Thursday, September 15, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Girl versus Dragon

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Once again I am doing a folktale translation for Folklore Thursday, to help a friend with their research. This tale is a version of Molly Whuppie, and I am translating it from Hungarian. 


Original title: Rebeka
Folktale type: ATU 328 (Treasures of the Giant) - Hungarian Folktale Catalog MNK 328f
Source: Nagy, Olga. Mindentudó Dongó. Székelyudvarhely: Erdélyi Pegazus Kiadó, 2004.
Hungarian folktale from Transylvania. Storyteller: Kapás Gyuri

Note: This is a mirror translation, therefore might be clunky.
Note 2: The story exists in a couple of versions in Hungarian tradition. In one that I have not managed to track down yet, the heroine allegedly rescues another girl from the dragon.

Once upon a time there was a poor widower. His wife had died young, and left him to raise three daughters. When the youngest, called Rebeka, turned sixteen years old, the father died too, and the three girls were left alone in the world. What could three orphans do to make a living? The youngest spoke up:
"Dear sisters, we are old enough and strong enough. Let us go, find a place where they need help with the harvest. We will earn enough with harvest work to survive the winter."

The other two agreed; they picked up their sickles, and went looking for work. They walked and they walked until they came to a golden-ripe wheat field.
"Let's stop here" said Marika, the eldest "Let's get to work."
"Leave it" Rebeka told her "This filed is too small for us. Let's find a bigger one."
They walked on until they came to a filed so vast it expanded beyond the horizon.
"This one is for us" said Rebeka "We can work here, and make enough money to survive the winter."
"Will it not be too big?" asked Rózsi, the middle sister.
"Come on, we are hard-working girls, we can manage it."
They got to work, harvesting the wheat. As Rebeka swung her sickle, it rang out os loud the sound carried across the kingdom. It reached the ears of the owner of the field: The seven-headed dragon.
"What?! That Rebeka girl was no bigger than a spark the other day, and now she is harvesting my field?"
Because the dragon's mother had prophesied that he would be destroyed by a girl named Rebeka. He appeared at the field in the blink of an eye.
"I knew it was you, Rebeka! Who gave you permission to harvest my field?"
"Why wouldn't I? It is ripe, it needs to be harvested."
"Very well then! But only work if you can finish it by tonight. Otherwise you will be sorry!"
"I shall try. We can cut it down somehow by then, I am sure."
"I will bring you some breakfast, then."
"He is up to no good" Rebeka told her sisters "Don't eat anything but bread. He would not dare poison that. Don't eat anything else or you'll regret it."
By the time the dragon returned with breakfast, half the field was already harvested and tied up.
"You have made progress! Come, eat a little."
The girls sat down, but they ate nothing except plain bread.
"Come on, eat some delicious meat! I even brought wine! You will need your strength."
"Thank you, but we are fasting today. We only eat bread." answered Rebeka. At noon, the dragon offered again, but they only took bread. No matter how he coaxed them, they told him they had enough.
By the time the sun set, the harvest was done. They took their sickles, and went to the dragon, asking to be paid for their work.
"I will pay you well. But why don't you stay here for the night? Where would you go after dark? Let's have dinner, you can get a good night's sleep after, and leave in the morning."
"Very well." said Rebeka; but when it came to dinner, they only ate bread once again. After dinner, the dragon took them to a large room with six beds in it.
"This is where you will sleep, along with my own three daughters!"
The two older sisters fell asleep immediately; but Rebeka stayed awake, knowing that the dragon was up to something. Some time later he saw the dragon sneak into the room, and place red cloth on his daughters' beds, and white on the other girls'. She knew immediately that he did that so that he could tell them apart in the dark. As the dragon left, Rebeka got out of bed, and switched the cloths - white for the dragons' girls, and red for themselves. The she shook his sisters awake, and told them they needed to leave immediately.
They ran away from the dragon's house, and arrived to a great big river. The sun was coming up by now, and in the light they noticed the ferryman's hut. Rebeka knocked on the door.
"Please, dear ferryman, take us to the other side! The dragon is right behind us, he wants us dead!"
"Get in the boat then, girls!"
