takes on his shape, and tricks the brothers into leaving him behind.

3. The place where the youngest hero gets stuck is on top of the Glass Mountains (instead of the Underworld). He can't come down.

4. The hero finds the mothers of all three dragons and receives magic items from them. With that, he lets them live. A refreshing change from all the folktales where the enemy is tricked into giving away items, and then killed anyway.

5. The hero meets a giant bird that offers to take him down the mountain, but he has to find water first. He manages to find a tree and dig up a well. Very impressive, given that the mountain is made of glass.

6. When he gets home, the hero takes on a job as a dressmaker. He makes the wedding dresses of the two older sisters. The youngest princess shows up before her own wedding in tears: She knows her "prince" is a fake, but nobody believes her. She asks for an ugly dress, stating she is being married off against her will.

7. The hero shows up on the wedding day, and calls out the impostor as the evil soul of a dragon. He claims that he can be destroyed if he is slapped with a left hand. Hearing that, the youngest princess immediately pounces on the shapeshifter, and slaps him so hard he turns to dust.
Heck yeah.
Happy Ending.


  1. Love this version too! I think it's so cool that there are enough variations of some tales that you can choose the one that works best for you. It's great!

  2. I like the idea of a shapeshifting dragon soul. Bitch slapping said soul is pretty awesome.