Monday, October 1, 2018

Fairy godmothers all over the place (Following folktales around the world 85. - France)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folktales of France
Geneviève Massignon
University of Chicago Press, 1968.

This great collection contains 70 French folktales, organized by the major regions of France. I especially liked it because it does not contain the well-known 18th and 19th century literary French fairy tales, but rather, real folk stories gathered from the people by folklorists. As such, the stories are sometimes a little unruly, often humorous, occasionally cruel, and several of them contain comments from the original storyteller. The book opens with a long Foreword, detailing the history of folklore collections in French (as well as the bitter feud between collectors), and a shorter Introduction about the tales included. The end of the volume has extensive notes for each story, a bibliography, a motif list and a tale type index.


The story of La Ramée was both shocking and amusing. It is a classic "make the princess laugh" story, except here the mouse, the beetle, and the cricket all joined the poor boy on their own volition, and did not only help him win the princess, but also rescued him from being devoured by an elephant (yup), and managed to give the other contestant violent diarrhea...
All through the collection, magical godmothers kept making an appearance. Many of them were fairies, but the Virgin Mary also frequently featured into tales. I especially liked Golden Hair, a version of the Frog Bride, in which we got to find out how the girl became a frog in the first place. Apparently, she used to be a goddaughter of the Virgin, but ran a way with a prince. The prince remained faithful to his frog bride, and completed his father's tasks with the help of the Virgin to get to marry her in the end.
I also loved the Three deserters, a very elaborate and exciting version of Fortunatus, from the Pyrenees. Three brothers, on the run from the army, won three magic items from a haunted castle, then won the same princess three times with their items, except she kept taking the items and kicking out the suitors. Eventually she got her comeuppance, the items were recovered, and the youngest brother married the lady of the haunted castle.
Fanfinette and the prince was a particularly gruesome version of the Basil Girl. At first, the prince tried to sleep with her, but she managed to get away; then he tired to kill her multiple times, but she always survived. She even managed to convince the court that the prince gave birth, so that he would have to take care of the babies of women he'd slept with. In the end, Fanfinette was forced to marry him, but managed to trick him one last time. The story does end in "happily ever after," which I did not like, but the rest was both horrible and intriguing.
A much lovelier tale was that of the Four friends (Little Goose, Tiny Black Kitten, Curly Lamb, and Heifer-ready-to-deliver) who all set out together to find various things (a cure for a headache, for example), and ended up stumbling upon a lonely old woman in a cottage. They moved in, cheered her up, and lived happily ever after.
The last tale in the book was that of A boy promised to the Devil - who, once he found out what promise his parents had made, instead of resorting to the usual trickery, straight up dueled the Devil and beat him.


There were several familiar tale types in the book. I really liked the hero who defeated a Seven-headed monster with a white stick, while wearing a coat of thirty-six colors. I also encountered Magic Flights (more than one), Beauty and the Beast, stolen golden apples (in this case, oranges), a boy who saw a dream (and became a bishop), Tom Thumb, The devil's golden hairs, Puss in Boots (who married not one, but two daughters of the king), a cursed princess in a shroud (Jean of Bordeaux), Rumpelstiltskin (here called Mimi Pinson), and Prince Thrushbeard (who had no reason to mess with the princess since she agreed to marry him right away, but whatever).
This being a collection of French tales, there was also a Red Riding Hood variant (Boudin-Boudine),with a boy instead of a girl, and with Grandma chasing the wolf out of town with a broom instead of being devoured. One of the best versions of the Rooster's Diamond I have seen so far, Half Chicken, told about a poor little hen who was bullied by the other hens, so she set out, made friends (Wolf, River, and Fire), and won herself a kingdom. The girl and the thief was another one of those stories where a bandit terrorized a girl for years until she managed to get rid of him (I mentioned this one from Italy). The wolf scalded by hot water was up against a married couple this time, who helped each other multiple times. A hiding-from-the-princess story, Princess Elisa, was solved by a hero who turned into an ant, and hid in the princess' garters.
As far as tricksters go, here God himself tricked the Devil to pick the tops of the bottoms of the crop. There was also a classic Fox vs Wolf story, with Fox secretly eating all the butter, and getting Wolf to try to fish with his tail in an ice hole.

Where to next?

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