They got in, and the man began rowing towards the other shore. While all this was happening, the dragon got up, tiptoed into the girls' room, watching for the white cloths in the darkness. He grabbed the first girl, and dragged her outside. His wife had fired up the oven the night before, and the dragon planned on throwing all three harvesting girls into the oven, to make sure Rebeka was dead. But as he was dragging the girl to the kitchen, she woke up and began screaming.
"Eek! Father, what do you want with me? Why don't you let me sleep?!"
"Who are you to call me father?!"
"Who would I be?! I'm your daughter!"
The dragons wife was woken up by the screaming.
"What are you doing, you murderer! Are you trying to throw your own child into the fire?!" she grabbed up a rolling pin, and began beating the dragon.
"Dammit!" roared the dragon "Rebeka tricked me!" He returned to the bedroom, lit a candle, and saw that the harvesting girls were gone. He ran after them, but by the time he got to the river, the boat was almost on the other shore. He shook his fist after them:
"Rebeka, you cheated me! I almost burned my daughters. But you will be back one day, and you will be sorry!"
"I will be back!" yelled Rebeka across the water "I am not afraid of you, and you still owe us money for the harvest! I will collect the debt!"
They made it across the river, and the dragon went home, fuming. The girls thanked the old ferryman, and walked on, seeking their fortune. They finally came to a city, and in it the king's palace. They knocked on the door; when the guard asked them who they were, and what they wanted, they said that they were poor girls seeking service.
"Let them in. Let us see what they can do." said the king, when the guard reported to him. The girls were led to the throne room.
"I hear you three are seeking service. What can you do?"
"We can do whatever you wish, your majesty. We are poor girls, we earn our own living."
The king consulted his wife about what work was needed; then he sent the two elder girls to the kitchen, and Rebeka, who was quick and clever, became a maid.
Time went by. All three girls lived comfortably, but the two oldest still grumbled about having to work in the kitchens, peel potatoes, wash dishes, clean the tiles, while Rebeka was cleaning in the nice rooms, watering flowers, and serving the queen herself. They envied their little sister, and they wanted to hurt her.
One day the king organized a great ball for the servants in the palace. Butlers, maids, valets, coach drivers, hunters, stable boys, everyone came to feast and dance - everyone except for Rebeka, who did not like to dance. She preferred walking in the gardens, weeding flowerbeds. As the servants gathered around, Marika, the eldest sister, spoke up:
"Our little sister is such a great lady, she does not even deem us worthy to join us!"
"Why does she think so?" asked a servant.
"She says that if she wanted to, she could steal the Shining Cabbage from the dragon's garden!"
The servant told the king what he heard the very next day, as he was serving his lunch. After the meal, the king summoned Rebeka.
"What did you say at the ball?"
"I wasn't at the ball!"
"I hear you have been boasting."
"I didn't!"
"Don't lie to me! Your own sisters said it: You boasted that you could steal the Shining Cabbage from the dragon's garden."
Rebeka knew immediately that her sisters were working against her. But out loud she only said:
"Very well, your majesty. I will steal it!"
Sadly, she left the palace, and went back to the great big river. She waited until the ferryman rowed the boat to her side, and then asked him to carry her over, with tears in her eyes, for she had to go to the dragon's garden.
"Do not worry, my daughter" said the ferryman "Just be careful. At night, when you sneak into the dragon's garden, you will see the cabbage immediately for it shines with a bright light. Make sure to gather it up in your arms, and don't let even the smallest leaf touch the ground - for it one does, it will ring loudly, and wake the dragon, and that will be the end of you. I will wait for you here, and ferry you over."
Rebeka waited until night fell, then she went to the dragon's garden, and sneaked through the gate. She went straight to the shining cabbage. She lay down on her stomach, wrapped her arms around the cabbage right above the roots, and lifted it so that not even the smallest leaf touched the ground. She carried it back to the river. The boat was already halfway to the far shore, when the dragon woke up, and ran after her.
"Rebeka, you took my cabbage! But you will be back, and you will be sorry!"
"Or you will be sorry!" yelled Rebeka, and got out on the other shore. She returned to the city, and placed the cabbage in the king's garden. It shone so brightly that everyone admired it. Rebeka became famous in the court, and earned the king's approval; he ordered her to serve at his table. The two sisters were green with envy - they did not only fail to humble their sister, they actually made her rise higher!
Soon after, the king organized another ball. The two sisters whispered among themselves, thinking up things to get Rebeka in trouble. Rózsi, the middle girl spoke up:
"Let's say that Rebeka boasted that she could steal the dragon's horse!"
"That will work!" said Mari. So they spread the rumor all over the celebrating crowd, and it soon reached the king's ears. Next day at lunch, he called to Rebeka:
"My daughter, I am the last to know what you have already told the entire court!"
"What did I tell them, your majesty?"
"You boasted that you could steal the dragon's horse!"
"How could I say such a thing? No one can do that!"
"Do not skirt around the truth, Rebeka! If you do this, I will respect you like no other; but if you refuse, you will be the lowest of the low."
Rebeka left the palace sadly, wondering what she could do to obey the king's orders, and yet stay alive. She went to the great big river crying, and found the old ferryman there.
"Why are you crying, my daughter?"
"My father... for I love you more than my father... The king ordered me to steal the dragon's horse!"
"That is not easy to do" said the ferryman "But do not despair. I will ferry you over, and you can sleep in my hut. We will come up with a plan by morning."
The next morning, when they woke up, the old man said:
Yes, I found a picture of a golden cabbage
Thank you, Internet
"You can't do this on your own. But I will help you! I will go with you this evening, and go into the dragon's garden. I will dig a great big pit, and pull out a cabbage by the roots. I will touch it to the ground, and it will ring out; then I will throw it in the pit and bury it. The dragon will come out, see a cabbage missing, and go looking for it. He will go down to the river to see if you fled that way. While he is away, you can go into the stables, untie his horse, get in the saddle, and ride down to the river. The horse can swim, it will take you to the other shore. I will hide behind the fence, and when the dragon comes down to the river, I will already be there, and tell him I have seen no one.
And so it happened. When the dragon heard the cabbage ring out, he ran straight to the garden; he saw the empty spot where the cabbage had been, and ran straight to the river. The old ferryman took a roundabout way to get back to his boat; Rebeka untied the horse from the stables, and rode down to the water. When the dragon returned for his horse to go looking for a thief, he saw that it was gone. He ran back to the river and asked the ferryman:
"Did you take a thief across the water?"
"I did not! But I did see a girl go into the water on horseback."
The dragon shook his fist at Rebeka, who was only getting out of the river on the other shore.
"One day, I will have my revenge!"
"Or I will!" she yelled back.
Rebeka took the horse to the king, who was overjoyed at the prize. He did not even know how to reward Rebeka; he made her the boss of all servants in the palace. Her sisters despaired, watching Rebeka rise while they sank even lower. She was now their boss, and she could order them around. They knew that next time, they would have to come up with something impossible to do, to manage to knock their sister off the highest shelf. At the next ball they began spreading the rumor that Rebeka boasted she could bring the dragon itself to the king!
The king summoned Rebeka.
"My daughter, if you do this too, I will be the happiest king in the world, for that cursed dragon keeps stealing my livestock, terrorizes my people, and threatens me that one day he will cross the water and destroy my kingdom."
"I did not say anything!" insisted Rebeka.
"I know you always deny it. I am used to it. Go, fulfill my wish, as you always do. If you succeed, I promise to make you my daughter, and marry you to whoever you choose, even if he is a prince or a duke, or anyone else."
Rebeka could see now that she had to obey, or die trying. What could she do? She was the one that threatened the dragon... She went back to the great river, and waited for the ferryman.
"You just left, my daughter, and you are already back?"
"I am, but I think this is the last time. I either succeed at what the king told me, or I die."
"What would that be?"
"He wants me to bring him the dragon."
"That is near impossible for sure. But come, stay with me, and we will come up with a plan."
Rebeka spent the day in the old man's house, and the next day, thinking about what could be done. Finally the old man said:
"You can't bring the dragon to him alive... unless he is in a coffin."
"How could I kill the dragon to put it in the coffin?"
"You don't have to kill him... just convince him to lie in the coffin. He doesn't have to be dead."
"How can that be?"
Burying horses
with warriors
was common
practice in pre-
Christian Hungarian
"Listen! First, he can't recognize you; he hates Rebeka. We need to disguise you so that your own father wouldn't recognize you. And then you go to the woods, cut down a great tree, and make a large coffin. Wait until the dragon comes by, and asks you what you are doing. Then tell him that you are making a coffin, because Rebeka is dead, and the king ordered to make a coffin big enough so they can bury her horse with her too. The dragon will be happy. You have to convince him to try the coffin, and when he is in it, close the lid, nail it down fast, and I will help you transport it back."
The old man got to work. He cut Rebeka's hair short, made her a beard, and made her eat a lot of onions so her voice would be thick. He gave her a bag and an ax, and a big hat, and thus disguised as a woodcutter, Rebeka went into the forest. She searched until she found a great big oak tree, so thick that three people could not have wrapped their arms all the way around it. She got to work, and worked day and night. She felled the tree, cut off the branches, carved out the coffin, worked for a whole week shaping it, until the giant coffin was finally ready.
Days passed. Rebeka sat down and smoked a pipe, chasing mosquitoes away. She grew hungry; she took bacon, onions, and bread out of the bag, and ate some. On the third day she was chewing on some bacon when the dragon finally appeared.
"What are you doing, you wretched man, in my forest?!"
"Please have mercy, great dragon! I would not have come here, but your neighbor the king forced me. This is the only place where I could find a tree large enough for a coffin."
"A coffin? For whom?"
"For Rebeka, his most loyal servant, who did everything the king asked her."
"Rebeka is dead?"
"She is, poor girl. Her horse threw her, and she broke her neck."
"Thank God!" the dragon jumped with joy "My greatest enemy is dead, and all the world is mine now!"
"She is indeed dead, and the king ordered a coffin large enough to fit her and her horse, for she deserved to be buried with it."
"Oh my, and you made a coffin that large?"
"It is almost done! Come, look at it! I am just not sure if it is big enough, and if the king will be satisfied with it."
"Why wouldn't he be? Even I could fit into this coffin!"
"I don't think so, my lord. You are much bigger than to fit into this."
"You don't think so? Let's make a bet! If I fit, you will serve me as my own court carpenter."
"Very well, let's try!"
The dragon lay in the coffin, and Rebeka slammed the heavy lid shut on him, and nailed it down fast. The dragon roared and struggled, but there was nothing he could do. He promised her everything, bags of gold, half a kingdom, but to no avail. The old ferryman showed up with a cart and a donkey; they managed to push the coffin onto the cart, and then, as the donkey pulled and they both pushed, they managed to get it down to the river. They put it in the boat, and rowed to the other side. Once there, Rebeka sent word to the king to send men and horses to transport the dragon. The king himself came with soldiers and horses to meet her. They put the coffin on a cart pulled by four horses, and took it to the palace. The dragon roared, begging to be let out, for he was suffocating.
"What will you give us if we give you your freedom?"
"Everything I have, and they I will leave and no one will see me again!"
"Very well" said the king "Take him outside the kingdom to the highest mountain, and let him go there."
They did, and they threatened him so severely, that no one ever saw the dragon again after that. Not even I. The king adopted Rebeka as his daughter, married her to the son of the neighboring king who has had his eyes on her for a long time. Rebeka became a queen, and her two sisters joined her at court. She did not take revenge on them, and they stopped trying to destroy her. Rebeka's husband married them to a coach driver and a stable boy, and they all lived happily ever after.


  1. I especially like the image of Rebeka welding a hand scythe rather than the usual sword.

  2. Noooo, I'm sure marrying her sisters off to a coach driver and a stable boy, while she got a king was no revenge ;)

    I'm kidding. I'm pleasantly surprised to see the low body count in this story. I personally expected an ironic punishment involving the coffin for the sisters. And even the dragon's daughters got away scot free. Children that don't get punished for the crimes of their father? What a novel idea!

    I didn't get the part where they only ate bread. Is that a blind motive or is that a cultural thing?

    Anyways a delightful story, I don't think I've encountered a genderbent version of type 531 yet.

    1. I think the idea is that the dragon couldn't poison the bread without poisoning his own store of wheat, which he treasured. This may not make logical sense, but fairy tales have their own logic.

  3. Thanks for your really lively version.

  4. awww , such a happy story :P even the sksters became good :)